Category Archives: Luna Negra

Autumn in the City

Dancer/choreographer Autumn Eckman. Photo by Mike Canale.

I’m not talking about the turning leaves, chilly weather and shorter days, but dancer/choreographer Autumn Eckman.  An artist that has danced with Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago (GJDC), Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Luna Negra Dance Theater, Lucky Plush Productions, Ron De Jesús Dance, as well as choreographed for Instruments of Movement, Inaside Chicago Dance, Northwest Ballet Ensemble, Indiana Ballet Theatre, just to name a few.  She’s also on faculty at Northern Illinois University, teaches at a number of area studios and serves as Artistic Associate and Rehearsal Director for GJDC and Director of Giordano II.  To put it mildly – Autumn, 34, is everywhere these days.

This weekend at the Harris Theater, Eckman will premiere a new work, Alloy, as GJDC takes the stage for its fall engagement.  The first performance of the 2011-2012 season titled Passion and Fire will showcase seven numbers including two premiere, one of which is Eckman’s.  Other pieces include Gus Giordano’s signature work Sing, Sing, Sing (1983),  last season’s ballroom hit Sabroso (2010), former GJDC dancer Jon Lehrer’s Like 100 Men (2002), a restaging of Davis Robertson’s 2005 work Being One, a world premiere by Kiesha Lalama and Eckman’s Yes, and…! from 2010.

I talked with Eckman over the phone last week as she was walking to rehearsal about her process and her inspiration.

You’re a busy lady.  What is a typical day for you?

A regular Giordano day?  They start class at 9:30 and we rehearse until 4:00pm.  Usually I’m off teaching class somewhere in the evenings.  In addition to choreographing, rehearsal directing, mentoring and guiding the second company, I’ve also been rehearsal directing the first company in preparation for the upcoming shows and tours.  For this concert, I’m helping get six pieces up and running, cleaned and polished and rehearsed.  It’s a big task, but fun.  

Who are your choreographic influences?

I take a lot of inspiration from books.  I draw my influence off of the vocabulary of the dances that I’ve done with each different company.  It’s so ingrained in my body that I try to make it my own and formulate my own style.  I love all the choreographers from my time at Hubbard Street –  Nacho (Duato), Ohad (Naharin), (William) Forsythe, but I also love jazz choreographers.  Randy Duncan has been a big influence.  I love Harrison McEldowney.  I have been inspired by the work and working with Robert Battle. Other dancers include the great entertainers of our time: Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire. I grew up watching their films along with the works of Busby Berkley. I was obsessed with his pattern making for film and dance.  In terms of the dance itself, I am often inspired by the way a writer would write or compose a song for start to finish: the verse, the chorus, the bridge, etc. I aspire to make dance the way a good song takes you on a journey.

When you choreograph something, what is your process or does it change?

I write everything down.  I could own stock in Post-It notes.  Everything is kind of disorganized, but if I have an idea, I grab a pen and write it down or if I see something, I’ll write down something…like a couple walking in the park.  Then I’ll hear a piece of music that will, in my mind, fit the idea.  It’s kind of like playing match up.  I have these really diverse ranges of music that I know I want to eventually use and finding what matches it and trying to build a story to it.  Sometimes it’s about the movement.  I like moving for movement’s sake as well.

For your premiere, Alloy, what was the impetus for it?

KRESA (Kalamazoo Regional Educational Service Agency) had asked me to choreograph a piece.  They asked for a duet.  I was really excited.  I hadn’t pushed myself to see how strong my work was in that aspect.  It’s a mixture.  I researched the word alloy and then it took on this metallicy, liquid kind of tone.  Two people that will do anything to be with each other, be one…a blend.

So the idea, the word and the concept came first and then you added music?

Yeah.  I wanted to try classical piano…listened to a simple score and see how that worked.  I knew I wanted to use soft, simple music.  Sometimes I think less is more.

You reworked it for GJDC.  How has it changed – or has it?

