On Philip Elson’s Terms

“Technology is challenging the way we experience life,” he said. “As a society, we are fascinated by its nonhuman capabilities while abusing it to learn more about how people live their lives.” In his first evening-length work, emerging choreographer Philip Elson explores life in the digital age using multiple disciplines to create a new dance-theater work. You may have seen him on stage performing with The Seldoms, Same Planet Different World, and Khecari, among others, but this weekend, he’s in charge and he’s taking the stage on his own terms.

One of his many jobs aside from dancer, choreographer, sound designer, Technology and Media Coordinator is Apple Genius, so aside from perhaps taking inspiration from his Seldoms’ director Carrie Hanson by creating an issue-based work, he’s an expert in tech and diving into how our digital lives have changed us seems like an inevitable subject for him. “We have become so accustomed to a certain type of living and relating to others,” Elson said. “These ways of life are being disrupted by concerns of privacy and it changes how we interact with each other.” (In fact, we even conducted this interview via email.)

For all the upsides of being “connected”, Elson is well aware of the down including identity theft, annoying pop-up ads or “blindly agreeing to something without understanding the consequences”. He uses spoken text, video projection and, of course, dance to investigate the balance of digital consumption. Are we consuming it or is it consuming us? The forward-thinking Elson is already toying with idea of taking this show viral. “I’m thinking about reworking it to fit on a digital platform, meaning the entire work would be consumed either through a computer, tablet, or smartphone and somehow be interactive.” That sounds super cool, but first go see it live.

Philip Elson presents Terms and Conditions, Friday-Sunday, March 14-16 at 7 pm at Links Hall at Constellation, 3111 N. Western Ave. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased here

DanceWorks Chicago Open Audition!

AUDITION NOTICE:

DanceWorks Chicago’s unique open company audition will be held at the Dance Center of Columbia College THIS Saturday, November 23. DWC welcomes the general public, FREE of CHARGE, to observe a professional dance audition – an intriguing part of the dance world that is usually off-limits. Take advantage of this unique opportunity and join us as we search for exceptional young dancers to join the DWC family. This innovative approach to an audition is compelling for its exposure to the possibilities of the body, the activation of the mind, the vulnerability and power of the spirit.

DATE: Saturday, November 23, 2013

TIME: 10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m. Doors open at 9:30 a.m. Audience members may come and go throughout the day.

PLACE: The Dance Center of Columbia College, 1306 S. Michigan Avenue, Chicago (on stage)

WHAT YOU WILL SEE: The audition will be conducted by Artistic Director Julie Nakagawa. Ballet class with eliminations will be followed by DWC repertoire. DWC representatives will be available that afternoon to answer questions about what’s happening on stage. We hope you will come away with a deeper understanding and fresh curiosity about dance that will inspire your continued relationship with dance artists and their art.
To learn more about DanceWorks Chicago, visit www.danceworkschicago.org.

Susan Marshall & Co open Dance Center’s 40th season

Susan Marshall & Co. in "Play/Pause".

Last weekend open the 40th season at the Dance Center of Columbia College. Mayor Emanuel declared Friday, September 20 Dance Center of Columbia College Day by Mayoral Proclamation. Susan Marshall & Company opened the season with the world premiere of Play/Pause.

With six different and distinct dancers from the two petite women (one blonde, one brunette) to the tall, blonde gentleman with neo A Flock of Seagulls haircut, the piece seemed a hodge-podge of variety pulled from the 80s. One dancers sported just one sparkly sock as perhaps a nod to the King of Pop. The live onstage band played LOUD throwback rock music intermittently, the dancers and musicians teasing each other with a start/stop format indicated by the work’s title. The sound scape, which included pounding and running the mic over figurations of duct tape or on the plexiglass or wood, adding in the dancers’ voices or the ripping of the tape as a avant garde soundtrack, proved more interesting than the movement that was steeped with commonplace gestures.

There were some really interesting images created throughout the hour-long work like a man trying to keep his face lit in the plexiglass frame as a woman lowers it to the floor and back up again. A female duet of one count gestures, while intriguing at the start, went on too long.  A recurring step-touch, step-touch baseline for the dancers seemed to by pulled from a junior high dance or bar mitzvah, but would then turn into a lovely break-out solo or touching duet. Basically, it was uneven and I thought the props warranted more of my attention than the dancing, which is too bad. Interesting concepts, but perhaps fleshing out the movement sections more will make it more cohesive.

