Two men one-up each other while riding cherry pickers, oblivious to the audience that’s entering the theater. One laments he should have been Spiderman, then declares, “I’m sticky” and proceeds to crawl, spider-like off the apparatus and onto the stage. One aids the other in walking perpendicularly across the back wall. A costume rack with hangers offers another challenge of manship that ends with one becoming a hanger with the other hanging off of him, upside down like a dress. This behind-the-scenes show is an excerpt from This is Not a Dance Concert performed by two members of The Seldoms. The funny, inventive piece opened the fifth night of the Chicago Dancing Festival (CDF). Chicago Now included three mini performances showing a range of dance styles and a panel discussion about the Chicago dance scene moderated by dance journalist (and all around swell guy) Zac Whittenburg on the MCA Stage. The stellar panel featured local artistic directors: Carrie Hanson, The Seldoms; Ron De Jesús, Ron de Jesús Dance; Julie Nakagawa, DanceWorks Chicago and Lane Alexander, Chicago Human Rhythm Project.
Whittenburg lead the discussion, first breaking the ice by letting each guest give a little background. “What were you doing in August 2007 (the inaugural year of CDF) and what are you doing now?” The audience quickly found out these artists have lived, learned and loved dance for a long time and were going to bring a breadth of knowledge from different perspectives to the discussion. Provacative questions regarding operational structures, time, space and funding challenges, the “ecology of interest, the line between cooperation and competition” kept the talk lively. A half-time dance break featured two dancers from Ron De Jesús Dance in a breathtaking pas de deux about the Myth of Isis and Osiris. The talk wrapped up with another question of time. “What do you hope to be doing in five years?” Alexander: dancing more, composing more. Nakagawa: creating an environment that feels open to experiment and opportunity and that includes the audience. De Jesus: wants a mature company and adds that “we (the community) have to be more creative in finding resources”. Hanson: to have a denser performance schedule.
What I feared could be a heady, intellectual (can dancers be wonky?) conversation was an intelligent, humorous, honest talk about the good and bad challenges facing the Chicago dance community. It turns out that no matter what genre you’re working in or how long you’ve been around, these artists and companies all face the same battles. The evening ended with the audience being “danced out” by the Footworkingz, a local troupe that Whittenburg saw at an exhibition a few years ago. He’s a big fan. Now, we are too.