When Ellyzabeth Adler conceived of Chicago Danztheatre Ensemble, she was looking to performance as a way through trauma. While in college, she was a victim of domestic abuse—an experience that changed her relationship with ballet. “Before that time, I was a total bun-head. I took ballet class the day before I gave birth,” she says. “But going through this I didn’t feel connected with the art form and how to perform it anymore. In grad school, I discovered the social justice side to performance.”
Adler was captivated by the German Expressionist concept of Tanztheatre which, in the words of founding choreographer Rudolph Laban, unites all forms of art media to “achieve an all-embracing, radical change in humankind.” Adler says she’s drawn to the word “radical” in all its meanings. From the outset, CDE crossed disciplinary boundaries, incorporating poetry, theater and dance to tell stories in the way, Adler says, they need to be told.
Twenty years later, Adler is again seeking how art can soothe trauma, peering out from (what we hope is) the other side of a two-year pandemic at a broad landscape of artists and companies emerging from isolation and seeking reconnection. Adler had planned a retrospective of her own work for CDE’s twentieth-anniversary season but shelved the idea and instead began contacting past collaborators and co-presenters to see if they were interested in a curated group show. “I asked myself, ‘Self, what do you really want?’” she says. “I thought, ‘I can’t do auditions again.’ So much of my work and CDE’s work was connection with other artists. I missed it. So I reached out to Ada Cheng [of Guild Literary Complex] with this idea and she said she’d have poetry. I talked to Lucy Riner of RE|Dance who said it was a great idea. I started reaching out to people I knew who had stuff to present and did an open call for people I didn’t yet know.”
The result is “Art. Heals.,” a performance series and gallery exhibition of thirty individual artists and performance groups that will run May 6-14 at the auditorium at Ebenezer Lutheran Church. The two-hour program—which includes dance, music, poetry, visual art, storytelling and theater—dresses a spectrum of wounds. In the dance category, Kaleigh Dent’s “Father, Father” explores how guilt lives in the body; Bekah Norwood’s untitled piece examines the pressure to achieve perfection in ballet—a close parallel to Drew Lewis’ durational “Anatomy,” also about dance-training-induced trauma. Both pieces turn to breath as an anchor and sustaining catalyst for movement. Re|Dance Group will present “Tiny Memories,” an intimate work that draws from each company member’s personal past, while Ishti Collective will look at collective anxiety and polarization in “Prakriti II.” For those needing a boost, snag a ticket to one of the Saturday performances and catch The Meltdown Collective’s “Ode to Frankie,” a dance purely intended to deliver joy after a few very rough years.
Adler will stage her own “Letters of Healing” with CDE, a piece she has never presented publicly, outside of a recent three-week residency in Germany. “Letters” was a 2017 commission by Between Friends, a social service agency dedicated to domestic violence prevention that Adler has volunteered with over the years. It was the title and subject of this piece that sparked for Adler, in a bout of sleepless cogitation, the name of the event.
A visual art gallery will be set up in the space, including works by German artists Hans-Ulrich Buchwald, his daughter Mariana Buchwald, Katrin Hamann, Nigel Packham and Simon Parfrement.
But that’s not all. Teaching artist Naomi Flores will curate pieces by Chicago Public Schools students who are part of CDE’s extensive arts education program. On May 13 and 14, Davin Youngs will perform a sound healing concert in the gallery space, layering beats, electronic compositions, gongs, tuning forks, singing bowls and his own voice. Emily Calvo, Ada Cheng and Bianca Thompson from the Guild Literary Complex will give readings, and Lani T. Montreal of Filipino theater advocacy group Circa-Pintig will present a short play about four Chicago mothers dealing with grief after losing their sons to violence. “Art. Heals.” is a huge program—which feels appropriate in light of the sheer quantity of loss, illness and loneliness suffered by so many over the past two years. Healing is a monumental task, one rarely allocated the time and attention it demands. Adler sees this as the heart of CDE’s work. “We look to the positive,” she says. “Not necessarily all sunshine and roses, but how do we dig deep and move forward. We try to find hope.”
“Art. Heals.” at Ebenezer Lutheran Church, 1650 West Foster, May 6-14. Gallery opens at 7:30pm, performances begin at 8pm. $20 general admission ($30 at the door), $13 students, children under 16 free. Tickets at danztheatre.org.