I felt like I was trapped in an Talking Heads video directed by David Lynch. It was at times cheesy, bizarre, beautiful, bright, funny and sad. The cast lined up at the front of the stage breathing heavily onto the plexiglass frames was a wonderful way to end, but by then, aided with a raging headache, I was ready for it to be over.

 

 

Mayoral Proclamation: Dance Center of Columbia College

Congrats to the Dance Center! Mayor Rahm Emanuel has officially declared Friday, Sept. 20 Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago Day in honor of the start of their 40th anniversary season. Text from the proclamation below:

PROCLAMATION

WHEREAS, dance is both a personal and public form of art and expression that has always been an integral part of many cultures the world over; and

WHEREAS, the interpretation of dance has continued to transcend social, political and economic barriers while acting as a major unifying force among citizens of the world; and

WHEREAS, it is through the gift of dance that we can combine music and movement along with the physical, spiritual and social qualities of our lives; and

WHEREAS, for decades, the Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago has taught generations of inspired dancers and presented passionate, provocative pieces of choreography; and

WHEREAS, the Dance Center’s faculty, staff and students work tirelessly to showcase the art and power of dance; and

WHEREAS, the Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago will host acclaimed choreographer Susan Marshall as she presents the world premiere of Play/Pause as the main event of its 40th Season Opening Celebration; and

WHEREAS, on September 20, 2013, the Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago will mark the 2013-2014 season, its milestone 40th Season, with a number of thoughtful events and performances:

NOW, THEREFORE, I, RAHM EMANUEL, MAYOR OF THE CITY OF CHICAGO, do hereby proclaim September 20, 2013 to be DANCE CENTER OF COLUMBIA COLLEGE CHICAGO DAY in recognition of the the official opening of the Dance Center’s 40th Season and encourage all Chicagoans to celebrate the gift of dance.

Dated this 18th day of September, 2013.

Cloud Gate Presser with Lin Hwai-min

Cloud Gate dancer WU Chun-hsien in "Songs of the Wanderers". Photo by YU Hui-hung.

Tuesday I attended a Press/VIP launch for the upcoming 2014 Chicago performances of Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan, their sixth appearance in Chicago. The event was held on stage at the iconic Auditorium Theatre (fantastic views!) mostly for members of the Chicago Asian Pacific American Press, but RB and fellow dance writer Lauren Warnecke* (artintercepts.org) claimed seats in the back row and listened in. Many thanks to Jill Chukerman for the invite.

Actor Marc Rita served as Emcee and introduced an array of presenter/speakers before getting to the main purpose of the presser – hearing Founder and Artistic Director of Cloud Gate Lin Hwai-min speak. Lin, a small and quiet man, began by saying he sometimes thinks being a dancer/choreographer is a wrong choice and that, as the creator of work, if people like it, you are “punished” by having to watch it over and over. He went on to say that Songs of the Wanderers (the work being presented next March) is the exception – even after 19 years. “I’ve seen it thousands of times,” said Lin. “I love to see it, not every night, but it’s special.”

The work has a global flavor being inspired by Asian religions, German writing, set to Georgian folk music and performed in/with 3.5 tons of golden Taiwanese rice. “These performing rice are very seasoned,” quipped Lin. He also told of a trip he took where he saw people drinking water downstream from where cremated bodies were being thrown in – “Isn’t that life itself?” – and finding peace in a sunbeam under a tree. The trip changed his life and inspired the work, which is about meditation. “The work, it came out of me like a river.”

Lin said his dancers were mad when he told them the new work was about meditation. “I forced them to sit with their eyes closed,” he said. “The want to jump and turn.” He says if you look close when they are performing Songs, you can see that most of the time, their eyes are closed “drawing the audience onto the stage instead of projecting out”. The dancers must meditate before going on stage. “Meditation is the key. You have to be there.”

I had to run to work, so missed the lunch catered by Vora. I heard it was delicious.

*Read Warnecke’s take on the event here.

Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan performs Songs of the Wanderers presented by The Dance Center of Columbia College, The Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University and The Joffrey Ballet, Friday, March 14, 2014 at 7:30 pm and Sunday, March 16, 2014 at 3 pm. Tickets are $25-$68; call 800-982-2787 or visit www.auditoriumtheatre.org.

BONEdanse’s bully.punk.riot: Preview

BONEdansers Cheryl Cornacchione and Nicole Scatchell in "bully.punk.riot." Photo by Carl Wiedemann.

A lesson in moshing, a debate on electronic equipment, a lecture on moral hypocrisy, a futball duet, a cattle-like corral and a urinal test. You get all that and more in BONEdanse‘s bully.punk.riot + REBELLION  EVENT running for two weekends at the new Links Hall/Constellation starting tonight. The fearless Atalee Judy teams up with choreographers Melissa Ganser and Megan Klein for this intelligent, intense trifecta of turbulent tension encased in fervent, physical, female fierceness. Come prepared for a riotous rebellion and some damn fine dancing.

Judy saw Ganser’s and Klein’s work while they were studying at Columbia College and thought they spoke the same language, so she asked them to collaborate on a show. “They’re smart, really athletic and very thoughtful without over-thinking,” Judy said. “They’re very physical in a visceral kind of way. We bonded immediately. I didn’t want to just do a show by myself, so it excited me to bring them in.” A book she was reading – Herd: How to Change Mass Behavior by Harnessing Our True Nature by Mark Earls – provided the impetus for the show’s theme. Klein chose to explore violence in gangs and riots, Ganser wanted to address bullying, while Judy went to her knowledge of the punk scene and mosh pits. Those three takes became bully.punk.riot. “Why not make it really transparent? It’s charged, It’s powerful,” Judy said of the title.

The three main theme sections are broken up by what Judy calls “herding transitions” inspired by tests in the book. One of these transitions is the futball duet which tackles (ha!) the herding mentality in sporting events complete with referee hand signals and wrestling take-downs.  Judy, who also did all of the costuming and sound design, has the two dancers clad in all-white costumes with football pads on their hips. (See pic.) “I’ve always liked how football players looked in their white pants and I thought girls would look great in them too,” she said. “It’s so perfect. They make this clapping, crashing sound. It’s definitely a commentary on the herding trends in football and wrestling, but the switch is the fashion industry. These are haute couture, even vogue-y kind of female divas. The put their shoes on their hands and do boxing things to get into that competition feel.”

While those costumes take things to the extreme, another costuming choice tacks simple. In the bully section, Judy has the dancers in plain white underwear (which as a recovering ballerina, I found terrifying). “I thought of the white underwear because they have this vulnerability to them. I wanted to show vulnerability without being stupid, sexy, girly,” she said. “The perfect icon, for me, is when men strip down, ‘are you wearing boxers or briefs’? It’s that iconic, vulnerable place. Everybody takes a shit sitting down. It makes a level player out of all of us. Later on in the piece, we do put pants on. Everybody puts pants on one leg at a time. It just brings us all to this level playing field. Plus, I really like tighty whities. It’s the most comfortable cotton.”

The super-charged, emotionally energetic show also boasts some great music – if you like punk rock. Dead Kennedys, FEAR, The Young Gods and Trent Reznor (head of Nine Inch Nails) are just some of the rebellious music you’ll hear throughout the soundscape. “This is not just a dance trance monster,” said Judy. “There’s a lot of really great music and really awesome energy to feel and get into. It’s a group of really strong women doing great stuff. It’s been a great process.”

BONEdanse presents bully.punk.riot at Links Hall/Constellation, 3111 N. Western Ave., Thursday-Sunday, June 20-23 and June 27-30 at 7 pm. Tickets are $18-$20 and can be purchased here.

 

 

 

 

The Seldoms’ Philip Elson Dishes on Mix With Six

The Seldoms dancers Amanda McAlister and Philip Elson in "Exit Disclaimer". Photo by Brian Kuhlmann.

“I’ve been a curious creature all my life,” Philip Elson told me last week. “Try everything once. That’s my thought process.” Elson, a graduate of Columbia College, dances with The Seldoms and serves as their Technology and Media Coordinator. Along with dancing for other groups and independent artists around Chicago, most recently guesting with Same Planet Different World for the opening of FlySpace Dance Series, he also is an Apple “Genius”, adept at video editing/archiving, sound scoring, filming dance and curating (Red Tape Theatre). Try everything once. It seems he’s good at everything he tries.

