Assistant Editor Rachel Hellwig interviews Michelle Kranicke from Zephyr – a Chicago-area experimental dance company that has been around for over 20 years…
What inspired you to start Zephyr?
I was very young when I started Zephyr so the reasons behind why I founded the company don’t really resonate with Zephyr’s current aesthetic and mission. What is more important to me right now is what inspires me to continue. And that is my continued fascination with creating work, dance specifically, and trying to push beyond known ideas and preconceptions about what the art form can be.
What’s it like to be artistic director, choreographer, and performer all at once?
I have been all three for so long I guess I am not sure what it is like to not be artistic director, choreographer and performer all at once. I think the roles of director, choreographer, and performer are linked, each having their own specific requirements and priorities. For example, in my role as director I try to make sure that both Zephyr’s productions and its education work are an extension of the company’s mission. To that end I try to make sure company class is structured so that dancers are not only learning technique, but also developing an innate understanding of Zephyr’s aesthetic so that when I am working as a choreographer the performers I am working with have all the tools they need. Regarding Zephyr’s long history of arts integrated education programming, working with schools and students using movement and the creative process to access knowledge and understanding, Zephyr trains its teaching artists in the same clear detailed manner with which its aesthetic is presented. As far as my performer self, that is often the most straightforward role, and one where I am deeply connected.
As a choreographer and dance educator, process is very important to me. It is through my creative process that I problem solve and create various products. My process can vary depending on the task at hand or even on how I feel in the moment. Any changes in my process are usually reflected in the product outcome as well. One example of how changing my process can be helpful is when I am choreographing a work and I do not want it to look or feel like the last piece I created. Changing my process can help me to create new movement and fresh ideas.
In order to teach my students about the value of process I give them many assignments where they have built in time to explore and play. I also have them reflect on their process answering questions like: How did you go about learning a movement sequence? How did you work within your group on a project? How did you approach the creation of your movement?
I often have students work in small groups on various choreography assignments. The most recent project I gave them was to create a short choreographic study based on initiating movement from certain bones in their body. The main goals were for students to learn the names of the bones, where they were located, and how it feels to move from those bones in their body.
The assignment included a rubric which required students to use specific choreography tools and a required length of counts for the whole dance. Often time when I give an assignment like this with a clear rubric of expectations, students look at the list of what the dance must include and work towards this end goal first instead of taking the time to experiment and play with movement ideas. I have to remind them that I’m giving them many days to work on the project to include the process of discovering the movement they want to use and they have time to change their minds and let the dance evolve. I use many analogies like when you create movement and choreography with your group you are writing in pencil not pen so as you go on if you don’t like something simply erase it and make a change.
The majority of the classes that my high school students take are very product focused and students can either be right or wrong with their product. It can be very challenging for students to shift their perspective in my class and linger in the process focused perspective as a means to create and problem solve. In dance class with a creative assignment there is not one way to do anything right so there are many right answers and what I try to teach my students is that I want them to discover what they feel is the best and right answer for them. They discover this through their process.
Having an emphasis on the process rather than the product does not mean that I do not care about the end product. On the contrary, I think that when the process is more fulfilled the end product is also more likely to be fulfilled and realized in a deeper way. The way we go about getting to an end product is through various paths and that we honor the paths we try out and discover what each one has to offer. Students edit and revise more while focusing on process in order to create the product.
As students embrace this mind set I see a shift in the quality of their work and their work ethic. In a world of instant gratification and product focused thinking it is becoming more and more important that we teach young people to value the process, the how we get to an end goal. Teaching students to be process focused can have great implications in many areas of their lives and help them to problem solve in creative ways. I hope to help my students become creative problem solvers and leaders in the world they live in.
Contributor Janet Rothwell has been a dance educator for 10 years. She has taught modern, ballet, and jazz at various studios and schools on Chicago’s North Shore. She received her MA in Dance with an emphasis in Choreography from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro and her BA in Communications with a Dance Minor from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Throughout her time in graduate school, Janet performed with Sidelong Dance Company based in Winston-Salem, NC.
Currently, Janet teaches dance at Loyola Academy High School in Wilmette, IL. She is the Director of Loyola Academy Dance Company B and the Brother Small Arts Guild, and choreographs for the Spring Dance Concert and school musical each year. Janet is very active within the Loyola Academy community leading student retreats and summer service trips. She regularly seeks out professional development opportunities to continue her own artistic growth. Recently, Janet performed with Keigwin and Company in the Chicago Dancing Festival 2012 and attended the Bates Dance Festival.
