The Seldoms Rebuild Monument

The Seldoms in "Monument". Photo by William Frederking.

Carrie Hanson, one of Dance Magazine‘s 2012 25 To Watch and the artistic director of Chicago-based troupe The Seldoms has made quirky, intriguing works in odd places like an Olympic-sized empty outdoor swimming pool, a gigantic vacant garage and in an antique salvage house. Now, Hanson finds her inspiration in more issue-based work. This weekend, the company revisits her first issue-based work, Monument, a piece that tackles consumption, disposal and our impact on the environment.

While Hanson does research and begins working on a larger, new work based on Lyndon Baines Johnson, the company set to restaging Monument. Why? ”I really like the work,” Hanson said. “It hasn’t been on the stage since 2008. Our audience has really changed and grown since then, so I feel confident that this will be a new piece for a lot of people. I’m still interested in the topic. I think it’s still relevant and it’s voice, it’s style and the material still match our identity.”

Hanson sees this “monumental” work was a turning point in the trajectory of her company and in the way she and her dancers, most of whom have been with her for years now, create material. “Monument sort of opened the door for this new method of working and new type of piece,” said Hanson. “I would call it more dance/theater, rather than abstract, although some of the vocabulary is still abstract in language. And there is text content.  It was the first piece where I felt like I needed to use language to deliver some very specific facts or data to the audience.” Some of that information – which will be heard in a voice-over by dancer/actor Liz Burritt – includes stats about the Statue of Liberty and the no-longer-in-operation Fresh Kills Landfill on Staten Island. Dry subject matter indeed, but trust me, Hanson makes her poignant points entertaining too. Original sets and video are no longer around, but an updated sound score by Richard Woodbury incorporating grinding machines, dripping goop mixed with songs like “I Love Garbage” and low level foreign language tapes perk up the piece and help give it new energy.

So, what’s the take-away? “I’m just interested in sparking some thought,” Hanson said. “I want to avoid being too heavy-handed or preachy in any of these environmental subject matter-driven pieces. Just a check. What are the last five things I threw away? Thinking about the things we take for granted and thinking about the long-term consequences of that.”

The Seldoms present Monument at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave., Thursday-Saturday, Sept. 26-28 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Sept. 29 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $20; call 773.327.5252 or visit http://www.stage773.com/Show?id=138.

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 Marchán-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.

Chicago Dance 2012 Highlights

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre dancers in "Revelations". Photo by Christopher Duggan.

Nothing says end-of-the-year-review time quite like the last day of the year…am I right? My proficiency in procrastination aside, now is the time to reflect on the past year and look forward to new, exiting surprises in the next. Here’s my Dancin’ Feats year-end review for Windy City Times that came out last week noting 12 memorable performances/performers of 2012, but I wanted to add a few more things.

Looking back at my notes and programs from the year (yes, they are all in a pile, I mean filing system, in the corner of my bedroom) I am so thankful for all the wonderful dance I get to see. Narrowing it down to 12 “top whatevers” was not an easy task for there were too many people and performances to name. Here are some other performances that are still in my thoughts:

Alvin Ailey Dance Theater in Ohad Naharin’s Minus 16. Although Revelations is still amazing, seeing this company in more contemporary work was refreshing. And the audiences at Ailey performances are a show unto themselves.

Paris Opera Ballet and American Ballet Theatre‘s performances of Giselle were stellar for their star-studded casts on opening night, but ABT’s Sunday matinee with real-life couple Yuriko Kajiya and Jared Matthews stole my heart.

Luna Negra Dance Theater founder Eduardo Vilaro brought Ballet Hispanico to town with former Chicago dancers (Jamal Callender, Jessica  Wyatt and Vanessa Valecillos) back for a rep show at the Dance Center to much acclaim, while current director Gustavo Ramirez Sansano continues to take the company in new and fascinating directions.

The Seldoms, in their tenth year, deconstructed the Harris Theater and traipsed around the world to collaborate with WC Dance in Tapei, while tackling the ongoing arguments around climate change with artistic director Carrie Hanson’s trademark wit and intelligence.

Before Hubbard Street Dance Chicago turned 35 this fall, it said goodbye to retiring, beloved dancer Robyn Mineko Williams. Artistic Director Glenn Edgerton completed his goal of presenting all five master European choreographers in the rep with the acquisition of Mats Ek’s Casi-Casa. Ek’s work took the company to a new level, but I’m still haunted by their dancing in William Forsythe’s Quintett from the summer series.

The Joffrey Ballet performed Forsythe’s In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated in their regular season and at the Chicago Dancing Festival. I was proud to be an official CDF blogger for the second year in a row. New to the fest this year was Giordano Dance Chicago, now celebrating 50 years. And Muntu Dance Theatre of Chicago hit 40!

River North Dance Chicago dancer Ahmad Simmons deserves a mention for his work in Ashley Roland’s Beat, particularly his performance on the Pritzker Pavillion stage in Millenium Park.

Special thanks to Catherine Tully of 4dancers.org for her continuous and generous encouragement and insight. Thanks lady!

Dance writing-wise, I’m thankful for the opportunity to write for Front Desk Chicago, Windy City Times, 4dancers and Dance Magazine.

I could go on (and on…), but tomorrow is a new year and I look forward to seeing more incredible dancing and dancers in our most awesome city. Happy New Year!

 

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.

