The Chicago Now panel discussion and snapshot performances, hosted by the Museum of Contemporary Art on August 24, rounded out the contemplative artist side of the Chicago Dancing Festival that for five years has stirred the hearts of performance lovers throughout the city with its free events. Festival co-founder Jay Franke says Chicago has become a locus for dance, although always “with room for more.”
The Chicago Now panel was designed to “take the temperature of dance” in the Chicago scene today by featuring the work and words of several leading dance artists, chosen in part by curator Peter Taub for their innovation and visibility: Ron de Jesús, founder of Ron de Jesús Dance and pupil of Twlya Tharp, and Carrie Hanson, founder of The Seldoms—who have put on site-specific work in an empty swimming pool, a trucking warehouse and backstage at the Harris Theater—headed up the panel. These two were particularly spotlit due to the snapshot performances of their company’s work—while they sweated, other panelists Lane Alexander of the Chicago Human Rhythm Project and Julie Nakagawa of DanceWorks Chicago sat back and put in their two cents.
Zac Whittenburg, moderator of the panel, dance critic and former dancer with Hubbard Street Dance Company, says “the idea is to give [panel] attendees a sense of how dance gets made in Chicago today, how dance artists want to see the scene grow and change, and what their needs are in making that growth and change a reality.” The dance “ecosystem,” as Whittenburg describes it, is not unlike other artistic or entrepreneurial spheres; space is at a premium, acquiring grants and contributions is painful, and time is never timely enough, but the work continues in the space between.
The work performed between panel discussion segments exhibited beautifully the diversity of artistic synthesis of which Chicago companies and individuals are capable. The Seldoms performed part of their Harris Theater piece, using a coat rack to hilarious ends. Ron de Jesús Dance shined with a duet rendition of the myth of Isis and Osiris. The ballet performers themselves, almost sculpted from the whole-cloth of my imagined Egyptian pantheon, manipulated shape to the point of hysteria, reaching beyond their forms and honed technique into a communal human sensibility, almost moving me to tears as Isis pieced her lover together and rejoiced in his new life.
The rest of the audience was singularly interested in dance performance, judging by the number of cheers when Zac listed each Dancing Festival event in turn and asked the audience to applaud if they attended. This in itself—a packed house full of cheering, cheerful and accessible dance enthusiasts—proved that the festival and the Chicago Now panel have been successful in pulling dance attendees from the woodwork and bringing Chicago performance to the public. As Whittenburg and panelists insisted, Chicago is one of the most diverse and productive dance cities in the world, continually growing and changing along those lines.
The true triumph of the event was the final performance by the FootworKINGz. Audience members gearing up to leave re-seated as soon as the first dancer moonwalked his way onstage. Their feet flew in every direction, rhythmically, like a marionette, hypnotizingly. Electrified, every audience member cheered within twenty seconds of the first “footwork” onstage, a style specific to and developed in Chicago. By the time I left, danced out of the theater by the jaw-dropping moves of the KINGz, I was a believer in Chicago dance. I believe, to quote Whittenburg, “If you aren’t seeing a dance performance in Chicago at least once a week… or once a month, you are really missing out.” (Eric Shoemaker)