The dance eclectic, the dancing electric part 1:Chicago Dancing Festival places the “Everyday Chicagoan” on a world class stage

There is a continuum…this continuum places within our reach: young people, elders, black, white, mixed, Asian, Latin/Hispanic & all of the above, dynamic & virtuosic, poised & sophisticated beings.  All on the same stage.  A world class stage.  For all to see. And feel deeply what they saw.  And tell others what they love.  How they loved experiencing a reflection of their city expressed through the dance panorama that took place last night as part of the Chicago Dancing Festival.  A reflection of Everyday Chicago articulated by Everyday Chicagoans. The dance eclectic? Yes: hip Africa post modern contemporary release idiosyncratic balletic cha-cha lyrical character defiantly undefinable. The dance electric? Most certainly.  Like static cling, it clung to us.  Hair  raised on arms at times.  Defying gravity.  Residing still within my recesses.

It begins with a Touch of Soul.  Because that is how the evening began.  And what  a beginning…the dancers eclectic, their dancing electric.

One of my foci to blog for the festival, i had the pleasure of meeting with Chicago Dancing Company commissioned choreographer Nicholas Leichter and some of the crew from After School Matters’ Hip Hop Culture Dance Ensemble : Shannon Brown, Dorian Rhea, William Harris and Kaina Castillo.  Prior to the performance, we gather in the dressing room to discuss this communal exchange.   Within a few minutes, i can already sense the communal synergy  between choreographer and dancers.  Though, at times, that distinction was blurred; as Nicholas is quick to admit how these young people threw in their own kinetic thoughts, shapes, moves into the composition.  Throughout their process  he encouraged, insisted that their artistic voice be heard.  Be honored.  Challenged.  And he diligently cultivated it inside the rehearsals and within their “presence”.  Any artist within the performance field knows how difficult it can be to be ‘present’.   To be keenly aware of what’s & who’s around you at all times during a live performance exchange; such that if someone bumps into you or throws you off, the moment is still infused with your crafted spontaneous creativity.  That takes skill. And hearing these young dancers speak about how inspiring it was to have Nicholas as a mentor, a reflection of what they desired to become, you got the feeling his presence only enhanced their luminous presence. Indeed, Nicholas wanted to make his ‘presence’ known in Chicago as well.   He spoke briefly with Lar Lubovitch [one of Chicago Dancing Festival’s Artistic Directors] about the project and heard a little about the After School Matters program, but had yet to truly discover the kinetic possibilities within these Chicagoans.  Then came the first rehearsal…”First day we didn’t know what to expect!” Shannon proclaims, the others immediately concur.  “All the hype” they had heard about him, what they pulled from the internet, didn’t compare to seeing Nicholas preparing in the studio for the initial rehearsal.  “Nic was feeling it!” As they watched him moving to the music, they got more excited.  Even more nervous.  “Before Nic came, i never knew i needed to work on my sassy, fierce, stuff” Kaina professes. “…How to throw myself [into the dance] and be able to whip my hair“.  All with technique and control i might add.  Nicholas succinctly and brilliantly conveys that in his detailed choreographic aesthetic. More than just a ‘hybrid’ the vocabulary defies the boxes it supposedly exists within.  ‘Hip-Hop’ Urban? Even contemporary  doesn’t seem to capture the multi-layered legacies he explores with his company of dancers in Ny; now with his ‘company of dancers’ in Chicago.  To him it’s all about vibing off what’s/who’s in the room that informs the creative impulse inside the compositional landscape.   With two working weeks, he takes them through an exhilarating experience heightening their kinesthetic abilities; utilizing everyone who wanted to be part of this process.  By the end of the process,  he has delivered a potent message to these artists; one that continues to resonate for them.  “A new vision…Nic’s notion of ‘staying out of the box’….to come up with your own labels” (Kaina).  “Recreated…[to be able to just] switch it up” (Shannon)  [While]”After School Matters has given alot of teens a voice, an outlet, a chance to be heard”(Dorian),  Nicholas has offered to them “a new box of crayons… So now [i] can go home and create [my own] picture…” (William)

A Touch of Soul’s (from left) Dorian, Kaina, William & Shannon with choreographer Nicholas Leichter

more to come on A Touch of Soul and Bolero Chicago’s premiere last nite at Chicago Dancing Festival

Living the dance part 2: Multiple Bodies, Multiple Voices…A unifying language

Today they prepare.