 

CDF 12: Chicago Now

The Seldoms. Photo by Brian Kuhlmann.

Two men one-up each other while riding cherry pickers, oblivious to the audience that’s entering the theater.  One laments he should have been Spiderman, then declares, “I’m sticky” and proceeds to crawl, spider-like off the apparatus and onto the stage.  One aids the other in walking perpendicularly across the back wall.  A costume rack with hangers offers another challenge of manship that ends with one becoming a hanger with the other hanging off of him, upside down like a dress.  This behind-the-scenes show is an excerpt from This is Not a Dance Concert performed by two members of The Seldoms.  The funny, inventive piece opened the fifth night of the Chicago Dancing Festival (CDF).  Chicago Now included three mini performances showing a range of dance styles and a panel discussion about the Chicago dance scene moderated by dance journalist (and all around swell guy) Zac Whittenburg on the MCA Stage.  The stellar panel featured local artistic directors:  Carrie Hanson, The Seldoms; Ron De Jesús, Ron de Jesús Dance; Julie Nakagawa, DanceWorks Chicago and Lane Alexander, Chicago Human Rhythm Project.

Whittenburg lead the discussion, first breaking the ice by letting each guest give a little background.   “What were you doing in August 2007 (the inaugural year of CDF) and what are you doing now?”  The audience quickly found out these artists have lived, learned and loved dance for a long time and were going to bring a breadth of knowledge from different perspectives to the discussion.  Provacative questions regarding operational structures, time, space and funding challenges, the “ecology of interest, the line between cooperation and competition” kept the talk lively.  A half-time dance break featured two dancers from Ron De Jesús Dance in a breathtaking pas de deux about the Myth of Isis and Osiris.  The talk wrapped up with another question of time.  ”What do you hope to be doing in five years?”  Alexander: dancing more, composing more.  Nakagawa: creating an environment that feels open to experiment and opportunity and that includes the audience. De Jesus: wants a mature company and adds that “we (the community) have to be more creative in finding resources”. Hanson: to have a denser performance schedule.

What I feared could be a heady, intellectual (can dancers be wonky?) conversation was an intelligent, humorous, honest talk about the good and bad challenges facing the Chicago dance community.  It turns out that no matter what genre you’re working in or how long you’ve been around, these artists and companies all face the same battles.  The evening ended with the audience being “danced out” by the Footworkingz, a local troupe that Whittenburg saw at an exhibition a few years ago. He’s a big fan.  Now, we are too.

CDF12 Programming Update

Dance writer/lecturer Zachary Whittenburg. Photo by Benjamin Wardell.

Today, the Chicago Dancing Festival (CDF) announced the programming for the Chicago Now lecture/demonstration at the Museum of Contemporary Art on Friday, August 24 at 6 pm.  A discussion on the current state of dance in Chicago will be moderated by journalist and former dancer Zac Whittenburg (go Zac!), featuring a panel of distinguished Chicago dance leaders, including Lane Alexander (Chicago Human Rhythm Project), Ron De Jesús (Ron De Jesús Dance), Carrie Hanson (The Seldoms) and Julie Nakagawa (DanceWorks Chicago). The program will include brief performances by The Seldoms, Ron De Jesús Dance and FootworKINGz.

Tickets for the Chicago Now program become available Thursday, July 18 at 12 pm in person at the MCA Stage Box Office, 220 E. Chicago Avenue, or by calling 312-397-4010.  Tickets will go fast!  Good luck – this is sure to be a great conversation.

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

Chicago’s Got It Goin’ On

No one needs to tell me how fantastic the Chicago dance community is, however, some of our top peeps are getting recognized for their fabulousness!

Congrats to Glenn Edgerton, Artistic Director at Hubbard Street, for being named a Chicago Tribune “Chicagoan of the Year” by the astute Sid Smith.

Props go to Ana Lopez (Hubbard Street), Carrie Hanson (The Seldoms) and Gustave Ramirez Sansano (Luna Negra) for making Dance Magazine‘s “25 To Watch” for 2012.  In the same issue, check out a great piece on dance unions – Sweating the Small Stuff -  by Time Out Chicago dance editor Zac Whittenburg.

In The Wings

Waiting in the wings for your first entrance in a performance is one of the most exciting and terrifying moments for a dancer – at least in my experience. Nerves, adrenaline, fear and anticipation mix with knowledge, practice, talent and confidence to catapult you out on your cue. My blog is my stage now and I wanted to let you know some of the things that are coming up!

I’ve had a great response to interview requests so far (full disclosure: I’ve pretty much been asking friends or dancers with whom I’ve worked) and I’m still waiting on permission to re-print a couple of previous interviews. Check out the list of awesome local artists that will be featured here soon:

  • Cheryl Mann – photographer, former dancer Hubbard Street Dance Chicago
  • Carrie Hanson – Artistic Director, The Seldoms
  • Calvin Kitten – dancer Joffrey Ballet
  • Margi Cole – Artistic Director, The DanceCOLEctive

And…drum roll please…former American Ballet Theatre principal dancer Cynthia Harvey has agreed to do an interview from New York via email!! I know, she really has nothing to do with the Chicago dance scene, but it’s Cynthia Harvey!

Also in the works, an interview with some of the tappers involved with the new Cirque du Soleil show Banana Shpeel opening in November.

I’m off to opening night of Joffrey’s Othello. Merde to all the dancers. I can’t wait to see it.