Stephen Petrionio Co’s Underland

Stephen Petronio Company dancers.

Tonight is your last chance to see the Stephen Petronio Company perform Underland at the Dance Center of Columbia College. And see it, you should. Lovely dancing, brave choreography, great music.

Petronio’s 2011 work set to the music of Australian singer/songwriter Nick Cave was originally made for the Sydney Dance Company.  In program notes, Petronio describes Underland “as a ‘place’, a kind of subconscious world ‘beneath the surface’, that locates the heart of Cave’s music”. The 14-section work succeeds in creating a dark, emotional world perfectly matched by Cave’s somber tones especially in ‘The Weeping Song’ and ‘The Ship Song’ sections. Petronio himself makes an appearance opening the piece by slowly crawling down an inclined ladder with a pen in his mouth, measuring time or distance by making marks on his arm. The “Descent” sets the stage for the hour-long world he has created.

Too many costume changes and a lackluster ending are the only downsides to this show. The choreography is smart, tight and interesting with solos, duets, trios and group work meshing so that your eyes and mind never get bored. The wildly off dancing in short tutus and garters in The Carny section deserve special mention. All the dancers were strong, yet distict, allowing their personalities and individual styles show through. Two that stood out were the petite Jaqlin Medlock, fierce technique and stunning attention to detail, and Joshua Green, powerhouse legwork set off with beautiful arms. The technique is what sets this group apart. Solid ballet training sets the base so they could do anything Petronio asks of them. With more experimental works, the technique sometimes gets lost. Not here. Gorgeous extensions (a la-besque?), a torqued jets, deconstructed fouette turns and a perky little parallel brise all make appearances. Slicing arms, a hip or head swirl, a bun askew all lend to the feel of a ballet gone beautifully wild.

Stephen Petronio Company presents Underland at the Dance Center, 1306 S. Michigan Ave. Final performance Saturday, March  at 8 pm. Tickets are $ 30.

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.

Fun with Snow Globes (and #sassy pancakes)

The Seldoms. Photo by Brian Kuhlmann.

Leave it to Carrie Hanson – a 2012 Dance Magazine “25 To Watch” –  to get an assist from Mother Nature who brought a 20-degree temperature drop and torrential downpour for opening night of Hanson’s new work about the argument around climate change. The drastic weather change was the perfect prelude to opening night of The SeldomsExit Disclaimer: Science and Fiction Ahead at the Dance Center of Columbia College.

As she did in her 2011 hit STUPORMARKET about the financial crisis, Hanson again incorporates voice overs of lectures and debate points from scientists and politicians to make her points with clarity and humor. (I have to admit hearing Newt Gingrich repeat the line – “I’m an amateur paleontologist” – creeped me out.) The dancers verbally add their own twisted talking points to show the absurdity of the extremes in this debate.

Hanson is lucky to have a small, but tight and strong ensemble of six dancers that have worked with her for a number of years. Philip Elson, Damon Green, Amanda McAlister, Javier Marchan Ramos, Bruce Ortiz and Cara Sabin “get” her and are excellent purveyors of her vision. They are fearless – and they need to be considering some of the death-defying partnering Hanson asks them to perform. In colorful pedestrian clothes, they ran, dove, slid and spun with full abandon. An opening duet in, on and around an old-school elementary desk let the audience know they were in for something abstract and unique. Hanson’s intelligence and playful style was also on full display as she included cigarettes, bananas, chocolate eclairs, garbage, snow globes and recurring references to Malibu Barbie and “big ass lettuce”. A clever turn where the dancers peel each others feet off of the stage with metal spatulas grows into actually cooking and eating gluten-free, organic pancakes on stage! (McAlister got the brunt of the feeding and had to hoard away pancakes squirrel-like in her cheeks to continue dancing.)

Hilarious, fun, dangerous, exciting, thoughtful and well done. The Seldoms, and Hanson,  seem to have another hit on their hands.


Ballet Lab Chicago

Photo by William Frederking.

Are you a ballerina with an edge?  A dancer with classical training, but likes to move more outside of the box?  Dare I say, a rogue ballerina?  Local dancer/teacher/choreographers Emily Stein and Paige Cunningham Caldarella have a workshop designed just for you.  Ballet Lab Chicago is a one-week intensive contemporary ballet workshop being held July 30 – Aug 3 at Visceral Dance Center (2820 N. Elston Ave.).  Two morning technique classes – 10:00 to 11:30 and 11:30 to 1:00 pm/teachers will alternate – give you a warm-up and a solid base for an afternoon rehearsal – 1:00 to 3:00 pm – where both choreographers will “workshop” new choreography.  On the final day, there will be a works- in-progress showing of the resulting dances.  Aside from the full workshop ($300), there are two class options:  a 5-class option (you can choose any five classes – $100), or the entire week of nine classes ($150).