Nan (Giordano) had seen the dancers rehearsing.  She approached me and said she wanted it for the fall concert.  Can we add this to it?  Can we have these two dancers (Devin Buchanan and Ashley Lauren Smith)?  She loved the look of their body types together and thought they’d be a great partnering. Turns out, they are great together. They have great chemistry and it took on a sexier, really stripped down tone.   It really came all about their sensuality, their body and their movement and how they…even one touch, how that reacts to each other.  It took on a deeper, more personal tone when I worked on it the second time.  I’m extremely happy with the results.  It’s always my goal to see where jazz dance is going and how to push boundaries of what jazz dance is.  I think this is just another direction – for the company as well.  Another boundary being pushed.

Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago, Oct 21 & 22 at 8pm

Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph, 312.334.7777

Thoughts on Luna Negra ¡Mujeres!

Luna Negra dancers in "Naked Ape". Photo by Cheryl Mann.

Saturday night at the Harris Theater, Luna Negra Dance Theater presented ¡Mujeres!, a one night only show celebrating influential Latina women.  Since installing Gustavo Ramírez Sansano as Artistic Director in 2009, Luna Negra has quickly become one of my favorite companies to watch.  The new artistic vision and technical ability of the dancers are similar to the style of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago (It was nice to see many HSDC-ers in the audience!) and is a decidedly different direction from the former Luna.  For the performance, I think I had the best seat in the house (V 106). It was the “center stage” spot in the audience. I normally sit closer and did miss seeing more of the facial expressions (I didn’t have my glasses), but this seat provided the perfect perch to view the complex patterns and minimal sets.  I was excited to see the first piece, Sansano’s world premiere Not Everything, which I’d seen earlier in the month in rehearsals.  It not only did not disappoint, but was the best number in the show.

Not Everything was inspired by a photograph by Graciala Iturbide that caught Sansano’s attention at an exhibit in Spain.  Opening with a powerful female duet by Renée Adams (in all black) and Mónica Cervantes (in all white), he sets the mood and stage by having Adams intermittently carry a large bucket across and upstage following the path of white linoleum strips laid in an L shape.  The weight of the bucket, which we find out at the end of the duet, is loaded with red paint alludes to the heavy internal burden the woman in white (Cervantes) is carrying.  Adams pours the paint onto the white strip in a big puddle, unburdening herself before she leaves the stage.  The second section, much faster and frenetic, adds in the rest of the company dressed all in black.  The dark costumes and dark lighten sometimes made it difficult to see all of the movement.  This energetic section personified the flux the woman in white is feeling.  The choreography seemed to be controlled chaos with an underlying back and forth swaying that carries over into the final section.  That subtle, lulling, repetitive movement assures that the chaos will come to an end.  The dancing is so unique and interesting, you barely notice the white panel being slowly lifted to the left, causing the paint to run.  The third section is performed in a vertical line moving from stage left to stage right.  Cervantes, second from the front, slowly walks undeterred across the front white panel.  All the other dancers, in black, dance in front of and behind her pace in a continuous cannon reminding us of the chaos in her mind as she slowly and steadily walks forward.  The final image has Cervantes walking in front of the white panel that is now fully vertical with the paint running down recreating the picture that inspired the work.  The music, sets and dancing were all beautiful.  The final image – stunning.  Congrats to Sansano for achieving another remarkable choreographic feat.  I, for one, look forward to watching his work for many years.

The second piece, another world premiere, is inspired by the first queen of pre-modern Spain.  Asun Noales’ Juana is another dramatic, black and white dance showing the female lead’s decent into insanity.  White fabric pieces hanging from the ceiling move up and down ultimately creating the tower in which the queen is locked in by her people.  Veronica Guadalupe‘s interpretation of the mad queen was dramatic, strong and heartfelt.  Even though she doesn’t leave the stage for the entire piece, it is ther final solo that drives and haunts.  The other dancers almost seemed a distraction.  The look and feel of the work was too similar to the first piece, that my companions and I questioned whether they should’ve been back to back.  The consensus of the group I was with during the second intermission was that the two pieces were so much alike that it almost seemed as if Juana was part two of Not Everything.

