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.

 

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.

dropshift dance explores memory through movement

dropshift dance's Andrea Cerniglia. Photo courtesy of Dear Prudence Photography.

What is a memento? How do you define that? How does your perception change when you get further away from the source? These are some of the questions “artistic architect” and dancer Andrea Cerniglia asks in Catch and Release presented this weekend at The Hairpin Arts Center. In this new program, her company, dropshift dance, explores memory perception and recall by creating an interactive performance experience with dancers, roving musicians and textile artwork. The goal is to create a balance between the three disciplines, while letting the audience decide how they view the show.

This non-traditional platform altering how and what the audience sees by letting them control the watch time and viewpoint is something she’s been experimenting with recently during her ninth season with Zephyr Dance. Although she’s been with the local company since 2004, after stints with RTG Dance and Chicago Moving Company, Cerniglia, 32, started presenting her own work in 2010. “I have a point of view and to develop that, I have to produce my own work”, she said. “It was a gradual process, but it was the next logical step.” As director, or architect, she wears many hats, but is learning and growing in the process. An example is the much-dreaded deed of grant writing. “It’s tedious, but a necessary evil,” said Cerniglia. “You do so many edits that it forces you to be more articulate. I’ve learned a lot about myself and became a better writer.”

Along with Cerniglia in Catch and Release will be three dancers, musicians Weldon Anderson (double bass) and Bob Kessler (harmonica, acoustic and electronic loopers), moving through textiles/sets by artist Ashley Sullivan with costumes (and set consultation) by Heiki Dakter. “The way that the performance space is set up will allow the viewer to literally be caught in one moment, while having the opportunity to release themselves and go view something else,” she says. “At times, the audience will have to choose how long to stay with a certain part of the performance as overlap may suggest that they leave one part of the space to go see another.”

dropshift dance presents Catch and Release, Friday-Sunday at The Hairpin Arts Center, 2800 N. Milwaukee Ave.  Friday – Sunday, Nov. 9-11 at 7:30 pm. Tickets are $20, students and seniors $15, visit brownpapertickets.com.