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

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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! 

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…