The third work was a restaging of work by Michelle Mazanales about the life of Frida Kahlo.  Paloma Querida was a big hit with the Luna Negra audience when it premiered in 2010 and the work holds up.  Splashes of red and vibrant music lightened the mood created by the first two works, but there was plenty of drama and strong female dancing.  Compared to the other pieces that had a more European contemporary feel, Paloma stylistically felt like old Luna.  The company is strong and focused and heading in a really interesting, new direction.  I’m all for keeping your roots and acknowledging where you came from, but maybe it’s time for Sansano to forge ahead with his own vision.  I think the company and the audience is ready.

I want to note a few problems I had with the show.   1.  With a one-night-only show, you can’t go back to see it again and this program warrants a second viewing.  I want to see it again (especially Sansano’s work).  2.  Dedicating the season to women naturally tends to highlight the spectacular women in the company – and that is all of them! – but, the men, who are just as fascinating to watch seemed to be overlooked.  Aside from a sassy little solo by Eduardo Zuñiga in the final piece (where he literally almost danced out of his pants), the men didn’t stand out.  That’s a shame.

Q&A with Luna Negra’s Veronica Guadalupe

Guadalupe in "Danzon". Photo by Cheryl Mann.

Saturday marks the first performance of her 10th season with Luna Negra and Veronica Guadalupe is ready. After two major injuries during her career, she’s at the top of her game and excited about the upcoming performance ¡Mujeres! at the Harris Theater. The program celebrates Latina women with three pieces: a restaging of a work Paloma Querida, inspired by Mexican painter Frida Kahlo; a premiere about the first pre-modern queen of Spain;  and another premiere inspired by a photo by Mexican photographer Graciela Iturbide.

Guadalupe has been dancing since she was 2 1/2 years old and studied at the Virginia School for the Arts, danced in the second company with Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago and was an apprentice with River North Dance Chicago before joining Luna Negra in 2002.  She’s now also co-rehearsal director, was one of the dancers to stay with the company after founder Eduardo Vilaro left in 2009 to run Ballet Hispanico in New York and current Artistic Director Gustavo Ramírez Sansano took over. I spoke with her two weeks ago about the transition, the company and her career.

How did you end up at Luna Negra?

I apprenticed with River North for a year and I sustained a really terrible injury when I was there.  I fractured my tibia almost all of the way through and I have a titanium rod in there now.  They think that I probably had a stress fracture that I danced on for at least three months.  I was out for six months.  After that, my leg was a noodle.  I’d been on crutches for 12 weeks and in a cast for another 10 weeks…it was terrible.  I was barely taking barre again when my friend wanted us to go and audition for Luna Negra.  Are you kidding me?  When we got to rep, luckily, everything was on the other leg!  He (Vilaro) offered me a contract and I had to tell him I hadn’t danced in six months, but he was willing to give me a try. That was July 2002.

Tell me about the transition.  When Eduardo left, you were one of the only people who stayed…

I’d left for a brief period of time, while the transition was happening.  When Eduardo announced he was leaving, almost immediately Michelle Manzanales and another board member contacted me and wanted me to come back. I did a fall season as a guest artist and I was part of the search for the new Artistic Director.  I was the only one to have worked with all of the candidates.  I could tell the dancers what it was like to work with them and tell the board and search committee what my experiences had been with these people.  I told them flat out there was only one person I would come back for. Gustavo choreographed on us in 2002 and he worked with us two other times.  I said, he’s the only person who can take the company to the next place.  He was my choice.  I told the board that this is what the company needs.  It worked out perfectly.

The company looks completely different now.  How was the transition?

The transition was really smooth, because we did have a change over with dancers too, so we had a lot of new people starting over.  I think that was really important.  When we signed him, he couldn’t come here for a few months and I think a lot of dancers were thinking selfishly about what they would do in the meantime, instead of what would be good for the company as a whole.  I think it was important to have a group of dancers that could begin new with this new era. 

How do you like the difference in style of dancing?

I love it.  I think it’s fresh and new and exciting.  I think it’s shaking up the Chicago dance community. It’s something they haven’t seen before and no one else is doing it.  It’s incredible.