Stein and Cunningham met about five years while teaching at the Dance Center of Columbia College.  Because they both taught the same level and had some of the same students, they started talking about what was going on in the classes and found they had similar approaches.  Columbia’s summer program ends in mid-July and although there are many other companies housing workshops around Chicago, they thought this would be a good time for their students to get some extra classes before school session start up again in the fall.

I sat down with Stein and Cunningham at the Dance Center to find out more about their Ballet Lab.

Why did you create Ballet Lab?  

ES:  We both are interested in choreographing using the ballet vocabulary, which we don’t always have the chance to do here.  It’s also an opportunity for us to get some playtime choreographically that was something more specifically focused on contemporary ballet. There’s a showing on the last day.  I think we’re both hoping that it gives us a chance to springboard into some new work next year, either in terms of choreographic ideas that we develop in that week, or in terms of meeting new dancers or finding people we want to work with in the future.  We’re both interested in approaching the ballet vocabulary in a choreographic way.  I’ve always been teaching ballet, I was classically trained, it’s my first language and my first love, but obviously most of my performing career was in modern dance…very avante garde modern dance.  I’m trying to bring the ends of these things together, because in my brain there are similarities.

Can you explain what you mean by “approaching ballet choreographically”?

ES:   A lot of my work in the last ten years since I did the solo-commissioning project (working with Deborah Hay), kind of sent me on this journey of improvisation and scores.  I’m really interested in structure.  Ballet is full of structure, but it’s not improvisational structure.  It’s the opposite…or is it?  I guess that’s my question.  I’m interested in exploring the vocabulary and playing with ideas of structure and score.  For example, if I create a combination and then I give instructions of what to do with the combination, what will happen to it?  Each dancer will bring something new to it.  How open can that be?  Or how specific does it need to be in order to be a replicatible piece that’s interesting to watch?  Scores are really interesting, but it’s a big risk because sometimes it’s just boring to watch.  It just doesn’t work.  Can you make it work and make it different every time, or not?  A lot of times in improvisation workshops there was “not that”, “not an arabesque”…well, why not?  That’s in my body, that’s part of my language.  If that comes out, why is that wrong?  I don’t mean it to be judgmental.  I’m just questioning these things.  What if you take these really abstract ideas of score, but you approach them intentionally with ballet vocabulary in your body, as your language…allowing yourself to access that.

PC:  I like that.  I feel like that is something that comes up.  I’ve caught myself working with young students saying, “that’s familiar, don’t do that” and then they shut down.  That’s what they know.  How do you let them do that, but find a new, interesting approach to it. 

How are your teaching styles different?

ES:  My class has a classical base, but I approach it from a really somatic point of view.  We spend time in class working on mechanical and somatic principles that they can then use in technique.  They develop efficiency.  They get to know their body better and it’s not just about  being able to do stuff, but about finding pathways to do things effectively.

PC:  My class tends to be more contemporary ballet, like a ballet hybrid.  We’ll do a more traditional barre, but the center work might be phrase work or explore things choreographically, so it isn’t necessarily the traditional ballet class structure.  I feel like I was a dance misfit.  I started ballet when I was 3, so I had a lot of classical training, then I went to Julliard and had a lot of formal, technical training.  I was never going to be in a classical ballet company.  Body-wise and the way I approached ballet class, I knew I wasn’t going to be in a ballet company.  Then I ended up at Cunningham which was perfect, because I could use a lot of my ballet training, but still be a modern dancer.  I never felt like I could fit into a downtown modern dance scene.  I wasn’t weighted in that way, so I was in this weird in-between place, but I love ballet vocabulary.  For me, it’s exploring taking your pelvis off-center or you may go into the floor and come up to find that verticality of ballet.  It’s kind of a mish-mosh approach.  There are probably teachers that would call it “bastardized ballet”.  I think part of it was when I came here I saw so many students struggling with ballet, because we have generous admissions, we have students that are 18 and have never studied ballet before.  I started thinking, how can we approach this so they can see how modern can feed into it, or jazz or African. 

