Moving Dialogs Series

Moving Dialogs curator Baracka de Soleil. Photo by Jacob Bell.

Diversity seems to be the word on everyone’s lips these days. Shirley Mordine, director of Mordine & Co., spoke about the need to diversify by asking other companies to perform with her company at last week’s performances. Numerous small companies across Chicago are sharing shows with other artists in alternative spaces in increasing frequency. Rumors have the Dance Center of Columbia College looking to diversify their academic programming to include a broader spectrum of styles including African and hip hop. Local dance service organization Audience Architects held several convenings gathering artists opinions and data on diversity of dance in Chicago. And then there is the Chicago Cultural Plan – the big daddy study on arts and diversity in the Windy City.

But it was a conversation with Audience Architects Executive Director Heather Hartley and artist/teacher/consultant Baraka de Soleil that sparked the idea for a new, six-part series called Moving Dialogs: Diversity + Dance. de Soleil said the community convenings came out of the fact that local artists who attended the 2012 Dance/USA conference weren’t satisfied with the conversation about diversity. “We were either trying to be too nice or it was being diluted,” he said. “There are things we didn’t want to talk about. It’s very challenging. Through the genius of Audience Architects, bridging the conversations between audiences and those who construct the work is a wonderful way to begin to make the conversation larger.” The free series opens this Sunday, March 10 with Diversity: Then/Now at the Old Town School of Folk Music.

de Soleil, who grew up on the South Side and has performed as an interdisciplinary artist in Minnesota, San Francisco and New York, will be the curator for the entire series. The inaugural Spring Series will focus on Chicago’s history and the current cultural climate of the local and national dance scene. A panel of artists – Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre‘s artistic director Robert Battle, Columbia College chair Onye Ozuzu, dance critic Lucia Mauro, dance education director for Old Town School Sarah Dandelles, Cerqua Rivera artistic director Wilfredo Rivera, DanceWorks Chicago artistic director Julie Nakagawa and emerging artists NIC K and Dorian Rhea -? will participate in the discussion, bringing their expertise to the table.

I spoke with de Soleil over the phone last week about Moving Dialogs and the opening series.

How did you decide who would be on the panel?

Timelines, relevance and cultivating relationships. The people who are a part of this opening forum are people I’ve had time to get to know and have conversations and hear where they’re at. This came out of conversations, not necessarily about diversity, but what are the ways we can come together and strategize. The representation of emerging artists is important. They’re beginning to think about ways of diverstiy that are multi-layered. They’re just doing it. They aren’t talking about it. We need to hear these voices and they’ll teach us something. It’s important that the experience is somewhat multi-generational, but that it’s a coalition of the multiple voices, multiple ages and multiple experiences all looking towards discovering this language about how we can think and break open the notion of diversity. It was synergy. It was timing. It was relevance.

What kind of information are you hoping to get and what will you do with that information?

We want to begin to discover, as a community, the best language that supports moving this conversation about diversity along and that it moves us beyond the notion of diversity as a deficit, as something marginalized, as something now that has been relegated to our legacies. We need something to move us out of that place and that there is a co-existence of these diverse thoughts. It’s a big challenge. Above and beyond just representation of having different people in the room is the line their diverse and distinctive bodies to co-exist and to speak from that place of co-existence. You can be there and I can be there. We can both have our opinions, but a new language that allows us to both be there. This first one is an inroads of how we can begin to talk about diversity. It’s not attainable; it’s already there. We’re just beginning to name it and allow it to co-exist and to allow the diverse voices to co-exist in a new way that everyone can share and be their true selves, adding to the conversation. Who is in the room will inform the conversation. I have a legacy and a past that reflects who I am culturally. I’m going to allow myself to be deeply present in this moment and ask others to be deeply present in themselves and that is what is going to inform it. There is this conversation, but there will be iterations that move it and propel it forward, so we won’t be stuck in this conversation.

