Anyone who knows Lizzie Mackenzie's choreography is probably surprised that she's not better known as a choreographer. She's widely known as a truly exceptional dancer, from her performances with Giordano Dance Chicago and then with River North Dance Chicago, as well as her many guest appearances in high profile special events. She's also well known, especially in the world of preprofessional dance, as the founder and artistic director of Extensions Dance Company, one of the most successful and respected preprofessional dance companies in the country. When she does choreograph, the results are often spectacularly rich; she combines an ability to create beautiful and engaging movement designs with an unusually effective understanding of concert dance architecture.
That's why the news that Lizzie MacKenzie was creating a full evening original work would have been promising no matter what, but to hear that it was going to be for Chicago Dance Crash made the whole idea even more exciting, and much more intriguing. The work is titled ...and sometimes we were lost, but always we became found, and it runs for two weekends, December 6-7 and 13-14 at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts in Chicago.
MacKenzie is thoughtful in everything she does, but especially in everything that has anything to do with human connection; it's one of the reasons why she's so successful as a teacher. That same thoughtfulness, that same willingness to consider new ideas and actively engage them until she can work them into all of the other things she does, also gives her an exceptional ability to learn, and to embrace new possibilities. Around the time that Chicago Dance Crash first approached her about working with the Company, she had recently discovered, and was hugely impressed by a lecture by a University of Houston professor named Brené Brown.
Brown's lecture is called "The Power of Vulnerability", and it's quite a phenomenon, besides being an important and thought-provoking presentation. It's part of the TED Talks series, and twelve million people have watched the twenty minute video at the TED site, besides another million or so at YouTube. "Where I started was with connection," Brown says in her talk, "because by the time you're a social worker for ten years, what you realize is that connection is why we're here. It's what gives purpose and meaning to our lives." She goes on to examine the reasons why, despite it's importance, connection to others can be so problematic, and she develops the insightful idea that the people who are best able to share connections with others are those who are least afraid of their own vulnerability.
"There were so many ideas in her talk that really resonated with me that I felt that it was the most potent influence in my life at that moment," MacKenzie says, "so it made sense for me to utilize that as my story line for this conceptual work." Which is where Chicago Dance Crash comes in.
When you think of the art of dance, what you're likely to think of depends on who you are; the way that dancers and even choreographers are likely to see the art of dance can be quite a bit different from what their audience sees. Most of the time when a dancer or choreographer thinks of the art of dance, they think of performance, perhaps of movement design; their idea of the art will often be very much centered around their own experience. The audience has a better view, though, because as profoundly artistic as movement and performance can be, the art of dance is richer, more involved, and much more complex than that. There's a lot more than just movement on stage; there are costumes and makeup, lighting design and sound, sometimes even original music. There are artists backstage running light boards and mixing consoles, others taking care of the front of house, and still others who's art is publicity or administration.
It brings up an important question about art, and although Heather Trommer-Beardslee never actually asks that question in her new book Dance Production and Management, she answers it thoroughly; the book is both a step-by-step guide for anyone who wants to make art in dance successfully, and a richly insightful study of the art itself. The question she answers, but doesn't ask, is this: is the art of dance what you create, or is it what you share? Is art what you experience when you make it, or is it what you and others, other artists, and especially your audience, experience together? Whatever the answer may be for an individual artist, there can only be one answer for an audience, because an audience can only experience what artists share with them.
Creativity is an enchanting word; in the arts you could even say that it's a glamorous word. With its dreamlike promise of uncompromised originality, it conjures an alluring collage of romantic images, images that depict the drama of an individual's struggle to discover, and then construct from nothingness, something that has never been real before.
That's the movie version; in real life, real creativity is a lot more complicated than that. It's not less enchanting, not even less glamorous, but it's certainly a lot more complicated. Most of the time, creativity is more collaborative than it is individual and, to the gaping horror of working critics everywhere, true creativity is usually at least as derivative as it is original. Inspiration and creativity are so elusively interwoven that the most compelling and important new art is always a collaboration, perhaps unrecognized, with whatever past accomplishment made the present what it is. It's certainly that way in the art of dance, and especially in contemporary dance, because it's difficult to imagine how different the present might be if it had never been shaped by the creative accomplishments of Martha Graham.
