Briana Robinson and Kevin Shackelford didn't exactly know at first. As they loaded Shackelford's video equipment into a car they borrowed from one of Briana's friends, they didn't know that what they would film that bright summer day would turn out the way it did. The project they were about to film became a burst of bright discovery called Urban Pointe Shoes, but as they set out to shoot that day, they didn't yet realize that they were going to make a such a beautiful document of defiant hope.
They didn't really even know each other. Shackelford is an independent filmmaker who works with music and fashion artists. Robinson is a choreographer and dancer with Thodos Dance Chicago, the widely respected dance company she joined after completing her studies at Juilliard.
"I first heard about the project from a woman by the name of Eileen Mallory," Robinson recalls. "At the time, she was working at Ballet Chicago, where I trained when I first started dancing. My close friend Joshua Ishmon, who was also on staff at Ballet Chicago, heard about the project from Eileen and recommended me for the opportunity."
The project was a short film that Shackelford was making for his production company K-Shack Video. "Kevin was looking for an African American ballerina who was comfortable with improvisation, and not afraid to dance in unlikely environments."
"I'm really looking to cultivate choreographers who use rhythm and dynamics as their source material," Artistic Director Siegenfeld explains, "instead of shape and form." The result is a multicolored evening of insight into how artists can move and be moved. Here's our Photo Friday set of shots from the performance, and there's a lot more at johnnynevin.com.
Hubbard Street Dance Chicago's Winter Series presents the return of Alejandro Cerrudo's full evening work One Thousand Pieces, premiered in 2012 for the Company's thirty-fifth anniversary. When the work was originally peformed, the response to it from Hubbard Street's audiences was even more enthusiastic than expected, and expectations were unquestionably high. Alejandro Cerrudo had become Hubbard Street's first ever Resident Choreographer three years earlier, and his ten previous works for the Company had steadily attracted attention and accumulated admiration, building expectations of similar creativity like the crescendo of a symphony. One Thousand Pieces was a very different undertaking though; exponentially more complex, it required the synthesis of so many creative and practical possibilities that it was hard to be sure if even Cerrudo could accomplish it. How he was able to do so, and do so successfully, turns out to be a study in the art of balance as much as the art of dance, balancing personal vision with practical reality, leadership with cooperation.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.