Chicago is known for its people and the way in which we create our own communities, make things out of nothing, our ingenuity and innovation. Chicago’s dance community has a long history of creating its own spaces where artists can experiment and commune together. Pivot Arts Festival—a ten day celebration of contemporary performance in theater, dance, music and genre-defying works—kicks off this weekend and runs through June 9th with a long roster of performances by local and international artists including: Erin Kilmurray, Ayako Kato, Brittany Harlin, BraveSoul Movement and the Chicago Fringe Opera, Ahmed Moneka, Jesse LaVercombe, and Seth Bockley, Issac Gomez and Nancy Garcia Loza, Jenni Lamb and Ethan Parcell, Po’Chop/Jenn Freeman and Courtney Mackedanz.
Looking back over its seven-year history, Pivot Arts founder and curator Julieanne Ehre said that the festival has honed in on its mission in the past year to present works and artists that are “multidisciplinary, forward-thinking and genre-defying… that add to the vibrancy of [Chicago’s] cultural scene.” With many of the works being world premieres, Ehre mentioned that audiences can expect “imaginative and innovative [experiences] that create an atmosphere that feels like you’re being immersed in this other world… It’s not just about sitting back and passively watching, but also actively being engaged in the work,” she said.
Artists and companies like BraveSoul Movement and the Chicago Fringe Opera (CFO) will be premiering unique collaborations such as “The Rosina Project” a “hip-hopera” that reimagines Rossini’s opera The Barber of Seville. This fresh collaboration – originally developed as part of Pivot Arts’ Incubator Program for professional artists in partnership with Loyola University—mixes hip-hop emcees, live DJs and street dance-artists to tell the story of female empowerment and interracial friendship as an immersive house party.
Kelsa Robinson, co-founder and co-artistic director of BraveSoul Movement, said in an interview that the collaboration with Chicago Fringe Opera “began with the music.” George Cederquist, artistic director of CFO, noticed that the cadence found within classical opera music was similar to the cadence and drive found in rap and pop culture, and house music. Cederquist’s desire to connect opera to contemporary and diverse audiences led him to look for collaborators where dance was a central part of the project. “He was interested in audience interaction,” said Robinson, “breaking the fourth wall, and making the work a [kind of] dance party. He visited the B-Series at [Columbia College Chicago] where he was inspired by the lack of ‘audience as spectator.’ [This] became an important part of the show.”
This remix of the original opera is contemporized with a little bit of Chicago flavor not only by mixing classical opera with hip hop sounds, but also rewriting two of the original characters. Rosina, the typical damsel-in-distress, replaces Figaro as the central heroine played by Chicago-native and emcee, Pinqy Ring. Many influential names in Chicago’s hip-hop community are also involved in the writing, choreography, and music production, including Anyi Ahlation, Daniel “Bravemonk” Haywood, DJ Oliver Fade and beatboxer Yuri Basho Lane. “George was really concerned about authenticity from the very beginning, wanting it not to feel like a cheesy, outsider version of hip-hop, and [it’s been] successful in doing that just by the people who are involved,” said Robinson.
Ehre shared that Pivot Arts Festival’s seventh year is about curating the works that she is most excited about, works that deeply align with Pivot Arts’s mission. “I think that in Chicago it’s really vital that there are spaces for artists who are not just doing ‘traditional’ works. There needs to more organizations like Pivot Arts that are supporting artists who are multi-genre and multidisciplinary.” Robinson echoes this sentiment, saying that she is most excited about gathering together such “a large body of artists who have never necessarily worked together, [to] create something totally unique and never done before, and see it come to life on stage.”
The Pivot Arts Festival runs May 31 to June 9 in various venues. Tickets are free-$25, available by clicking the event page below, or visiting pivotarts.org/festival.