there’s something truly luminous about witnessing variant styles of live art on a shared stage. it’s not about which form, which variation of dance should be upheld and viewed… all forms present are affirmed and held with regard to what Lar Lubovitch referred to as “a standard of excellence”. within the concept of variation i’m thinking of it as a ‘tool’ of choreography (a basic movement theme is stated and then altered in various ways) and in terms of the diverse traditions that flowed across The Harris Theater on Tuesday, August 20th; as part of Chicago Dancing Festival‘s[CDF] 2013 season. when witnessing ‘diversity’ unfold in a coexisting space, much comes up for me. here are some of my reflections on that evening; illuminating the beauty of that coexistence….
serenely projected blue cloud-like textures rest on the stage as we wait…slowly but surely seats fill with bodies and ambient socializing. joining me is a dear associate whom i have had the pleasure of seeing prior dance performances with…in fact we came together to The Harris for the opening of the 2012’s CDF season as well. it is a joy to have her by my side to witness and offer some thoughts that may challenge or align with my own… hers is a distinctive knowledge base from mine; having invested as a student and dancer in more ballet, more traditional modern forms such as Horton & Graham than myself. when i ask “what comes up for her when thinking of ‘diversity'”, she echoes sentiments akin to Lar’s [noted in my earlier blog reflection] – “When I look around the audience, i’m looking at ‘who’s here’…where’s the cross-pollination?” where are ‘We’[people of color]?” she goes on to share her belief that the “intention of the fest [CDF] is for Chicago to have access to some of the finest dance, but WHO of Chicago actually has access?” it’s a great question. interestingly, just then, a trio of young women of color happen to sit right next to us. i think about what diversity means to us in this moment, as we are about to witness this concert? will it be about color? style? variations on the style? Lar pointed out that the bottom line of his and Jay Franke‘s curatorial selection is “excellence. Excellence comes first.” to me that excellence comes through the rich diversity and forms, the panorama of workmanship and artists expressing themselves…from the rhythmical to the classical.
tonight, on the stage, i felt a diverse presence of form, content and culture that was satisfying to me on many levels. beginning with the presence & introduction of the full company of artists who would perform on stage. when the lights came up it was indeed a beautiful way to let us know that, as a composite, here was a true multiplicity of bodies, shades & stylistic forms (evident in the kinds of costuming displayed):
–Chicago Human Rhythm Project [CHRP]
–Hubbard Street Dance Chicago [HSDC]
–The Joffrey Ballet [TJB]
In the beginning… a welcome addition to the CDF line-up this year, CHRP opens the concert with this work – a collective choreography of Lane Alexander and Bril Barrett, with improvisation from the most racially diverse ensemble of the line-up – feels like a ‘primer’ on tap; a way to navigate how simple it can begin and how complex it can be. it’s possibilities seemingly endless…though the tap flooring & boxes placement along with constricted lighting felt limiting to their expansive artistry.
Little mortal jump— HSDC is no stranger to the festival or The Harris. it’s no wonder that their connection & ways of performing in it are effortless… and, through the choreographic conventions of Alejandro Cerrudo , magical. their strikingly unison moments underscore how deeply this company is an ensemble. the pairings & solo allow for opportunities to examine the strength of their individual technique…the particular silky way they lingered with a leg or gesture…many compelling aspects to this company’s presentation… most subtle were the visible threads of ‘diversity’…
Diana and Acteon pas de deux — my associate gives me much needed insight into the Vagonava legacy, as we both savor the spellbinding effects of the performance. guest artists Brooklyn Mack and Tamako Miyazaki bring impeccable technique and exquisite expression to the oldest work of the evening. Masterfully crafted by Vaganova/Alonso, the duet feels calibrated perfectly for these two artists. in light of the concept of racial diversity, i have to acknowledge my perception of them as a Black/of African descent male and Asian/of Japanese descent female. important because when this work was first created in 1935, what chance would either of them have had to perform it? to study ballet? what audience would have invested in or gone to see a duet with these two performing at that time? so as classical as the work is, it feels contemporary in its ‘casting’. and transcendent! there’s no question they have transcended the form, and any thought around their color, with their superlative performance.
at intermission i engaged in conversations with others who bring further fuel to the dialectic of having these two artists perform. one which will not be resolved by the end of this performance, the performers or presenters…. a dialectic to be considered when audiences, artists & administrators present or see dance.