ES:  You said ballet misfit.  That was kind of our point of connection.  We’ve both felt that way.  We have a ballet background, but we don’t fit into that mold as performers.  I feel that for both of us, making connections for the students…trying to make the students understand they don’t live on the ballet planet.  There’s one planet, it’s rewarding, it’s not scary or limiting to be able to be able to do all these other things, to be able to think about movement in all these different ways.  There’s a place where if you approach it a certain way, ballet really is organic. 

PC:  Ballet Misfit Academy!  That’s what the t-shirt should say.

What’s your end goal aside from a successful workshop?

ES:  We’ve been talking for a long time about doing a collaborative show, but we have some extenuating circumstances that are changing the game a little bit. (Caldarella is pregnant.)  Both of us look at it as an opportunity. Any time I get to play and make stuff, it becomes something.  There is no end goal.  Everything is a step to the next thing.  We’d like to do the workshop every summer.

PC:  Maybe finding ways of connecting with other Chicago organizations.  Maybe time it so we have a group of five weeks and make it a larger collaborative intensive.  

Ballet Lab Chicago, July 30 through August 3 at Visceral Dance Center, 2820 N. Elston Ave.  Spots are still available, register here!

You Can Be Part of CDF12

Paul Taylor Dance Company performing at the Chicago Dancing Festival in 2011.

Have you always dreamed of dancing on stage in front of an audience?  How about dancing on an outdoor stage in front of thousands of people while looking out over Millenium Park?  That dream can come true.  This year, the Chicago Dancing Festival (CDF) has commissioned a new work by New York-based choreographer Larry Keigwin set to Maurice Ravel’s famous music Bolero.  The world premiere of Bolero Chicago will feature up to 75 non-dancer participants from the Chicago area alongside the dancers.  NO DANCE EXPERIENCE NECESSARY!  Ashley Browne, a member of Keigwin’s company – Keigwin + Company – will be leading four open casting call/community meetings this weekend to meet potential participants and discuss what will be involved by taking part in this historic performance experience.  At the end of the meeting, there will be a chance to sign up for Bolero Chicago, which will be performed twice during the festival:  Monday, August 20th in the Chicago Dancing program at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance and Saturday, August 25th in the Celebration of Dance program on the Pritzker Pavilion stage in Millenium Park.

People of all ages and abilities are encouraged to participate.  Remember there is no dance experience required.  If you join the cast of Bolero Chicago, there will be a two-week residency with rehearsals that run Monday through Friday evening, August 6th – 11th, as well as dress rehearsals on August 19th and 24th. This is the chance of a lifetime.

Open Casting Call/Community Meetings:

Friday, July 13 at 4:30 pm, the Dance Center of Columbia College, 1306 S. Michigan Ave.

Saturday, July 14 at 11:00 am, National Museum of Mexican Art, 1852 W. 19th St.

Saturday, July 14 at 2:00 pm, PINT, 1547 N. Milwaukee Ave.

Sunday, July 15 at 2:00 pm, Beverly Arts Center, 2407 W. 111th St.

Please email your RSVP for attendance in advance to:  This RSVP will enter you for a chance to win 2 VIP tickets to one of CDF12’s performances.

Dances Made To Order: Chicago Edition Premieres TODAY!

Three films from Chicago dance artists premiere online today for the Chicago series of Dances Made To OrderThe Dance Center of Columbia College curated the May round of the film series created by Dances Made To Order co-founders Kingsley Irons and Bryan Koch.  Local artists Kaitlin Fox, Atalee Judy and Nadia Oussenko had about two weeks to create dance films utilizing three concepts (clocks and paint, struggle against biology, repulsion/desire) voted on by members.  Fox’s Origin features one dancer (Gretchen Soechting), covered in what looks like mud, in a black and white setting of shadows and boxes set to New Age music.  Judy’s Wasteland shows off her trademark punk style as she adorns and destroys alarm clocks (is the clock belt a reference to her biological clock?) to Barry Bennett’s frantic drums.  Oussenko’s Dance of the Queer Tide Faeries takes a fun turn with three dancers (Oussenko, Rachel Damon, Christopher Knowlton) clad in primary colored crinolines playing on the lakefront.

You can watch all three films online for $10.  For more information, visit:

Read my preview here.