A Fort Worth, Texas native, Elson began taking dance and gymnastics at the age of three, eventually dropping the gymnastics to focus on jazz and ballet and perform on the competition/convention circuit, even appearing on Star Search with Arsenio Hall. After three semesters at New York University studying musical theater, he returned to Texas and got his first taste of modern dance at 19. “I kind of fell in love with it,” he said. “One of the things I really love about dancing is the exploration…that pureness, That rawness of just feeling movement. It felt like an opportunity to explore movement that I never felt possible before.”

Elson, 26, met Seldoms artistic director Carrie Hanson when he moved to Chicago in 2008 to study dance at Columbia where she was one of his professors. The first week of school, he went to see The Seldoms performance Convergence, which was set in a 17,000 square foot garage space. He was blown away. Shortly thereafter, he remembers her telling him to “Be on the lookout.” For what? He wasn’t sure until he saw a sign posted for male auditions for The Seldoms and thought, “This is it.” He’s now in his fifth season with the company. “What drew me to her work is twofold. The anatomical nature of it, because of her history with Laban and the way that she’d talk about it as you’re learning it. She was my anatomy teacher at the time and everything was clicking. The body exploration was really athletic. She was able to help me find the ease in my athleticism, a softness in that. It’s still powerful, but not spazzy. It’s really clear.”

Elson admits he made his first solo for himself (to Gloria Estefan’s Turn the Beat Around) at age seven. The interest in creating dances was there, but not the confidence. He felt he was stronger as a dancer, but wanted to learn more about choreography. When Hanson asked her dancers to make in-house works for the upcoming show Mix With Six, he took it as a challenge. “I hate making solos with a passion. I do,” he said. “I find it so much easier when there are relationships and bodies to work with.” So naturally, he decided to create a solo on fellow dancer Cara Sabin that will appear this weekend along with dances from Damon Green, Amanda McAlister, Bruce Ortiz and Javier Marchán-Ramos.

Elson’s Between Means and Ends, a work explores the relationship and space between chaos and stability, began with a introspective and unique process including writing about insecurities, staring in a mirror, and a theory of movement he created in college called “The Exhaustion Theory”. “The way it works is if you totally tax yourself physically and mentally, you have no choice but to move with ease and efficiency,” he said. “You don’t have the energy for all the extra stuff. That was my way to get people to find a certain physicality, but also vulnerability.” Elson and Sabin did a 45-minute boot camp followed by a disorientation exercise taking about an hour and a half before standing still with their hands over their heads for 10 minutes. “It’s hard, but movement, a motif, came out of that. I’ve always thought Cara has such an interesting body. I’m fascinated by the way she moves and her strength, her flow and her longness. I wanted there to be this mesh of my ideas with her interpretation.”

The Seldoms presents Mix With Six at Constellation/Link’s Hall, 3111 N. Western Ave., Friday-Saturday, April 12-13 at 8 pm and Sunday, April 14 at 7 pm. Tickets are $15; call 773.281.0824 or visit mixwithsixlh.eventbrite.com.

Delfos Danza Dazzles

Delfos Danza Contemporanea in "Trio y Cordon". Photo by Carlos Quezada.

Delfos Danza Contemporánea, arguably Mexico’s top contemporary dance company, performs its 20th Anniversary Concert Resonancias (Resonances) to the Dance Center at Columbia College this weekend. From the opening number last night with three topless dancers clad in origami paper skirts, different was the name of the game. The six company dancers were solid and unique. Some of the choreography worked better than others (I prefered the more dance-based pieces to the heavily conceptual), but taken as a whole showing works throughout the 20-year history, the performance provided a nice, smooth ride finishing stronger than it began.

Kudos to Lighting Designer Erin Tinsley* and the tech crew for spot-on incorporation of the intricate lighting design that was indeed innovative, but sometimes distracted from the dancing. Stand outs: Omar Carrum for his choreography and his strong, dramatic, intense solo Juana in which he wore a giagantic black skirt calling up images of Joan of Arc, a Samurai soldier and a 16th century priest. Dancer Surasí Lavalle was exquisite;  her low center of gravity allows her to move faster, further and more efficiently than seemingly possible. Both of these dancers also stood out in the final work Del amor y otras barbaridades (About love and other calamities) as the male-female couple that struggles aggressively and sexually, then reconciles.

