As the World turns
Same Planet Different World Dance maintains a steady orbit.
It’s relatively easy to put on a dance concert, but another thing entirely to stay in business as a dance company. Same Planet Different World Dance has managed to harness both creative and organizational skills to develop a solid company that you’ll likely hear about for years to come. If you haven’t yet experienced this Chicago modern-dance company’s eclectic repertoire and committed, vibrant dancing, it’s time to get on board.
SPDW marks its tenth year with a weekend of performances and a gala celebration Friday 9 through Sunday 11 at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts. The program includes the strongest works from the company’s repertoire, plus a world premiere by Ashleigh Leite, a former member of NYC’s celebrated Stephen Petronio Company. “We see ten years as a new starting point,” says Katie Saifuku, one of SPDW’s founding members.
The troupe started out with a small concert at the indie Lakeview venue Links Hall, collectively organized by five dancers. Now with seven dancers and an active, committed nine-member board of directors, the group looks forward to a bright future. It has a spiffy new website, a well-rehearsed selection of finely crafted dances by local and national choreographers, and a successful outreach program for high-school students that is quickly gaining momentum.
“We’re proud we’re still here,” Saifuku says. “It’s pretty amazing that we’re still going. In the last ten years, so many companies have folded.” She rattles off a list of casualties, including Estradanza, Winifred Haun & Dancers, Jan Erkert & Dancers, Loop Troop and others. What has kept SPDW going? “We like to surround ourselves with supportive and positive people,” she says.
Unlike many other modern-dance companies that are formed as vehicles by choreographers for their own work, SPDW commissions dances through G.A.P., its Guest Artists Program, designed to breathe life into the Chicago modern-dance scene by hosting choreographers for weeklong residencies. Like a neighborhood art gallery with connections to artists near and far, SPDW’s catalog of dances offers a broad view of what’s going on in contemporary dance.
The Drift League,the premiere from Leite, is posing exciting new challenges to the SPDW dancers. “It’s so fast, superfast,” says Saifuku, who performs in this piece with Joanna Rosenthal and Charlie Cutler. “I know the audience is going to ask us, ‘How do you guys remember what to do?’—it’s a real brain-teaser. And three quarters of the piece is done without the use of our arms. We really have to use our core muscles.” For the work, multitalented SPDW dancer Jeff Hancock created special costumes with pockets into which the dancers tuck their arms. It’s a non-narrative work set to sparse, industrial, rhythmic noise. “The whole dance is constructed from one phrase of movement that we manipulated,” Saifuku says.
In addition to the Leite piece, the concert at the Ruth Page Center includes pieces by a number of choreographers well known in Chicago modern dance circles including Shirley Mordine, Jan Erkert, former Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago member Sam Watson (now teaching at the University of Arizona) and NYC-based artists Faye Driscoll and the aforementioned Leite. Two SPDW alums and founding members, Jason Ohlberg and Anna Simone Levin, also contribute works. Ohlberg is pursuing his career in Seattle; Levin now calls Amsterdam home.
In selecting repertory, “We try to look for something from the audience point of view,” Saifuku says. She says the company dancers search for works that will challenge them technically as well as dramatically. “We like style, speed, idiosyncrasy,” she says. “And we want to have fun.”
SPDW appears at the Ruth Page Center Friday 9 through Sunday 11.