Girls On Film


Three local dance artists are taking their talent to the screen.  The Dance Center of Columbia College is curating this month’s edition of Dances Made To Order, an online film series created in 2011 by LA team Kingsley Irons (dance maker/producer) and Bryan Kock (filmmaker) that features a different city’s artists each month.  Columbia College peeps Colleen Halloran, Richard Woodbury and Bruce Sheridan chose Kaitlin Fox, Atalee Judy and Nadia Oussenko as the three artists to represent Chicago.

Here’s how it works:  pay a one-time membership fee, $10 for one month (if you only want to see the Chicago films) or $50 to see all the films created this season online.  Once you sign up, you can vote on the themes the filmmakers will be required to use.  Voting – which is FREE – for the Chicago series started yesterday and runs through May 10th at midnight. (I just voted and can’t wait to see what these lovely ladies come up with!) 65% of the revenue raised goes back to the artists.

Besides dance, choreography and filmmaking, Fox, Judy and Oussenko have something else in common.  All three received an email from Columbia College Dance Department Chair, Onye Ozuzu.  “Onye sent me a cryptic email,” Judy said.  “I was a little cautious, because I’d never heard of it.  They’ve got a Netflix kind of thing going on, but with a different concept.”  Fox and Oussenko had never heard of the series either, but all three warmed to the idea quickly.  These lovely ladies have dabbled in filmmaking before, so the process isn’t new, but new challenges will be thrown at them.  For one, it’s difficult to plan a shoot if you don’t know what the film will be about.  Five themes will be voted on taken from questionnaires the artists and their collaborators filled out earlier in the year.  Three of those five themes will be incorporated into each film.  “We can start to plan, but we really don’t know,” said Oussenko.   Fox said she’d been trying to make a dance that would incorporate all five themes, but that plan has been put on hold.  Since graduating from Columbia in 2010, she admits it takes a bit longer to get that “creative kick”.  “I’ve been trying to find ways to expand creatively,” she said.  “This should be a good learning experience.” And Judy said, “I’ve been thinking about it, but it’s futile.  There are certain things you can’t prepare for.  We’re going to wing it and hope to be inspired.”

While, the trio is concerned about the time limit of two weeks for filming, production and editing, some of the rules may help with the process.  “It helped simplify,” said Fox.  “It allows us to scale back.”  Oussenko worries about scheduling.  “You have no idea how hard it is to just get five people together,” she said.  Judy thinks the time frame is “doable” since she’s done a series of film shorts called Danse Skitz for her company BONEdanse, but she’s clearing her schedule for those two weeks, just in case.  The range of freak out is “kind of scary” to “half excited, half nervous” to “I’m terrified”.

For dancer bios and more information or to sign up and vote, go to


Ballet Hispanico Comes to the Dance Center

Ballet Hispanico in "Mad'moiselle". Photo by Eduardo Patino.

This weekend, March 22-24, Ballet Hispanico (BH) under the direction of Eduardo Vilaro, Columbia College alumni, former Dance Center artist-in-residence and founder and former artistic director of Luna Negra Dance Theater, takes the stage at the Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago.  Vilaro’s newest work Asuka, set to salsa music by the legendary Celia Cruz, will make its Chicago debut on the mixed repertory program.  “It is thrilling to be back,” said Vilaro.  “The Dance Center was home for me for almost four years…and has been a major dance force in the national community since its inception.”  BH has been busy touring the past few weeks, so I corresponded with Vilaro and dancer Jamal Callender (graduate of The Julliard School and former member of Hubbard Street 2) via email.  Callender told me the best thing about being back in New York after his season in Chicago with HS2 is getting to see his family and his many friends and Julliard peeps dancing on Broadway and on the movie screen. He’s enjoying his time at BH.  “Mr. V is very forward-thinking and I like the relationship I have with him.  I appreciate his advice and the way he looks out for me and all the artists,” said Callender, who is dancing in three of the four pieces. “The repertory catered to me so well. It’s beyond diverse. It’s eclectic, like me.  I feel like an artist here!”

Vilaro, who began dancing with BH in 1985, talked about how the company has changed since he was a dancer there.  “When I started dancing there, it was a modern dance company with some neo-classical ballets.  Our founder, Tina Ramirez had a strong theatrical background, having had a career in Flamenco and Broadway.  The repertory reflected that.”  Now as artistic director, he wants to work with choreographers that explore Latino culture…so the work is more contemporary without losing sight of its heritage.  As an example, his Asuka celebrates a Latin American music icon, but focuses on how her music impacted the Latin community rather than a narrative of her life.  Alongside Vilaro’s piece is Andrea Miller’s Moor-influenced Naci and a duet about human struggle titled Locked Up Laura by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa.

