By Laura Molzahn
For August Tye, the Hyde Park School of Dance is a family affair. "I love the students, the families, seeing what dance does for people," she says. Tye's 9- and 13-year-old daughters will be performing in the school's upcoming 20th-anniversary show, "En Avant," while her husband, singer Wilbur Pauley, tweaked the score for her premiere, Lorelei. The blowout lineup next weekend also includes guests from the Joffrey, the Joel Hall Dancers, and the Paul Sanasardo Dancers.
Tye arrived in Chicago in 1992, fresh out of school, to work at Maria Tallchief's School of Chicago Ballet. Unfortunately, it had just closed its doors. But one of the board members, Marilyn Ratliff (now Marilyn Sheperd), suggested that she and Tye start a dance curriculum in Hyde Park, whose only school had recently shut down.
"If it weren't for [Marilyn]," Tye says, "I don't know what I would have done. I wanted to study at Joel Hall --- starting a school was not at the top of my list. But we shared this passion, the knowledge that this discipline changes your life. We wanted all people, not just skinny white people, to feel welcome to dance ballet." While Tye made phone calls and hired people, Ratliff applied for nonprofit status and rummaged up financial support. Among Tye's first students was Ratliff's daughter, Allyson, now part of HPSD's artistic team; her premiere on this program marks the debut of her new AER Dance Theater.
"When we started, we had probably 30 students," says Tye. "But the school grew fast. At first, we were doubling our enrollment every semester, then every year, basically through word-of-mouth. Now we're up to 450 students." Of those, 76 will perform in "En Avant." Current students range in age from 18 months (in the Moms & Tots classes) to grandmothers. Taking great pride in the school's scholarship program ("We usually help about 40 families a year"), Tye says that one of her great joys is being able to "touch so many people and give back."
Tye's new Lorelei (performed by her professional company, Tyego Dance Project( begins with sirens bringing a drowned sailor back to life and closes with a pas de deux reuniting him with his lover. The opening music comes from an album by violinist Hilary Hahn and Hauschka, who's been known to prepare his pianos with Ping-Pong balls. The second half is a live rendition of "The Dark-Eyed Sailor" by a pianist and two Lyric Opera singers (Tye has been the Lyric's ballet mistress since 2004); Pauley arranged the folk song and fashioned a transition between the two musical selections.
"En Avant" also includes Tye's 1991 Ice Pointe, set to Vivaldi, and her popular 2008 Dolz, about how girls' toys affect them. Though at first the performers are dressed like Bratz dolls ("They make Barbies look like convent ladies," Tye explains), eventually they emerge in flesh-colored leotards, their makeup scrubbed off.
Tye hired Sarah Ford to teach HPSD's modern curriculum in 1999 (also the year that Ford joined Deeply Rooted Dance Theater, where she performed through 2009). "At the time, HPSD had three modern students," Ford says. "Now we offer eight modern classes and have 100 students." Like Ratliff and Tye's twin sister, Aimee, Ford too is on the school's artistic team.
Ford swears by Horton technique for young dancers. "It helps you understand your body at a basic level. The shapes are two-dimensional, so you learn to fold in an architectural way. It's done in parallel, which helps young dancers to align their bodies. And it incorporates a lot of energy and dynamic changes, which is exciting to young dancers. Later we teach Graham, Dunham, and release technique."
Ford's two premieres include In the Street at Night, whose sometimes-comic opening section is performed by the middle- and upper-schoolers of Tyego Next Generation. "There's a lovers' quarrel, there are people out with their friends," Ford says. Joffrey guest artist Lucas Segovia and HPSD alum Elizabeth Mensah dance the more serious duet that follows. Six young women from Deeply Rooted II perform Ford's Pawo, a Tibetan word meaning "one who is brave." Ford describes it as being "about the deep strength inside every person that can come through when you think you have nothing left. It's about the spiritual warrior who stands up for what is right."
The school's 20th, Tye says, is a good time for the team to honor its mentors, which will happen Saturday night. And though she's grateful to Hyde Park's First Unitarian Church for providing HPSD with a home, she adds, "We'd love to share a space with other arts groups, like the Hyde Park Suzuki Institute [performing on this program] and theater organizations. Maybe we can get some momentum going on that!"