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.
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.
Knowing a really good dance company is like knowing a cool rock club. It's a scene all to itself, and after you've been there enough times, you get so that even if you don't know exactly what they're doing that night, you just go. Not only that, you probably tell somebody else too, because once you get the idea that whoever is deciding what they do there really knows what they're doing, all you have to do is show up, and be ready to find out about another thing you're glad you found out about.
Luna Negra Dance Theater is on a roll like that. Looking back at the last few times they've brought one of their creative adventures to the Harris Theater for Music and Dance in Chicago, there's an unbroken progression of glad-you-were-there performances that would make anybody want to be there Saturday, March 9th when they present Made in Spain.
When Shirley Mordine arrived in Chicago in 1969, nobody really realized how much dance she was bringing with her, if only because she hadn't made most of it yet. She hadn't founded the Dance Center of Columbia College, which she went on to direct for thirty years as it became the nationally respected institution it is today. She hadn't started Mordine & Company Dance Theater, which has been inventing successful new kinds of dance presentation for forty-three very active seasons, and she hadn't really begun the incredible series of ingenious collaborations that are a hallmark of her creativity.
On Thursday, February 28, Mordine & Company begin a series of performances at Chicago's Stage 773 (through Sunday, March 3) in a program entitled All At Once. The program is characteristically imaginative; it includes two works by Mordine, both of which feature original compositions by composer Shawn Decker, as well as guest performances from two other talented companies. On Thursday and Friday, Clinard Dance Theatre will perform, while the Saturday and Sunday shows feature performances by Deeply Rooted Dance Theater.
It's remarkable that telling a story, one of the things that people everywhere do most naturally, can be one of the most challenging to do well. That's probably the reason why, after dominating the world of concert dance for centuries, it's not really that common any more. Even in ballet, and still less in dance's many other forms, modern choreography doesn't often try to bring an audience through an actual story, telling them about what happened and how it happened, and most of all, making them feel that they actually know the people who the story is about.
To begin with, you have to have a really good story to tell, and in their one act dance theater piece A Light in the Dark, Ann Reinking and Melissa Thodos have one of the best. It's about a seven year old girl in Tuscumbia, Alabama who is both blind and deaf, wild and alone. She's desperately isolated from the family that surrounds her by her inability to communicate with them, with hardly any idea that such a thing as communication even exists. A young teacher, only twenty years old and herself visually impaired, not only dares to defy this hopelessness, but actually succeeds in saving the young girl from the shadows of her isolation. Even if almost everyone thinks they already know the story of Helen Keller and Ann Sullivan, this story will always be an astonishing inspiration.
The more dramatic the movement, the harder it is to stay balanced; the higher the leap, the more difficult it is to land it gracefully. Those may sound like universal principles of motion, but you'd never know it from watching Ashley Wheater move. Even though Wheater hasn't actually danced on stage since his last performances in 1997, what he's doing now is probably a more demanding challenge in the motive arts. He's the Artistic Director of the Joffrey Ballet, and one of his most important (and most delicate) responsibilities is the construction of their concerts; Ashley Wheater designs the art and architecture of the Joffrey's uniquely expansive presentation of Dance.
You may not know it, but yes, you are; Chicago Dance Crash has the whole thing worked out. On Saturday February 9th they're presenting their popular annual concert Duets for My Valentine at Chicago's Athenaeum Theatre, in which they somehow manage to combine everything that's romantic with just enough that isn't to construct the ideal Valentine's Day program. Duets for My Valentine is an evening length composition in the diversity of dance, with eleven different dance companies and independent artists each presenting a duet somehow related to that very broad, promising, and potentially difficult subject, romance. "Every single piece is about relationships," says Mark Hackman, who first got Dance Crash involved with the annual show three years ago, "but they can be all over the place. Some are about love, some are about break-ups, but each of them has its own take on the idea because of the wide range of dance that's in the program."
It's a very creative approach, and it makes for a really complete evening, because of the way it deconstructs the challenges of putting a successful dance concert together. Instead of trying to bring an elusive coherence into a concert made from different concepts and different subjects, the focus in Duets is so clear that it opens up an incredibly rich range of other possibilities. Since their audience knows that they'll be seeing the same form, a duet (with a couple of creative variations), in works built around a single, although endless theme, Dance Crash can bring together a whirlwind tour of styles and talent and still keep it whole. "Because we have access not only to concert dance companies but to so many other artists and styles," Hackman explains, "we can give people who don't usually see dance concerts something they can really get into."
Forum Dance Theatre is one of the most respected pre-professional dance companies in the country, and on Saturday, February 2, they celebrate their fifteenth anniversary with a performance at the James Lumber Center for the Performing Arts at the College of Lake County. It's an important event for the nearly fifty members of Forum Dance's three companies, as well as for the company's many alumni, and it celebrates more than just their professional accomplishments. That's because the energetic company, while continuing to build on their reputation for outstanding dance performances, actually has even more far-reaching objectives. "Our key mission is the training and preparation of the young adult for his or her future in whatever path they choose," explains Artistic Director Eddy Ocampo. "Some of our dancers go on to dance, but some choose another field; nonetheless, all of our students leave our program well prepared to go after their dreams."
When it comes to accomplishing a dream, Forum Dance Theater sets a good example. The Company began fifteen years ago as an after school dance group with five members; under the direction of Ocampo since 2000, and before that of founding Artistic Director Kelly Hayes, they've established themselves as an accomplished and widely respected program for aspiring young dancers. Forum Dance Theatre is now includes forty-nine members, an artistic and administrative staff of nine, and over fifty volunteers; originally named Forum Contemporary Jazz Dance Theatre, they dropped "Contemporary" from their name in 2000 and "Jazz" in 2012, becoming Forum Dance Theatre.