When she isn’t dancing, Janet enjoys teaching Pilates, practicing yoga, and running races around the city of Chicago.
Greg Blackmon is a new choreographer and DanceWorks Chicago alum. DanceWorks Chicago was founded in 2007 and gives early career artists an environment where they can build a foundation and hone their artistry through training, collaboration, performances and mentoring opportunities. They also showcase work from established choreographers.
Greg recently choreographed “PACK: And for All the Lost Ones” for DanceChance, a showcase which features choreographers chosen by chance. Afterwards, his piece was taken into the DWC repertoire – marking the first time that DWC dancer has become a DWC choreographer.
“PACK: And for All the Lost Ones” will make its premiere with DWC on Sunday, November 16 at DanceMoves.
What inspired your piece “Pack: And for All the Lost Ones”?
The piece is actually about a friend of mine and former DWC dancer, Marco Antonio Huicochea Gonzalez, who passed away during his time with us. It was a really rough loss for all of us, and after a few months of reflection I decided I would like to honor him through the art form we got to share with one another. So I dropped my name into the fishbowl at Dance Chance and wound up getting selected, which allowed this idea to come to fruition.
What music did you chose for this piece?
I chose a song by an Icelandic band called Sigúr Ros, “All Alright.” I’d heard it when a friend of mine used it years before for a piece of his own and I’ve always been in love with the juxtaposition of the music’s reflective, emotional tone and its instrumental minimalism.
What style is “Pack: And for All the Lost Ones”?
I would consider the piece to be contemporary. I’ve implemented some ballet principles, but re-imagined and reconfigured them to fit more organic movement.
What is your choreographic process like?
Since I’m just starting out, I think I’ll say my process from piece to piece will be different every time. I like to believe every task– not just in dance, but in life in general– has a formula specific to itself that will breed the most success in terms of what your goals are. This piece started with me taking a lot of note from the emotional displays of animals, mainly dogs/wolves, and fusing that honesty and the body language with styles of contemporary movement that I love.
When did you find out that “Pack: And for All the Lost Ones” was going to be added to the DWC rep?
A few weeks after Julie saw the piece at Dance Chance, she asked if Matt (the other original dancer and a current DWC company member) and I would like to perform “Pack…” at the Dance for Life kickoff gala this summer, which was exciting in itself because so many people that I admire in the dance world got to see it. And then about 3 or 4 weeks after that, Julie asked if we could meet to discuss how it would work its way into the DWC repertoire.
How did you feel when found this out?
I was absolutely ecstatic! This was my first creation as a professional choreographer, and I didn’t even aspire for it to be anything more than what it was– a short, sweet dedication to a very dear friend and to the family that I’ve found in DanceWorks Chicago, as well as a sort of memorial for everyone who’s ever been lost from this world (because everyone means something to someone. And everyone is loved very dearly by someone.). And it’s grown into something that a ton of other people will get to see and hold dear to their hearts because of one idea that I had.
What did you learn during your time at DanceWorks Chicago and how has it helped you?
I could write a book on everything that I’ve learned here. One of the most important things is that you really are a person first and THEN an artist. I think a lot of dancers can get really caught up in the idea of this art form we dedicate our lives to and all of the prestige surrounding the mental and physical dedication it takes, and we forget that we have to be people inside of the movement. Otherwise, you’re just someone else who can throw a leg up or point your foot and pretend to say something, or imply an idea, but never really say anything…never really give it meaning.
I’ve also learned to be more patient and a bit less of a perfectionist. I’ll never forget Julie Nakagawa pulling me aside one day while we were on your and telling me “Just do the work. Don’t fuss or obsess about the mistakes. Just… do… the work. That’s really all anyone can ask of you. But you have to really do it.”
What are some of your dance goals and dreams for the future?
I think my biggest dream for the future is to continue exploring movement and manifesting both my own ideas and the ideas of others through dance. It’s so much fun translating something as abstract as a simple thought into something as tangible as dance. And I love knowing that the things I can put on a stage will touch each audience member in a way that’s unique to them and their experience, because that’s what art does. It stirs people in a multitude of ways and the beauty of it lies in the undeniable sincerity of their response.0
The Dance COLEctive has an upcoming performance series titled “Holding Ground.” You decided to do a live-stream so that it could be viewed by an additional audience. What made you move in this direction?
