The Cambrians dance to each other’s different drummer in 'Chicago Dances 2020'

The Cambrians put a new spin on dancing to a different drummer with “Chicago Dances 2020,” Feb. 6-9 at Preston Bradley Center. With music ranging from baroque concerti, to classic '60s and '70s rock, to opera and movie and video game soundtracks, the possibilities are endless.
In a unique twist on the group’s innovative approach to collaborative choreography, founding creative director Benjamin Wardell has invited an eclectic mix of eight Chicago dance makers, each a leader in his or her own artistic endeavors, to contribute “source material” for cross-pollination.
In past seasons, The Cambrians used one or two choreographers to provide original choreographic phrases and movement material as the “source” for the dancers to expand upon and develop together into a single, evening-length work. “Chicago Dance 2020” has the entire cast of eight remixing each other’s source material to create six to seven pieces of solid repertory. “It’s our version of a mixed-rep program,” Wardell said in a recent phone conversation with See Chicago Dance.
Various casting configurations thrust together dancer/choreographers of widely contrasting technical and artistic backgrounds to facilitate functional collaboration.
“It’s more complicated,” said Wardell about asking dancer/choreographers—who might not be used to ceding their own point of view, process, and personal priorities—to openly address other voices in the room.
As creative director, Wardell’s objective is as much about purpose as about performance. “Half the point is to open up the process to different priorities,” he said. “One choreographer’s priority might be space, another shape, story or energy.”
The idea behind “Chicago Dances 2020” is getting people together and fostering a community spirit of inclusivity. By asking the cast of eight community builders to collaborate and experience each other’s process, Wardell hopes they will each acquire new, unexpected skills, at the same time building on the Chicago dance world's diversity.
That diversity spans all aspects of Chicago dance demographics: age (participants range from 22 to 51 years old), genre (break dance, butoh, ballet, burlesque, jazz and contemporary) gender, sexual orientation and cultural background.
One of the biggest challenges The Cambrians have faced in meeting those goals is finding the time to address each other while attending to the all-consuming process of making meaningful art through dance. “(We) landed on the idea of honesty and care for each other and (for) the audience,” Wardell said, stressing his passionate commitment to community-building through dance.
As one of eight dancer/choreographers, Wardell characterizes himself as “a gay, white man (from) a big old concert dance and ballet background.” His recent work with The Cambrians, Lucky Plush and Ron de Jesus, as well as his years with Hubbard Street and Alonso King LINES Ballet, reflect a strong theatrical impulse and an aesthetic that seeks the optimum blend of concert dance and theater. While there is no scripted text or explicit story in his work for these concerts, his source material is set to narrative song, creating a dramatic context for “lots of lyrical dance.”
Katlin Bourgeois and Ayako Kato are also ballet trained, but have diverged from their dance roots into gender spectrum contemporary dance and butoh, respectively. Kato’s collaboration with Bourgeois has inspired her to reference both aspects of her dance origins and impulses.
Daniel Gibson’s break dance work with Chicago Dance Crash contrasts with Erin Kilmurray’s gender-fluid vaudeville-style burlesque, and Elijah Richardson’s deeply Christian faith-based perspective.
Dee Alaba, born in the Philippines, is a trans woman with a concert dance background, while Kara Brody, a veteran of Lucky Plush and Khecari, and Kilmurray, originator of “The Fly Honey Show,” join forces in a duet based on fight scenes from Westerns and video games.
Costuming, set and lighting design reflect a similar collaborative structure of cross-pollination of elements.
Wardell calls long-time collaborator Kacie Smith’s set design a “post-apocalyptic laundromat explosion.” Moving clotheslines allow for dancers to access piles of clothes on the floor, and to exchange costumes on a dime, some of which came from each dancer’s “most quintessential outfit from each of the four seasons,” making for a universal but deeply personal statement.
Lighting and projection designer Craig Kidwell gets to “play around” with using his projections as lighting instruments, overlaying images at the last-minute in response to the dancers.
“You won’t know quite what the show’s about until the curtain goes up,” Wardell said in a press statement, “….but you can trust that who you see will be honest, wildly skillful, and actually care about you.”
“Chicago Dances 2020” runs Feb. 6-9 at Preston Bradley Center, 941 W. Lawrence Ave. Tickets are Pay-What-You-Can, available by clicking the event page below.