Moving Dialogs Series

Moving Dialogs curator Baracka de Soleil. Photo by Jacob Bell.

Diversity seems to be the word on everyone’s lips these days. Shirley Mordine, director of Mordine & Co., spoke about the need to diversify by asking other companies to perform with her company at last week’s performances. Numerous small companies across Chicago are sharing shows with other artists in alternative spaces in increasing frequency. Rumors have the Dance Center of Columbia College looking to diversify their academic programming to include a broader spectrum of styles including African and hip hop. Local dance service organization Audience Architects held several convenings gathering artists opinions and data on diversity of dance in Chicago. And then there is the Chicago Cultural Plan – the big daddy study on arts and diversity in the Windy City.

But it was a conversation with Audience Architects Executive Director Heather Hartley and artist/teacher/consultant Baraka de Soleil that sparked the idea for a new, six-part series called Moving Dialogs: Diversity + Dance. de Soleil said the community convenings came out of the fact that local artists who attended the 2012 Dance/USA conference weren’t satisfied with the conversation about diversity. “We were either trying to be too nice or it was being diluted,” he said. “There are things we didn’t want to talk about. It’s very challenging. Through the genius of Audience Architects, bridging the conversations between audiences and those who construct the work is a wonderful way to begin to make the conversation larger.” The free series opens this Sunday, March 10 with Diversity: Then/Now at the Old Town School of Folk Music.

de Soleil, who grew up on the South Side and has performed as an interdisciplinary artist in Minnesota, San Francisco and New York, will be the curator for the entire series. The inaugural Spring Series will focus on Chicago’s history and the current cultural climate of the local and national dance scene. A panel of artists – Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre‘s artistic director Robert Battle, Columbia College chair Onye Ozuzu, dance critic Lucia Mauro, dance education director for Old Town School Sarah Dandelles, Cerqua Rivera artistic director Wilfredo Rivera, DanceWorks Chicago artistic director Julie Nakagawa and emerging artists NIC K and Dorian Rhea –  will participate in the discussion, bringing their expertise to the table.

I spoke with de Soleil over the phone last week about Moving Dialogs and the opening series.

How did you decide who would be on the panel?

Timelines, relevance and cultivating relationships. The people who are a part of this opening forum are people I’ve had time to get to know and have conversations and hear where they’re at. This came out of conversations, not necessarily about diversity, but what are the ways we can come together and strategize. The representation of emerging artists is important. They’re beginning to think about ways of diverstiy that are multi-layered. They’re just doing it. They aren’t talking about it. We need to hear these voices and they’ll teach us something. It’s important that the experience is somewhat multi-generational, but that it’s a coalition of the multiple voices, multiple ages and multiple experiences all looking towards discovering this language about how we can think and break open the notion of diversity. It was synergy. It was timing. It was relevance.

What kind of information are you hoping to get and what will you do with that information?

We want to begin to discover, as a community, the best language that supports moving this conversation about diversity along and that it moves us beyond the notion of diversity as a deficit, as something marginalized, as something now that has been relegated to our legacies. We need something to move us out of that place and that there is a co-existence of these diverse thoughts. It’s a big challenge. Above and beyond just representation of having different people in the room is the line their diverse and distinctive bodies to co-exist and to speak from that place of co-existence. You can be there and I can be there. We can both have our opinions, but a new language that allows us to both be there. This first one is an inroads of how we can begin to talk about diversity. It’s not attainable; it’s already there. We’re just beginning to name it and allow it to co-exist and to allow the diverse voices to co-exist in a new way that everyone can share and be their true selves, adding to the conversation. Who is in the room will inform the conversation. I have a legacy and a past that reflects who I am culturally. I’m going to allow myself to be deeply present in this moment and ask others to be deeply present in themselves and that is what is going to inform it. There is this conversation, but there will be iterations that move it and propel it forward, so we won’t be stuck in this conversation.

Read more about Moving Dialogs with a Moving Reflections blog entry by Hubbard Street Communications Manager Zac Whittenburg.

Moving Dialogs Diversity: Then/Now, Sunday, March 10 from 6:30-8 pm at the Old Town School of Folk Music, 4545 N. Lincoln Ave in the Myron R. Szold Music and Dance Hall. Admission is free. RSVP IS REQUIRED.

Meeting at the Edge

Natya & Mordine collide in "Pushed to the Edge". Photo by Ravi Ganapathy.

Last Saturday, East met West choreographically on the stage in Skokie.  Supported in part by the Audience Architects MetLife Stages for Dance Initiative, Indian Bharata Natyam dance company Natya Dance Theatre and modern staple Mordine & Co. Dance Theater shared an evening of dance at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts.  The two stylistically divergent companies have worked together before and the respect for the respective art forms was evident in the performance.  A note from directors Hema Rajagopalan and Shirley Mordine in the front of the program talked about the collaboration.  “The choreography is undertaken with the understanding that culture is written by, in and through the body, and that how we move is in many respects who we are.”

Two works from early collaborations  started the show.  Two Rivers (2007) presented two duets side by side: one gestural, precise and percussive – the other earthy, grounded and present with the two rivers theme representing “the image of two bodies of water moving separately”.  The couples dancing in linear patterns intersected and passed each other like streams and seemed to be using the aesthetically different styles to say the same thing.  Lovely.  Sahridaya, from 2008, was a short, sweet duet to Philip Glass music with one dancer representing each company.  The stark contrast of the dancers, choreography and styles made for a really interesting study in form.  Ushasi Naha’s thin frame and pristine, placed approach against Mary Kate Sickel’s muscular, rounded, organic movement.

