The Other Dance Festival samples the city's modern dance scene
When Kay LaSota and Elizabeth Lentz decided to launch a dance festival five years ago, they weren't the first ones to cut the rug. Chicagoans love samplers (Taste of Chicago, anyone?) and several dance festivals—most notably Dance Chicago, which occupies the Athenaeum Theatre each November—already offered audiences the chance to check out everything from ballet to hip-hop. But as modern-dance artists, LaSota and Lentz wanted an event that celebrated the breadth of their genre exclusively. And to set their project apart, they christened it—tongue-in-cheek but tellingly—the Other Dance Festival, which takes place this year from Thursday 15 to September 30.
"We looked to get a representation of modern-dance artists working in Chicago," LaSota says, "people who had been doing work for 30 years, and then people who were a little newer on the scene and doing more groundbreaking work." That's still the idea—and a damn good one. This year's festival artists range from such long-established entities as Mordine & Company Dance Theater and the Chicago Moving Company to newer groups like the Seldoms. Plus, with up to six companies appearing on each bill, audiences get a good taste of the modern-dance scene in Chicago.
In recent years, contemporary choreography has been dominated by either narrative works or pure dance. Each had its heyday, but now, suggests LaSota, no one strategy defines the day. "I don't see a particular thing happening," she says. "It's more a matter of individuals following their own interests and ideas. And with this group, it's all over the spectrum. Some are more interested in classical forms of modern dance, sculptural forms, lines in space, canon. Molly Shanahan of Mad Shak Dance Company is really skilled at creating beautiful movement phrases. Others, like Breakbone, are very, very theatrical—much more about creating a picture or a story with music and video and costuming."
Text is popular, too. In creating Gertrude Stein, If You See Pythagoras, Tell Him We Are Waiting for him Here in Chicago, Nana Shineflug (artistic director of the Chicago Moving Company) asked performance artist Barrie Cole to pen some wordplay based on Shineflug's interest in mathematics, physics and the Kabbalah. Here, a musing on spirituality by Carrie Hanson of the Seldoms, features selections from Thoreau, Faulkner, Goethe and C.S. Lewis.
The festival, which takes place in the Hamlin Park Fieldhouse Theater, expands from two weekends to three this year and the final program features a roster of artists making their Other debut: Matthew Hollis, Rachel Thorne Germond Dance, Raizel Performances, MK Victorson and TOC Dance editor Asimina Chremos. Even this subgroup is all over the map when it comes to creating with motion:Our Velocity, from Rachel Thorne Germond Dance, is 15 minutes of nonstop, nearly chaotic movement; the set of Raizel Performances' Lake Banjo includes a canopy of silverware that provides both a visual and aural accompaniment to the lyrical and eerie dancing. Both Hollis and Victorson, on the other hand, take comedic turns.
Hollis, a tall redhead who often tackles gender issues, presents Power of Cheer, a pom-pom routine for three men that promises to let viewers "turn all of life's setbacks into touchdowns." Victorson—who has studied comedy writing at Second City—offers Ruby Red Easy, a lighthearted piece, set to music by the Commodores, about finding love in the produce aisle. (You know: Girl grabs grapefruit; boy spies girl; stock boys play backup to their budding romance.)
After four years, the Other Dance Festival has become an end-of-summer ritual for dance fans. The intimacy of the 90-seat Hamlin Park Fieldhouse Theater adds to the festive air. A number of these companies will present their own independent concerts this season, and this is the perfect opportunity to see what they're all about.
The Other Dance Festival runs September 15–30 at Hamlin Park.