Chicago Dance Crash tweaks a Hollywood recipe to suit its needs.
In a second-floor workout studio at Fitness Formula Clubs Old Town, where free rehearsal space is a perk of his position as sales manager, Mark Hackman is reeling off a list of film titles. “Step Up, Step Up 2: The Streets—because that’s when they take it to the streets, you know—Center Stage, Save the Last Dance, Stomp the Yard and You Got Served.” Those films, Chicago Dance Crash’s artistic director explains, influenced Qwan Sauce, the company’s meta-parody opening Friday 6. “We all secretly love these movies,” Hackman says. “Or not so secretly.”
The formula of schlocky teen dance flicks to which Hackman refers goes something like this: A would-be ballerina, seeking admission to a crusty performing-arts conservatory, learns a lesson in authenticity from a break-dancing hunk with a knack for finding trouble. Though she’s initially wary of his streetwise ways, the magnetism of his moves prompts a montage of sweaty private lessons, discovery of the confidence she didn’t know her artistry lacked, PG-13 romance and establishment-upending success.
Hackman isn’t following that trajectory too closely. The show’s hero, dancer Daniel “Qwan” Gibson as himself, is inexplicably dropped into the rote universe of these films, right in the middle of a face-off between rival dance factions. He realizes he’s supposed to fall for an aspiring star (danced by Becky Hutt) but instead has eyes for a member of his own crew (Jahmilla Alazam). Further complicating matters are a nasty clique helmed by his arch-nemesis (Morgan Williams) and the agenda of a prodigy (Corey Worley) at the generic performing-arts high school Hutt’s character attends.
Hackman, playing a multitasking mastermind not unlike his real-life role, attempts to keep the story on track: The wiry 30-year-old runs among the audience, stage and technical booth, becoming infuriated as Qwan Sauce veers “off script.” (At Illinois State University, Hackman studied dance and theater management, a combination he says “has worked out pretty well” as preparation for his dual role as director and choreographer.)
Rehearsal can’t begin until all the dancers arrive; Worley’s group warms up by reviewing a spoof of the finale of Center Stage, a Michael Jackson routine. Hackman watches while eyeing his phone for word from a late arrival. He explains how the participatory element of Qwan Sauce stemmed in part from the sudden closure in April of the Lakeshore Theater, where Dance Crash held its KTF (Keeper of the Floor) championships for four years. Crash’s revenue source between narrative adaptations like Qwan Sauce, KTFs were open to anyone who registered via e-mail; martial artists and dancers of all kinds battled one another for audience votes and temporary custody of a big gold belt. Stage 773 (formerly Theatre Building Chicago) will host Hackman’s experiment in merging these production formats and, he hopes, combining the two series’ distinct sets of followers.
“As a way to appease everybody, the audience will vote on the dance battle at the end [of Qwan Sauce],” Hackman says. True to form, Gibson’s character may or may not accept the results, but Qwan Sauce’s message will be delivered regardless of the outcome.
“I’ll inevitably learn my lesson that you can’t control people,” Hackman says dryly. “Life isn’t a script and all that.”
Chicago Dance Crash chooses its own adventure Friday 6 through August 15.