Shh…It’s a Secret!

Dancer/choreographer Emily Stein. Photo by Nadia Oussenko.

What do you get when you put 15 dancers from diverse backgrounds in a large dance center with live piano and an explicit interest in re-learning ballet via improv and manipulation? Secret Experiments in Ballet #2, a collaborative experience of three performances this weekend at Visceral Dance Center. The mad professor leading this experiment, ”playing in the intersection of ballet vocabulary and improvisation”, is dancer/teacher/choreographer Emily Stein.

Most local dancers know her as the petite ballet teacher with articulate feet and impeccable technique and as a performer and Associate Artistic Director of Zephyr Dance, the company she left amicably in 2011. Since retiring, or “redirecting”, Stein has been teaching – a lot! – and taking classes (with Peff Modelski). In February 2012, she attended a three-week residency at the Atlantic Center for the Arts where she had the opportunity to take time to think about what she wanted to do next and the ideas for Secrets began to percolate. The entire concept finally hit her while on a much-needed vacation with her husband. ”I really wanted to play with ballet,” she told me over tea and coffee in late April. “A lot of what I’d been working with in the studio were the seeds of ballet language that you learn when you’re a kid. What you think it means and what you think it is, then exploring it through the improvisational techniques and things I’d learned working in the other side of the dance world. In particular, what I learned when working with Deborah Hay. They couldn’t possibly be further apart. I love ballet, but rarely do I go to the ballet and say, ‘Wow!’ There are people doing interesting stuff, but what else? What else that’s not about just extrapolating the vocabulary and taking it out to a really extreme place. I wanted to see what else is there in the vocabulary that we know. ”

Using the Cechetti seven movements of dance (plié, relever, sauté, etc.) as a base, she set out to see “what else?”. Taking the Cechetti definition, the French definition and the English translation of the word and having the dancers create movement phrases was a jumping off point. Adding in her own combinations and manipulations, Stein constructed a six section work that is sure to entertain and perhaps educate. “I’m trying to develop the dance from the inside out,” she said. “I want something based on glissade. How many different ways can you think of glissade or do glissade? How far away from glissade can you get and still have some semblance of it? The meanings re-learned. When you actually translate the words in the correct context, the meanings are myriad and more complicated. I’m taking those translations to create movement. I think part of it is coming to improv later in my career and having people say ‘that looks like an arabesque; take that out’. But that’s in me. That’s not something that I do, that’s something that’s in me, because I’ve done it for such a long time. You speak with an accent and you move with that accent. Some people can learn another language in life and not have an accent, but some can’t. That’s an interesting continuum to create in.”

Another essential part of the project is that it moves throughout the entire Visceral space using dressing rooms and corners in the hallway as the stage. “It’s not an installation; it’s definitely sequential,” Stein said. “I didn’t want to have a studio showing, but wanted the stage magic and quality of performance into these spaces. When we take class, there’s a performance quality and certainly when you’re teaching. I wanted to bring the audience into the space and have them be close to the dancers…to be this far apart from the dancers and hear them breathing and see the details. That’s what I love about teaching. I get really involved in someone’s foot. Ok, maybe I’m just a geek, but I think there’s something there. Other geeks will appreciate it.”

Emily Stein presents Secret Experiments in Ballet #2 at Visceral Dance Center, 2820 N. Elston Ave., Saturday, May 4 at 8 pm and Sunday, May 5 at 2 and 6 pm. Tickets are $25 ($15 for students and seniors); call 773.844.8988 or visit www.emilysteindance.com. *Cash and checks only at the door. May pay by credit card online.

 

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: dancesmadetoorder.com.

Read my preview here.

Girls On Film

Dancer/choreographer/filmmaker Kailtin Fox.
Dancer/choreographer/filmmake Nadia Oussenko.  Photo by Daniel Kullman.
Atalee Judy.  Photo by Carl Wiedemann.

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 DancesMadeToOrder.com.