Let’s talk about your dancing.  Are you in all three pieces in !Mujeres!?

Yes.  I’m resetting “Paloma Querida”.  Michelle (Manzanales) came in for a weekend and worked with us.  She made a lot of changes.  It’s almost like a new piece now.  The heart of it is still there, but she did a lot of structural changes that I think made a big difference.  She was very respectful that these weren’t the same group of dancers that I worked with before and let’s utilize what we have now.  She made some really great changes. 

Tell me about the two world premieres.

“Juana” – oh, I’m Juana! – she was the first queen of modern Spain.  Her story is she fell in love with this guy Phillipe.  They called her Juana Loca and he was Phillipe Hermosa.  Phillip the beautiful and Juana the crazy.  She was crazy in love with him and he cheated on her left and right.  When he died, she went totally crazy and was obsessed with him even though he was dead.  It drove her mad.  Her family left her.  The country wouldn’t entrust her with the power of being queen, so they locked her in a tower to die.

Do you get a crazy Spanish Giselle mad scene?

Kind of. It’s a hard balance.  At first, I was focusing more on the emotional and dramatic aspect of it and then she (Asul Noales) threw a whole bunch of dance in.  I don’t leave the stage for 21 minutes.  It’s intense.

(Gustavo’s piece) “Not Everything” is inspired by a female photographer.  It’s just so beautiful.  The music…it a very intense piece musically.  There’s a really soft beginning with just Mónica (Cervantes) and Renée (Adams) that lays the groundwork from the picture.  The group section is…it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.  It’s so fast.  We were watching rehearsal footage the other day and someone said it looked like it was in fast forward.  It feels like it’s in fast forward!  This is the test, the challenge…he’s throwing the hardest thing at us right now, because we have to get it.  We’re performing it in a couple of weeks.  The third section is the most beautiful music and it totally changes directions. 

Luna Negra – ¡Mujeres!, Saturday, October 1, 2011 @ 630pm

Harris Theater, 205 E Randolph, 312.334.7777

Preview: Luna Negra ¡Mujeres!

"Los Pollos, Juchitan, Qaxaca" (1979) by Mexican photographer Graciela Iturbide.

Luna Negra Dance Theater presents ¡Mujeres! this Saturday, October 1st at the Harris Theater.  Mujeres, or woman, is the driving force of an evening showcasing the Latina woman in various forms:  a premiere by a female Spanish choreographer about the first queen of pre-modern Spain, a reworking by a Mexican-American female choreographer about a Mexican female painter, and a premiere of a new work inspired by a female Mexican photographer.  Touted as “a celebration of globally influential Latinas”, the one-night-only show kicking off Luna’s 2011-2012 season, comes in the middle of Hispanic Heritage Month.  Featuring choreography from Artistic Director of Otra Danza, Asun Noales, former Luna dancer and Rehearsal Director of Ballet Hispanico, Michelle Manzanales as well as a world premiere from Luna Negra Artistic Director Gustavo Ramírez Sansano, the seasons opens with a bang!

Earlier this month, I sat in on rehearsal for Sansano’s new work inspired by the photograph Los Pollos, Juchitan, Qaxaca (1979) – or The Chickens – by Graciela Iturbide (shown above).  The picture captured his attention because it is her only photo in which the subject is blurred, like she’s running or trying to get somewhere.  He wanted to know why.  In Not Everything, set to music by Arvo Pärt, Sansano recreates the picture and adds context for the mood or actions that happen in the five seconds before she runs.  An ambitious goal.  “It’s like everything is good, then you get bad information and it goes from your head or brain to your heart and then your gut, then you decide to do something about it,” he explains from their State Street rehearsal studio.   “I want it to have the quality of taking you on a trip.”  It’s the moment the picture is taken that closes the dance.  Add in linoleum set pieces that will be raised to frame the stage with liquid running down in patterns and you literally have art imitating art on the stage.

