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

Mordine & Company Diversify

Mordine & Company dancers. Photo by Cheryl Mann.

“I think of the audience as the other part of the art form. Without you, there is no art form,” Shirley Mordine said before her company’s shared program at Stage 773 Friday evening. Mordine & Co. took the stage along with flamenco group Clinard Dance Theatre in an interesting mix of dance diversity. Mordine said the idea came from attending Dance/USA conferences and noticing how another host city (San Francisco) showed a more diverse section of their city’s companies than Chicago did the year we hosted. Deeply Rooted Dance Theatre shares the bill for Saturday and Sunday performances.

Mordine’s 2011 Life Speak about the art of storytelling got a revamp with a larger, vibrant cast. The original cast had seasoned dancers that were earthy and grounded in the work. The 2013 cast, which bumped up from six to eight dancers, boasted a younger cast with solid technique that made interesting choices to make the work their own. The stage sounded like sandpaper (a dancer who had performed their previously said it was painted wood, no marley) adding an extra audible texture to the work.

Clinard’s From the Arctic to the Middle East (Broken Narratives by an American Flamenco Dancer) was a blend of traditional flamenco with contemporary flavor, plus live musicians, a singer and a voice over telling a poem or story. The dancing and the live accompaniment were at the top of their game, but drowned out the voice over, so it was difficult to tell what the story was about. The three women seemed to represent different emotions (angry, sad, lost?) in different stages of life. A swaying hug between two dancers seemed maternal and comforting only to have one break away and spin out of control. Wendy Clinard showed amazingly fast footwork in a brilliant solo.

After a brief intermission, Mordine & Co. took the stage for the premiere of All At Once/Acts Of Renewal. Press materials state the new work is about “…the ability and need to process a deluge of information in the digital age”. Dressed in white with the women wearing bright colored leotards underneath, the costumes might have represented white noise or the sense that with so much information coming at you, you really can’t hear it at all. A slow-motion sequence perhaps suggests we all need to slow down. The short piece needs to flesh out more of the themes in the movement for better clarity and unity. It felt more like a work-in-progress than a premiere.

Final show of Mordine & Co. with Deeply Rooted Dance Theatre is this afternoon at 3 p.m. Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont. 773.327.5252.

Preview: The Dance COLEctive “free[Bound]”

TDC Artistic Director Margi Cole at age 13.

This weekend The Dance COLEctive (TDC) presents free [Bound] in four performances featuring two premieres and a revival from the company’s 13th season. For the first time, TDC will be performing at Stage 773 in Lakeview. “It’s a nice, intimate setting,” said artistic director Margi Cole. “I think my work is better served in a smaller theater.”

In a fun marketing campaign for the show, TDC posted pictures of the dancers at age 13 on their Facebook page, a nod to Cole’s 2009 work 13, which is being restaged for the performances this week. According to Cole, “13 is: awkward moments, about being embarrassed, trying to own who you are and be ok with it, as well as the pros and cons and uncomfortable situations of being age 13.” Spoken text – the final monologue was written by her niece at age 14 – adds to the texture and character of the work.

A new work by Cole, in orderly fashion, places limitations on the seven dancers to create an uncomfortable, disconnected feel. “I wanted the feeling of being a commuter, of going from point to point without having any intimacy,” Cole said. “We made a ‘contract’…basically a list of things we wouldn’t or couldn’t do. Each dancer’s was different and then they had to come together to negotiate how to do the material.” She admits this proved for a frustrating process at times, but the result was movement charged with a weird energy. “We usually spend a lot of time working on making the movement comfortable, but not this time. I’m ok with that…I’m not sure they are.”

Also on the program is a new solo work created on Cole by choreographer Molly Shanahan. The two previously worked together when Cole danced for Shanahan’s company Mad Shak in the ’90s. Shanahan is currently studying for a PhD in Dance at Temple University in Pennsylvania. The solo, titled Leaving & Wanting, deals with major life changes and the emotional, physical and psychological repercussions they may bring. While the two worked together over the summer, Shanahan’s mother passed away. Add to that the fact that Shanahan was preparing to move and the heatwave they were rehearsing in and, as Cole said, “There was a lot going on.” Aside from these challenges, the two clearly respect each other and enjoyed working together. Cole describes the process as humbling, satisfying and challenging. “The hard part is the transformative, performative element,” she said. Say what? “Molly talks about the audience being a witness. Trying to be transparent, while being in the moment and not performing it…it’s hard.”

The Dance COLEctive presents free [Bound] at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave., Thursday-Saturday, Jan. 17-19 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Jan. 20 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $25, $20 for students. Call 773.327.5252 or visit


Adventures in Dance

"Moniquilla and the Thief of Laughter". Photo by German Anton.

This weekend, two local dance companies are staging children’s shows set to entertain both kids and adults alike.  Hubbard Street Dance Chicago‘s (HSDC) second company, HS2 brings back last year’s hit Harold and the Purple Crayon at the Harris Theater and Luna Negra Dance Theater (LNDT) launches its children’s dance series Luna Niños with the Chicago premiere of Monaquilla and the Thief of Laughter at Stage 773.  Both one-hour performances are interactive, incorporate video projections and designed specifically for young audiences.  Ticket for both shows are $15.

HS2 premiered Harold in 2010 at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC and then to packed houses here in Chicago (read my preview here).  This year’s show based on the beloved children’s book by Crockett Johnson promises a new cast and vamped up lighting design (Mattew Miller) to compliment the sets and projections (Ryan Wineinger) and costumes (Rebecca Shouse).  Chicago composer Andrew Bird provides the music with HSDC dancer Robyn Mineko Williams and HSDC Artistic Associate Terence Marling choreographing.

Moniquilla and the Thief of Laughter, which premiered in Spain with Titoyaya Dance Project in 2008, has its U.S. debut this Saturday.  Created by LNDT Artistic Director Gustavo Ramírez Sansano, Moniquilla is a mystery adventure styled after Scooby Doo and Indiana Jones (Sansano’s favorites as a kid).  Moniquilla enlists the help of her friends Matias and Veronica to help her find out why the children across the world can’t laugh anymore.  A narrator and video projection/sets by Luis Crespo help the story along, but it is the audience that ultimately must solve the mystery.  A bicycle with sidecar, swinging axes, snakes (egads!), spies, and of course a villain add to the story set to a dramatic score including Prokofiev’s Dance of the Knights from Romeo and Juliet and classical flamenco music.  “It was a  good chance to use music that I loved, but never found the right fit for,” says Sansano.  “When I was thinking about the music, I thought a lot about Walt Disney.  He used to make all the soundtracks for the movies.  Every single movement was in the music.  It was real choreography.”  Just because it’s for kids doesn’t mean this choreography is simple.  Sansano’s trademark style involving fast, quirky movements with seamless transitions is on full display along with some slapstick moves reminiscent of the Keystone Kops.  I sat in on a run of the first half of the show last week and I can’t wait to see how it ends!  It’s fun, funny, and as Sansano says, “a treat for the senses.”

Hubbard Street 2, Harold and the Purple Crayon, Dec 3&4 at 2pm

Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph, 312,334,7777

Luna Negra, Moniquilla and the Thief of Laughter, Dec 3 at 10a & 1p, Dec 4 1&4pm

Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont, 773.327.5252