On Friday, September 27th and Saturday September 28th, two of the modern dance community's really creative artistic directors, Lizzie Leopold of The Leopold Group and Winifred Haun of Winifred Haun & Dancers, will present a multifaceted study of the complex process of creativity, although that's not really the way they would describe it. They've constructed an evening of dance entitled Vision, Faith & Desire: Dancemakers Inspired by Martha Graham, with works by five choreographers who each present an original and individual vision that, like so much of contemporary movement design, inevitably either reflects or resonates something of Martha Graham's ideas about dance.
Although many Dance Companies now present a program at some point in their year that features choreography by the members of the Company, very few have done so for as long, and perhaps none do so with as much commitment and creativity as Thodos Dance Chicago. Thodos Dance's New Dances Choreography Series, described by Time Out Chicago dance writer Matt de la Peña as "one of the best in-house choreographic showcases", is in its thirteenth season, and on Friday and Saturday, July 19-20 at 7:30 PM, and again on Sunday July 21 at 5:00 PM, the series will feature nine new works in performances at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts in Chicago.
There are quite a few reasons why these programs are so uniquely effective. One of them is that Thodos Dance company members are hired as choreographers, not just as dancers. Because of Melissa Thodos' emphasis on the development of company members as choreographers, Thodos company members have the opportunity, and the experience, to put together a consistently eclectic and successful program, but that same emphasis on choreography among the dancers has another significant effect. New Dances is a uniquely collaborative phenomenon.
"I think the fact that everyone is friends changes the dynamic," Carrie Patterson observes. Patterson and Alissa Tollefson are premiering a new work entitled "Relativity", a dynamic showcase for five dancers, two of whom (John Cartwright and Kyle Hadenfeldt) are premiering works of their own at New Dances. "It's not like going into an environment where you don't ..." Patterson continues, and in a moment emblematic of the easy collaborative ethic of New Dances, Cartwright finishes her sentence: "Where you don't know anyone. It definitely is nice that we all come from the same Company," Cartwright continues, "and even though in this project, we do have an audition that's open to the the Chicago dance community, I think that in Chicago the dance community as a whole is very together and collective, so it still seems very much like the same community."
Chicago Repertory Ballet's Spring / Summer Performance is exactly the kind of concert that Artistic Director Wade Schaaf was talking about, right after founding the new Chicago based Company in 2012, when he described what the Company intended to do. Schaaf told aotpr.com that the Company's concerts would combine the individual voices of talented independent choreographers (that's the Repertory part) with a new approach to storytelling in dance (that's the Ballet part). Their Spring / Summer Performance at the Vittum Theater in Chicago will feature the Premiere of Schaaf's own one-act work The Rites of Spring, a re-imagined interpretation of Stravinsky's famous score on its one-hundredth anniversary, along with four works by a group of inventive independent choreographers: Jacqueline Stewart, Jessica Miller Tomlinson, Monique Haley and French choreographer Manuel Vignoulle.
Vignoulle has been based in New York since 2009, which is when he left a successful performance career in Europe to join Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet, and his work as an independent choreographer has been centered there since moving on from Cedar Lake in 2011 to focus on his rapidly expanding work as a choreographer. His background gives him a large palette of artistic approaches to blend from, having worked both in the introspective, conceptual world of European modernism and in what in some ways can seem the very different contemporary dance culture of North America.
Pascal Rioult is a choreographer, but he constructs his works from materials that very few others know how to find. Like an artisan with his own secret resources, he's the maker of a rich and complex cloth; he weaves moments in time from threads of imagination and makes them into Dances.
He's the Artistic Director of RIOULT Dance NY, the Company that he founded in 1994 after a successful career as a principal with the Martha Graham Dance Company. He's been making dances for years, complex, captivating, intensely musical works, quite often set to full symphonic scores that few contemporary choreographers would venture to explore. Rioult doesn't hesitate to do so, because he has an ability to balance the innate orchestral power of such music with an equally powerful sense of precision and innovation, and he sees no reason to stop there.
