Christopher Kai Olsen is an Emmy Award®-winning Chicago filmmaker that I thought readers here might be interested in learning more about. Last year he created almost 50 minutes of original film projections for Thodos Dance Chicago’s multimedia story ballet. The White City: The Columbian Exposition of 1893 is an original work – set against the backdrop of the famed Chicago World’s Fair. It was co-conceived and choreographed by Melissa Thodos and Tony Award®winner Ann Reinking.
Thursday, February 23rd, Chicago dance lovers will have the chance to see Beneath the White City Lights: The Making of an American Story Ballet at 10:30 PM on WTTW11. As part of the story ballet creative team from its inception, Olsen was afforded unprecedented access to the visionary endeavor, and in addition to his own artistic process, began documenting the making of the ballet, from concept, through rehearsals to its March 2011 premiere at the Harris Theater in Millennium Park.
The one-act ballet chronicled in the film brings the 1893 Columbian Exposition to life through dance, in a story filled with passion, ingenuity, intrigue, and murder. Its cast of historic characters includes famed architect John Root, ill-fated Chicago mayor Carter Harrison, Sr. and America’s first serial killer Dr. H.H. Holmes, who preyed upon young women amidst the chaos of the World’s Fair. (The film’s dramatic crescendo is danced inside Ms. Reinking’s inventive interpretation of Holmes’ claustrophobic “Death Box”).
We asked Christopher a few questions about the project, which he answers for us here…
Can you tell readers how you came to be involved with this project?
I first began working with Melissa Thodos, Ann Reinking and Thodos Dance Chicago back in 2009 on “Fosse:Prelude”, a short film about three Bob Fosse dances featured during their 2009-2010 season. Collaborating with TDC during this project was such an incredible experience that I jumped at the opportunity to work with them again on The White City the following year.
What is unique about this film?
With “Beneath The White City Lights”, I had the rare opportunity to film from inside the experience itself, allowing audiences to see The White City through the eyes of the dancers, choreographers, and designers who put their heart and soul into the production.
What did you find interesting about working with dancers?
I have a great deal of respect for Melissa’s leadership of the company, and for how her direction has attracted such a spectacular group of kind, talented and hard working dancers. How they manage to perform at Olympic intensity hour after hour, for months at a time, and keep coming back for more (with a smile!) is incredibly inspirational.
Also, as an FYI…the week immediately following the broadcast, The White City stage performance returns to Chicago as the centerpiece of Thodos Dance Chicago’s 20th anniversary concerts. Performances are Friday and Saturday, March 2 and 3, 8pm at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 East Randolph Drive, Chicago. Tickets, $25-$60, are available at (312) 334-7777, or online at harristheaterchicago.org.