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.

Windy City Rhythms 2012

FootworKINGz dancers Prince Jron and King Charles. Photo by Baramesi.

As usual, Lane Alexander has a lot on his plate.  The artistic director of the Chicago Human Rhythm Project (CHRP) is overseeing the company’s long-awaited move out of the Athenauem Theatre building into a shared artistic space in the Fine Arts Building at 410 S. Michigan Ave (a previous plan for a new construction building ultimately fell through).  The Collaborative Space for Sustainable Development (CSSD) will also house local companies Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago, Luna Negra Dance Theater, Kalapriya, Ping Pong Productions, River North Dance Chicago and the Chicago Chinese Cultural Institution and will have three studio spaces for classes and rehearsals as well as administrative offices.  “It’s a good ending of a long journey,” said a giddy Alexander.  The lease has been signed and the company will do a partial move in July and expect to be fully functional by this fall.  In associate with the China Performing Arts Agency, CHRP is presenting The Nanning Art Theatre in Legend of the Sun at the Auditorium Theatre on June 12 and 13.  Then CHRP will perform its first-ever full-length evening at the Kennedy Center this December.  Alexander boasts, “We’re a 25-year, overnight success!”

But first, in celebration of National Tap Dance Day (May 25th), which coincides with tap legend Bill “Bojangles” Robinson’s birthday, CHRP presents the annual Windy City Rhythms concert at the DuSable Museum of African American History.  The morning show on Thursday, May 10th at 10:30 a.m. is already sold out, but tickets are still available for the Friday, May 11th performance at 7:30 p.m.  (Ticket information below.)  This year’s show sponsored by The Chicago Community Trust features some new faces including Boom Crack Dance Company, a hip hop troupe, and FootworKINGz, a local footworking group credited with starting the dance style that has been featured on America’s Got Talent and America’s Best Dance Crew.  So, what’s the difference between tapping and footworking?  Alexander said, “Footworking was done in the street, because of hip hop.  The music came first and at up to 160 beats per minute, the movement is very fast and precise with the upper body doing more of a hip hop or breakdancing style.  We embrace all of our rhythmic brothers and sisters and always have our eyes and ears open to expand and bring in artists that are new to the audiences.”  Also performing in the show, footdrummer Tre Dumas (“one of the finest composers anywhere”), Mr. Taps (Ayrie King III), M.A.D.D. Rhythms, BAM! and youth groups from Bronzeville Lighthouse Charter School and Paul Revere Elementary.  “This is a community-based event,” Alexander said.  “We hope to inspire the kids.  This is a great way for them to see what the end point might be if they stick with it.”

Chicago Human Rhythm Project presents Windy City Rhythms, Thursday, May 10 at 10:30 am and Friday, May 11th at 7:30 pm at the DuSable Museum, 740 E. 56th Pl. Tickets are $15-$25. Call 773.281.1825 or visit