This weekend marks a major milestone for the Evanston Dance Ensemble (EDE) as they celebrate their quadricentennial anniversary with “Silver Lining: Celebrating 25 Years of Dance,” a review of popular selections from the company’s long presentation history.
Choreographers include founder Bea Rashid, artistic director Christina Ernst, Keesha Beckford, Laura Berman, Julie Cartier, Mike Gosney, Elijah Richardson, Enid Smith, and Allison Kurtz Volkers. This collection of work dates to the company’s very beginning and leads all the way up to present day, a good reason to get out of the city and head over to the Josephine Louis Theater on the Northwestern University campus, March 18 & 19, at 7:30pm with a matinee on Saturday, the 19th at 2pm.
In 1994, dance educator and choreographer Bea Rashid opened the doors to the Dance Center Evanston, a large dance studio located just north of the Chicago city limits. After a few years, Rashid felt a deep, inner pull to create new work and found herself surrounded by capable and competent young dancers, products of the adept training they had received at the hands of Rashid and notable instructors from Chicago and abroad. “I was seeing students that were growing and learning,” said Rashid in a recent phone interview with seechicagodance.
“We were ready for more, a deeper choreographic and performance experience; and I was also interested in collaborating with other Chicago professionals.” Rashid realized that the dance company had to become its own non-profit organization, because the school could no longer sustain the company and pay all of their professional artists/collaborators.
For “Silver Linings,” Rashid has chosen a piece titled, “Dear Prudence,” a cover of the Lennon/McCartney song by Lisa Lauren. “It’s about the idea of needing times where you must be internal and within yourself,” said Rashid, “and times of opening and being available to those around you in [the] community.”
Rashid presents only one number for the evening despite having a history of creating work, and that seems in line with the philosophy behind “Dear Prudence,” having the wisdom to know when to give to others, and when to keep something for yourself.
In 2020, Rashid handed over the reins of artistic director to then co-artistic director and longtime contributor Christina Ernst, the type of thing that would seem to be bitter-sweet under the best of circumstances. “The future is really in the hands of Christina Ernst right now,” said Rashid, “She’s a very creative artist and has a huge history herself, so I think that she will bring really creative ideas.”
Ernst’s creativity can be seen in “Unbreakable,” an original work by Ernst and collaborator Sam Watson from 1987, with an original score by Richard Woodbury made up of the sounds of glass and performed by eight dancers doing unexpected things with real glass objects. “It’s about relationships,” said Ernst. Like grains of sand being melted down, “life is made out of moments and settings, and comes together to become this ongoing thing.” Ernst breaks with a popular taboo, admitting that “dancing with glass is not usually expected, so there is… quite a bit of risk involved.”
Another work in the program by Ernst, “So Lovely,” is a romantic duet that has balletic elements, but incorporates too many other disciplines and styles to be labeled. Ernst describes it as “just movement.”
A work by Enid Smith, titled “45 Kisses,” is based on her experience participating in a small-town high school prom where dates were decided by raffle, but takes on a new meaning after a slight alteration in the genders of the dates. “It’s interesting, because [“45 Kisses”] was originally done with a male and female cast, and now it’s all-female,” said Smith. “There was originally a romantic component to the piece, and I was totally open to keeping that. It was an interesting conversation with the kids—with all the stuff going on with gender identity and gender roles—the kids had some input on what they were comfortable keeping and how do you take this romantic duet between a man and a woman and set it on two women and what does it mean.”
Choreographer Keesha Beckford revives a work titled, “They Told Us To Wait,” which premiered in 2017 and was inspired by “our political situation that arose in 2016.” It’s about people reawakening after “being lulled into submission.” It is a testament to the company’s longevity, and dedication to its audiences not to shy away from important social and political topics.
A piece by choreographer Elijah Richards, titled “Ressurgimento” (Portuguese for resurgence), is a response to the stress of self-imposed quarantine. Drawing on feelings of isolation and loneliness, Richards describes the experience as ultimately positive, saying, “This was my experience being in that dark area of my mind, then being encouraged by friends and family to start living life…I found it important to showcase [the dancers] as a community instead of individuals.” This sentiment is echoed in a recent expansion, the creation of ede2, a second company with the goal of touring to community venues in underserved areas.
“I have tremendous respect for all the choreographers,” said Rashid, “When I first started the ensemble, I envisioned it as something that I wanted to do in collaboration; it was never something that I wanted to do alone. I really enjoy the collaborative process. I feel that every production that the ensemble has ever done is better through collaboration. For me, surrounding myself with other talented artists is what really grew this ensemble.”
Rashid’s humility belies the progress made by EDE and Dance Center Evanston, which also opened a midsize dance and music venue next to the dance studio. It’s not too late to get in on the action, or to support an institution with roots as deep as this one. It’s said that “all that glitters is not gold.” This weekend in Evanston, what shines brightest is silver.
“Silver Lining: Celebrating 25 Years of Dance” performs Friday and Saturday at 7:30pm, with a matinee on Saturday at 2pm, at the Josephine Louis Theater on the Northwestern University - 20 Arts Circle Drive in Evanston. Tickets are $15 for students and $25 for adults and can be found by clicking the event below.