Conversations with the Artists

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for exclusive behind the scenes updates
about the companies and artists on the DFL 2019 Program

Q & A with Jorge Perez, Executive and Associate Artistic Director of Ensemble Español

What makes Mar de Fuego/Sea of Fire a great choice to be part of Dance for Life?

We selected a work dedicated to our beloved founder, Dame Libby Komaiko, who passed away February 2, 2019, created by contemporary Flamenco choreographer from Madrid, Carlos Rodriguez, in 2018. We presented the work in her honor at our American Spanish Dance and Music Flamenco Passion concerts at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts last summer. This work is the opening of a 45-minute original ballet inspired by The Red Thread of Fate legend. Carlos transcended this inspiration with Ensemble Español (EE) dancers to create this work with visionary lighting designer Luis Perdiguero. According to this East Asian legend, we are destined to connect with one another via this magical red cord from the lunar gods. We are connected regardless of place, time or circumstances. This magical cord may stretch or tangle, but never break. “Gracias Dama Libby de todo Corazon for connecting us all,”stated Carlos in his remarks. Dame Libby loved the work.

How befitting for us all to celebrate this work and the Red Ribbon connection legend at this year’s Dance for Life, which has been connecting many people for many years for an important cause in our community. We are so grateful in giving back to the DFL team and its incredible founders, Keith Elliott and Todd Kiech, Gail Calver, Harriet Ross and Danny Kopelson. We thank them for their vision and support to so many, including our beloved Dame Libby. While she was bedridden the last two years, she and the entire Ensemble and university were grateful to have received support from the the Dancers’ Fund. She danced bravely to the very end of her young and remarkable life.  

You’ve been part of Chicago’s dance community for a number of years. What does it mean to you and how has the community supported you professionally, personally or otherwise?

The Chicago dance community has been an amazing supporter of my career professionally, my life personally and both artistically since my early years as dancer, choreographer and teacher as well as administratively as executive and associate artistic director. I feel very fortunate to have been given the opportunity and mentorship from so many in our Chicago dance community starting back in the 1984–85 season. This begins with Dame Libby and the home she built in 1976 for the Ensemble at Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU) 44 years ago. She called her love for the art a gift—“agift one is passionate about and one in which if you are given for a lifetime is just a gift,”she would state. I have been blessed to share in this gift from Dame Libby and many members of our community, including my life dance partner, colleague and friend, Irma Suarez Ruiz, EE’s artistic director. We’ve shared an amazing dance ride since our early beginnings. I cannot omit Ms. ballet extraordinaire, Anna Czajun, who is not only an inspiration to the dance community in Chicago and EE but to the world. She has taught us not only to love our gift but she touches our spirit, passion and appreciation of becoming the best dancers we can in every class, rehearsal, assessment and production. I would also include the many lovers, teachers, choreographers and ambassadors of Spanish dance (Flamenco, escuela bolera, folkore and classical), ethnic and percussive dance to contemporary and ballet whom our city supports and welcomes year after year. Wonderful musicians, costume designers, tech production teams, the amazing administrative and funding leaders have all played a major role of support. We could not have reached this level of longevity without the passionate colleagues in our amazing and wonderful Chicago dance community.

Besides Dance for Life, what are you looking forward to in Chicago this summer?

In Chicago, as busy as we are here this summer at EE, I am looking forward to enjoying some of our neighborhood and city dance festivals, music concerts, outdoor films, beach time and catching up and spending time with my loved ones, family and friends. So far, attending with friends the Jennifer Lopez “It’s My Birthday Party Concert” at United Center and surprise birthday gift for my sister at the Diana Ross’s “Diamond 75th Birthday Celebration” at the Chicago Theater were great. The evening added a special appearance and duet with Ms. Ross by Chicago’s Jennifer Hudson. Oleeee!

 

Q & A with Randy Duncan

What can you share with us about the finale you’re creating for this year’s Dance for Life?

The plan is to make the finale a fun party piece. I asked the composer, Andy Mitran (it’s an original score), to fill the music with drums, guitar and vocals. My hope is that both audience and dancers will have a great time with it.

You’ve been part of Chicago’s dance community for a number of years. What does it mean to you and how has the community supported you professionally, personally or otherwise?

I have been with Dance for Life since its beginning, choreographing the finale since 1994. It gives me great joy to work with wonderfully talented individuals from various dance companies and studios. Seeing them so delighted to work in an environment that is communal for such a significant cause warms my heart.

Besides Dance for Life, what are you looking forward to in Chicago this summer?

