Inspiration and Creativity: Dancemakers Inspired by Martha Graham

Melissa Bloch in The Leopold Group's "The Near Future".  Choreography by Lizzie

Creativity is an enchanting word; in the arts you could even say that it's a glamorous word. With its dreamlike promise of uncompromised originality, it conjures an alluring collage of romantic images, images that depict the drama of an individual's struggle to discover, and then construct from nothingness, something that has never been real before.

That's the movie version; in real life, real creativity is a lot more complicated than that. It's not less enchanting, not even less glamorous, but it's certainly a lot more complicated. Most of the time, creativity is more collaborative than it is individual and, to the gaping horror of working critics everywhere, true creativity is usually at least as derivative as it is original. Inspiration and creativity are so elusively interwoven that the most compelling and important new art is always a collaboration, perhaps unrecognized, with whatever past accomplishment made the present what it is. It's certainly that way in the art of dance, and especially in contemporary dance, because it's difficult to imagine how different the present might be if it had never been shaped by the creative accomplishments of Martha Graham.

Thodos Dance Chicago Presents New Dances 2013

Kyle Hadenfeldt, Emily Walen and John Cartwright in "Relativity" (Photo by Johnn

Although many Dance Companies now present a program at some point in their year that features choreography by the members of the Company, very few have done so for as long, and perhaps none do so with as much commitment and creativity as Thodos Dance Chicago. Thodos Dance's New Dances Choreography Series, described by Time Out Chicago dance writer Matt de la Peña as "one of the best in-house choreographic showcases", is in its thirteenth season, and on Friday and Saturday, July 19-20 at 7:30 PM, and again on Sunday July 21 at 5:00 PM, the series will feature nine new works in performances at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts in Chicago.

There are quite a few reasons why these programs are so uniquely effective. One of them is that Thodos Dance company members are hired as choreographers, not just as dancers. Because of Melissa Thodos' emphasis on the development of company members as choreographers, Thodos company members have the opportunity, and the experience, to put together a consistently eclectic and successful program, but that same emphasis on choreography among the dancers has another significant effect. New Dances is a uniquely collaborative phenomenon.

Manuel Vignoulle's "In a Box" at Chicago Repertory Ballet

Chicago Repertory Ballet's Spring Summer Performance

Chicago Repertory Ballet's Spring / Summer Performance is exactly the kind of concert that Artistic Director Wade Schaaf was talking about, right after founding the new Chicago based Company in 2012, when he described what the Company intended to do. Schaaf told that the Company's concerts would combine the individual voices of talented independent choreographers (that's the Repertory part) with a new approach to storytelling in dance (that's the Ballet part). Their Spring / Summer Performance at the Vittum Theater in Chicago will feature the Premiere of Schaaf's own one-act work The Rites of Spring, a re-imagined interpretation of Stravinsky's famous score on its one-hundredth anniversary, along with four works by a group of inventive independent choreographers: Jacqueline Stewart, Jessica Miller Tomlinson, Monique Haley and French choreographer Manuel Vignoulle.

The Years It Takes To Make a Moment: Pascal Rioult Premieres Iphigenia

RIOULT - On Distant Shores - Dancers Charis Haines and Michael S Phillips - Phot

Pascal Rioult is a choreographer, but he constructs his works from materials that very few others know how to find. Like an artisan with his own secret resources, he's the maker of a rich and complex cloth; he weaves moments in time from threads of imagination and makes them into Dances.

He's the Artistic Director of RIOULT Dance NY, the Company that he founded in 1994 after a successful career as a principal with the Martha Graham Dance Company. He's been making dances for years, complex, captivating, intensely musical works, quite often set to full symphonic scores that few contemporary choreographers would venture to explore. Rioult doesn't hesitate to do so, because he has an ability to balance the innate orchestral power of such music with an equally powerful sense of precision and innovation, and he sees no reason to stop there.

On Tuesday, June 4th he'll premiere his latest work, Iphigenia, when RIOULT Dance NY opens their New York Season. In eight performances that run through Sunday, June 9th, audiences at The Joyce Theater will have the chance to see his most recent alchemy unfold, a collaboration with composer Michael Torke, along with three other critically acclaimed works, On Distant Shores, Prelude to Night, and Bolero. The premiere of a new work by an imaginative choreographer, set to a new composition by an equally respected composer would be news enough, but in this case, where it all comes from is an even more singular story.

Jessica Deahr, Chicago Dance Crash and "The Cotton Mouth Club"

Monica Patzer and DanQwan Gibson in rehearsal for Chicago Dance Crash's "The Cot

Chicago Dance Crash is so accustomed to doing something new that even when they do something for the first time, it's like they've done it a lot already. It's a unique talent for an entire Dance Company to have, but the performers and staff who make up Dance Crash all seem to have a set of abilities --- audacity, imagination, and multi-disciplinary performance skills --- that make it possible for them to keep doing new things well.

Beginning Saturday, May 25 (there's no Friday performance the opening weekend because Dance Crash is on tour) and running for three weeks, Dance Crash is presenting their new full evening work The Cotton Mouth Club, choreographed by Crash's multi-talented Artistic Director Jessica Deahr and Robert McKee, who also performs the male lead in the work. Jessica Deahr tells's Johnny Nevin about how all of that creativity comes together when Crash converts Chicago's famous Biograph Theater (now The Victory Gardens Biograph Theater because it's part of the award winning Theater Company) into The Cotton Mouth Club.

