Interview | Cindy Brandle
Sixteen years after “running away” to Chicago, choreographer Cindy Brandle is packing her bags.
Sixteen years after “running away” to Chicago, choreographer Cindy Brandle is packing her bags for Boulder, Colorado. Though she’s taking off as a singer-songwriter—summer gigs are already lined up out west—the guitar hasn’t replaced her need to, uh, move. After presenting one last show opening Thursday 3, Cindy Brandle Dance Company will get stuffed in the suitcase, too.
When was your last move?
In ’94, from Champaign. My ex-husband was going for his Ph.D., so I was kind of stuck there. It was an, uh, volatile relationship. I got a scholarship to the Dance Center [of Columbia College] for [a five-week summer intensive], found a little studio apartment, and told him I was going to stay up here.
Did you know anyone in the city?
A group of dancers I was in grad school with at U. of I. had already migrated to Chicago a little earlier. Sheldon B. Smith, Kathleen Hermesdorf, Julia Mayer—there were a few.
So your entry to the dance scene was through them?
Well, I did work with Sheldon—we hired him to do a piece on the [Chicago Moving] Company…but when I first got here I was poor, and, like, 98 pounds and heartbroken…and I just started asking where I could take class. I ended up in Nana [Shineflug’s] classes, back when they were at Joel Hall’s [studio]. I tell you what, if Nana hadn’t gobbled me up, I don’t know what I would’ve done. I really don’t.
Gobbled you up?
She called me up one night and said, “We need a dancer.” And then I worked with [the Chicago Moving Company] for almost ten years. When I decided to start my own thing, it was just amazing. Very lovingly, she and Kay [LaSota] said, “Why don’t you do it here?” The whole artist-in-residence program at Hamlin Park [Fieldhouse] was created for us, for my company.
Was the primary motivation to focus on making your own work?
It was, and to make my own work in a different framework. For the five years I was co-directing [the Chicago Moving Company] with her, [Nana] would make a piece, and I would make a piece, and that’s how we would throw our concerts together. And it was great! But, after a while, I wanted to make more evening-length works and [programs] that were more connected.
What were some other goals for CBDC?
To delve into work that spoke politically or socially. As a dancer and now as a songwriter, too, that’s just the vein of work that I do. For a while I was making pieces for movement’s sake, but the birth of [my daughter] Akasha changed my outlook on life…to be more concerned about her future and the future of the world. To expand our lives and treat each other well, you’ve gotta start in your own home.
So, about your music career: Do you have as long a history with that as you do with dance?
I’ve sung off and on, and I was in a band in college, and I tried to sing a little when I moved here, but I stopped. [My husband] Ashay bought me a guitar and said, “You have to sing. I love your voice. Learn to play the guitar.” So I started taking lessons at [the] Old Town [School of Folk Music] about eight or nine years ago. But then I stopped that, too! [Laughs]
I was terrified to go out. I don’t mind singing in front of people, but playing guitar terrified me. But about two and a half years ago, I picked up my guitar and started teaching myself how to play again and writing songs, and I made myself go to an open mike at Bill’s Blues in Evanston and oh, my God, I was terrified. My hands were shaking. I played three songs and got off the stage and thought, “I’ll never, ever, do that again.” Then, though, I started going to Uncommon Ground, and met Kat Fitzgerald, who used to run the open mike there, and she just told me, “You need to keep doing this.” I’ve met amazing musicians through it—I’m not a fan of American Idol, but Crystal Bowersox would go [to Uncommon Ground] and is a good friend of mine. Kat helped me get gigs here and there, and now I’m gigging, as they say.
Do you want to put out a record?
I don’t know. Ashay does! [Laughs]
He’s your Svengali?[Laughs] It’s more fun—well, it’s more immediate than dance. I get more gigs.
Are you worried dance making will drift out of your life?
No, not at all—it’s actually a really lovely balance. Dance, the feeling of it that flows through your body…and that communication you can do physically is just an amazing thing. But then there’s like a really soulful thing when you’re singing, and everything is my vision, you know, every word is my word, and in that way it’s completely different from dance. I can be very direct in what I’m saying.
Have you written any songs about dance or dancing?
I haven’t. They’re connected only in the sense that I’m trying to make a statement and that they’re coming from exactly the same place.
To go back a bit, what have you noticed has really carried through all your years in Chicago?
The main things that have been here as long as I have are Nana, Shirley Mordine, and Hedwig [Dances]. And then there were people like Bob Eisen, who came and went.
He was a big presence when he was here.
Oh, very big. Yeah. He also set a piece on the Moving Company, which was a hysterical experience.
His basis is in improv and chance dance [randomly chosen compositions] and stuff like that, and we would be like, “What’s going on?!” I remember one dancer wrote “Jesus help me” down her arm [during a rehearsal]. [Laughs]
Wendy Taylor. She used to dance with me and with the Moving Company. Gosh, that was hilarious. It seems to me that dance then might have been more about big, giant movement, you know? Now there’s a lot of idiosyncratic movement happening.
When did you notice that shift?
Five or six years ago, maybe? I’m not sure.
Do you associate it with any particular choreographers or groups?
I see it in the Moving Architects’ work. Julia Rhoads, too—I remember when she and Holly [Quinn] started doing Lucky Plush.
And XSIGHT! Performance Group.
XSIGHT! Yeah! Brian Jeffery set a piece on the Moving Company, too! I’m getting flooded with memories.
Do you think the size of rehearsal spaces had that effect of “shrinking” people’s work down, of inducing them to move away from vocabulary that moved through space more aggressively?
Oh, yeah. I’m spoiled rotten because I have that big, glorious studio [at Hamlin Park] to create in all the time.… At first it was just a hardwood floor, but…little by little, it’s just gotten better and better, through what Kay and Nana have done with it.… To be honest, the exchange is very minimal in terms of what I have to do to use this space. I don’t know what I’m gonna do when I get to Boulder—I’ve never had to pay for rehearsal space since I’ve lived in Chicago!
Not a lot of people can say that.
I know! I’m so lucky. I’m so fortunate.
How much does it cost to put on a show?
Well, [“The Relationship Project”] is going to cost about six thousand dollars for four shows, costumes and dancers’ pay. It’s sad: I’ve worked with [composer] Barry Bennett a lot over the last couple of years, and I just can’t afford to do it [this time], even though he gives me a break. He’s made such great music for me.
Any parting words?
I’m gonna miss the vibrancy here. There are some beautiful dance companies in Chicago. I was just thinking today of all the stuff I have to see before I leave. There’s so much going on! I’m going to miss that.
Anyone in particular?
I do love Lucky Plush [Productions]. Rachel Bunting is interesting and quirky and smart. And, of course, Atalee [Judy, director of Breakbone DanceCo.]—I danced with her, actually, the first time she did Logotype. Atalee and I were upside down, singing in Latin. [Laughs] She and I used to sing together every once in a while. I love Atalee, and she’s been a good friend, too.
“The Relationship Project” plays Hamlin Park Fieldhouse Theater Thursday 3–June 11.