What also came up was what does it mean to ‘track’ diversity across ballet & other dance forms? what will that awaken for those with this knowledge? how will it support the efforts to expand the concept of diversity while upholding excellence?
The Crisis of Variations — fragmented parts of body in a series of shifting tableux vivants, evolving to unabashed throws of whole bodies through space, on top of each other, colliding & orbiting; abstractly aligning with the live sounds of the refined Le Train Bleu, to create a dissonance that is palpable and intriguingly post-modern. it’s a challenging work for his dancers and for us as audience to experience. i admire Lar‘s choice to include this piece. to expose keen ways modern, contemporary dance are distinctive. i appreciated the variant body types inside his company. the body ‘diversity’. subtle yet visible.
I’m Going to Explode — the lone solo of the evening, Brian Brooks conveys the ‘everyday business man’ in private moments… their idiosyncrasies…a queering of the ‘straight-laced’ white normative…the way they may ‘groove’ when no one’s watching. the music narrative. his singular body. the chair he leaves the suit jacket he releases. the explosion that is the dance that he can longer repress.
Son of Chamber Symphonic — the rigor. placement of leg, foot, arm, neck. the clarity of the form that is the body expressed so clearly in Joffrey dancers’ technique and within this piece. precise & poised with the complement of lovely costuming; a texturing that further pronounced their form…
TJB finishes off the evening with this articulate workmanship. yes workMANship… as the choreographer is Australian Stanton Welch… it had eluded me until my associate brought it up – the absence of female choreographers? i was perplexed. looking at my notes, it seems to be one aspect of diversity i never brought up… ok, revisiting the program, there’s the discovery of one recognized female choreographic contribution – Vaganova. it lists Alonso as well…don’t know who that is or their gender but will be diligent in finding out… ***found out that the Alonso noted is Madame Alicia Alonso, Cuban prima ballerina assoluta whom, i deduce, worked with the dancers on their performance of it & maintaining the integrity of the work. the choreography is attributed to Vagnova with the music composed by Cesare Spugni.
of the six pieces presented, there is only one perceived woman acknowledged as a creator of work. to some this may not seem a big deal, but have heard from independent dancemakers – specifically throughout Chicago – who have attested to this exclusion on the established regional level of being represented…again i will be diligent in looking at this concern myself. in witnessing such beauty & dimensions diversity throughout the evening, my consciousness, most directly awakened by my female associate, compels me to put forth this question: Do we need to ‘track’ gender in as it relates to choreographers/creators of work when thinking of diversity? where is that representation in the larger companies? why is it important to make note of it?
Chicago Dancing Festival at The Harris Theater Tuesday, August 20th 7:30pm
Chicago Human Rhythm Project’s In the beginning…(2013) [male choreographers Lane Alexander & Bril Barrett]
Hubbard Street Dance Chicago Little mortal jump (2012) [male choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo]
Guest Artists Brooklyn Mack of The Washington Ballet & Tamako Miyazaki of Columbia Classical Ballet / Dortmund Ballet Diana and Acteon pas de deux (1935) [female choreographer contributor Aggripina Vaganova / with credit to Madame Alicia Alonso***]
Lar Lubovitch Dance Company w/ Le Train Bleu [music ensemble] Crisis Variations (2011)[ male choreographer Lar Lubovitch]
Brian Brooks Moving Company I’m Going to Explode (2007)[male choreographer Brian Brooks]
The Joffrey Ballet Son of Chamber Symphonic (2012) [male choreographer Stanton Welch]
more to come on how Chicago Dancing Festival explores the complex subject of ‘diversity’ soon…