There are many reasons I’m interested in the idea of streaming a live performance. I want to share my work with students, collaborators and artists I have relationships with outside Chicago. In fact, we’re encouraging people in other states to organize viewing parties, which we’ll report on via social media. To date, fans in central Illinois, Ohio, Texas, Alabama, Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, Idaho, Tennessee, Vermont, Germany and the UK are already committed to watching! For those in Chicago, it offers another point of view on the live performance, perhaps even from backstage. I encourage Chicagoans to come to Links to experience the live version, then watch it streaming and compare.
Where will the live-streaming be broadcast, and how did you select that particular channel for it?
You will be able to watch the live stream from the TDC website. Our first priority is to drive traffic to our website, which is why it is important that it be viewed there. TDC is using YouTube to stream the event, which allows people around the world to also find the event there.
Live-streaming adds an additional component to the preparation for a performance. Can you talk about the challenges it presents?
My first concern is about quality—of the footage itself and the different views from which the work can be viewed. Right now we are talking about having three cameras. I think that could change this week when we get in the space. I think no matter how much we prepare that we still have to be ready for anything.
What do you think can be gained by incorporating this type of experience?
Besides engaging with the viewer virtually, it gives me a new lens to look through as a choreographer. While I did not have this live stream in mind when I created the work itself, I do think that having an understanding of the viewer’s experience will have an impact how I design and execute the work next time.
Do you think that anything can be lost by viewing dance via live-stream as opposed to in person?
Of course, dance is a three-dimensional form best viewed in person. I am hoping this will be the next best thing, especially for all our fans, friends and family who can’t be with us in the theater. But I have no expectations that this can in any way be the same as seeing something live!
Has preparing for a live-stream changed the way you choreographed your piece?
For this first experience, no. It has not changed the way I am choreographing the work. I feel, though, that “choreographically” and with the idea of live streaming in mind, Links Hall was an important venue to support the work and broadcast from. Not only does the intimacy of the space lend itself to the signature elements of our work, but I hope it will create a more intimate experience for the viewer.
Do you think you would consider doing this type of thing again down the line? Why or why not?
Like anything creative, I hope to learn from this experience and try again with the intention of doing it again in a more interesting and informed way. Maybe even make it a regular or exclusive part of the way in which we share our work with others. I feel as if I am only just skimming the surface of what the possibilities and technology can provide.
Margi Cole graduated from the Alabama School of Fine Arts and received a B.A. in dance from Columbia College Chicago and an M.F.A. in dance from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She has taught and guest-lectured at numerous educational and professional organizations, including the Alabama Ballet, the American College Dance Festival, Ballet Tennessee, Northwestern University, Columbia College Chicago, Lou Conte Dance Studio, the Joffrey Academy of Dance, the American Dance Festival and other institutions throughout Illinois, the Midwest and the Southeast. She is currently on faculty at Columbia College Chicago, where she has served as a lecturer and associate chair. Awards and acknowledgements of her accomplishments include making the list of “Teachers Rated Excellent by their Students” in four consecutive semesters while on faculty at the University of Illinois. She has received two Choreographic Mentoring Scholarships from The Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago, two Illinois Arts Council Individual Artist Fellowships, a 2005 Chicago Dancemakers Forum grant and an American Marshall Memorial Fellowship (joining other leaders in their respective fields to represent the United States on a month-long tour of European countries). She won a Panoply Festival Choreography Award for Contemporary Dance in Huntsville, Alabama. Margi is active in the Chicago dance community, serving on grant panels and in public forums as an arts administrator, dancer and choreographer. In 2011, she was integral in organizing the Dance/USA and Marshall Forum annual conferences in Chicago. She has been a Chicago Dancemakers Forum Consortium Member for two years, is a member of the Marshall Memorial Fellowship Selection Committee and served as a mentor during the Thodos Dance Chicago New Dances Project in 2014. She was named one of The Players in NewCity’s “Fifty People Who Really Perform in Chicago” in 2012 and recognized by Today’s Chicago Woman among its 2014 “100 Women of Inspiration.”1
You are choreographing for The Dance COLEctive’s “Higher Ground”, an upcoming weekend of performances in Chicago. Can you tell readers a bit about your piece and the idea behind it?
This piece is a look at the physical and mental necessities for an individual to develop a personal philosophy. The materials available to us such as media, literature and specialized individuals give us the ingredients to formulate ourselves, but what does one ultimately need in order to create their true individuality? Experience. Only then do we choose our path and honestly become what we are meant to be.
How did you work with the dancers throughout this process? What was that like?
I provided them with composition assignments, and free-writing prompts to generate movement and text. Then, I gathered the movement information and carefully sewed the pieces together in what I thought was the best way the dance would make sense.