Sansano is ambitious with his choreography too.  At the beginning of rehearsal, he’s cleaning a section that has at least one gesture for every count.  “More legatto…a softer moment”, he says, working the nuance of every detail, squeezing emphasis into a phrase that seems to have no more room.  With verbal counts, the movements seem quick and hard to place together.  Run with music, it’s faster, but flows together organically.  The dancers seem to take it in stride.  Now on to the fast section, which dancer and co-rehearsal director  (she shares duties with Mónica Cervantes) Veronica Guadalupe says is “the hardest think I’ve ever done before”.  She nods to indicate that this is it.  Complex patterns, high energy movement, split-second drops to the floor with seemingly effortless recoveries, singular moments of pause only to join back into the group a few seconds later like nothing happened all to driving, dramatic music.  With the music off, you can hear the heavy breathing and almost forget how easy they made it look.  Almost.  My response was “holy s*^t!”

And that’s just the opener.  Asun Noales, in her Luna Negra debut, created a full company piece inspired by Juana la Loca (Juana the Mad).  The dramatic story of the first queen of pre-modern Spain, danced by Guadalupe, incorporates intense love, grief, richness and madness to a score by Tomás San Miguel.  Rounding out the show is a revamped version of Paloma Querida (Beloved Dove), which Luna performed right before Sansano took over directorial control from Eduardo Vilaro.  Michelle Manzanales came back to set her piece based on the work of painter Frida Kahlo on the new Luna dancers.  The was a huge hit with the audience back in 2010.  I’m curious to see it set on a different group of dancers.

I’ve been telling pretty much anyone who will listen that they need to go see Luna Negra since Sansano’s debut last fall (his Toda Una Vida was simply stunning).  Nothing against the former company, but this group of dancers under his direction is fresh, unique, surprising and super talented.  Get your tickets for Saturday’s performance before they are sold out.  I promise, it will be worth it.

¡Mujeres! – Luna Negra Dance Theater, Saturday, October 1 at 6:30 pm, Harris Theater, 205 E Randolph, $25-$65, 312.334.7777

Break

RB took a little time off after the Chicago Dancing Festival (CDF), but now I’m back and ready to go!  Coming up: interviews/previews with Luna Negra (Veronica Guadalupe), Inaside Chicago Dance (Mary Williams), Joffrey Ballet (Michael Smith), Hubbard Street (David Schultz) , Smuin Ballet (Jonathan David Dummar) and even a little chat with Twyla Tharp!

Keep a look out for changes/additions to the blog in the coming weeks, but in the meantime, here are some beautiful pics from CDF finale by the gorgeous and gracious mama-to-be Cheryl Mann.

Michelle Fleet and the Paul Taylor Dance Co in "Esplanade".

NYC Ballet dancers Tiler Peck & Gonzalo Garcia in "Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux".

Martha Graham dancer Xiaochuan Xie in "Diversion of Angels".

Joffrey's Temur Suluashvili & Victoria Jaiani in "Stravinsky Violin Concerto".

Leopold Group is dancing

Dancers Melissa Claire Block & Nicole Romano Uribarri in "une elephante". Photo by John W. Sisson Jr.

This weekend (Aug 26 – 28), the Leopold Group presents dancing, three days of dance with a different guest company performing at each show.  Artistic Director Lizzie Leopold takes the shared community one step further.  “By inviting guests to perform, you get a a cross-pollination of audiences,” she says.  The company will present two works, Lips of Their Fingers, a 25-minute piece for five women set to music from the Beastie Boys and une elephante, a 30-minute duet for two women to John Adams’ Johns Book of Alleged Dances.  Joining Leopold and her dancers this weekend are Theater Unspeakable Clowns (Fri), Winifred Haun and Dancers (Sat) and CCBdance Project (Sun).  Leopold is generous like that, constantly offering her ideas and knowledge and anxious to keep the conversation going.  With a BFA in dance from University of Michigan, a Masters in Performance Studies from New York University, and a Broadway show she produced her belt, she has a lot to say.  She’s smart, driven and still thirsty for more knowledge.  It’s refreshing.  This fall, Leopold heads back to school at Northwestern University to get a PhD in Interdisciplinary Theater and Drama Studies.  But first, her company has a show to put on.