Also on the program is a commission work from African American choreographer Ron Brown.  Set to songs by Peruvian singer Susana Baca, Espiritu Vivo deals with personal loss and recovery.  “His work is a direct connection to the African influence in the Latino world,” said Vilaro.  “There is a deep connection that can be seen in the seamless harmony of his movement with the music.  It can also be seen in the articulated hips and torso found in Latin social dances.  Ron is a special human being and his gentle strength embraced by the dancers helped lead them to fully understand his work.”  For Callender, dancing in Brown’s piece is a full-circle moment.  “When I was younger, I remember watching Ron in the dance studio working with his company.  I used to it by the door in awe and just admire everyone in the company.I remember going with my Mom every year to the Joyce to see them perform.”

Aside from touring, the company was recently asked to perform at the victory parade for the Super Bowl Champion New York Giants.  After dancing for the crowd Vilaro and crew taught the fans a simple salsa step in honor of wide receiver Victor Cruz, who claims this as his touchdown dance.  “I was thrilled that dance was represented alongside such a beloved American sport,” Vilaro said.  “There is a large world out there that needs to have more dance in their loves and I hope we gained some new friends.”  Callender added simply, “It was a blast.”

Ballet Hispanico, Thursday-Saturday, March 22-24 at 8 pm

Dance Center at Columbia College, 1306 S. Michigan Ave. Tickets are $26-$30. Call 312.369.8330 or visit

*There is a post-show discussion on Thursday, March 22 and a pre-show talk at 7 pm on Friday, March 23.

A Little Bit of Color

Dancer Gal Mahzari. Photo by Herbert Migdoll.

I guess there really isn’t a good time during the height of the dance season to leave town, so my taking a road trip this weekend lends to missing some great shows (my apologies to all).  Gus Giordano Dance Chicago is at the Harris Theater, the Dance Center has a shared bill with Space/Movement Project, Rachel Damon/Synapse Arts and Erica Mott, and Same Planet Different World celebrate turning 15! at the Victory Gardens Theater.  However, there is another show happening this Sunday, March 11th, that I hope gets a good audience too.

The Joffrey Academy of Dance presents the Choreographers of Color Award winners works at the Harris with a 4 p.m. show titled Winning Works.  This is the second year for the contest that highlights the work of young, minority choreographers.  The three winners are Carlos dos Santos, Jr., Ray Mercer and Bennyroyce Royon.  Each winner received a $2,500 stipend, 30 rehearsal hours and the chance to work with Joffrey Ballet Artistic Director Ashley Wheater and Academy Directors Alexei Kremnev and Anna Reznik.

Here are the deets – hope you can make it!

Tickets for the Winning Works: Choreographers of Color Award 2012 at the Harris Theater are $15 in advance and $18 at the door, available in advance by calling the Harris Theater Box Office at 312-334-7777 or online at

Out of Mosh Pits & Mash Ups

BONEdanse. Photo by

Under the muscle and punk rock exterior, Atalee Judy is a true beauty.  Piercing pale blue eyes, refreshing honesty and self-awareness tinted with humor are what you get one-on-one.  She’s fierce, cool and definitely one-of-a-kind.  Her background is as interesting as her look.  Judy grew up on a horse ranch in Mansfield, Texas.  After her father died when she was 12, she ran away to New York and lived with three punk bands, serving as a techie and housekeeper. Her uncle, a rich Republican that lived in the Chicago suburbs adopted her and she ended up in an all-girl Catholic high school which happened to have a terrific dance program.  “I was on the basketball team…and the basketball coach was inspired by the football players taking ballet and dance to get better coordination.  We got thrown into dance class and I pitched a fit about not wanting to wear pink tights.  I didn’t want to take ballet, so she put me in this modern dance class.  I insisted on wearing my basketball jersey.  I was such a fucking tomboy.  I fell in love.  From that point on, I was doing talent shows.  The nuns loved me.  I had the shaved head, Sinead O’Connor look with my combat boots and little Catholic girl uniform.”  A brief stint as a bio chem major led her to realize that dance was her passion.

