Several years ago, nonprofit organization SeeChicagoDance—called Audience Architects at the time—christened April “Chicago Dance Month,” tying one of the busiest seasons for concert dance to a campaign designed to raise general public awareness of Chicago’s abundant, culturally rich dance scene. This year, performances by dozens of Chicago-based companies and individual artists were scheduled for nearly every day in April but now, during the crisis, are cancelled or postponed indefinitely. On top of the disappointment and logistical complications of cancelled shows, artists and companies face the loss of crucial revenue from ticket sales and class fees. Mayor Lightfoot and Governor Pritzker unveiled an emergency Arts for Illinois Relief Fund to provide some financial cushion to artists and organizations, but there’s no question that the arts, like the service and small-business sectors, face tough times ahead. (And let’s not forget that Chicago’s dancers, musicians, actors and artists are also its servers, bartenders and baristas.)Countless companies, choreographers and dancers are offering livestream and video classes for free or sliding scale donation as a way to stay connected with their community as well as raise a few nickels.
Red Clay Dance Company is among the many, many dance organizations with a major performance slated for April that has been postponed until further notice. Red Clay was to perform “Visions & Voices,” featuring a new piece by founder and artistic director Vershawn Sanders-Ward, and two new commissions by guest choreographers Lela Aisha Jones and Du’Bois A’Keen, April 3 and 4 at the Harold Washington Cultural Center. The show was linked to the company’s annual “Paint the Town Red” fundraising event, making April a critical month for Red Clay to raise precious operating cash for the year. “The fundraiser [cancellation] was a tough blow,” Sanders-Ward says on the phone. “This was our one fundraising event for the year. Without that, I was faced with how to make up this deficit?”
Instead of cancelling, the company moved the fundraiser to Instagram Live, doing away with a ticket price and inviting folks to join remotely for interviews with the choreographers, live sets by DJ Nick Nonstop and, they hope, to donate online. “It’s a way to keep peoples’ spirits out of the gloom and doom,” Sanders-Ward says. “We were so looking forward to this weekend. Some of the dancers were going to have their first performances with us. We have two works by guest choreographers who I really respect and love their work. How do we build excitement about it?”
This extended period of uncertainty has provided unexpected time for the “Visions & Voices” program to develop in new directions. Red Clay asked filmmaker Jovan Landry to edit together rehearsal footage into two short films (available on the company’s Vimeo page) to share the creative process around the originally scheduled performance date. “We wanted to organize as much as we could around the concert without putting the full program out there,” Sanders-Ward says. “I think it’s important to share this work live eventually. We thought, how can we keep people excited about it and looking forward? We have rehearsal footage we could edit together and reveal a little about the work and hope to win over new fans when the show is rescheduled.” Sanders-Ward says the short films may be presented alongside the live program, to provide background and context to the work.
With day-to-day operations of the company on pause, Sanders-Ward says this time is one of reflection. “It’s given me space to refine and go back to the essence of Red Clay Dance. We’re still young, but I think it’s good to reflect back and look at everything and see if we’re at the root and purpose. I think a lot of that is happening for people in their personal lives. Now we have a lot of time for planning and to interrogate some things. I think Red Clay will come out stronger on the other side. I think our teachers and dancers will be clearer on their connections to the organization. You go back to what really matters, keep what you need, and let go of what doesn’t work.”
Through April 6, full-length video of Red Clay Dance Company’s 2019 performance of “Art of Resilience 2.0” at the DuSable Roundhouse is on Vimeo.
Wednesday, April 1 at 5:30pm on Instagram: Chicago artist and wardrobe stylist @kfleye will share home styling tips and her costume design for Du’Bois A’Keen’s new piece.
Thursday, April 2 at 6:30pm on Instagram: Special Events Coordinator Erika Jones shares party tips.
Friday, April 3 at 8pm on Instagram: Red Clay Dance’s virtual “Paint the Town Red” Fundraiser.
Saturday, April 4: livestreams of two short films of the creative process behind “Visions & Voices”