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 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.