As Artistic Director of BONEdanse, the new incarnation of  her brainchild Breakbone Dance Co, which she started in 1997 after graduating from Columbia College’s dance program, she’s tackled social and political issues with tenacity and creativity.  She’s also codified her own technique – the Bodyslam Technique – that she teaches in the Chicago area dance scene.  “At Columbia, I realized that this whole falling stuff that I’d been working on was very interesting to them, but also confusing,” Judy says over coffee and some very hot tea.  “They didn’t know what to do with me.  When given a choice to improvise, instead of using classical technique stuff which I didn’t have an interest or want to do, I’d be doing prat falls and things I thought were exciting or energetic.”

For This is a DAMAGE MANUAL, four dancers (including Judy) and a sock puppet named Earl take the stage for a two-week run at Theater Wit starting Thursday.  The evening-length work takes its cues from 1950s self-help records mixed with some 80s themes and a little psycho-analysis and self-reflection.  Characters (a stressed out housewife, a dysfunctional ballerina, a Hitler-esque figure with a cold that under hypnosis becomes an Elvis impersonator) born out of last summer’s 12-week video project Danse Skitz are brought to life in problematic glory while trying to “fix” their damage via hypnosis and outdated advice.  I sat down with Judy in mid-January to talk about the show.

From punk bands to dance, it seems an unlikely transition. 

I was choreographing early on.  It felt like something that I needed to get out.  I’m a doer.  I’d just do, not knowing what I was doing.  When I was a kid, I would sketch the horses an try to make them move as opposed to static pictures.  I was always watching them, how graceful and gorgeous they are.  When you’re up on a balcony and looking down on a mosh pit, that kinetic energy going on and the whirlpool that happens…I’ve always wanted to bring that to the stage.  I want a mosh pit on stage.  I’ve always said there’s a lot of fall and recovery in the mosh pit.  You really have to know where your weight is or else you’re going down to the ground and get a boot in your face. 

Why the name change?

A lot of cumulative things.  Some are kind of trivial, some are deeper, but I really feel personally trapped when I get categorized too much or defined…even when I feel obligated to be something that I don’t want to be or I’m not all the time.  I think Breakbone started defining itself and me as this one thing and that’s all I did.  I wanted to fold and just create something else that had a little more leeway and a little more play with it to where I could do anything I want, so I wouldn’t be defined by it.  Oh, she falls a lot.  I didn’t want to be the one-trick pony.  It started getting to get to where I was demanding this of all my dancers.   A lot of dancers don’t think they are athletes. I couldn’t keep working on the psychology of their issues.  Either you’re an athlete and you believe it and you go to the gym and work out and build your muscles or you atrophy.  It’s not enough just to do the movement.  I was projecting a lot of my values onto them and I hate when people do that.  I dwindled it down to people I really wanted to work with, because they offered different skill sets.  And the other thing is the trust issue, making sure that I trusted their skill sets to be more collaborative.  I used to come in with all the movement, all the concepts, all the answers – not in a control freak way, well they may have thought it was – they wanted to be fed and I would have all the answers for them.  They just had to implement.  Things have changed the trajectory.  It feels more open, a little bit freer…less defining.  One of the other elements is I feel like I said everything I wanted to say with Breakbone.  We had a lot of social issues, political stuff that was very ragey, some controversial.  I’m not going to top any of that.  I think I’m done talking about that.  The new trajectory it’s getting into a more psychological level of evaluating my own issues as well as things that I’m sharing with the company right now.  It’s deeper versus reactionary. 

Tell me about DAMAGE MANUAL.

I don’t know what I’m sitting on with this show.  There’s a solo I do that’s so fucked up that I don’t even know if it’s funny.  It’s just wrong.  The whole show has a mash up feel.  I saw Jyl Fehrenkamp perform this solo once for a show with Winifred Haun and it blew me away.  It was about Women’s Stress Disorder. When we were working on this show, that idea kept coming up.  I commissioned that from her.  We’ve been working on a ten-minute chunk from last spring that we did it for the Other Dance Festival.  My partner Karl has an old collection of self-help records from the 50s.  Oh my, are they creepy.  The records have all the glitches and skips.  Somehow the 80s was coming in so I just went with it.  There’s a therapist’s office, a ballet studio, a bathing suit section with a Crisco can, bathing caps and tanning bed goggles, a bullet bra…a mash up. 


BONEdanse presents This is a DAMAGE MANUAL, Feb 2-5 & Feb 9-12, Thurs-Sat at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm

Theater Wit, 1229 W Blemont, 773.975.8150, $15-$24