Dancing from a place of love: How two of this year’s Co-MISSIONs artists embraced their pandemic residencies

This weekend the 2021 Co-MISSION Festival of New Works opens featuring seven local artists with a variety of backgrounds. Presented by Links Hall, the virtual performances span two weekends and cover multiple genres including performance art, puppetry, installation, performance as social practice, and of course, dance. All performances are pre-recorded to be streamed on YouTube. Two panel discussions with Co-MISSION artists and other Chicago creators will also be streamed via Zoom, as well as a choreographic workshop/class led by Taimy Ramos Velazquez.

I recently spoke with two of the artists about their work: Hannah Michal Santistevan, a 2021 Co-MISSION resident who received her BFA in dance from Columbia College, and Darling Shear, a 2020 fellow and multi-faceted artist who started her full-evening work last year before the pandemic hit. Other festival artists are Elliot Reza Emadian, Kierah King, Vanessa Valliere, Velazquez and Cherri Yu. While coming at their works from different places, both Santistevan and Shear tackle broader universal themes like, “Why am I here?” and “How can I be a better human?”

Santistevan says her work is comically centered in existential crisis. “My research was centering around the cycle of humanity and the recurring element was extinction, so the title, ‘The Brink,’ seemed appropriate for the content,” Santistevan said. “With the Co-MISSION timeline (only three months working with the dancers) and change to virtual, my original idea had to change. What you’re going to see is more of a blueprint of the movement vocabulary and an overall vibe and energy of the work. Hopefully in the future I can add some more comical elements.” For the 29-minute piece, she incorporated five dancers (all Columbia alums) using a soundscape with a “rocker vibe” that includes music from The Chemical Brothers and The Gorillaz. “It’s very dense and loud and then dwindles out by the end in opposition to the structure of the work. I want to take the audience on an energetic ride.”

In contrast, Shear began working on “Beatitude” in January of 2020, as part of the Links Hall fellowship program. Then the pandemic halted production. She is grateful to present a solo evening this year on both weekends of Co-MISSION. She explores the Beat Generation in a “choreopoem” mixing movement, fashion, and spoken word. Shear (or Empress, if you prefer) is an intrinsic part of her work and she embraces being a work-in-progress, always honest about where she is in her life journey.

“I am not a safe space,” she said. “I do this for the love of sharing. This work is meant to uplift people.” Based on the Beatitudes which beatniks distilled from Jesus’ teachings and The Sermon on the Mount, this first installment of four is a solo for Shear encompassing the meditation, “Be simple, be clear,” with a diverse soundtrack ranging from Paris house music, to urban artist Tanerelle, to a remix of Billie Holiday.

“I always act from a place of love. I want to dance and share with people the infinite possibilities,” Shear said.


The Co-MISSION Frestival of New Works runs Thursday, May 20 through Sunday, May 23 and Thursday, May 27 through Sunday, May 30. Tickets to the festival are free, but those who are able are encouraged to purchase tickets to support artists fees. Tickets, performance information and links to the YouTube livestream can be found online at https://tinyurl.com/LinksHallEvents or by clicking the link below.