By Sharon Hoyer
Ahmad Simmons and Kacie Smith are the recipients of the Chicago Dancemakers Forum Lab Grant. Their project, “THEM” is a dance theater exploration of fear, love and the barriers we create for ourselves inspired by a quote from Rilke: “Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.” Ahmad and Kacie spoke about the evolution of “THEM” two weeks before the premiere.
A: These questions have been brewing in my mind for the last two years: themes of self-segregation and feeling like you don’t belong. I wondered if we could deal with these topics in movement and dance. We held a workshop in 2013 to see if I could put it in bodies on stage and not make it so abstract that it was impossible to tell what I was trying to say. Kacie wanted to add layers to make it more universal.
K: Ahmad’s perspective was personal and I had a bigger picture of how these issues affect the group and larger society. I’m interested not in presenting solutions, but finding the common ground of all of us grappling and feeling frustrated no matter what their perspective.
Ahmad, what personal themes drove this piece for you?
A: I was raised in a mixed-family environment. I live with an Italian family I met while in middle school. I’ve struggled with my identity and race and how to identify as a black man in a white family. It became more of an issue for me when I moved to Chicago. I felt like I didn’t get the same respect as a black man here; I never feel like I quite belong in one race quite honestly. I have two younger brothers and my youngest brother is openly involved in gangs. How is it that we have the same blood and we can’t even understand each other’s lifestyles? It’s not something I’ve come to terms with or can really understand, so this is more about exploration than finding solutions.
How do you take this into movement?
A: We have six dancers; everybody has experienced fears or questioning or confusion about their identity. I think opening it up to their experiences and combining it with mine has allowed me to get more individual with the choreography. This is the first time I feel like I’m not creating from an emotional point—this project has way too many things to talk about to be overindulgent and general. Having Kacie create this arc for me has helped keep it from getting too abstract. And we found we couldn’t talk about one thing without talking about others.
K: You can’t talk about the shooting in Charleston without talking about race and masculinity, about gun control, about backlash to feminism. And embracing how complicated and overwhelming these issues are.
Have recent tragedies factored into your process?
K: I hate how I wake up every morning, read the news and think how this show just keeps getting more relevant. We spend a significant amount of time talking about the performers’ perspectives on these events. We’re including a lot of these in the audio of the piece.
A: Anyone should be able to see themselves in this piece, and to go away with a sense of responsibility. And to go away and talk.
At the Preston Bradley Center, 941 West Lawrence. July 10-26, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, Sundays at 7pm. Pay what you can. Tickets at pursuitchicago.com.