In terms of music, how did you go about selecting what you would use for this, and did you choose it prior to or after your choreography?
After my choreography. I focused on the mood that I wanted to portray, and went from there.
What were the biggest challenges in terms of choreographing this piece?
Putting things together in a coherent fashion. There was so much beautiful movement that the dancers created, and using it in a way that made sense and created a story was difficult.
What has been the greatest learning experience for you throughout this process?
How to be on the other side.
What do you hope that the audience will see when they view your work?
That everyone should acknowledge the ridiculous things we do to better ourselves. As long as we are aware of them and realize that we should, in the end, rely on ourselves to do the work and make the choices.
BIO: Madelyn Doyle, a fourth year member of The Dance COLEctive, graduated from Columbia College Chicago with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance Education and received a K-12 Certification in Dance through the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee. She has been a part of the We Stand Sideways Dance Co., Thread Meddle Outfit, and independent productions with artist Megan Adams. In addition to establishing the Dance Department of Lindblom Math and Science Academy in Chicago, she has assisted for the presenting series of Riverside Brookfield High School’s Orchesis and choreographed for numerous musicals and high school dance companies in the Northwest Suburbs. Madelyn is a Choreographer/Teacher/Producer for the Arlington Youth Dance Ensemble in Arlington Heights, and founded her company Demi Dancers in 2013 to support creative movement and pre-ballet in local preschools and montessori schools.0
When it comes to choreography, international collaborations are always interesting. The circumstances that bring people together. The sharing of new ideas–ideas from other places in the world. Today we’re going to take a closer look at one of these collaborations that is happening in Chicago, between DanceWorks Chicago and Taiat Dansa from Spain. We asked founders Inma Garcia and Meritxell Barberá to walk us through the process of bringing their work to the Midwest this summer…
Can you tell our readers a bit about Taiat Dansa?
We first met studying dance when we were young. Both of us continued studying until we graduated with degrees in dance as adults. We were passionate about dancing but also really motivated to create our own dance pieces and so more than ten years ago we formed our own company, Taiat.
We always work from the perspective of presenting the body. This is an important distinction for us – we do not want to represent the body or to make dance theatrical; our objective is to present the body in movement. At the same time we also always insist on a strong narrative theme for each piece.
At present we are on tour with two pieces. No Half Measures: Episodes of dance in museums is a piece that was originally commissioned to be performed on International Museum Day on May 18. The aim of the performance was to bring the typical museum-going public into contact with dance, it was a way of bringing the plastic arts and the physical arts together. We accompany the performance with a questionnaire that the audience is asked to complete, to give their impression of the experiment. It was a really successful debut and we were booked by another 22 contemporary museums around Spain, France and the USA. Also, we are performing We are going to make you dance: Chasing Patti Smith. We are also really pleased to perform this piece again as it has been a really enjoyable 3 year run.
Over the past few years we have worked as choreographers for other companies outside of Spain. We find this facet of our work really satisfying.
How did you wind up teaming up with DanceWorks Chicago?
The Cervantes Institute got in touch with us with the project of facilitating a collaboration between our company and a local Chicago company. They offered us rehearsal and performance space and were really helpful. We proposed the idea to Andreas, the Director of DanceWorks, and the rest is history!
What is your collaboration going to look like and what first steps are you taking?
We have had a very short but intense period in which to investigate movement so that the dancers of DanceWorks can become familiar with the dance language that we use. This time has served to delve into the mood and style of Man Ray’s work. What a lot of people don’t know is that Man Ray himself studied dance – in fact people said he was a very good dancer. Later he turned to photography for his artistic expression but for us the inspiration of dance on his work is very clear. So this time with DanceWorks has been for us, and for them, a time to investigate the different ways we can express his vision in dance, a kind of a full circle for his work. Our first step was of course to inspire the dancers, showing them some of Man Ray’s work. The rest is a work in progress that we hope can be developed into a complete show. The progress that we have made so far will be shown in the theatre of the Cervantes Institute on the 25th of August.
What do you think you might be able to bring to this collaboration?
We hope to bring our particular philosophy of dance and movement to the creation of a dance piece around this interesting theme – Man Ray Dancer. We would love to return to Chicago to create the complete work, we are really inspired.
What are you hoping to get from the collaboration?
For us, as we said, choreographing is really satisfying work. We have always created our own pieces, which is something we love doing, but working with other companies we find that our progress and our creativity are really accelerated. The process of creating new choreography is always dynamic and challenging and when we work with other companies apart from our own then it is also a process of give and take. Every dancer we work with teaches us something. In some moments inspiration can come from a certain attitude or move that a dancer makes, sometimes we take that initial inspiration and develop it, so our choreography is the result of the very personal interaction we have with the dancers themselves.