I spoke with her just after the Dance/USA conference this summer and right after she left her gig at Audience Architects to prepare for the concert and school.

First, tell me about the Broadway musical experience.

My undergraduate degree is in dance, but my husband (he’s a musician in the rock band “I Fight Dragons”) and our best friend, they both studied musical theater.  We stared working on a show when we were in college.  We were going to put on a show in a barn.  Three years later, someone said to us, “You should put it on Broadway.”  We were 23, so we weren’t going to say no.  We probably should’ve said no.  We weren’t ready.  Someone gave us an opportunity and we ran with it.  The show had a pretty successful regional run in DC.  Some of our producers saw it and thought it was cheap and they could make money off of it.  We kind of got swept up in the glitz and glamour.  We were open for one night.  We had sixteen previews and a one-night run.  We are a trivia question.  (It was called) “Glory Days”.  We call it glory night.  It was wonderful and I learned more about the business of making art in that one day than I have learned in the other 27 years of my life.  It was a lesson in show making and money-making and how those things crash and burn and intersect.  I had always worked in modern dance, which is explicitly non-for-profit and the Broadway world is out to make a profit.  That’s not a secret.  It’s a different beast.  It was a spectacular night.

When and why did you decide to start a company?

I was in college.  I think it was one of those situations where somebody tells you that you’re good at something and you’re like, “oh yeah!”  I’ve never been a very technical dancer.  I work really hard, but I didn’t feel it was ever going to happen for me.  I love dance and I was doing lighting design and stage management and choreography.  I was trying to figure out how to stay in this world, because I wasn’t a good enough dancer.

So, you don’t dance in your company?

No.   I used to, but I think dancing and choreographing are both full-time pursuits and I couldn’t do both.  I made a dance and my professor said, “You’re really good.  This is what you do.”  And I thought, “ok this is what I do.” I finished college early and came back to Chicago and started the legalese of starting the company.  Then my classmates followed me, so I sort of had a ready-made group of dancers who wanted to be dancers.  Two of them are still here six years later.

What do you find the most difficult part of running a company?

In Chicago, and this is probably true of lots of cities, if you aren’t going to be a dancer for a company, people don’t treat you seriously as a choreographer.  I don’t have the street cred.  I have some now.  It’s been hard…you can be 21 and be a professional dancer and everyone thinks that’s alright, but you can’t be that age and be an artistic director.  That’s been hard to figure out how to navigate that divide and how to get myself involved in this community when I wasn’t ever going to dance for one of those companies.  I think I lived and made dances in Chicago (during the three years in between Michigan and going to NYC) pretty unsuccessfully.  I think it was important, but I think it was more insular than it should’ve been.  Since I moved back from New York, I’ve been braver.  I’ve learned that people are people.  I’m less afraid to ask them if I can have a seat at the table.

What did you learn at NYU that made that shift?

I learned that everyone’s point of view is important.  The companies that I looked up to in Chicago looked a certain way.  Like Hubbard Street, Luna Negra, Lucky Plush.  When I think about Hubbard Street, those dancers look a certain way – and I don’t look that way.  I had to learn that what I had to contribute to the conversation was just as important as those companies.  Scale is confusing.  Bigger is always better, or it looks that way.  Also, I learned that anyone who grows up and trains as a dancers spends a lot of time in a room filled with mirrors staring at themselves, which is a terrifying way to grow up.  I went to NYU, I didn’t study dance; I studied theory.  Most of the time they were talking about performance as a frame, not as a thing that happens.  Like to look at the guy on the street selling a newspaper as a performance.  Performance art was a big part of that.  So I got to take my blinders off and stop staring at myself in a mirror and I think that has helped me in a big way in both what I’m creating as a choreographer and how I view myself in this community.

What is an Interdisciplinary PhD in Theater and Drama Studies?

