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 March├ín-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.

Flyspace: A Dance Consortium

Four women: founders, directors, choreographers, administrators and artists. Four women working together to elevate the visibility and grow audiences for their perspective modern dance companies. Four women: Jan Bartoszek, Margi Cole, Michelle Kranicke and Joanna Rosenthal. These four women are launching FLYSPACE, a strategic partnership and consortium, with two weekends of shared performances at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park. Hedwig Dances and Same Planet Different World share the closed-in, outdoor stage this weekend followed by The Dance COLEctive and Zephyr Dance next weekend.

FLYSPACE has been flying around the media recently, garnering tons of press for its unique approach to sharing resources. A meeting with Arts Work Fund director Marcia Festen between eight local female company leaders sparked the conversation and inspiration for the consortium. The discussion revolved around how to share resources and knowledge to help each other, which in turn would help each individual company. As mid-career, female, acclaimed artists, why are the economics not aligning with your accomplishments? Why are you still struggling? Obviously the economic downturn had a say, but a shift in funder focus to new and emerging artists added to the problem. “There’s a shift that happened, which kind of left us standing in the wind with our pants down,” said co-chair Cole.

Energized by the conversation, but realistic about the challenges, the group eventually shrank to four partners and FLYSPACE really took off. “To everyone’s credit, there was a real commitment,” said Kranicke, also a co-chair. “I think those that opted out did so because they realized they couldn’t give to the partnership the amount of energy that it was suddenly becoming clear it would need. It’s like taking on another job.” The group quickly discovered that technology would be a key factor in their success. “We recognized that our challenge is that we’re a one-man-show, for the most part,” said Cole. “Our audience walks up and buys a ticket. They don’t buy in advance, so it’s really difficult to get information. If we’re lucky enough to have them fill out a survey, who is going to enter all that data? I am. I’ve got grants to write and dances to make, so maybe technology is the way to solve the challenge.”

Cole and Kranicke make it clear that this is not an artistic collaboration, but a consortium with a shared interest. “The intention of the shared show and the launch is to showcase what we do,” said Cole. “We are dance companies. We are all different. Kranicke adds, “Our interests are strictly business. We operate to try to advance and extend our visibility and enhance our marketing, but we maintain our individual aesthetics.” The ladies of FLYSPACE have set goals with hopes of creating a national model for similar artistic entities and look to expand the FLYSPACE group in the future. “It is not an exclusive organization,” Kranicke said. “We are at a point where we’re still developing certain parts of the partnership, so we aren’t looking for new members at this time, but that won’t always be the case.” Cole said, “We want to have a solid structure before we bring more people in. We put an awful lot of time and energy into it and I’d like to see it sustain itself whether I’m sitting at the table or not.” A running joke between the partners is that between them they have over 100 years of arts administrative experience. With that kind of experience beneath them, other companies will look to them as inspiration and perhaps as future partners.

FLYSPACE Dance Series: Hedwig Dances and Same Planet Different World, Friday-Saturday, April 5-6 at 7 pm and Sunday, April 7 at 5 pm. The Dance COLEctive and Zephyr Dance, Friday-Saturday, April 12-13 at 7 pm and Sunday, April 14 at 5 pm at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, 201 E. Randolph St. Tickets are $15, visit flyspacechicago.brownpapertickets.com.