Local dancemakers channel Martha

*Practice means to perform, over and over again in the face of all obstacles, some act of vision, of faith, of desire. Practice is a means of inviting the perfection desired. ~Martha Graham

Winifred Haun and Lizzie Leopold begin the conversation by saying how different they are, but by then end, they are finishing each other’s sentences. Their friendship began over a quibble about the purpose of Twitter (Leopold won) and has developed over the years to a partnership of two dancemakers exploring their visions. “We’re a good team,” said Leopold. “We work well off of each other. Wini has a lot more experience than I do and…I’m more stubborn than I should be for my lack of years. Wini was the first person to offer me a seat at the table.” That table includes a love and respect (shared by many in the dance world) of Martha Graham and her contributions to the art. Inspired by Graham’s work, the two have put together a remarkable show with a number of artists that have been touched by her in some way or form. Kind of a six-degrees-of-separation, Martha-style.

This weekend, Winifred Haun & Dancers/Leopold Group present Vision, Faith & Desire:Dancemakers Inspired by Martha Graham, a multi-faceted show will include video of Graham’s 1930 solo work Lamentation, a dance film by Graham’s former choreographic assistant Peter Sparling and with the blessing of The Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance, the world premiere of Leopold’s Lamentation Variation, and new work by Haun, plus other works. “This is a show that I would like to see,” Haun said. “No one else is doing a show like this.”

About a year and a half ago, the two began putting together what they referred to as “The Graham Show”, asking various artists to join and calling in some favors. Haun’s friend Deb Goodman (former Graham student) agreed to teach the iconic Lamentation solo to Haun’s and Leopold’s dancers. When Haun reached out to the Graham Company, she learned that the work was not in the public domain. What could have been a disaster turned into a fantastic opportunity to create their own Lamentation-inspired work (being tackled by Leopold), permission to show the historic footage of Graham performing it and to teach part of the variation in a master class. Score!

With everything coming together – including a stellar list of guest performers like Sparling (who is also giving a guest lecture**), co-artistic director of Kanopy Dance and former Graham Company dancer, Lisa Thurrell (who is also giving a master class – SOLD OUT!) and Ayako Kato – they needed a title. Haun researched Graham reviews and quotes and found a quote (*above) about artistic process that fit perfectly. “It’s about practice,” said Leopold. She worried that people would think they were trying to compare themselves to the iconic choreographer, but eventually found a way to accept the enormity of the challenge on her own terms. “It’s just about saying, ‘We’re working on this’, just like she was working on things,” she said. Haun added, “Martha is a person just like us. Ok, she’s way better, but there’s a quote about when she was making like her 150th dance and thinking ‘I can’t do this. What am I doing?’. That’s all we’re doing. We’ll toss it out there and see what happens.”

Vision, Faith & Desire: Dancemakers Inspired by Martha Graham featuring Winifred Haun & Dancers, Leopold Group, Ayako Kato, Kanopy Dance, and Peter Sparling at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn St., Friday-Saturday, Sept. 27-28 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $30; visit www.brownpapertickets.com/event/357861.

**Peter Sparling’s lecture and video premiere at Northwestern University, Marjorie Ward Marshall Dance Center, 10 Arts Circle Dr., Evanston on Sunday, Sept. 29 at 12:00 p.m. (noon). Tickets are free.

Thodos New Dances 2013

Brian Hare and Jessica Miller-Tomlinson in Panem nostrum quoditianum, choreographed by New Dances 2013 guest choreographer Ahmad Simmons. Photo credit: ©Cheryl Mann

For 13 years, Thodos Dance Chicago (TDC), once a year, lets the dancers become the boss. New Dances showcases TDC dancers’ voices by giving them the chance to cast, choreograph, design, manage and create. With a panel of experts from the Chicago dance field offering impressions and advice, New Dances 2013 turned out nine new premieres in a range of styles, lengths and talents.

As with any all, in-house choreographic show, there were hits and misses. The only way to learn is to try and see if it works. Kudos to the dancer/choreographers for putting their voices on the stage with audible rain storms, prayer, a sandbox and even cartwheels.

