October Newsletter: International Connections

It’s fitting that October brings a cornucopia of international connections to Chicago dance stages, coinciding with the national celebration of United Nations Month, which commemorates the signing of the UN Charter, now completing its 68th year.  

With international dance connections ranging from as far away as China and as close to home as Cuba, Chicago audiences have a wonderful opportunity to experience how the cultural traditions, stories, and theatrical conventions of far-away lands enrich and inform our sense of global community. 

International collaborations like Trade Winds/Aires De Cambio (The Dance Center of Columbia College, October 9-11 at 8 PM), the culmination of Hedwig Dances’ multi-year relationship with Cuba’s DanzAbierta, take lots of work and determination to sustain. The necessity of travel between the two countries, navigating the complexity of international regulations and documentation, grappling with technology incompatibility and language issues, securing funding, and sheer physical distance make collaboration especially challenging.  It’s all worth the effort, according to Jan Bartoszek, artistic director of Chicago-based Hedwig Dances. “Artistic communication between the two countries diffuses the politics,” says Bartoszek. She is especially taken by the sophistication of the arts in Cuba and how tuned-in they are to Latin America and Europe. “This is a unique collaboration,” she says, “because we’re creating it together and performing it both here and in Cuba.” 

Trade Winds/Aires de Cambio” combines two, separately-choreographed, interlocking pieces--Trade Winds by Bartoszek and Aires de Cambio (Air of Change) by Susana Pous, resident choreographer of DanzAbierta. Both pieces explore the relationship of cyclical time in two different cultures: north and south, temperate and tropical.  The performance unfolds in a series of intersecting episodes following the course of the seasons, becoming a call and response between the two companies, Hedwig Dances primarily on one side of the stage and and DanzAbierta on the other. Several scenes cross over and intersect.

Cinematographer Daniel Kullman and videographer Nadia Oussenko of Chicago, and Havana filmmaker Claudio Pairot have created video projections as a unifying element. Chicago and Havana are woven into the fabric of the dance, with seasonal landscape portraits of the two cities, relating to the movement on stage. 

All the pieces come together in a joint rehearsal process at Links Hall (lead commissioner for “Trade Winds,”) when DanzAbierta arrives this Sunday. The Dance Center of Columbia College, where performances will take place, is a co-presenter with Links Hall. 

The U.S. premiere of Spanish dancer/choreographer Iván Pérez’s Flesh (2011) brings international seasoning to River North Dance Chicago’s 25th Anniversary program (Harris Theater, October 10-11). Based in the Netherlands, Pérez created Flesh, set to Keith Douglas’s poem, “The Knife,” for Nederlands Dans Theater II and dedicated it to his parents after their death. This will be the first time his work is seen in America. “Flesh was a kind of choreographic debut for me when it was created for Nedelands Dans II, and now it is like a double beginning, very special for me, the first time my work will be seen in the U.S., and an honor to be part of a window to the future for River North.” Pérez says the most challenging aspect of the movement is for the dancers to find their own space in the work, not just replicate it. “My work confronts them with themselves. As a dancer, you have tools, technique, that get you where you want to be, but sometimes in your career, a piece comes along that makes you have to break your own rules. That’s the kind of piece that Flesh is.” 

Chicago choreographer and Columbia College Dance Department chair Onye Ozuzu teams up with Wisconsin-based choreographer Peggy Choy for “Explorations in Afro-Asian Futurism” with their collaborative River-Mouth-Ocean (Links Hall, October 10-12). The two connected initially through their shared experiences as contemporary dance artists trained in traditional non-western forms. Choy, raised in Hawaii and of Korean descent, specializes in Javanese and Korean dance and Chinese martial arts. Ozuzu, of Nigerian and American Mennonite parentage, focuses on Djembe dances of West Africa and Japanese martial arts. Both artists find common ground in Jazz music that fuses African and Asian influences. Their collaboration in developing River-Mouth-Ocean incorporates new dances each choreographer designed for the other, as well as separate pieces, independently created by each, although united by the theme of “water issues linked to cultural survival, environmental justice, and hybrid identities.” 

