A light in the darkness: Winifred Haun and Dancers open "Moonstone Season" with new work: "When Day Comes"


There is no doubt that life was hard during the COVID pandemic, however, dancers found a way to create work and keep moving. Notable and emerging artists continued to produce work during the lockdown phase, often dealing with the topics of isolation and loneliness, but also optimism and hope. But how might the creative process be affected if the same work were created during and after the height of the COVID pandemic?

One answer appears in “When Day Comes,” a new work by Winifred Haun. The first part was created a year ago, and the second and third parts this year. The official premiere is set for Nov. 5 at the Athenaeum as part of Winifred Haun and Dancers’ 25th anniversary “Moonstone Season.” Other works in the program include retrospectives of some of Haun’s award-winning work (“Bento,” “Promise” and “I am (not) this body”) and “Love Not Me,” a solo choreographed for Haun by Randy Duncan, now performed by Summer Smith.

Although the premiere date for “When Day Comes” is still weeks away, See Chicago Dance was invited to a special preview of the work.

The piece begins with a barely visible body (Julia Schafer) lying motionless beneath a long, pale pink river of fabric. A lithe figure (Summer Smith) pulls back the fabric and essentially births the stationary body into life. This new human blinks and squints at the light and studies the earth under her feet by scooping up handfuls and blowing them away. But she, too, is blown away as six new bodies flow, tumble and glide into view, like a rockslide in slow motion. Resembling a Greek goddess, Smith twirls her celestial ribbon and places them all under her control. The fabric wraps around Smith as she performs a corkscrew turn, the result of which threatens to tie the hypnotized assemblage behind her into a giant human knot.

This first part, choreographed during the pandemic, contains themes of confusion, chaos and conformity. The second part, choreographed after the height of the pandemic, shows signs of cracks in the up-to-now melancholy façade. The new-human breaks free from the goddess’ control and goes on a journey, possibly to track down answers to existential questions about the world and her place in it. She encounters a saltatorial trio of dancers who bound back and forth in a tight, side-by-side formation to the song, “I’ll Take You There,” performed by the Staple Sisters. Although the trio all smile at the lyric “smiling faces,” the new-human onlooker’s expression remains stoic and unconvinced.

Her journey continues… but another human landslide threatens to engulf her. To the sound of cracks, beeps and audio feedback, the new human narrowly escapes a prison made of static bodies by climbing over them and leaping to safety.

Next, she encounters two lovers (Jade Hooper and Vernon Gooden) performing a duet to the song, “Fever,” performed by Peggy Lee. The pair engage in a telekinetic power struggle. They push, pull and spin each other with contactless waves of their hands. But the onlooker still shows little to no reaction—the meaning of life yet eludes her.

Finally, the work comes full circle as the new-human returns to the goddess, who lifts her off the ground and presses her against her chest in an explosive embrace. Like a child taking their first steps, the new human tentatively walks across the flattened backs of the company of dancers. As with a newborn still attached to an umbilical cord, she holds onto the long, pink fabric in one hand as she takes her first shaky steps towards a new tomorrow.

Haun succeeds at weaving together dark themes, a fantasy narrative and her own sardonic wit to create a story highly open to interpretation. Following the performance there was a brief feedback session. Each member of the small audience interpreted the work differently, yet each interpretation made sense. “When Day Comes” is ambiguous enough so that anyone can see themselves in the shoes of the protagonist; and yet, it challenges preconceived notions of who we are and why we do what we do, a progressive dialectic of consciousness.

If you are a Winifred Haun and Dancers fan, then this work will not disappoint. And if you are not familiar with Haun’s work, perhaps you owe it to yourself to discover the reason why Haun and Dancers have been one of the jewels of Chicago dance for twenty-five years.

“When Day Comes” premieres on Nov. 5 at 7pm at the Athenaeum Center for Thought and Culture, 2936 N. Southport. For more information and tickets visit WinifredHaun.org.

Dancers: Jade Hooper, Vernon Gooden, Summer Smith, Julia Schaeffer