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! 

Living the dance part 1: Bolero Chicago’s community rigorously moves towards its Chicago Dancing Festival premiere

Last week during Bolero Chicago’s first rehearsal at Senn HS, Jerina from the west side, commented that she was “seeing dance in a different way”.  Having come to support her sister and cousin who were inside the process,  Jerina was surprised and impressed by the immediacy of this community of dancers emerging. “Interacting with different people could be awkward [but] they were clicking & hitting it off…There’s just something different…freeing…”

As stated in my previous entry, i too was impressed by this phenomenon.  A phenomenon not by any means foreign to professional dancers, musicians, actors or artists who come together with a common goal: to create a new work, put on a play, develop a new composition or learn & inspire choreography.  The fact that this was  “everyday people” – as dancer/student Jacqueline & witness to this past Wednesday’s rehearsal called them –  hasn’t eclipsed the wonder of instant comradery existing in the folds of this creative process for Bolero.  Nor has it dissuaded the “everyday people [insert Chicagoan]” from inspiring choreographer Larry Keigwin to intricately craft a labyrinth of crosses, steps, phrases and groupings for the exquisite musical composition.  “Larry is like a boy in a candy shop” Jacqueline expresses as we both witness him beaming as he looks upon the community of dancers embrace new moves he throws at them. and yes it’s a throw!  At one point later in the rehearsal he delivers a rapid set of instructions , counts and mutterings that only a dancer would understand… did they get it? i sure didn’t. And yet in one quick release the Chicagoans move through his directions with a certain finesse, as if they were accustomed to him in much the same way his dancers Ashley and Gary have come to experience. Both company dancers are observing the ways Larry interacts with the community dancers and assist, guide and notate the elaborate development of the choreography.

‘Setting dance on pedestrians” is intriguing  to Jacqueline.  She is from Chicago but goes to school at the prestigious  University of North Carolina School of the Arts.  Encountering Larry at Bates dance festival this summer, made her want to witness how this process unfolds.  Unfortunately, Jacqueline cannot be part of the performance because she leaves before Chicago Dancing Festival opens; however more new faces arrive into the space as the rehearsal begins, primed and ready to jump in.  An energetic burst sends people rushing to create a  ‘warm-up’ circle that mutates into a series of lines in order to review some phrases from their previous rehearsal. The “bow” dance flows as ‘End of Time”  is cranked up…the community radiates  warmth yet ‘koolness’ as they transition between steps. It’s clear they are enjoying grooving to Beyonce!

For Janet this is only her 2nd night…She came the night before and is excited to be present and moving. “So fun!” she proclaims… sweating & gleaming through the entire rehearsal. A full time dance teacher for Loyola Academy in Wilmette, Janet doesn’t perform as much as she did before; but when she heard about this project while at the Bates dance festival {yes much like Jacqueline}, she couldn’t resist the allure of Bolero Chicago…

more to come on Bolero & other ‘communal exchanges’ within the Chicago Dancing Festival in part 2 of Living the dance…For those interested in becoming part of this unique community performance, it’s not too late.  Bolero Chicago is looking for more people to be part of this wonderful community of dancers…stop by rehearsal tonite, 6pm,  at Nicholas Senn High School  Gymnasium – 5900 N Glenwood Ave, Door #10 to get involved right away or email Chicago Dancing Festival at info@chicagodancingfestival.com

Bolero Chicago living the dance at Senn HS
photo by Araceli Arroyo

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…

 

 

Gateway to dance: exploring possibilities of communal exchange within the Chicago Dancing Festival

Dance has always been part of the vibrant cultural landscape of Chicago & my communal upbringing as a young person living on the south side in the 70’s & 80’s.  Upon returning here after a 20 + year hiatus, i am excited to begin looking more closely at how dance has permeated the everyday culture of this distinguished city.  What are the multiple ways in which dance can be experienced here?    How can Chicagoans explore dance as a communal exchange?   Enter Chicago Dancing Festival:  “From August 20-25, 2012, the Chicago Dancing Festival will present six days of FREE dance programs by artists from Chicago and across the country, to an anticipated audience of 20,000!   [The] mission is to elevate awareness of dance in Chicago and increase accessibility to the art form by presenting a wide variety of excellent dance that will enrich the lives of the people of Chicago, provide aspiration for local and future artists and raise the national and international profile of Chicago, furthering Chicago as a dance destination.”