The way I’ve been explaining it is it’s kind of a “choose your own adventure” PhD.  There a very few dance-related PhD programs.  I knew when I went back for my Masters that I didn’t want an MFA because I wasn’t going to be a dancer.  To go back into the studio and take technique class wasn’t going to benefit me.  That’s not what I need.  I see a whole and I think I can fill it with research and writing.  My thesis…I can give you the stupid academic jargon version.  Something about the intersection of American Modern dance and the organizational structures, theoretically and historically…basically dance and business and how those things intersection, the growth of the non-profit and the journey from dance piece to product of a corporation.  That history.  It goes back to the whole Broadway dance thing and the intersection of dance and money.  Mostly because it makes me want to vomit.  It makes me super uncomfortable, but you can’t just do dance to do dance.  It’s not just this fantastically pure art form.  You have to make money to succeed.  You have to make choices that aren’t purely artistic.  I want to look at that.  I’m pretty sure I’m going to find that was never the case, but I need to know that.

Tell me about the upcoming show and une elephante.

Two dances, both new.  The full show is a dance show about dance.  It’s supposed to be redundant.  I’ve said that I want to make modern dance more accessible.  I know a lot of people have said that, but I’ve been saying it for a long time and had never really done anything about it.  This is the first blatant attempt to demystify modern dance in that the dances are about dance.  We’re using QR codes in our program to link to our extensive program notes, so giving people the option of watching the dance then reading about it or read about it, then watch the dance, or none of the above.  If you want all the answers, you can have them.   It’s not some oblique reference, it’s here are the questions I’m asking about dance.  The first piece is the duet.  We made it because we got a Dance Bridge residency at the Cultural Center.  It’s basically a free space.  You propose a piece to them and they give you free space and then you do a showing.  I told them that I wanted to try and draw parallels between dance and portraiture and the idea of duration.  One of the big things I dealt with at NYU was about how dance is ephemeral.  As soon as you dance, it’s gone.  Every time you do a step, it’s over.  There’s no way to stop it. We made this duet trying to figure out ways to slow down time.  The way you can sit and look at a painting for five minutes, how can you have that same experience with dance.  We started making task-based choreography.  I usually make up steps and people learn them and I put them together.  This was more like – spin in a circle for five minutes, we played games – it wasn’t based on a step, but on an idea, so I could watch it develop a little more.  What came out of it was this really strange, intense relationship.  The physical movements themselves had an emotional element that I would have never known if I hadn’t looked at it for two minutes straight.  The duration allowed me to think about what the actual step meant.  It’s a challenge, both for the dancers and for the audience.  It’s super easy to get bored and say “I get it” and move on.  Most of us that have seen dance are used to it moving quick.  I almost think it’s long enough that you can watch it, be bored, get unbored, go back to watching it.  We’ve been building pieces of it since March.  There’s a very clear relationship that came out that I had not intended.  One of the things that bothers me about dance is that it happens so quickly.  The reason people are confused or afraid of it is because you don’t have time to digest.  How do I tell you – here are the things you think you don’t know about dance, but you know them already.  You think there’s a secret.  If you’ve every done the YMCA, you’ve already accepted the fact that you can communicate with your body.  That’s all you need to get.  If you can do the YMCA, you get modern dance.  There is no secret.

Leopold Group dancing, August 26&27 @ 8pm, Aug 28 @ 5pm

The Drucker Center, 1535 N Dayton, Chicago

Tickets:  www.brownpapertickets.com, $20

CDF’s 5 After 5 Event

Jay Franke and Evin Eubanks address the crowd while Chicago Cabaret Project's Kyle Hustedt looks on. Photo by Vin Reed.

Last night the Chicago Dancing Festival (CDF) kicked off its summer season with a launch party 5 After 5 at Benchmark in Old Town.  Dance enthusiasts, supporters, board member, artistic staff, bloggers, pr reps and dancers all gathered on the top floor of the swanky bar to mingle and toast the start of CDF events.  Executive Director Evin Nicole Eubanks greeted guests at the door, while Co-Founder Jay Franke worked the crowd.  Notable absent was Co-Founder Lar Lubovitch who is out of town with his company that is performing at Jacob’s Pillow through July 24th.

Kristi Burris and Jessica Chapuis show us how it's done! Photo by Vin Reed.