Delfos Danza Contemporánea performs at the Dance Center at Columbia College, 1306 S. Michigan Ave. Two shows left: Friday-Saturday, April 5-6 at 8 pm. Tickets are $26-$30; call 312-369-8330 or visit colum.edu/dancecenter.

*Update/correction: The fabulous Lauren Warnecke, who works on the Production Crew, clarifies that the lighting design was by Co-Artistic Director Victor Manuel Ruiz and Stage Managers Austin Shirley and Rigoberto Del Valle. The crew mentioned above works for the Dance Center. Stellar job to all!

Auditorium Theatre 2013-2014 Highlights

Cloud Gate Dance Theatre in "Songs of the Wanderer". Photo by YU ui-hung.

The Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University (ATRU) just announced its 2013-2014 season. Here are a few things I’m excited about:

Ballet West – former Joffrey Ballet dancer Adam Sklute’s company will be presenting Sleeping Beauty (classic, long, but beautiful w/ gorgeous music) and Val Caniparoli’s The Lottery. Caniparoli created Incantations for Joffrey in 2012 and has received great reviews for the premiere of The Lottery which has a unique twist where the audience finds out the “secret” before the dancers (who don’t know who will perform the final solo until it happens live!). Cool beans.

Houston Ballet – In another local connection, Joffrey premiered Artistic Director Stanton Welch’s Son of Chamber Symphony in 2012. His company brings the storybook ballet Aladdin to town in March of 2014.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre – The New York-based company returns for another two-week run featuring a mixed rep and the showstopper Revelations. Yay.

River North Dance Chicago – Local favorite Rivno takes the stage in April 2014 will a new world premiere. Always a good show – expect lots of abs and speedy turns.

Paul Taylor Dance Company – I’m reading Paul Taylor’s new book Facts and Fancies right now, so the timing is perfect! My only regret is never getting to see my friend Julie Tice perform with the company live during her ten years there :(

Cloud Gate Dance Theatre – Co-presented with the Dance Center of Columbia College and the Joffrey Ballet, this troupe from Taiwan always amazes with their imagery and Butoh-esque stamina/control.

Chick Corea and Béla Fleck – Non-dancy, but my brother (a musician) listened to Corea ALL the time when we were growing up and a bazillion years ago I performed a piece with the above mentioned Tice to a Beatles cover by Fleck (and the Flecktones). Good times.

So there you have it. Oh plus, the yearly tradition of the Joffrey’s The Nutcracker and any chance to see ATRU E.D. Brett Batterson and you can see why I’m stoked.

For more information, visit auditoriumtheatre.org.

Dance Center Announces 40th Anniversary Season

Cloud Gate Dance Theatre dancer WANG Wei-ming in "Songs of the Wanderers". Photo by YU Hui-hung.

The Dance Center of Columbia College marks its 40th anniversary season with an exciting range of dance companies from around the world. Along with staple local and international modern companies, the season welcomes a number of hip hop and urban artists to the roster. Nods to the past, present and a look toward an interesting, if changing, future?

Notable touring company Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan returns to Chicago next March and will be co-presented with the Joffrey Ballet and the Auditorium Theatre. (*This performance will be at the Auditorium.) A French hip hop choreographer sets work on young dancers from Brazil for an explosive show by Compagnie Kafig performing in February 2014. Other traveling companies include multiple award-winning Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, Philadelphia-based choreographer Raphael Xavier, as well as New York-based Susan Marshall and Company. A co-commissioned by the Dance Center will feature a work about migration out of Africa through the “lens of Moses stories” by Reggie Wilson/Fist & Heel Performance Group.

Local troupes to hit the South Loop stage include Mordine & Company Dance Theater, Same Planet Different World and Peter Carpenter Performance Project (joint program), and Khecari and The Humans (joint program). Also look for Family Matinee performances throughout the season.

For more information on the 2013-2014 season, visit colum.edu/Dance_Center.