This summer has been filled with conducting master classes and workshops around the Midwest, meeting more aspiring young gifted dancers who will one day be a part of the professional world we will see on the Dance for Life stage.

 

Q & A with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago Artistic Director Glenn Edgerton

What makes the Decadance/Chicago excerpt a great choice to be part of Dance for Life?

The excerpt we are dancing is iconic to Ohad Naharin’s work and has been a staple in various pieces of his that Hubbard Street has danced throughout the years. It’s an audience favorite for sure. It’s an exhilarating and an impressive piece of choreography that highlights the entire company for a short burst of excitement.

You’ve been part of Chicago’s dance community for a number of years. What does it mean to you and how has the community supported you professionally, personally or otherwise?

I love Dance for Life for keeping the dance community connected. It’s a moment we all check in with each other, commiserate on our common struggles and brainstorm ideas for future projects. Invariably I meet someone new who hasn’t tuned into Hubbard Street yet and is a good contact for the company.

Besides Dance for Life, what are you looking forward to in Chicago this summer?

My favorite summertime events are catching a Cubs game, the events on the lawn at Pritzker Pavilion or the ongoing street fests and food markets that pop up around the city all summer long. I’m also on a mission to hit all the rooftop bars and restaurants in Chicago. Who’s in?

 

Q & A with Joffrey Ballet Master and choreographer Nicolas Blanc

What makes the duets—Lorelei and an excerpt from Bells—great choices to be part of Dance for Life?

The Lorelei and Bells duets are a true expression of love, loss, passion, attraction and human connections. It gives life to a dance and it allows the audience to relate emotionally to those moves as movement and music vibrate together as one.

You’ve been part of Chicago’s dance community for a number of years. What does it mean to you and how has the community supported you professionally, personally or otherwise?

The Chicago dance community is filled with talented, beautiful, energetic human beings and energetic forces. Here at the Joffrey, too, Ashley Wheater is providing us with a place to explore our art form. The bond between artists and the city is strong, and it gives each of us a sense of confidence in our craft and an appreciation for each other’s endeavors. We all are an element of this city’s dance identity. It creates an inspiration that is useful and necessary to explore and achieve.

Besides Dance for Life, what are you looking forward to in Chicago this summer?

I look very much forward to spending time with my friends in Chicago, enjoying the lake side, going to see performances, doing some French cooking and enjoying good company.

 

Q&A with Giordano Dance Chicago Executive Director Michael McStraw

What makes SOUL a great choice to be part of Dance for Life?

I have always believed Dance for Life should be a grand celebration of all that Chicago’s extraordinary dance community has to offer; from this perspective, then, SOUL is a perfect work on this year’s program. Joyful, over-the-top kinetic, relentlessly celebratory, SOUL captures that “take-no-prisoners” and highly spirited aesthetic that Giordano Dance Chicago does so well. Who can resist a work choreographed by Ray Leeper, one of the nation’s most sought-after commercial choreographers, which includes music by Gladys Knight and the Pips, Al Green and Tina Turner? I can guarantee that audience members will be dancing in the aisles when GDC claims the stage.

You’ve been a part of Chicago’s dance community for a number of years. What does it mean to you and how has the community supported you professionally, personally or otherwise?

I came to Chicago as a dancer in 1984 and have had the immense pleasure of being part of the community as performer, educator, administrator, advocate and patron. During these past 35 years, I have been shaped, molded, encouraged and enriched by such talented people, from Laura Wade (Akasha & Company), Jan Erkert (Jan Erkert & Dancers), Paula Frasz (Danszloop Chicago), Shirley Mordine (Mordine & Company Dance Theater), Heather Hartley (See Chicago Dance) and, of course, my wonderful business partner and dear friend, Nan Giordano, with Giordano Dance Chicago. In a career that has had its share of fits, starts and unexpected turns, I can truly state that each experience—sometimes directly, sometimes mysteriously—has nurtured me and prepared me for the next phase of this remarkable journey. Tellingly, when I attend a community event of any sort, I look around me in amazement, knowing how lucky I am to be surrounded by many talented and dedicated people. I am humbled to be part of this incredibly supportive community.

Besides Dance for Life, what are you looking forward to this summer?

Working with my partner, Andy, in creating a massive butterfly and pollinator garden in our yard. The project has been a challenge, what with such unpredictable weather, but I find using an axe, digging holes into the Illinois clay, getting my hands covered in dirt and turning the ordinary into the extraordinary is the perfect complement to my life in the performing arts.


Q&A with Robyn Mineko Williams

What can you share with us about Echo Mine, the work you’re creating for this year’s Dance for Life? 