Tonite they perform.

Community has formed.

Some have left.

Others still arriving. ..

More exchanges to occur.

Multiple bodies signifying multiple voices unified through moving language.

This evening

We will witness them ‘living the dance’.

…Janet has a solo! From just having one nite’s rehearsal ‘under her belt’ to now proving how wonderfully individualized is the experience of being a community member of  Bolero Chicago,  she gets to have a ‘moment’.  It’s one of  many moments individual Chicagoans will have as part of the process of being a ‘dancer’ for the Chicago Dancing Festival premiere of Larry Keigwin & Company’s inclusive choreography.  Janet will ‘put the button’ on the end of a phrase. The ‘button’ being a jump as fleeting yet signature of her vibrant persona onstage.  She finds it refreshing that “so many [kinds of] people are moving together…A testament that everyone can dance.”

For some of the  Bolero Chicagoans, this has been an extension of their dance lineage.  For others simply pure expression of their love of moving.  Veronica embodies both.  20 years of age, she has been dancing for 15 of them.  It takes an hour & half to travel to rehearsal from Garfield Park, her current residence.  Veronica is nonplussed; focusing on the  intention of each move and how to “hit that beat“.  Her connection to beat, to rhythm, stems from her earlier experiences and love for Jazz dance.  She’s currently involved in Hip-hop but feels equally at home learning how to become a fluid ‘character’ inside Bolero; living the dance as one ‘type’ of Chicagoan inside a shifting urban landscape.  “It’s about natural movement, taking the everyday” [and performing it] with flair.” i see this in the way Veronica ‘hits’ certain moves during last Wednesday’s rehearsal.

i also get to witness others move in ways that suggest their lineage as well.  One Chicagoan, in a striking ‘pas de deux’ with her partner, shows her attention to detail, the lines in her body that have clearly been cultivated by years, if not decades, of training in ballet or contemporary technique.  Another in the choice of footwear and how this dancer places them on; a symbol to anyone in the rehearsal, that she has danced before! Indeed each community member shapes the dance with their individuality, offering up mutable ‘characters’ or interesting personas.  To me, this further suggests not only their quest to find the “character inside the dance” as Veronica puts it, but the ‘character of Chicagoan’.

What signifies the character of Chicago? Its uniqueness? and How will the “everyday Chicagoan” emerge from Bolero?

Tonite, we shall see what Larry, Ashley, Gary,  {Chicagoans}Veronica, Janet, Ira and other community members of Bolero Chicago offer up for ‘answers’….

Bolero Chicago will be part of the exciting lineup for ‘Chicago Dancing’ , 7:00pm at Harris  Theater, part of Chicago Dancing Festival. Featuring local companies alongside national artists; in particular, will  also be blogging about Nicholas Leichter’s Touch of Soul, choreographed in collaboration with After School Matters/Gallery 37 dancers.  below is  a preview of  Touch of Soul dancers in rehearsal.  Hope to see you tonite! 

A legacy in the making – Bolero Chicago’s creative process unfolds within community

creative process unfolding for Bolero at Senn

 

Upon arriving onto the campus of  Nicholas Senn High School, i am reminded of  my last experience here – coming to a Chicago Cultural Plan’s Town Hall meeting.  Prior to that meeting in February,  had not spent much time in this part of Chicago – Edgewater area – and was keenly interested in who resided in this community.  After that meeting i found multiple opportunities to be in this neighborhood; encountering a genuine warmth. A genuine embrace of creativity.  Much like the consultants who organized the town hall meetings were invested in community engagement,  it is  as clearly intentional for both Chicago Dancing Festival and Kegwin & Company to draw Chicagoans into the creative process and performance with Bolero Chicago.  Community engagement through dance making and joyous dancing.  However like my first encounter, i was confused by Senn’s impressive size and varying entrances…if i could only find the magic open door to where the rehearsal will be?