Oft the most valued exchange in this contemporary society involves money. Communal exchange asks that one is not consumed with the expectation that they get their money’s worth, but look to the possibilities of what is being reciprocated, offered and experienced. With Chicago Dancing Festival providing an exciting array of  events at no charge, this opens up the possibilities that any and every Chicagoan can experience dance in multiple ways; without the money variable.  My particular focus will be on three interactions that highlight compelling dimensions of communal exchange:

Bolero dance Chicago, Larry Keigwin & Dancer’s ultra community collaborative project that includes the ‘everyday Chicagoan’ will be presented as part of the festival’s opening program, “Chicago Dancing” at the Harris Theater, Monday, August 20 & again as part of the Festival’s grand finale program, “Celebration of Dance” at  Pritzker Pavilion on Saturday, August 25.

Bolero Chicago prepares
Bolero Chicago prepares

– Choreographer Nicholas Leichter’s intriguing work with select young dance artists from the Chicago community program, Afterschool Matters, showcases alongside Bolero and other Chicago based companies including Giordano Dance Chicago, opening night of the festival,  Monday August 20th at 7pm.

After School Matters prepares

“Dancing Under the Stars” open community space, where ‘you can dance if you want to’ with a live orchestra’  immersed in the beautiful surroundings of Grant park on Thursday, August 26th at 6pm. Polka!

i would also like to take note  of the “Chicago Now”  discussion on the current state of dance in Chicago, Friday August 24th at 6pm.  Moderated by journalist and former dancer Zac Whittenburg, it features : Lane Alexander(Chicago Human Rhythm Project)Ron De Jesús (Ron De Jesús Dance)Carrie Hanson(The Seldoms) and Julie Nakagawa(DanceWorks Chicago). The program will also include brief performances by The Seldoms, Ron De Jesús Dance and FootworKINGz.  This evening complements the concept of communal exchange by giving essential insight to the artists’ experiences and process in ways, an audience may not get to learn of by just witnessing the work.

In looking at these multiple opportunities to experience the dance through communal exchange,   implicit is the cultivation – even inside just the act of witnessing a performance – of a meaningful relationship. Temporally this may only last an hour or two, but nevertheless both artist and audience participant are left with  lasting impressions. These moments go deeper into other aspects  & possibilities of communal exchange for Chicagoan to experience.

How might one  further define communal exchange?

For the past two decades i have been exploring communal exchange through my performative work with D UNDERBELLY, a network of artists of color from a vast spectrum of experiences.  Within the core of this concept is consideration for  the deepening of a vital relationship that draws upon the aspects of equity in which there are certain expectations to be met,  governed by our responsive energy to each other and cultivation of a shared space for thoughtful interaction.

If one becomes part of a communal exchange there is a illuminating experience where both audience/participant and performer are active and vital. building of a community takes place surrounding a common thread – in this instance dance.  We come to actively witness the process. We may get opportunity to learn ‘hands on’ from the artist the particular aesthetic or tradition;  allowing us to embrace its complexities and feel the flow of its moving force.  even dance the dance.

How might Chicagoans experience this communal exchange?

From now til the end of the festival,  i will be exploring more in depth discussion on what it means to be part of a  communal exchange inside the landscape of Chicago Dance Festival through witnessing & conversing with those involved in  Bolero dance Chicago, Nicholas Leichter & After School Matters, as well as  community members who wish to dance the Polka “Dancing Under the Stars”.

Returning back to my youth experiences on the southside, communal exchange was the gateway to dance for me; getting to witness the community i lived in construct performances, learn dances not from a ‘technique’ point of view, but ‘a-community-gathers-&-just-celebrates-moving-together point of view, dancing on stage to Gloria Esteban/Miami Sound Machine for “Footlites”, be simultaneously embarrassed yet inspired by my mother dancing at church functions and trying my hand at choreographing. It was such an important part of my upbringing, informing my professional inroads into dancing and art.  It allowed me to understand how dance can be part of the ‘everydayness’ of culture.  Chicago Dancing Festival can/may be that for many Chicagoans… A gateway…