On Tuesday, June 4th he'll premiere his latest work, Iphigenia, when RIOULT Dance NY opens their New York Season. In eight performances that run through Sunday, June 9th, audiences at The Joyce Theater will have the chance to see his most recent alchemy unfold, a collaboration with composer Michael Torke, along with three other critically acclaimed works, On Distant Shores, Prelude to Night, and Bolero. The premiere of a new work by an imaginative choreographer, set to a new composition by an equally respected composer would be news enough, but in this case, where it all comes from is an even more singular story.
Chicago Dance Crash is so accustomed to doing something new that even when they do something for the first time, it's like they've done it a lot already. It's a unique talent for an entire Dance Company to have, but the performers and staff who make up Dance Crash all seem to have a set of abilities --- audacity, imagination, and multi-disciplinary performance skills --- that make it possible for them to keep doing new things well.
Beginning Saturday, May 25 (there's no Friday performance the opening weekend because Dance Crash is on tour) and running for three weeks, Dance Crash is presenting their new full evening work The Cotton Mouth Club, choreographed by Crash's multi-talented Artistic Director Jessica Deahr and Robert McKee, who also performs the male lead in the work. Jessica Deahr tells aotpr.com's Johnny Nevin about how all of that creativity comes together when Crash converts Chicago's famous Biograph Theater (now The Victory Gardens Biograph Theater because it's part of the award winning Theater Company) into The Cotton Mouth Club.
Of all the intriguing Dance performances that anybody is going to put together this year, the one that Chicago Tap Theatre is presenting on Saturday April 20 just has to be one of the most promising. The much admired Chicago ensemble is joining with two of Europe's most imaginative tap companies in a program called Liaison; the whole idea is to show a one-night only audience at the Athenaeum Theatre just how many remarkable ways rhythm, movement, music and imagination, in other words tap dancing, can brighten a night.
Chicago Tap Theatre will share the Athenaeum stage with two very different groups of dancers, Tapage, from Toulouse, France, and Tap Olé from Barcelona, and perhaps the best short explanation of why this concert has so much to offer comes from Tap Olé's website, where the Company shares this insight: "... fusion is a universal language, which combines the creation of new and exciting sensations". Fusion is at the heart of Liaison, because the three Companies are not just presenting their own uniquely imaginative ideas of what tap dancings is, and is becoming, they also perform together, with live music, in a number of the works.
Michelle Dorrance goes to a lot of places, and every time she does, she brings something. Just about anybody who sees her perform, checks out her choreography, or just reads about her in a magazine sees it right away, but If you asked every single one of them what it is that Michelle Dorrance brings, what exactly she has, you might never get the same answer twice. There are so many dimensions, so many perspectives, so many moving parts to everything she's doing that everybody sees it a little differently; she brings a lot to the art of sharing her art.
Surprisingly, it's possible to not even know about Michelle Dorrance if you don't know anything about the rich past, and richer present, of tap dancing; If you do, though, you really can't miss her. She's the one with the rocket-quick step, the stylish look and the bass-player-in-a-rock-band steadiness, the one on the cover of Dance Magazine, on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon with STOMP and Paul Simon, at The Blue Note Jazz Festival and at the United Kngdom's prestigious Royal Variety Performance. She's known both as a dancer and as a choreographer, as someone who can pull from the past while she pushes the future, and she's the only tap choreographer the Princess Grace Foundation has ever recognized with a Choreography Fellowship.
"One of the coolest things about art, in all forms, is how much it influences and inspires new art." That's just one of the many insightful ideas that come up when you talk to choreographer Mary Tarpley, especially if you talk to her about Repurpose, the intriguing and very promising concert that she and The Den Theatre are presenting Friday, March 22nd through Sunday, March 24th. It's a Dance Concert to be sure, but one that has been carefully designed to present dance successfully to a much broader audience.
Tarpley is especially well-prepared to come up with an idea as innovative, and yet as audience friendly, as Repurpose. As a dancer, she's one of the multi-talented performers that make Chicago Dance Crash such a sensation, and despite the elegance and precision of her classical skills, she can just as effortlessly tear up a stage when the choreography is hip hop or acrobatic. As a choreographer, she premiered a stunning work called I Know Places last fall, an eloquent and sympathetic look at the pain of personal isolation, along with a beautiful, and completely different, balletic duet called Quiet Hallway. I Know Places was built in some measure to expand on the Edgar Allen Poe poem Alone, a line from which appeared unobtrusively on the set behind the interweaving performance by four dancers.