Read more about Moving Dialogs with a Moving Reflections blog entry by Hubbard Street Communications Manager Zac Whittenburg.

Moving Dialogs Diversity: Then/Now, Sunday, March 10 from 6:30-8 pm at the Old Town School of Folk Music, 4545 N. Lincoln Ave in the Myron R. Szold Music and Dance Hall. Admission is free. RSVP IS REQUIRED.

Meeting at the Edge

Natya & Mordine collide in "Pushed to the Edge". Photo by Ravi Ganapathy.

Last Saturday, East met West choreographically on the stage in Skokie.? Supported in part by the Audience Architects MetLife Stages for Dance Initiative, Indian Bharata Natyam dance company Natya Dance Theatre and modern staple Mordine & Co. Dance Theater shared an evening of dance at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts.? The two stylistically divergent companies have worked together before and the respect for the respective art forms was evident in the performance.? A note from directors Hema Rajagopalan and Shirley Mordine in the front of the program talked about the collaboration.? “The choreography is undertaken with the understanding that culture is written by, in and through the body, and that how we move is in many respects who we are.”

Two works from early collaborations? started the show.? Two Rivers (2007) presented two duets side by side: one gestural, precise and percussive – the other earthy, grounded and present with the two rivers theme representing “the image of two bodies of water moving separately”.? The couples dancing in linear patterns intersected and passed each other like streams and seemed to be using the aesthetically different styles to say the same thing.? Lovely.? Sahridaya, from 2008, was a short, sweet duet to Philip Glass music with one dancer representing each company.? The stark contrast of the dancers, choreography and styles made for a really interesting study in form.? Ushasi Naha’s thin frame and pristine, placed approach against Mary Kate Sickel’s muscular, rounded, organic movement.

The title work – Pushed to the Edge – featured live musicians (barefoot) on stage.? Wings out, the stage deconstructed as well as folding chairs a la Ohad Naharin’s Minus 16 and video panels on the back scrim added a contemporary feel to the 15-dancer, all-female, cross-company piece. ? The groups with Natya in beige and Mordine in sage green (beautiful costumes for all pieces by the fabulous Jeff Hancock!) took turns center stage in a passive, progressive dance off joining together at the edge of choreographic similarities, but never fully crossing over to the other style.? It was wonderful to see so many talented dancers together in such a cohesive and unique work.

 

Proud Mary

Inaside dancer Mary Williams. Photo by Eddie Eng.

Mary Williams will take her final bow this Saturday night after performing in the one-night-only show Constant Motion at the Harris Theater.? This show is the first in a series of shared performances of Chicago dance companies funded in part by the New Stages for Dance Initiative, a program brought to Chicago through the local dance service organization Audience Architects in partnership with Dance USA and MetLife. ? Constant Motion pairs Inaside Chicago Dance* (ICD), where Williams is a dancer and Marketing Director, and? Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre (CRDT) for the evening-length program.

ICD starts the show with four numbers, plus a piece by their Youth Training Program dancers, then CRDT takes the stage with their signature live musicians and both groups participate in a collaborative finale choreographed by Artistic Directors Richard Smith (ICD) and Wilfredo Rivera (CRDT).? Although stylistically different, the two companies come together (with the help of the initiative) to bring their talents to a larger venue than either one could secure alone:? the Harris Theater.? For Williams, it’s a pinnacle moment in her career.

Growing up in a small Michigan town, she started taking ballet class at age three and then got into Jazzersize (hilarious, but no joke).? When a new dance school opened in town, she began taking classes and eventually danced competitively.? College studies followed at Western Michigan University, with a double major in Dance and English.? Williams had her heart set on moving to New York City, but landed a scholarship at Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago and moved here instead.? During that first summer on scholarship, a fellow dancer asked her if she wanted to come with her to an audition.? Of course, the energetic 23-year-old said yes and was asked to be an apprentice with Inaside.? She’s been there ever since.? Now, at 30, she’s decided it’s time to take a break from dancing and focus on other aspects of her career.? I chatted with Williams last week around 10:30 pm, after she spent a long day (12 hours to be exact) rehearsing and teaching.

