Preview | Other Dance Festival 2011
Stories from the Other decade of indie dance at Hamlin Park.
With a $5 class series kicking off on September 6, the Other Dance Festival rolls out its tenth anniversary bill, which adds a fourth weekend of performances, workshops, a brunch, alumni who’ve left Chicago performing live via Skype and more. The fest’s home, a second-floor studio theater in, is inextricably linked to the Other; repeat participants know the space inside and out, routinely taking advantage of its more unique features, such as a second, raised stage behind the main one.
The Prairie-style, Chicago Park District building, which received its last major updates in the 1930s, hosts basketball, boxing, fencing and other indoor sports. Dance fans often walk into the fest through a crowd gathered for a late-summer baseball game on the diamond outside. “One year, a large group of Balkan folk dancers rented the room across from the theater during a performance,” remembers ODF cofounder Kay LaSota. Another year, 300-some boxing fans cheered pugilists sparring downstairs. Dance pieces presented at ODF have historically had “an odd sonic backdrop of punches, grunts, screams and mayhem,” LaSota told me via e-mail. “We no longer run ODF during the boxing match, which is in October, and rent the room across the hall to prevent further Balkan intrusion.”
In an Early Childhood Learning classroom behind the theater, used as a dressing area for the performers, many of the chairs are pint-sized. ODF’s other founding force, Elizabeth Lentz, remembers the spectacle of long-legged dancer-choreographer Sheldon B. Smith perched on one. Lentz, who now teaches dance at the University of Southern Mississippi, plans to return to Chicago for ODF’s tenth annual. Her favorite memory of producing the Other is “walking into the theater about ten minutes before we cleared the stage to open the house. [All of the dancers] rolled around on the floor together, warming up, talking about art and bodies and food and making jokes. I was struck by how ODF was really the dance community’s living room.”
Other stories I heard from past participants:
“In 2003, Lucky Plush [Productions performed] an early version of a work based on Charles Darwin. It was a little too complicated in terms of lights and video, and we blew the circuits in the space. Fortunately, I think that it was a dress rehearsal.”—Julia Rhoads, artistic director, Lucky Plush Productions
Behind the raised, secondary stage, there is “an even trippier, hidden prop room. It’s a curved corridor about five feet wide that’s crammed floor-to-ceiling with props from who-knows-when. When you step inside, the door automatically slams shut, leaving you to grope around in pitch darkness. An eight-foot, glowing nest made out of a couple-hundred gallon milk jugs, two white vinyl trees and three felt dresses have to fit back there for [my performance] this year. I hope Atalee [Judy] from BONEdanse doesn’t need to fit her six-foot, foam sandwich costume back there at the same time.”—Janet Schmid, independent artist
“Last year was the first time I performed at ODF.… I grabbed the bull by its horns and spoke and improvised in [my solo], which nauseate and terrify me, respectively. That dream, where you show up to your final exam and realize that you’ve both forgotten to study and to put on pants? That’s how I felt, all the way up until dress rehearsal. I hated the piece, until opening night, when some sort of magic happened. The audience was the crucial, missing ingredient.”—Jonathan Meyer, Khecari Dance Theatre
“My most memorable ODF was in 2006. It was the Friday-night performance and a huge storm came through, including a tornado that touched down not too far from Hamlin [Park]. The audience and most of the performers were downstairs waiting to see what would happen.… Happily, the show went on; the piece I was showing was a work about my father, who had passed the prior December. I was so grateful to be able to perform it again in his memory.”—JulieAnn Graham, independent artist
“My very first professional dance experience [was at ODF] and was the first time I ever got nervous about performing. It was about 90 degrees that night and it was about 99 degrees inside of the Hamlin theater. Margi [Cole, director of the Dance COLEctive] performed a solo that same night in her bra and underwear. The first words out of my mother’s mouth weren’t about the show, or about my performance. They were to Margi, telling her that I wasn’t ever allowed to perform in my bra and underwear!”—Molly Grimm-Leasure, member, the Dance COLEctive
“When I first moved to Chicago, I found out about ODF and decided to volunteer in the box office for all [three] of the weeks. I was fascinated to learn about what was happening here.”—Ayako Kato, Dance Union curator and independent artist
“Performing Distractions by Shirley Mordine at the Other Dance Festival this past season was truly magical. It’s rare to be able to dance an intimate, sophisticated work in a setting where the quiet, sure artistry of mature performers is not only respected, but deeply valued.”—Michael McStraw, executive director, Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago
“Advice for performers in the Other Dance Festival: Convince rising star Matthew Hollis that you need him and that he needs you. Allow Matthew Hollis and his gaggle of cheerleaders to heckle you during dress rehearsal. Turn down all subsequent offers to be in the festival because you are having babies. Return in 2011 and attend all ODF events.”—M.K. Victorson, independent artist
The 2011 Other Dance Festival runs September 6–30 at the Hamlin Park Fieldhouse.