Have you done anything like this before?
Over the last few years, as we said, we have worked with other companies. Our last work in the USA was with the Ballet Hispanico. The difference between our work in the past and this work with DanceWorks is that it is a wonderful luxury to have a time to work together that is specifically for experimentation. Normally we have to jump right into the creation phase. Usually we do the investigative work on our own and arrive ready to begin the choreographic part of the project when we meet the dancers. It is really nice to have time to investigate with the dancers themselves and of course it is different here again because we have the chance to show the public the results of our investigations – this way we can gauge their reactions and that will help us to direct the course of the work in case it is to be developed properly in the future .
What has it been like to work with DanceWorks so far?
Wonderful, really great. Andreas and Julie have been very supportive and lovely. The dancers themselves have been really enthusiastic and they have understood our philosophy perfectly. We have seen the dancers enjoying the investigation process so you can imagine, when we see them happy it makes us really happy too. They have lived up to our greatest expectations. We are delighted to have the chance to work with a young company that has so much drive. They have a very exciting future ahead of them.
About Taiat Dansa: Meritxell Barberá and Inma García, with degrees in Classical and Contemporary dance from the city of Valencia, founded their own company Taiat Dansa in the year 1999. Since then they have presented their creations in different spaces and festivals within Spain in Valencia, Barcelona, Madrid, the Canary Islands, Sevilla, Murcia and País Vasco; in museum spaces, normally accompanied by an educational work around the country. In the international scene they have performed their work in countries such as France, Germany, Switzerland, the UK and the United States. Also, since 2009 they have worked with other companies as choreographers both nationally and internationally.0
Welcome to our new series! In the coming months, you’ll be hearing a variety of voices from DanceWorks Chicago (DWC), an arts organization that has been around since 2007.
DWC gives early career artists an environment where they can build a foundation and hone their artistry through training, collaboration, performances and mentoring opportunities. They also showcase work from established choreographers.
Today we will hear from guest choreographer James Gregg, who will be a part of DWC’s SEASON 8. This season will include other guest choreographers from across the country and around the world as well as a focus on Chicago dancemakers through the DanceMoves Choreography Competition. Keep an eye out for interviews with DWC participants here on the blog.
In the meantime, let’s get to know James Gregg a little better, as he answers interview questions for us here today…
Why did you make the move from dancer to choreographer?
I always wanted to be a choreographer, I knew from the very beginning.
What is it about choreography that appeals most to you?
It’s a hard question, there is so much that appeals to me.
I love painting the stage with movement and lighting. I love creating and challenging dancers to get out of their comfort zone. I love trying to connect with the audience and challenge them as well.
Where do your ideas come from for creating dances?
Every piece is different.
Sometimes it’s music, other times it’s a moment between two people on the street, or a commercial. It can be a life-changing moment or subtle exchanges between lovers. I mean, the ideas are all around you, you just need to open to receive them.
Is there anything you don’t enjoy about the process of choreographing a piece?
I enjoy it all—not to say certain days aren’t challenging. It’s all about the process and how we maneuver around those challenges, which in turn gives a better product. Those moments take you to places you wouldn’t have expected.
You created a piece for DanceWorks Chicago titled Nocturnal Sense. Did the choice of music (Vivaldi) come before or after you began choreographing?
The last musical movement of Nocturnal Sense was the catapult for the entire piece.
What was your process like for creating this piece?
I created 5 phrases based off the 5 senses, then manipulated them with each dancer, and then it just kind of molded itself from there.
James Gregg will unveil his new work at DWC’s “Dance Bytes”, taking place August 4th at the Ruth Page Center Theatre.
BIO: James Gregg began dancing at the age of nine with Ballet Oklahoma. He continued his training with Cece Farha’s Range of Motion, Houston Ballet Academy, the Bolshoi Ballet Academy, and EDGE Performing Arts Center. In 1999, he moved to Chicago to dance with River North Dance Company, then in 2005, moved to Montreal, where he danced with Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal until 2013. James has performed the works of renowned choreographers Crystal Pite, Rodrigo Pederneiras, Barak Marshall, Frank Chaves, Danny Ezralow, Harrison McEldowney, Mauro Bigonzetti, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, Cayetano Soto, and Edgar Zendejas. Besides RUBBERBANDance Group, he also performs with Aszure Barton and Artists and other dance companies around the country.0