Inaside dancer Mary Williams. Photo by Eddie Eng.

Tell me about the show and the collaboration.?

Some of the great things about this collaboration, from a marketing aspect and as a behind-the-scenes person, we?ve been able to see a whole other group just like us?their system?how they do it, how they work together compared to how we work together?tricks of the trade.? I know a lot of their dancers, so it’s been fun.? It’s hard because we’re putting together two companies.? I think we’ve had four rehearsals.? It’s so fun when we get to do Wilfredo’s choreography.? I think the dancers on both sides really liked it.? It’s like having a guest artist come in.

CRDT dances to live music.? How was it adjusting to dancing to live music for the final piece?

We have our first rehearsal with live music on Sunday!? We?ve been working off of a recording.? I think it will be exciting.? It brings an element of surprise and almost improv into it.

Why did you decide to retire now?

I feel like dancing-wise I?m doing really great.? I know the young talent that is coming up is exceptional.? Right now, when I?m at my peak is a great time to stop dancing.? Other than that, it?s very consuming.? It consumes your life.? Especially with the marketing?having these twelve hour days?they?re brutal and you start to feel it after a while.? It?s been a hard decision to make, but I?m kind of excited to take the next step in my life and career.

What’s next?

I?m staying on as Marketing Director and I hope I can still come take class and keep up with my craft.? I?m still teaching kids, but I want to be able to take class.? I was recently named Dance Coordinator at Des Plaines Park District.? I?ll be working in the dance office, getting to know the program, talking to parents, etc?kind of like my office job.? I just won’t be a dancer on stage.

Since your last show is next week, what are you feeling??

I have so many different things going on.? I?m excited about the show.? It?s this huge, awesome event.? It?s not going to hit me that I?m not going to be dancing with the company anymore until I sit in the audience and watch them perform.? I feel like I should be focusing on the show more now, but you?ve gotta work, do the marketing?all this other stuff in life.? Right now, I?m being pulled in a lot of different directions, which I think is distracting me from the reality that I?m not going to be a dancer any more.

The day after the show might not be so fun.

I?m probably going to cry a lot.? I?m very emotional.

But, what a way to go out!

I can leave with a great sense of accomplishment.? I set out to be a dancer and I did it!? I followed my dreams.? It?s so cheesy, but it?s true.

Are you looking forward to a little bit of a break?

Yes.? I?ll get to eat.? I?m kind of excited about that.? I never starve myself, but you watch what you do.? I?m looking forward to some free time and spending time with my husband.? That will be nice.

Constant Motion: Inaside Chicago Dance & Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre – Saturday, September 24th, featuring choreography by Harrison McEldowney and Tony Savino, Autumn Eckman, Eddy O’Campo, Richard Smith and Wilfredo Rivera.

Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph, 312.334.2400, Tickets: $25-40,

*Disclosure:? I’m a former board member for ICD and currently serve in an advisory capacity and with special projects.

Straight Guy Talking

Scott Silberstein of HMS Media.

Even if you’ve never heard of HMS Media, if you’ve watched Chicago dance footage in the last 20 or so years, you’ve definitely seen their work. With 15 Emmy Awards and 23 Emmy nominations for their work creating arts-based, engaging programs for public tv, these media gurus have shown an instinctual talent for theatrical production and an affinity for filming dance. Lucky us. Their first project, the PBS documentary Why Am I Hiding, a barrier-breaking inside look at Rape Victim Advocates, won them their first Emmy Award (1989) and even had Oprah calling for a copy. Co-founder Scott Silberstein — writer, producer, composer, director, musician, blogger, dance-lover, music aficionado and straight guy — is the S in HMS.