The Phone Calls Debut Is Like a Surfer's Dream

The Phone Calls

The Phone Calls is a ten song invitation to hear one of the most difficult things you can try to do in music done really well; it's a mezmerizing tour through the art of writing and making a great instrumental song. The Phone Calls is the debut album by the band of the same name, a project put together by producer (and guitarist) Dan Agosto, and although Agosto mixes and produces in genres from metal to EDM to soundtrack, he's actually a guitar player before anything else. That has everything to do with why the ten songs on The Phone Calls can cover such a wide range of emotion and still play flawlessly together as an album. The whole idea is that the guitar is the voice of the song, and one of the reasons why a guitar, at least in the hands of somebody like Agosto, can be so effective as a melody lead is that it can say something just a little different each time you hear it.

"Guitar is my favorite instrument to play," Agosto says, "and it's easy for me to get simple ideas from inside my head onto a recording. From there anything is possible." The Phone Calls is a record of surf-guitar feelings and sounds, although from the first two tracks, both raging surf jams, the album travels through a thoughtful series of variations in mood and texture. "The idea for The Phone Calls is that the guitar is the lead instrument," Agosto explains, "Surf is definitely a style that lends itself to playing melodies on the guitar, especially on the lower strings. The distortion and echo effects that come to mind when I think of the sound of surf allow you to play things that can fill the space a vocalist would. It's a sound that was born from the instrument and just works."

Chicago Children's Choir and Paint the Town Red

Chicago Children's Choir has been defying the odds since they started, as a way to unite young people of different backgrounds, at the height of the Civil Rights movement. In 1956, the prospect of creating a successful organization that would teach and inspire children in a divided city to sing together, work together, and share with eachother everything that sharing music can bring seemed improbable at best. Chicago Children's Choir is still doing it, they're still defying the odds, and they're still inspiring and teaching and sharing.

On Wednesday, May 15 more than 3500 young people will celebrate Paint the Town Red: Inspiring Peace Through Song at the Pritzker Pavillion in Chicago's Millenium Park with a free concert, after which each of CC Choir's Neighborhood Choir Programs will continue the celebration with performances in public squares, community centers, and schools throughout the city. What they're defying now is the violence and danger that shatter so many young lives in so many communities. The idea of this concert is to give the young people who make up Chicago Children's Choir a chance to demonstrate their commitment "to making each of their communities a safer place to live and grow".

The free concert begins at 11 AM, and features guest performances by DJ Matt Roan, singer-songwriter Jay Adams, Chicago Children’s Choir Alumni The O’My’s, and Kevin Coval, Co-Founder of Louder than a Bomb: The Chicago Teen Poetry Festival.

Liaison: Chicago Tap Theatre, Tap Olé, and Tapage Bring It Together

Chicago Tap Theatre, Tap Olé and Tapage Present "Liaison"

Of all the intriguing Dance performances that anybody is going to put together this year, the one that Chicago Tap Theatre is presenting on Saturday April 20 just has to be one of the most promising. The much admired Chicago ensemble is joining with two of Europe's most imaginative tap companies in a program called Liaison; the whole idea is to show a one-night only audience at the Athenaeum Theatre just how many remarkable ways rhythm, movement, music and imagination, in other words tap dancing, can brighten a night.

Chicago Tap Theatre will share the Athenaeum stage with two very different groups of dancers, Tapage, from Toulouse, France, and Tap Olé from Barcelona, and perhaps the best short explanation of why this concert has so much to offer comes from Tap Olé's website, where the Company shares this insight: "... fusion is a universal language, which combines the creation of new and exciting sensations". Fusion is at the heart of Liaison, because the three Companies are not just presenting their own uniquely imaginative ideas of what tap dancings is, and is becoming, they also perform together, with live music, in a number of the works.

Pamela Fernandez and What a Song Can Be

Pamela Fernandez (Used with permission)

Pamela Fernandez is known as a singer, all around the world, even though almost none of the uncounted people who have danced, moved and who-knows-what-else to her tracks have any real idea who she is. A lot of people even know her name, especially the DJs, producers and labels who have played, remixed, resampled and rereleased her legendary vocals; they all know that Pamela Fernandez' voice can make a track and pack a dancefloor, but they probably know something else about her too. Most of the people who sampled and rereleased that legendary vocal probably know that Pamela Fernandez never got paid. She's been called "one of the most sampled voices in electronic music since 1992, although never credited in any of the releases", but almost none of the many thousands of clubgoers who have danced to her voice all over the world are likely to know that. What they do know is that she's a soulful, powerful, make-you-move singer.

See for Yourself: Michelle Dorrance, BAM! and "Push Past Break"

Michelle Dorrance (Copyright Ian Douglas)

Michelle Dorrance goes to a lot of places, and every time she does, she brings something. Just about anybody who sees her perform, checks out her choreography, or just reads about her in a magazine sees it right away, but If you asked every single one of them what it is that Michelle Dorrance brings, what exactly she has, you might never get the same answer twice. There are so many dimensions, so many perspectives, so many moving parts to everything she's doing that everybody sees it a little differently; she brings a lot to the art of sharing her art.

Surprisingly, it's possible to not even know about Michelle Dorrance if you don't know anything about the rich past, and richer present, of tap dancing; If you do, though, you really can't miss her. She's the one with the rocket-quick step, the stylish look and the bass-player-in-a-rock-band steadiness, the one on the cover of Dance Magazine, on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon with STOMP and Paul Simon, at The Blue Note Jazz Festival and at the United Kngdom's prestigious Royal Variety Performance. She's known both as a dancer and as a choreographer, as someone who can pull from the past while she pushes the future, and she's the only tap choreographer the Princess Grace Foundation has ever recognized with a Choreography Fellowship.

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