Luckily ran into Ira, who is one of the Chicago participants.  He too is looking for the magic door. Together we stroll around til we find it and enter into the gymnasium where the bulk of the rehearsals will take place. Am immediately welcomed into this process by staff from Chicago Dancing Festival, who fill me in on some bits of detail regarding their initial process of drawing in community members from Chicago (as well as Indiana!) into Bolero – four meetings (again much like the initial community engagement for Chicago Cultural Plan) where potential participants got a ‘taste’ of what would be their role in developing this work.  Deeper into the gym’s space there is a loose circle formed  by participants and two company members from Keigwin & CompanyAshley Browne and Gary Schaufeld.   It’s an intriguing  mix of people from various cultural backgrounds, dance experiences & ages. One festive  young girl named Kyleigh and two men round out a very eclectic group of about 23 dancers…all are dancers at this point; whether or not they may have considered that title before. There is an informal casualness to the environment and the evolving group conversation in which i begin to hear words such as “Violence”; “Peace”. As these are thrown out Ashley responds by affirming the thoughts and  sharing how this theme could potentially be included: “so there can be a section with tie dye …”  Then a bit later another participant throws out : “Magnificent Mile” and  again are affirmed with “shopping” as a correlation towards  perhaps building another section. i find out later from Ashley, that these are responses to prompts she and Gary offered the circle to flesh out themes related to Chicago and being a “Chicagoan”.  The looseness to the array of thoughts and insights synergizes  as both Keigwin dancers take helm of the conversation and clarify the structure of this rehearsal and the piece. They talk about the music, how to ‘count’ the music in relation to the movements, the building of the piece;  all the while drawing the other dancers into a compelling and inviting process of discovery & creating, sprinkled by bouts of laughter and kinetic fun.

Is this the first rehearsal? i wonder as i take in the communal exchanges between the dancers, as if they had known each other, not for a half hour, but as an established  ‘community’ of friends inside a shared experience…a company of dancers ready to tackle the next bit of choreography…serious and invested.  They have to be!  this is a rigorous and intensive schedule.   For  two weeks they will meet for 4 hours a day , 6 days a week, then move onto technical rehearsal at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance with a performance the next day, 20th, AND teching and performing at Jay Pritzker Pavilion, Millenium Park, on the closing event “Celebration of Dance” on August 25th.  This in addition to their work/life schedules…wow Why do this? i ask this very question to Ira, whom i met earlier, and he shares with me his love for dance and dancing…While he may be obtaining his graduate degree in Law, dance has  a special place in his life.  Ira does not consider himself a ‘dancer’, but has taken classes in hip hop, ballet and contemporary jazz and recently danced salsa with Urban Vibe for 3 years.  Why this? He saw a performance last year at Chicago Dancing Festival and vowed that if an opportunity like this arised, he would seize it! Well here it is! how timely for him and how grateful he is to be part of this process. “It’s Awesome!” he exclaims and repeats throughout our dialogue… So “awesome’ that , even though he may work a “8am – 5pm” job and this is finals week for him, Ira is committed. “I am glad they are being flexible” he states referring to Keigwin & company’s/Chicago Dancing Festival allowing him to come a bit later to rehearsal.  Always key to communal exchanges like this is to be able to embrace the individual flow of the people’s lives while simultaneously moving towards a clear and well constructed piece.

