On Philip Elson’s Terms

“Technology is challenging the way we experience life,” he said. “As a society, we are fascinated by its nonhuman capabilities while abusing it to learn more about how people live their lives.” In his first evening-length work, emerging choreographer Philip Elson explores life in the digital age using multiple disciplines to create a new dance-theater work. You may have seen him on stage performing with The Seldoms, Same Planet Different World, and Khecari, among others, but this weekend, he’s in charge and he’s taking the stage on his own terms.

One of his many jobs aside from dancer, choreographer, sound designer, Technology and Media Coordinator is Apple Genius, so aside from perhaps taking inspiration from his Seldoms’ director Carrie Hanson by creating an issue-based work, he’s an expert in tech and diving into how our digital lives have changed us seems like an inevitable subject for him. “We have become so accustomed to a certain type of living and relating to others,” Elson said. “These ways of life are being disrupted by concerns of privacy and it changes how we interact with each other.” (In fact, we even conducted this interview via email.)

For all the upsides of being “connected”, Elson is well aware of the down including identity theft, annoying pop-up ads or “blindly agreeing to something without understanding the consequences”. He uses spoken text, video projection and, of course, dance to investigate the balance of digital consumption. Are we consuming it or is it consuming us? The forward-thinking Elson is already toying with idea of taking this show viral. “I’m thinking about reworking it to fit on a digital platform, meaning the entire work would be consumed either through a computer, tablet, or smartphone and somehow be interactive.” That sounds super cool, but first go see it live.

Philip Elson presents Terms and Conditions, Friday-Sunday, March 14-16 at 7 pm at Links Hall at Constellation, 3111 N. Western Ave. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased here

PRODUCE: What is it?

McCurdy and Zerang.

So, what is PRODUCE? “It’s hard to explain,” said Lauren Warnecke of Art Intercepts. She’s the creator and co-host of the annual artistic mash-up program called PRODUCE.  “I’ve yet to come up with a catchphrase. I usually call it a dance/music experiment or a choose-your-own-adventure novel for experimental dance and music.”

This is the third year for this funky collab show which mixes and matches local artists/groups so that every performance out of the four is unique. ”I’m looking for a reality t.v. show in a live performance,” Warnecke said. “I want conflicting aesthetics, conflicting creative processes, conflicting ideas, conflicting personalities. It’s super trad dancing all the way to playing a drum with a dildo. It’s putting people together who wouldn’t normally be.” Past performers have teamed up for subsequent projects after meeting here.

The Ensemble Project and Signal Ensemble Theatre‘s Julie Ballard (lighting) and Anthony Ingram (sound) are presenting this season of PRODUCE. Ingram also serves as co-host with Warnecke. The performance is broken down into sections. After each section, the audience gives feedback and the co-hosts, acting as “producers”, decide what changes to make with the music, sound, arrangement, pairings, etc. before the next session begins.  “We’re pulling as many manipulations out of these set works as possible. That helps the artists grow and let’s the audience into the process,” said Warnecke. “It’s about wanting to let the audience have a little bit better point of entry in this type of performance (experimental), so they can feel more comfortable with it.”

Performers this year include Country Death Trip, Mark Hardy/Celestial Architecture, Carol McCurdy and Michael Zerang, Philip Elson, The Nexus Project, crawlspace, Newman and Newman and hey girl hey omg girl real life.

Let me get this straight. A mash-up, choose-your-own-adventure, interactive, inclusive, evolving, unique, hosted mix-and-match performance with dancers, musicians, performance artists, a psycho-billy/goth country band, constellation projections, sisters and a drag queen? And you get a drink! All for $8?

Count me in!

The Ensemble Project & Signal Ensemble Theatre’s Julie Ballard and Anthony Ingram present PRODUCE, Friday-Saturday, July 26-27 and Friday-Saturday, Aug. 9-10 at 7:30 pm at Signal Ensemble Theatre, 1802 W. Berenice. Tickets are $7; call 773.341.8940 or visit www.artintercepts.org/upcoming/.

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.