Anyone who knows Lizzie Mackenzie's choreography is probably surprised that she's not better known as a choreographer. She's widely known as a truly exceptional dancer, from her performances with Giordano Dance Chicago and then with River North Dance Chicago, as well as her many guest appearances in high profile special events. She's also well known, especially in the world of preprofessional dance, as the founder and artistic director of Extensions Dance Company, one of the most successful and respected preprofessional dance companies in the country. When she does choreograph, the results are often spectacularly rich; she combines an ability to create beautiful and engaging movement designs with an unusually effective understanding of concert dance architecture.
That's why the news that Lizzie MacKenzie was creating a full evening original work would have been promising no matter what, but to hear that it was going to be for Chicago Dance Crash made the whole idea even more exciting, and much more intriguing. The work is titled ...and sometimes we were lost, but always we became found, and it runs for two weekends, December 6-7 and 13-14 at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts in Chicago.
MacKenzie is thoughtful in everything she does, but especially in everything that has anything to do with human connection; it's one of the reasons why she's so successful as a teacher. That same thoughtfulness, that same willingness to consider new ideas and actively engage them until she can work them into all of the other things she does, also gives her an exceptional ability to learn, and to embrace new possibilities. Around the time that Chicago Dance Crash first approached her about working with the Company, she had recently discovered, and was hugely impressed by a lecture by a University of Houston professor named Brené Brown.
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 aotpr.com'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.
You may not know it, but yes, you are; Chicago Dance Crash has the whole thing worked out. On Saturday February 9th they're presenting their popular annual concert Duets for My Valentine at Chicago's Athenaeum Theatre, in which they somehow manage to combine everything that's romantic with just enough that isn't to construct the ideal Valentine's Day program. Duets for My Valentine is an evening length composition in the diversity of dance, with eleven different dance companies and independent artists each presenting a duet somehow related to that very broad, promising, and potentially difficult subject, romance. "Every single piece is about relationships," says Mark Hackman, who first got Dance Crash involved with the annual show three years ago, "but they can be all over the place. Some are about love, some are about break-ups, but each of them has its own take on the idea because of the wide range of dance that's in the program."
It's a very creative approach, and it makes for a really complete evening, because of the way it deconstructs the challenges of putting a successful dance concert together. Instead of trying to bring an elusive coherence into a concert made from different concepts and different subjects, the focus in Duets is so clear that it opens up an incredibly rich range of other possibilities. Since their audience knows that they'll be seeing the same form, a duet (with a couple of creative variations), in works built around a single, although endless theme, Dance Crash can bring together a whirlwind tour of styles and talent and still keep it whole. "Because we have access not only to concert dance companies but to so many other artists and styles," Hackman explains, "we can give people who don't usually see dance concerts something they can really get into."
Opposites attract, and not just in the ways that you've probably heard about. Beyond the stereotypes of romance and the science of electromagnetism, there's a thread that runs through some of the most innovative kinds of creativity and reflects much the same idea.
One of the things that often characterizes creative minds is the ability to see, and weave together, ideas that everybody else would see as unconnected, incompatible, or even contradictory. Sometimes this is deliberate, like the way that a master chef may combine unexpected ingredients in some new way, but more often it's the result of an artist's inability to see things divided into categories the way others do, because the way they see is so much more inclusive. That's the way that Jessica Deahr sees the art of concert dance, and because she's just been named the new Artistic Director of Chicago Dance Crash, there are likely to be even more imaginative things coming out of that very creative Dance Company.
Deahr has been with Dance Crash since 2007, first as a guest artist, and since 2009 as a Company member. As a dancer, her range of interest, experience and expertise is itself a defiance of boundaries; her biography lists "contemporary, ballet, jazz, modern, hip hop, breakdance, ballroom, tap, and fusions of various styles", somehow leaving out her performances as an aerial artist. She's performed with artistically committed concert dance companies, and she's toured the world as a performer in events as different as USO shows and cruise liner entertainment (including being lowered on a silk rope, spinning, fifty or sixty feet above a swaying ship into an opening in the deck the size of a manhole cover).
Chicago Dance Crash brings a lot to a performance, and audiences see it right away. They bring a reputation for creative intensity that matches the loyalty of their large following, they bring a performance history that's backlit with superlative critical reviews, and they bring an outrageous range of multi-disciplinary talent that they somehow manage to fit onto one stage all at the same time. They pull grace from the long, dreamlike lines of ballet, excitement from the athletic defiance of acrobatics, and street-wise precision from the staccato body rhythms of hip-hop, and that's not even the hard part. Bringing all of that together is like a stroll in the park compared to what they try to do conceptually in their artistic approach to concert dance: they make careful, creative, compelling dance art to serve an inward and independent vision, but they never stop thinking about how their audience will like it.