For Dominique – mother to 3 year old Kyleigh – she wanted her daughter to have an experience that she has not had or would not do. “I’m introverted” she professes as she looks upon her daughter moving in and out of one of the dances being formed… “I wasn’t introduced to dance at her age”… so she believes it’s important for Kyleigh to be exposed to this process as a way of allowing her to express herself in ways her mother hasn’t.  Dominque has never been to see an event of Chicago Dancing Festival before, but if her daughter (and her cousin who is also part of this project) will be performing, she will be there!  With that thought she  again looks over at her daughter  who is now running in and out of the others,  at her cousin trying out a suggested move and the overall bubbling commotion of dance being cultivated in this moment and smiles…

As the creative process unfolds throughout the evening, the beauty of communal discoveries and artistry of crafting emerges. Perhaps by means of  the dancers getting to further ‘know’ each other, a name gesture exercise begins the next phase of rehearsal.  The dancers are tasked with composing their names into a dance, letter by letter, within the timeframe of a Beyonce song! Go!  They finish as the song ends and unite to ‘perform’ their name …’Say my name, Dance my name’ is the game they play as they move through their letters: “V – E- R-O-N-I-C-A” … “L-A-M-A-R”  separately and in communion with the others.  Gary leads the group through articulating some select names or parts of names such as “M-A-T-A”; turning these into phrases that merge with other names and, after breaking into smaller ‘teams’, become group mini dances.  It is a great way for the dancers to express themselves individually and feel empowered to take on the act of crafting.  They engage in immediate collaboration and affirm each one’s creativity and expression… Now the challenge to craft from the themes they had discussed earlier.  Ashley reminds them of  3 themes  they felt garnered a more thoughtful dance-exploration for Bolero Chicago – “road rage”, “baseball” and “pizza”.  they are on it! They jump back  into the smaller grouping and immediately immerse themselves in the collaborative act of  developing these dance motifs…

The dancers busy crafting,  Ashley takes a moment to share with me some of the history of Bolero and what she has witnessed already working with these Chicagoans… “They are very vocal” Yes! We Chicagoans can be…and “that’s a good thing” she interjects.  Is it Lou Malnati’s or Giordano’s Pizza?  What identifies Chicago?  Cubs or White Sox? What are the ‘characters’ that you [as Chicagoans] may run into?  such as the ‘preacher” in front of Navy Pier… How does this become inspiration for dance?  “It’s all about [Chicago] culture” Ashley articulates as she moves in and out of our dialogue to assist Gary and the other dancers deepen their exploration of gestures or movements associated with each particular theme.  By the end of this evening, 3 dances – “Pizza”, “Road Rage” and “Baseball” have been deliciously composed…to be abstracted, expanded or extracted as the communal process for Bolero Chicago moves forward…

Through the vision of Larry Kegwin & his company, the ‘dance’ of Bolero has inspired multiple communities throughout the country including NYC {3 times}, Santa Barbara CA, Denver, New Jersey and upcoming in Greensboro. The ‘identity’ of a place, space and people has transformed into unique art making. Beyond the performing of these works,  friendships have deepened or been formed, groups continuing to gather far after the process ends, new communities built and bonded.

Like the other Boleros,  Bolero Chicago may well become a legacy in the making…

 

 

Re-Frame: A Gathering

Across cultures. Across disciplines. Engaging thoughtful discussions within the community of artists, neighbors, anyone witnessing. Inspiring collaborations. Listening. Creating consciousness surrounding the beauty & insights from the creative process… 
Facilitated by award-winning performance artist Baraka de Soleil & co-facilitated by multidisciplinary artist Awilda Rodriguez Lora Re-Frame: A Gathering is a two-fold communal workshop  for artists at variant stages of creative development. We want to provide a sustainable space for active witnessing, supportive feedback  and rigorous crafting AND a laboratory for experimentation through interdisciplined explorations and cross-cultural discussions. Re-Frame: A Gathering focuses on the ‘practice of process’ – what is discovered in the act of making work is valuable and should be experienced as well, by other artists, by the larger community.

Baraka de Soleil and Awilda Rodriguez Lora initially met in Chicago. He was curating a unique multidisciplinary series “Studies n Black” for Links Hall and she produced an award-winning film STILL BLACK: a portrait of black transmen that premiered in Chicago. Since meeting, they have worked together on numerous creative endeavors including S’Kin Deep and most recently co-facilitated Agua/Tierra: A Listening Project in Panama in 2010.