Stand out pieces, for me, were Relativity by Carrie Patterson and Alissa Tollefson (short and sweet, good dancing), Sudden Throws by Cara Carper Balcer and Brian Hare (great difficult dancing), Weights of Being by Ray Doñes and Jon Sloven (nice, smooth partnering) and guest choreographer Ahmad Simmons’ Panem Nostrum Quoditianum (strong, cohesive work incorporating all stage elements – dance, costumes, lighting, sound with stellar dancing). Dancer shout outs to Brian Hare, Ricky Ruiz, Jessica Miller Tomlinson, Annie Deutz, Joshua Manculich,Carrie Patterson, Jon Sloven and Rebecca McLindon! Plus major props to lighting designer Jacob Snodgrass and sound designer Johnnie Nevin.

There is one more performance left – today at 5 pm. Check it out! You’ll get a little taste of everything and will definitely be entertained.

Thodos Dance Chicago presents New Dances 2013, Sunday, July 21 at 5 pm at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn. Tickets are still available ($10-$38) at the theater box office.

Luna Negra: A New Adventure for Moniquilla

Lunatics Kirsten Shelton, Mónica Cervantes & Eduardo Zuñiga. Photo by Jonathan Mackoff.

The irrepressible, glass-wearing, fierce friend Moniquilla is back with her friends Matias and Veronica for another magically crazy adventure in the second year of the Luna Niños Family Series presented by Luna Negra Dance Theater. Last year had the trio up against the evil Nico, but with a little help from the audience and a lot of laughter, he turned into one of the good guys. This year Moniquilla enlists his help to find a missing Matias in Moniquilla and the Moon Monster.

The original Moniquilla story (Moniquilla and the Thief of Laughter) was the brainchild of Luna Negra Artistic Director Gustavo Ramírez Sansano for Titoyaya Dance Project in 2008. This year’s installment is written, directed and choreographed by company member Eduardo Zuñiga. He also created the soundscape and set design working with illustrator Patricia Marín Escutia and lighting designer Jared B. Moore. With a running time of an hour, this is the first full-length production with Zuñiga at the helm. Sansano liked the work Zuñiga made for the company’s in-house choreography showcase last at the MCA, Luna Neuva, as well as his work for DanceWorks Chicago‘s Dance Chance and wanted to give him a shot at developing the Moniquilla storyline. “We used to joke in Spain that the next one would be in space,” said Sansano. “I didn’t know how to do it, but Eduardo figured it out.”

Zuñiga, 27, is up for the challenge. He’s a natural running rehearsals at their State Street studio and flashes a mischievous grin when talking about the show. He won’t give away all the secrets – there is, of course, a surprise plot twist! – but will divulge the action revolves around an alien and The Book of Magic. Injuries to company dancers may force him to jump in and perform, but for now, he’s enjoying working with his peers on this contemporary, family-friendly tale of magic, friendship and fun.

Illustration by Patricia Marín Escutia.

Luna Negra Dance Theater presents Moniquilla and the Moon Monster at the Ruth Page Center, 1016 N. Dearborn, Friday, Nov. 30 at 7 pm and Saturday-Sunday, Nov. 1-2 at 3 pm.

Tickets are $15; visit www.lunanegra.org or call 312.337.6882.

 

East Meets West

The Seldoms dancers. Photo by Brian Kuhlmann.

Later this month, local modern company The Seldoms takes the stage with WCdance from Taiwan.  Read my preview of the show in Windy City Times here.

The Seldoms with WCdance at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts, Thurs – Sat, June 28-30 at 8 pm and Sunday, July 1 at 3 pm.  Tickets are $20 ($15 for students and seniors).  Call 312.337.6543 or visit www.brownpapertickets.com/event/246618

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.

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.

S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y Night!

If you’re itching to see some dance tonight, there are tons of options.

Mordine & Co at the Ruth Page Center.  Check out my interview with Artistic Director Shirley Mordine!

Julia Rae Antonick’s Commissura at the Fine Arts Building.

Inaside Chicago Dance at the Anthanaeum.  (*full disclosure:  I’m on their board.)

NU Group at Northwestern.   Read my preview of the show!

and there’s more. Check out SeeChicagoDance.com for more details.

Go see some dance tonight and let me know what you think!