Choreographer Profile

Jacqueline Stewart's "It's Not Enough To Close Your Eyes" at the A.W.A.R.D. Show

Grace Whitworth and Charlie Cutler in "It's Not Enough To Close Your Eyes"
Grace Whitworth and Charlie Cutler in "It's Not Enough To Close Your Eyes"

"Know Thyself" was Socrates' timeless advice for anyone hoping to understand the experience of life, and implied in his centuries-old wisdom is an understanding that our own awareness is an inevitable filter to everything we can know or be. Jacqueline Stewart explores this same idea in her new work "It's Not Enough To Close Your Eyes", which is part of the Joyce Theater Foundation's A.W.A.R.D. Show on Wednesday July 28 at 8PM at The Dance Center of Columbia College. Stewart includes an additional richness to her study of self-knowledge by placing it within the often-beautiful, always complex realm of relationship. If a relationship is the experience you share, who you are is fundamental to what you can be with or for another. How you learn to know yourself, to be challenged to look into yourself more deeply, is the study in light and movement that is "It's Not Enough To Close Your Eyes". It's a deeply textured work, an evolving story about the way that two people, each looking carefully into the other's perspective, begin to see themselves more clearly.

"It's Not Enough To Close Your Eyes" begins with the vivid image of a woman standing over a small, clear light, as if deep in the uncertain illumination of introspection. As the movement gradually broadens to include the more expansive motion of her partner --- her lover perhaps, but maybe her friend or even brother --- each of them becomes more occupied with an awareness of the other, and in so doing, with seeing themselves in the different light of what can be known together. Stewart alchemises space, movement and light, keeping the dancers very close to the illumination they share, as if that were the whole world.

Although set as a duet, somehow both stark and romantic, the interwoven intensity of two dancers reacting to each other and to a single, mysterious Fresnel light invokes a broader subject. "It's Not Enough To Close Your Eyes" is straightforward in its unadorned visual enchantment, but in its personal and intimate movement Stewart quietly implies all of the ways we might interact with, share with, and learn to know ourselves with someone else.

Choreographer Profile: Jacqueline Stewart

Choreographer Jacqueline Stewart
Jacqueline Stewart

Jacqueline Stewart’s choreography has an unusual depth, an edgy complexity that can be difficult to describe. It’s as if her work conveys some of the dimensions of multi-media productions, even without the presence of explicit multi-media elements. In fact, she is proficient in a variety of different media; she integrates her own video production, graphic arts and photography into a variety of projects, including the promotional developtment for JMT/JLS, her collaboration with Jessica Miller Tomlinson. (JMT/JLS
happens June 4th and 5th at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts in Chicago.) Even when her work does not include multi-media elements, you can almost see this perspective in things like her inventive sense of balance-in-movement, or in the intriguingly creative titles for her choreographic works.

Choreographer Profile: Jessica Miller Tomlinson

Photo of Jessica Miller Tomlinson

Jessica Miller Tomlinson’s choreography has attracted an increasingly dedicated following over the past few years; her 2006 work “Forget What You Came For?”and last year’s “Architecture: Splintered and Cracked” were both commissioned for the Thodos Dance Chicago New Dances series, and both were subsequently added to the Company’s repertoire. This June, Jessica and Jaqueline Stewart will present a special two-night production of their own works at JMT/JLS (June 4-5 at the Ruth Page Center For the Arts, Chicago), where Jessica will premiere a new work entitled “Let Me In”.

Choreographer Profile: Lizzie MacKenzie

The most revealing line in Chicago choreographer Lizzie MacKenzie’s biography as Artistic Director of Extensions Dance Company may be this one: “Lizzie spends most of her free time teaching and choreographing." The realization that this is what Lizzie MacKenzie would describe as “free time” does a lot to explain her astonishingly broad range of accomplishments.

Many successful choreographers have had accomplished careers as dancers, and many company artistic directors are also accomplished choreographers. Lizzie MacKenzie, however, is at least unusual, and may be unique, in that she continues to be a successful and highly-respected dancer with one of Chicago’s leading companies (River North Chicago Dance Company), while also working as a leading choreographer. In 2008, she won the prestigious Choreographer of the Year award from Dance Chicago, presented by the Cliff Dwellers Foundation, to follow up on her 2006 New Voice Outstanding Choreographer award.

Her choreography is always graceful and fluid, and one of its most compelling attributes is a remarkable sense of dynamic architecture. In fact, whenever possible, it’s good to see her works at least once from a balcony, because there is a moving structure to what she does that becomes really apparent when seen with a full view of the stage.

Interestingly, this ability to master overall structure may be more the result of a focus on detail than on preconceived design; her designs actually seem to result from the careful composition of individual movements. Watching her in rehearsal with Extensions Dance Company, I heard her make an observation that does a lot to explain the coherence, but also the fullness, of her choreography. “Everything has a reason.” And when you add all of those reasons together, the result is inspired choreography.

Lizzie MacKenzie’s newest piece, “Time Now” is an eight-minute piece set to an original composition by Chicago group ‘ohana. It’s currently in rehearsal with her own Extensions Dance Company, and will premiere this fall.

Choreographer Profile: Brock Clawson

Just got word of the launch of Chicago choreographer Brock Clawson’s new website (, designed by Akio Satoh) and it’s really worth checking out. It’s a really entertaining trip through the world of a new, but already well-respected independent choreographer. This is a remarkable profession; the work of a choreographer begins with a commission from a dance company, which leads to a process that combines the extremes of completely free-form creativity with an astonishing amount of disciplined hard work.

The really free-form part comes at the start of the process. When I’ve worked with Brock, it always begins with a call from a company that wants him to set a work for them (that’s dance language for “choreograph a new work”). Most recently these have been from ThodosDanceChicago (, for “Nine”, from the Houston Metropolitan Dance Company ( for “The Yawning”, and from Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago ( for “Give and Take”, all of which were uncompromised successes.

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