Re-Frame: A Gathering is an initiative of D UNDERBELLY, a network of artists of color, seeking to create a  communal space for rigorous experimentation and investigation of an expansive performance aesthetic.  One that can serve as a model for creative process within community that can adapt and shift to various areas throughout the country &  internationally.   Through both invitation to select artists within the experimental art community and an open call, we will seek out a diverse group of 7 -10 with wide-range of disciplines who have a creative lineage (how they have been making work), a piece to ‘excavate’ and a desire to be part of a contemporary practice. Re-Frame: A Gathering will start with the artistic community of Chicago.

Our current vision:

The workshop process will begin in November with weekly Re-Frame sessions where Baraka will lead artists participants through a series of techniques in order to cultivate: communal consciousness around witnessing & offering feedback, excavation of themes/pieces brought by each individual artist and potential collaborative groupings. This leads to the beginning of December where Awilda will join the process as co-facilitator, to take artists through an intensive journey towards deepening the practice of the developing works.  Mid-December at A Gathering with the larger community, artist participants will share their developing work, engage in conversations and share food for thought and body!

Re-Frame: A Gathering’ Key Objectives

To provide:

– a reduced cost or free opportunity for artist participants.

– a platform for creative process that can be molded to whatever communities it travels to….

– a unique opportunity for experimentation, to ‘dig deep’ & try things out with developing work or already-created work that may need ‘re-framing’.

To support:

– artists at whatever stage in their career.

– exchange and community building

– sustainability for the active creative process

To enhance:

– a multidisciplinary network of artists within the Chicago experimental aesthetic community and beyond.

– an expansive & diversified cross-pollination of collaborative possibilities.

– visibility for process-driven models with thoughtful intercultural community engagement.

Funds from this campaign will support the vision  in multiple ways beyond the costs associated with creating work.  We deeply believe that with your support, Re-Frame: A Gathering will impact not only the artist participants, facilitators and community of witnesses, but the larger discussion on the value of the creative process.

THE IMPACT
For Re-Frame: A Gathering, we are seeking to raise funds to support space rental costs, materials for the workshop process, honorarium for the artist participants and facilitators involved.

More specifically if we reach:

  • $1500, this amount will cover rental & production costs associated with the space; both for workshop process & performance showings
  • $2000, in addition to covering rental, will support any materials for the workshop process, ‘bare-bones’ production elements for the showing & travel for one artist facilitator
  • $3000, in addition to the above, secures a no cost opportunity for all artist participants and provide honorarium for both artist facilitators &
  • $4000, in addition the above funds, will provide  honorarium for each of the artist participant

In alignment with this campaign, we are working to ensure Re-Frame: A Gatheringhappens, even with the smallest of funds including:
  • soliciting in-kind contributions from organizations to reduce the cost for rental of space.
  • box office contributions from A Gathering‘s three showings.
  • barter/trade of services in order to promote/market the event.
  • based on amount raised, seek financial investments from artists who wish to participate in the process.
  • re-configuring the model so that it will reduce costs but still honor the artists & the process.
  • cooking meals that can be purchased at the showings.

THE EXCHANGE
We want to you to know that we value whichever amount you pledge. In exchange for your support, Baraka de Soleil, Awilda Rodriguez Lora, artists participants & D UNDERBELLY will acknowledge you through the program, online, via phone, with hand-made art, original designs, through complimentary tickets, invitations to A Gathering and future projects. You’ll notice on our perks list what kind of acknowledgement each tier of funding support will garner.

Other Ways You Can Help

If in Chicago, come to A Gathering.  Join us for food, art, dialogue and community building….this will further support the artists & future opportunities for more gatherings…check out our site: http://reframeagathering.blogspot.com/  for the updates. Current dates  December 16th – 18th, 2011. A gathering will offer a unique experience with up to 3 different artists sharing their process each nite.

Spread the word by putting this campaign on your facebook, twitter or other social network site.

Email blast your networks.   

And be part of the discussion: What has been meaningful to you as an artist in the creative process? 
Whether you may consider yourself an artist or not, your thoughts will be appreciated and expand the discussion on why people should support the creative process of artists.