After sipping cocktails — Bean and Body even crafted a signature Cinq cocktail for the event – emcee Kyle Hustedt from the Chicago Cabaret Project opened with a rousing and humorous rendition of Wilkommen from what else…Cabaret!  After “wilkommening” the crowd, Hustedt introduced the first of three dance performances of the evening.  Chicago Human Rhythm Project‘s Kristi Burris and Jessica Chapuis delivered (I really want to say good, old-fashioned) tap-off with each taking syncopated turns on their wooden stages.  Fun!

Amber Jackson and Louis Jackson perform at CDF's "5 After 5". Photo by Vin Reed.

After a short pause, DanceWorks Chicago dancers Amber Jackson and Louis James Jackson (no, they aren’t related) literally exploded out of the crowd with a sassy piece “Beat in the Box” choreographed by Brian Eno.  I found out later that this was the last performance with DWC for these two beautiful dancers.  Louis is heading out as a performer on a cruise ship and Amber is looking for a job as a school teacher.  Best of luck to both!

 

Moníca Cervantes and Eduardo Zuñiga of Luna Negra getting close. Photo by Vin Reed.

Luna Negra dancers Moníca Cervantes and Eduardo Zuñiga later wowed the crowd with a flirty duet created  by Artistic Director Gustavo Ramírez Sansano for the event.  After the performances, more mingling ensued.  I got to meet some of my fellow CDF bloggers (click the icon at the top right of this page for more info) in the festival blogger intiative:  Scott Silberstein, Miguel Cano, Araceli Arroyo as well as Astek Consulting rep Rachel Yeomans and catch up with Silverman Group gurus Beth Silverman and Eric Eatherly.  I especially enjoyed hanging with visual artists Sasha Fornari and Vin Reed.

It was a fun evening and great way to start the CDF festivities!

Dance/USA hits town this week!

The national conference for Dance/USA hits Chicago this week with an opening night reception on Wednesday at the Harris Theater.  So, I asked some top dance folk what makes Chicago one of the top destinations for dance?

What’s not to love about dance in Chicago?  We are growing and developing a stronger international presence by the many versatile dance companies our community supports.  I have found that since I first moved to Chicago in 1999 to dance with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, the dance environment has changed so much with the addition of so many new voices.  It’s been exciting to watch this grow.  ~Jay Franke, co-founder Chicago Dancing Festival

I believe it is the presence and balance of presenting locations, studios and schools, performance opportunities and many genres of dance that take part.  ~Shirley Mordine, artistic director Mordine & Co Dance Theater

There’s a strong symbiosis between internal momentum and external recognition, especially in today’s connected age.  Chicagoans are increasingly aware of the riches available to them at dance performances, which in turn is increasing those performances’ reach, which in turn elevates Chicago on the global stage.  (Mayor) Rahm Emanuel hasn’t been shy about his advocacy for dance, during the election and since taking office on May 16.  The Chicago Dancing Festival, which marks its fifth annual just weeks after the conference concludes, has, as a cornerstone of its identity, the idea that dance is an art form that can reach all people, of all backgrounds and circumstances.  It plans in the years ahead to bring programming to Chicago’s neighborhoods, including those geographically and/or financially distant from dance’s traditional core demographics.  Issues of relevance and accessibility affect all dance artists today, and I think Chicago has, through these and other examples, shown leadership in finding new ways to expand dance’s reach.  ~Zachary Whittenburg, dance editor Time Out Chicago

Chicago has a rich variety of dance companies, offering many different dance styles, showcasing specific cultures, performing in so many different types of venues.  On any given weekend you can see at least three or four different performances throughout the city.  ~Gustavo Ramirez Sansano, artistic director Luna Negra Dance Theater

When the Joffrey came to Chicago in 1995, it found a community with an appetite for ballet and the foundations of a vibrant dance scene.  We have participated in and benefited from the growth of dance awareness in the Midwest.  If you consider, also, the excellent work of the Chicago Dancing Festival, Hubbard Street, River North, Luna Negra, Giordano, to name a few, you have a network that nurtures a growing interest in the art form.  ~Ashley Wheater, artistic director Joffrey Ballet