Featured Event: Synapse revives New Works with digital premieres inspired by two dancers’ personal histories

In January, a diverse panel of artists and arts advocates selected Maggie Bridger and Rahila Coats from a field of 29 applicants for Synapse Arts’ New Works, the dance-theater company’s unique choreography project that has mentored 23 premieres. These young, underrepresented artists have been collaborating with their handpicked mentors, Bryan Sayner and Jenn “Po’Chop” Freeman, to refine their visions. They represent the 6th cycle of New Works in digital premieres on June 5 and 6. In their works, Coats explores the personal narratives of Black women, while Bridger ruminates on traditional ideas of the dancing body.

Born and raised in Minneapolis, Coats was inspired to follow the path blazed by her mother, a dance teacher and performer. It was a journey that led her to study dance in Israel and Ghana through the University of Minnesota – experiences that shaped her growing awareness of the interconnectedness of art, community and social activism.

Asked about her New Works premiere, Coats spoke first about her deep connection with her maternal grandmother, who passed before she was born. “My piece deals with issues of race and gender,” she said, “specifically the relationships Black women have with their grandmothers and the legacy of those connections, whether they be physical or spiritual. I hope to remind viewers of what dance can evoke in an audience, even while watching from home, and I hope they’ll experience sensations from loneliness and grief to affection and comfort.”

Bridger’s journey as a dancer began as a toddler at a Missouri dance studio and continued at Columbia College Chicago, where she wrote her final research project on disability in dance. This led her to the department of disability and human development at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she currently juggles the demands of being both a PhD student and a dance artist.

Bridger is creating and refining a movement vocabulary out of her experiences with chronic pain. She will present an original dance film that explores the aesthetic potential of moving with and in pain. “My film invites the audience into a space where dance and time might inform and transform the ways they understand pain,” she said. “I’m very interested in all the many different imaginative possibilities offered when people encounter my work.”

In collaboration with the Chicago Park District, Synapse Arts will also present Mural Dances, a series of original dances this summer celebrating three Chicago neighborhoods: Pilsen, Kenwood and Rogers Park. Featuring professional, local dancers and musicians, these free, outdoor performances will take place on July 17 at Barrett Park, Aug. 21 in Jessie “Ma” Houston Park and Sept. 18 at Loyola Park.