The Dance COLEctive's upcoming program links three generations of female choreographers.
Margi Cole has nothing but gratitude and admiration for her mentor, Shirley Mordine. “Shirley is so great. She’s such an important part of the dance community and one of the major anchors of the history of Chicago dance,” she says. If for some reason you’re still unfamiliar with Mordine’s work, we’re giving you early warning to schedule a viewing: Cole’s troupe, the Dance COLEctive, will feature a restaging of Mordine’s 1997 quintet Long Walking in its upcoming concert titled Evolve, opening January 25 at the Ruth Page Center.
A prolific choreographer and gifted teacher who founded the Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago in 1969, Mordine says “long walking” refers to her sense of women’s persistence through time despite the ongoing headwind of sexism. “I remember [sometime] in the ’70s back at Columbia, I went to ask for the same salary as my male colleagues,” she says. “I was told that I wasn’t the head of my household so I didn’t need more money. At the time, I didn’t know what to say. I was intimidated.”
In staging Long Walking with the fresh-faced twentysomething ladies who populate the COLEctive’s ranks, Mordine has tried to communicate the historic imperative of her own experience. “I want to make sure each woman understands what it is to have a voice,” she says. “If you stand alone on the stage, you must be able to have a voice. When I talked to the dancers, I told them I once heard this Iraqi woman say that women are the bellwether of a culture. And then lately I saw something about Oprah’s new school in Africa, and she was saying that a whole culture changes as the women’s role changes.”
Cole, who danced with Mordine’s troupe and was in the original cast of Long Walking, shares a similiar perspective: “One thing that has driven my work is about being female, body image, how women are perceived in the media.” Her last major effort was Written on the Body, a piece that explored the dual identity of the Brontë sisters, Victorian novelists who hid their gender behind more socially acceptable male pen names.
Written on the Body was created with a major grant from the Chicago Dancemakers Forum, and Cole feels the funding surge supported a new high in terms of the quality of the COLEctive’s work. She’s showing her two newest pieces in the Evolve program, both pure-dance compositions that spring directly from the investigation and arrangement of body movement itself.
One of these works, titled Reminiscent of, is a satisfyingly well-crafted ensemble composition that gently swells and ebbs over music by cellist Jami Sieber. In rehearsal for this work, Cole developed movement material and then showed it to the dancers—once. Instead of going over the movements in detail to transmit them exactly, Cole directed the dancers to simply replicate what they’d observed, thereby creating new material that is “reminiscent of,” but not the same, as what she’d shown them originally.
The technique used to create Reminiscent reflects how Cole encourages the dancers to develop their own creative skills. Cole regularly supports company members to make new works themselves. One of them, Angela Pawlicki, premieres a trio in Evolve, brushed by, sweeping into. Pawlicki is a talent to watch. While her emotionally driven choreography doesn’t quite match the peak intensity reached by the Sigur Rós track she’s using, her ability to move the viewer’s eye from gestural detail to overall sweep of bodies through space is accomplished. The next generation is looking strong.
For more information on Evolve and the Dance Colective, call 773-604-8452 or visit www.dancecolective.com.