Fall Dance Preview: Behind glass, in parking lots and on screens, Chicago's dancemakers make do to keep making dance

With safety guidelines keeping theater doors largely shuttered this fall, the order of the day for Chicago’s dance companies is experimentation. While many have gone with wholly digital seasons, a few groups are testing new models for live performance through a combination of social distancing, outdoor performances and hybrid live and online options. According to our critics, here is a sampling of some of this season’s events to look out for:

Up-and-comer Mariah Eastman has played with dance for the camera before, but with “Patternalia,” she takes on what’s easily her most ambitious project to date. A sextet exploring the topic of insomnia, "Patternalia" feels a ripe combination of Eastman’s feel-good, liquidous style with filmmakers Krista Zozulia and Jordan Kunkel’s keen eyes and compositional clout. Sept. 24-25 at 7:30 p.m. online. Tickets $5. —Lauren Warnecke

Mandala South Asian Performing Arts has a history of showering audiences with beauty. Whether it’s through exaggerated facial expressions and hand gestures or energetic costumes, executive artistic director Pranita Nayer honors the exquisite nature of South Asian culture in every performance. Nayar’s latest work, “With Rumi,” promises to stay true to form. Intersecting the intricacies of 13th-Century Persian poet Rumi’s calligraphy with animation and bharatanatyam, we are destined to embark on a curvaceous multi-media journey. With a bum rush of all things digital, it’s a luxury to take a moment to appreciate tangibles and consider the possibilities of love in physical and written form—in this case, with glass dividing the audience from the performers—guided by this global darling of poetry, Rumi.  Sept. 26, 3 and 6 p.m., at High Concept Labs, 2233 S. Throop, and via livestream. Tickets $10-$25; live attendance limited to 10 people. —D’onminique Boyd

I’m excited to see dance in any format right now, especially given how difficult it is to rehearse and perform. Though I miss being in theaters for live shows, I’m really looking forward to seeing what Hedwig Dances will bring to the virtual dance table with Rigoberto Saura’s “Kaos.” The new dance film plans to address the uncertainty and fear produced by current events, pairing livestream dance with pre-recorded video snippets. Not only will this be a world premiere for Saura, but the choreographer is bringing Netherlands-based musician, Henry Labrada, into the mix to create an original score. From what I’ve seen of Hedwig Dances in the past, I’m most excited to see how the dancers will maintain their ability to connect with audience members via a digital streaming platform. Sept. 26 at 3 p.m. online. Tickets $5-$25—Emma Elsmo

Stephanie Martinez has spent the past several years galivanting the country, building an impressive choreographic resume making works for Kansas City Ballet, Charlotte Ballet, Eugene Ballet and Ballet Memphis, among others. It is perhaps out of necessity that Martinez now looks to create a vehicle for her work here at home, though it still feels quite gutsy to launch a brand new company. Still, Martinez’s voice—an amalgam of her history with River North Dance Chicago and informed by everything from ballet to hip-hop—is a welcome addition to Chicago's gaggle of contemporary companies. Called Para.Mar Dance Theatre, this new group’s debut will take place in an Avondale parking lot with a meta statement on the dance world’s resilience in difficult times. Noon and 4 p.m. Oct. 3 and 4 at 3319 N. Elston. Tickets are pay-what-you-can with limited space available and social distancing required. —LW

Two companies kick off their 25th seasons this fall, each with a revamped celebration for their silver anniversaries. Returning to the gorgeous grounds of Oak Park’s stunning Cheney Mansion, Winifred Haun & Dancers produces “Steps in the Garden,” an afternoon that is part dance concert, part garden walk. And as part of its annual gala, Deeply Rooted Dance Theater will perform a work-in-progress by Nicole Clarke-Springer alongside classic repertoire like “Heaven” (2004), “Surrender” (1997) and an excerpt from “I Am Deeply Rooted” (2010) at the Athenaeum Theatre. The production is available via livestream and to a limited in-person audience. Winifred Haun’s “Steps in the Garden” is 4 p.m. Oct. 4 at Cheney Mansion, 220 N. Euclid, Oak Park, or via livestream on Oct. 10. Tickets $15-$44. Deeply Rooted performs at 7 p.m. on Oct. 17 at the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport, or via livestream. Tickets $25-$1,000. —LW

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago kicks off their 43rd season with the online premiere of a new full company piece. The untitled work is choreographed by Hubbard Street alumna Rena Butler and filmed by Talia Koylass, taking place in parks across the city. It also features music by composer Darryl Hoffman and songs by vocalists Shawnee Dez and Alencia Norris. Within the 25-minute new work, Butler—a 2019 Princess Grace Award recipient and native Chicagoan—examines her current perception of "sweet home Chicago," with viewers also invited to a live conversation with Butler and her collaborators. The performance is inspired by the work of GoodKids MadCity, an anti-violence advocacy organization with national chapters led by Black and Brown youth (the Chicago GKMC chapter is based in Englewood). As Butler explains in her artist's statement, this new performance centers on "keeping the social distance and still making work that is about connectivity and community." Oct. 22 via livestream. Details and ticket prices are TBD. —Felicia Holman
While modern dance is largely considered an American dance form, historians often trace its origins to German Expressionism, or more specifically, to two pupils of Rudolf Laban: Kurt Jooss and Mary Wigman. The latter is choreographer and dancer Nejla Yatkin’s latest inspiration as the inimitable soloist creates a new dance film in partnership with The Dance Center of Columbia College. Called “The Other Witch,” Yatkin ruminates on Wigman’s 1914 solo “Hexentanz (Witch Dance)” creating a 21st century iteration of this seminal work. Parallels abound: The former Berliner, like Wigman, is entranced by the natural world and has often been found performing in Chicago's few rugged landscapes. And it is perhaps not a coincidence that “Hexentanz,” one of Wigman’s only pieces to be captured on film, is the source of motivation for Yatkin within this pandemic-friendly format. Fortunately, with her frequent artistic collaborator Enki Andrews behind the camera, film is a medium in which Yatkin has always thrived.  Oct. 23, 30 and Nov. 6 at 6 p.m. online. Tickets $20. —LW
Hoofer Jumaane Taylor tackles two scores notorious for their difficulty and dissonance in “Ugly Flavors,” presented as a work-in-progress Nov. 7 via livestream from The Dance Center. Combining rhythms from Ornette Coleman’s “The Shape of Jazz to Come” and Igor Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring,” Taylor blends his commitment to and affection for the symbiosis between jazz music and tap dance and a fascination with various iterations of Vaslav Nijinsky’s 1913 “Rite,” a near-riot inducing dance set to Stravinsky’s driving pulse. It is ambitious—audacious, even—to set these complicated scores side-by-side and compose foot percussion on top, though with Taylor in charge, it is unlikely “Ugly Flavors” will live up to its name. 7 p.m. on Nov. 7, online. Tickets $20. —LW
Part fun house, part “Nutcracker,” the Ruth Page Center for the Arts deconstructs its classic version of the holiday show—typically on view annually at Northeastern Illinois University—into a socially-distanced foray through nooks and crannies of this historic Gold Coast building. You might find toy soldiers and mice along the way; soldier on and you’re bound to bump into a few bon bons and a sugar plum, too. Fridays through Sundays Dec. 4-20 at Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn. Tickets $25-$45—LW