“Cup of Water,”  an excerpt from Choy's larger work, Thirst, is a duet that uses Capoeira Angola, Afro-Brazilian martial arts, to tell the story of a thirsty miner on an island with no water and his dream of a sea-goddess. The choreography uses the inverted Capoeira movement of cartwheels, handstands, twirling and kicking, with partners in close proximity to each other.  “Walk The River,” Choy’s solo for Ozuzu, is a “water journey of the mind-heart,” a spiritual piece inspired by pictographs of ancient Chinese writing inspired by Daoist philosophy. 

“Glow in Deep Darkness,” Ozuzu’s solo composition for Choy, is an abstract exploration of bio-luminescence and the mysterious realm of the deepest ocean environments where creatures glow from within. Music by Usef Lateef combines the influence of African forms with Asian instrumentation and rhythms, reflecting both choreographers’ fascination with African-Asian fusion. “Water as a universal stimulus of change is a perfect conceptual orientation for working with Peggy,” says Ozuzu, who will perform her own choreography in the solo, “Make Wake.”

Ayodele Drum and Dance, a Chicago-based company, will perform Ozuzu’s “Seven,” set to original music by tabla player Rajesh Bandari and strongly driven by traditional African dance forms, although clearly in the realm of contemporary dance. “I am interested in cross and intercultural explorations that are....deeper than aesthetics,” says Ozuzu. While neither choreographer comes to Chicago from abroad, the world tours through them, through their cross-cultural lives, and through their work. River-Mouth-Ocean is an international tour of their interior world.

The Museum of Contemporary Art’s “Global Stage” series has been a prominent presenter of international dance and theater in Chicago. This month the Belgian company, “Rosas” returns to perform Rosas Danst Rosas (MCA, October 9-12)a pivotal artistic work that brought the company initial recognition as one of the foremost contemporary dance companies in Europe and has remained strong in its repertory for thirty years. Choreographed for four women, its underlying emotional arc is the development of young women through various stages of maturity. “This would qualify as a signature piece,” says MCA Director of Performance Programs Peter Taub. “I’m always interested in how individual dance makers draw on their heritage.” Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker, Artistic Director of Rosas and choreographer of Rosas Danst Rosas, combines simple, everyday gestures with abstract movement. “She has a keen sense of the language of the body,” Taub says. “The dancing is exceptional,” with a driving energy that completely captivates audiences. Following a curious plagiarism near-scandal with Beyoncé, de Keersmaeker instituted an open invitation to replicate her choreography on-line. In the same spirit, the MCA invites inspired audience members to follow in Beyoncé’s footsteps and join others from all over the globe by creating a video for the Re:Rosas project, whether it’s a 6-second Vine, a 15-second Instagram video, or an all-out YouTube production. Put your own spin on this stunning dance, post it online, and tag #ReRosas and mention MCA Chicago, and they’ll share it.

Also at the MCA, the London-based Michael Clark Company will perform October 25-27, in conjunction with the museum’s David Bowie exhibit. In Clark’s come, been and gone, “ballet meets punk, and neither comes out the same.”  In its first visit to Chicago, the Michael Clark Company pays homage to the decadence and unbridled fun of 1970s club culture. British dance iconoclast Michael Clark sets his choreography in come, been and gone to the music of fellow rebel David Bowie, and collaborates with video artist and dance film pioneer Charles Atlas.

Rounding out the global inundation of dance in Chicago this month, the Beijing Dance Theater presents Wild Grass (Harris Theater, October 28-29)the newest work from company artistic director Wang Yuanyuan. In Wild Grass,Wang takes inspiration from the poems of Chinese writer and literary giant Lu Xun. The three-part performance is rooted in ideas of spirituality and individuality. 

So celebrate United Nations Month with a cross-cultural night out, a global dance date, or an international escapade! For more details and tickets, click on “Upcoming Events.”


Lynn Colburn Shapiro