Walking into the Mayne Stage late night for a KTF (Keeper of the Floor) dance battle between company members and friends of Chicago Dance Crash (CDC), a number of realizations come to mind: 1) KTF is not a typical dance show, 2) Chicago Dance Crash is not a typical dance company, and 3) it’s possible to make people go crazy for dance. Host, judge, moderator, and lubricator Mattrick Swayze (with his darling Swayzettes) are a large part of what make the quarterly hootenanny work. Even with CDC in the midst of rehearsing for its biggest show to date, KTF fans came out in droves last month to cheer on their favorites as they duked it out in the WWF of dance. Kaitlin Webster, Daniel “DanQwan” Gibson, and Jess Duffy fought a hard battle as the final three, and Webster would prevail. The crowd went wild, and the after party at Mayne Stage’s attached Act One Pub was far wilder.
It’s tempting to think of CDC as the “fun” group - the dance company who does flips and tricks and dances in bars. Make no mistake, Chicago Dance Crash is a serious dance company toting serious talent. That, and, a seriously smart marketing strategy. Crash intentionally flirts with the often opposing worlds of concert dance and commercial entertainment, and it appears to be working.
When company member Jessica Deahr was promoted to Artistic Director in 2012, she had never run a dance company. In the course of a year she went from company member to company director, simultaneously choreographing her first evening-length concert. Deahr has steered the company toward a slightly more contemporary aesthetic, due in part to her conventional dance background, but the heart of the mission is the same: CDC aims to fuse classical, contemporary, and street dance styles, bringing an eclectic group of dancers together to expand concert dance as a method of mainstream entertainment.
Flash-forward three years, and Deahr is set to premiere Crash’s biggest work yet in Tron: End of Line. Long-time CDC producer Mark Hackman wrote an original narrative inspired by the 1976 film navigating a futuristic world in which people and virtual doppelgängers co-exist in side-by-side realities. KTF champion Webster is the lead character, a woman named Kait who has access to “the mainframe” and meets her virtual self before winding up in a third world - a really unfortunate place called ‘the generator.” It is here that she has to keep up an exhausting show of athletic dancing… think Lost, but instead of pushing the button Webster has to keep her high kicks and pirouettes going. Tron is an ambitious project, with CDC tackling extraordinary technical elements that include 3-D projections, LED lights in the props and costumes, and a collaboration with video game animator Zach Moore. If that wasn’t enough, the production will be enjoying a three week run at the 300+ seat Victory Gardens Biograph Theater.
CDC is banking on the popularity of the cult classic Tron, but also relying on its mission and strategic design of each performance season to fill all those seats. Each year at Crash brings with it four KTFs, a big blockbuster evening-length narrative, and an “artsy” type concert - usually featuring guest choreographers and/or more contemporary dance stylings. Additional corporate, private, and community-based performances pepper the season, and Deahr pictures the future at Crash including more touring opportunities and a full-time contract for the dancers. “If I were to start my own dance company,” she said, “this is exactly what it would look like.” This tiny blond sprite is a fierce fly girl with one hell of a head on her shoulders; with Deahr the helm, the future looks bright for Chicago Dance Crash.
Chicago Dance Crash presents “Tron: End of Line" runs from August 9-24 at the Victory Gardens Biograph Theater (2433 N Lincoln Ave). Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 3pm (no show August 8th). Tickets are $30 reserved by phone 773.871.3000 or online at www.chicagodancecrash.com.