A classically trained pianist, Silberstein has always had the arts in his blood. Passion, compassion and a bit of genius led him and HMS co-founder (and band mate – they met at summer camp!) Matt Hoffman to film dance. “I got fixed up with a dancer in the Lynda Martha Dance Company,” Silberstein remembers. He went to see her in a show and fell in love. “The date didn’t go well, but I like to think of it as I got fixed up with dance.” Much like their experience with the rape documentary, pretty much everything they did struck gold. Starting out with clients like Mordine & Co, Hubbard Street and Joseph Holmes Dance Theatre and after winning two Ruth Page awards (and two more nominations) they quickly became the go-to guys for the Chicago dance community.

The next big project was another PBS documentary on a small, new company called River North. With a show quickly approaching, they were struggling to sell tickets. HMS convinced PBS to air the special a few days prior to the show as advertising and by the next morning they had sold out. “That was two shows in a row that we?d been able to make and team up with WTTW and see the world change a little bit,” says Silberstein. “The first, I really think some people got help and the second, a dance company survived. You start to feel a little powerful, like you can do something to help. It was powerful, but humble. It always needs to be about their work or cause first.”

Around this time, Dance for Life (DFL) was in its third year and really starting to take off. The brainchild of dancers Keith Elliott and Todd Keich, DFL is an annual one-night gathering of the top local dance companies for a performance to raise money for HIV/AIDS awareness, care and prevention. Silberstein got together with Elliott and Harriet Ross to talk about making a documentary for DFL. The same conversation continued for 15 years, but the stars never aligned. Fast forward to present. For the 20th anniversary of DFL, HMS Media’s Dance For Life: The Documentarywill air on WTTW 11 tomorrow night (details below). “This is exactly the right time, because it fell into place so easily and so quickly,” he says. “Going into the 20th, a great milestone, and giving an opportunity to tell their story again through the eyes of survivors, beneficiaries, and people that have lost someone?it was the right time. Almost now more than ever. With all the advances in treatment and medication, now no one is talking about it. The gay community is finally getting some recognition and receiving rights that are long overdue, but there is some push back. It?s subtle and that?s what is scary. Maybe now the need is stronger than ever.”

The will, the need, the funding and the desire was there. Now came time to film. “All of the dance had to be shot in one day at the Harris,” says Silberstein. “Instead of a half hour to space and check lighting, we’re going to dedicate that half hour to a full out performance and then we?re going to do it exactly the same way in a few hours. One day of live performance. No camera rehearsal. It was an intense day.” That intensity paid off. The documentary is a stunningly accurate presentation of last year’s live performance (I was there) technically and emotionally. It opens with shots cutting from Joffrey Artistic Director Ashley Wheater teaching warm-up on stage to people standing in line to get into the Harris Theatre to dancers rehearsing backstage to the audience finding their seats. The effect is an insider’s look to everything that is happening in real time. The into ends with Margaret Nelson calling the first cues, a quick peek at the dancers taking their places for the first number and the opening announcement. It’s like you’re there.

Then the show starts. While you do get to see a majority of the beautiful dancing, it is the interspersed interviews that really steal the spotlight. Personal accounts and memories tell the story of the devastating disease and the impact it has had on the dance community. “We wanted to make it look like the dances were created to tell the story,” Silberstein says. “The movement would complement the story. We got chills in the edit room, when we would line a shot up that would fit perfectly. I knew Matt Hoffman was doing some genius editing. He?s the best there is.” Gorgeous, heart-wrenching, poignant, hopeful, joyous and brilliant. I smell another Emmy.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jCALwD_2PkY&feature=player_embedded]

Dance For Life documentary broadcast premiere: Thurs, Aug 11 at 10pm on WTTW11 with a rebroadcast on Sat, Aug 13th at 4am and on WTTWPRime on Fri, Aug 12th at 4pm. The program will also be available through Aug 31st at Comcast OnDemand. You can watch preview clips on the Dance For Life Facebook page.