The title work – Pushed to the Edge – featured live musicians (barefoot) on stage.  Wings out, the stage deconstructed as well as folding chairs a la Ohad Naharin’s Minus 16 and video panels on the back scrim added a contemporary feel to the 15-dancer, all-female, cross-company piece.   The groups with Natya in beige and Mordine in sage green (beautiful costumes for all pieces by the fabulous Jeff Hancock!) took turns center stage in a passive, progressive dance off joining together at the edge of choreographic similarities, but never fully crossing over to the other style.  It was wonderful to see so many talented dancers together in such a cohesive and unique work.


Modern Maven

Dancer Adriana Durant. Photo by William Frederking.

The dance form is illusive to many, at times, including me.  The maven is Shirley Mordine. With  her namesake company performing for an astounding 42 years, plus her creation in ’69 of The Dance Center of Columbia College and the fact that she’s mentored, taught or worked with pretty much everyone in the city’s modern community – Mordine is nothing short of a force of nature.  This weekend, Mordine & Co. Dance Theater, along with RE|Dance Group and mentee Alitra Cartman, will be performing its spring concert NEXT 2011 at the Ruth Page Center.  On the program:  a revival of Mordine’s 2009 work Illuminations, a trio The Mysterious Disappearance of the Second Youngest Sister by RE|Dance’s Michael Estanich, Mordine & Co’s Emerging Artist Mentee for 2011, Alitra Cartman’s new work and the world premiere of Mordine’s LifeSpeak.

Sitting in on rehearsal last week, I was fascinated by how the group worked.  There seemed to be an unseen force guiding the process, an energy connecting them all physically, mentally and emotionally, so that everyone was on the same page without saying anything.  Of course, the initial source was Mordine herself, quietly interjecting  notes while the group ran through the pieces.  Speak to us…tell us the story.  Use your phrasing, rhythmic sense.  If you hear yourself landing, your not absorbing your weight.  Play with your weight, don’t force it.  The dancers — and this is an impressive group of six – take in the corrections on the fly, evolving as they go.  *Side note:  It was especially nice to see Atalee Judy, a unique and strong presence, dancing.  I haven’t seen her perform in quite a while (my mistake), but I’m still reeling from a duet she create a million years ago with Robbie Cook involving straight jackets.

It was a treat to finally meet the Modern Maven I’d heard so much about over the last 15-or-so years.  I have to say, I’m smitten.  Here are some excerpts from our conversation.

RB:  42 years – can you give me some insight into why you think this company has lasted this long?

SM:  I’ve never been asked this question.  I think it’s persistence, for one thing.  I always say that when I’m about ¾ of the way through the piece I’m working on, I know what I want to explore next.  You explore that area and that stimulates another kind of curiosity.  I think that’s the reason.  I’ve had some really solid groups of companies…really excellent people.  I think they come to understand that there really is an aesthetic operating here that has continuity to it, that has a clear focus to it.

RB:  You mentioned “next” and what’s next, is that why you titled the show NEXT?

SM:  This started about three years ago and we decided to make it an annual event.  We usually premiere some new work and include our mentoring project.  I like to invite companies perhaps that haven’t been seen as much, companies that maybe are a little younger and could stand some exposure.  It becomes more than just your company.  First of all, it’s great for audience development.  But you’ve got the mentoring project, and work from another company and our work.  We always try to do something new.   It’s a little collage of performances and it opens it up, so it’s not just exclusively a company performance.

RB:  How did you pick RE|Dance?

SM:  Michael  was a mentee of mine many years ago when we were at The Dance Center, and he had gone off to Ohio State and got his masters and is working professionally and is now teaching at a college in Wisconsin, but he’s beginning to show work here in this area.  I went to see Michael and Lucy’s (Vurusic Riner) performance at Hamlin Park two or three months ago.  I just think he’s a really fine young choreographer.  He’s the kind of kid I like to give more exposure.

RB:  Tell me about the new work, the world premiere.

SM:  I’ve done a lot of work that has to do with giving power to your voice…that has to do with a sense of insurgency and that undervoice would always come through.  It will out time you eventually.  Look at what’s happening in the Middle East. Here are people, that for the first time, can sense that their voice means something.  It took me back immediately to what theater is fundamentally.  You’ve got a group of people sitting in a circle, whatever culture…and they’re telling stories to each other.  It’s completely natural.  If one pulls back and gesticulates a little bit, you’ve got theater.  That’s what we come from, telling stories to each other.  Then you start thinking how stories evolve.  (Laughing) We are all the best liars in the world.  I was playing with that phenomenon of how stories come about and how information changes and how they evolve into something else.  We really worked through a difficult process with the dancers discovering how to tell their own stories.  That’s not an easy thing to help them figure out how to embed sensation and information and then work it through gesture that is not literal, but that, to me, is dance.  I’m always curious as to what someone has to say.  I’m always curious about information, how it transforms and changes.  That’s always been my impulse in most of my work.

RB:  For Life Speak, what was the process like?

 SM:  My dropping words, improvising to drop sensation, learning the skill of not interpreting that, but the sensation itself having physical reality.  And that, of course, is the ultimate example of abstraction.  You’re not demonstrating, but feeling…just trust the feeling coming through.  I’m curious how people examine and look at information, especially kinetically because that’s my field.

NEXT 2011, April 29 & 30 at 8 pm

Ruth Page Center for the Arts

Tickets:  800.838.3006 or