Echo Mine is a new work inspired by and created alongside Claire Bataille, founding member of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, teacher to countless dancers throughout the years and longstanding integral figure of the Chicago dance community. Claire was also my idol, my mentor and my friend. I’d asked her more than two years ago if she might entertain the idea of letting me choreograph a piece on her, and she, very generously, said yes. The opportunity to work with Claire in this way was such a rare gem of an experience—to create with such an important figure personally and historically as well as someone I spent so much time watching and emulating as a young dancer. It allowed for a remarkable opportunity to uncover more about the power and importance of artistic lineage in creation and gave me a great excuse to hang out and learn more from this woman I love and admire so much. The original idea was to have Claire dance, but a month after our first rehearsal, she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Claire continued her involvement with the project throughout her fight with the disease before she passed in December of last year. Her contributions have inspired a full evening work, danced by Jacqueline Burnett, Meredith Dincolo and me. We will be showing a sneak peek of Echo Mine at Dance for Life this year. 

You’ve been part of Chicago’s dance community for a number of years. What does it mean to you and how has the community supported you professionally, personally or otherwise?

The Chicago dance community is truly my extended family. They’ve been taking care of me, teaching me and supporting me since I was a 12-year-old taking Ron De Jesus’s jazz classes on Saturday mornings at Lou Conte Dance Studio. It means everything to me that this community continues to have my back after all of these years; I love them, am grateful for them and hope to make them proud.

Besides Dance for Life, what are you looking forward to in Chicago this summer? 

I’m looking forward to hanging out with my husband Andrew and son Knox at the Tastee Freez. 🙂

 

Q&A with Chicago Human Rhythm Project Director, Lane Alexander:

What makes MOVEMENT 11a great choice to be part of Dance for Life?

I think Dani Borak, the choreographer of MOVEMENT 11, is the best in the field of post-modern tap in the world today. He uses multiple forms of dance seamlessly, organically, which represents the breadth and scope of his talent and our community. He truly brings it all together in a way that literally makes me cry with joy.

You’ve been part of Chicago’s dance community for a number of years. What does it mean to you and how has the community supported you professionally, personally or otherwise?

When I think of support, I tend to think of specific people with whom I’ve shared the journey during the last 35 years, like Elaine Cohen and Richard Weinberg and the people who gave me my start in Chicago—Gus Giordano and Lou Conte. Chicago is also blessed to have a mature “giving culture” of individuals, foundations, government agencies and corporations that have supported Chicago Human Rhythm Project and countless other organizations every step of the way. They’re just too numerous to list here, but the MacArthur Foundation has to be mentioned as perhaps the preeminent leader in our city. Of course, the artists—many of the best in the world—who have always made Chicago a wellspring of tradition, collaboration and innovation keep raising the bar(re). And despite being in what’s sometimes referred to as “flyover”-land, the people of Chicago are very sophisticated, discerning and generous.

Besides Dance for Life, what are you looking forward to in Chicago this summer?

The summer is really consumed with our annual festival Rhythm World—there’s not much left of summer after that!

 

Q&A with Chicago Dance Crash Rehearsal Director, KC Bevis:

What makes Leap of Faith a great choice to be part of Dance for Life?

Leap of Faith is no stranger to the “Crash” way of doing things. Right away, with its driving beat and dancers lying still on the floor, it immediately changes the mood of the night, even in an all-Crash rep show. Of course, throughout we get to show off our physical capabilities with flips, tricks and throwing each other around, but that is just a small part of what makes this work so special. Once the dancers “wake up,” there is a journey that clearly one dancer cannot make on their own. It’s a beautiful view into what actually happens when you take a leap of faith with a community that supports it.

You’ve been part of Chicago’s dance community for a number of years. What does it mean to you and how has the community supported you professionally, personally or otherwise?

I relocated to Chicago very young, still in my last year of high school. I barely knew what concert dance was. The community took me in, becoming my home away from home. Dancers and educators shared their knowledge, offered me free class, let me stay on their couches and gave me endless opportunities to immerse myself in the community. It was clear from the beginning that the community is what matters the most. Chicago stands out for having a family of artists who give back and support each other. With that being said, the community means everything to me, and I’d say you’d be pretty hard pressed to find a Chicago artist who thinks differently.

Besides Dance for Life, what are you looking forward to in Chicago this summer?

Chicago summers are the best. I am looking forward to exploring the city itself and all of the diverse art that really explodes during the summertime. Amazing concerts, street fests and dance experiences outside of a theater or studio put Chicago summers on top.