Extensions Dance presents its 2010 Showcase this May 29 at 6:30 PM at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts. It marks the completion of an exceptionally successful year for the Company, including most recently an astonishing set of awards at the American Dance Association Chicago Regional.
Choreography is one of those arts that is especially difficult to master, because it requires so many different resources for its development. Dancers, music, costumes, lighting, and some place to stage the performance make a challenging list of components. Yet rarely is it creativity or competence in the development of these components that most challenges new choreographers (well, most choreographers). It’s the mastery of the process.
The title of this article is the second half of the title of one of the best descriptions of choreography I’ve ever read. Roslyn Sulcas wrote a year-end article in the New York Times summarizing the most memorable performances she had seen during the year. The article is called “Leading Bodies, Stirring Imaginations”, and it begins with a superb description of the art of choreography:
"CREATING a dance involves much more than inventing steps for dancers. It needs a judicious eye for visual and spatial effect, a sense of timing and an instinct for building attention, for varying the mood and creating an overall theatrical arc that draws an audience into the world of the dance. Thinking about my favorite dance watching moments of the year, I realized that they all involved a sense of wonder at the skill with which the choreographers had woven these elements into a whole, making every aspect of a dance feel not just necessary, but inevitable."
Despite the importance of music in almost all dance creation, the world of dance and the world of music are very different. They are different cultures, different economies, often different classes. In my experience, though, the most significant differences are actually the result of differences in perception.
For most of its professionals and for most of its audience, choreography is essentially a visual art, and dancers and choreographers are primarily visual in their perceptions. They react intensely to music, but often as texture more than as composition, the way a fashion designer perceives fabric. Although profoundly inspired by some music, they often perceive it almost as color, but rarely as artistic structure, much the same way that a painter perceives light.
The process of choreography is variable and complex, and several projects ‘ohana Dreamdance has done in the past year, along with the Tenth Anniversary of Thodos Dance Chicago’s New Dances, makes this a good time to talk about that process. Extensions Dance Company, who’s 2010 Showcase is on Saturday, May 29 at the Ruth Page Center For the Arts, will be performing Lizzie MacKenzie’s work “Time Now”, set to two ‘ohana Dreamdance tracks, “Time Now” and “Some Time”. We’ve just finished the choreography mix of our track “What Was Beyond” for Shayna Swanson’s brilliant aerial choreography and performance. Finally, Mollie Mock and Jeremy Blair’s enchanting work “Reflect”, set to our track “Hidden”, premiered at New Dances last year and has just completed it’s first year in the Thodos Dance Chicago repertoire.
But maybe I should explain how I got mixed up in all of this to begin with. I’m a record producer by trade, but like many mixer/producers, I’ve also spent a lot of time recording and mixing projects that I was not producing. Before the development of system-based recording, choreographers like Melissa Thodos had to find a recording studio to put together the music for their works, and that was my first exposure to the world of Dance.
Thodos Dance Chicago celebrates the tenth year of its New Dances series, probably the most successful of the many Dance Company-sponsored programs for the development of new choreography. It’s not uncommon for Dance companies to have a program that encourages their members and guest artists to choreograph in a special developmental program. The Thodos Dance New Dances approach is a much more far-reaching commitment than is the norm, though.
On Sunday, March 7, at 5 p.m.,Wheeling Orchesis will team with the Arlington Dance Ensemble for the 16th annual Dance for Life's Next Generation. This year's benefit, held in Wheeling High School's Sang Theater, will be emceed by Scott Corchin (WHS Orchesis alumni and on air personality at Kiss 103.5) and Lizzie MacKenzie (River North Dance Chicago). All proceeds will be donated to the Dance for Life Fund and The Children's Place Association, organizations dedicated to the support of those living with HIV/AIDS.
Diane Rawlinson is the founder and co-artistic director of its Dance For Life’s affiliated youth benefit concert (Dance For Life’s Next Generation) since 1995. This year’s benefit features alot of friends of All Over The Place Records -- aotpr artist D. Jeremy is an alumnus of Wheeling Orchesis, of which Diane is the director. Lizzie MacKenzie is co-hosting the event with Scott Corchin, who is featured in the D. Jeremy video for “Loser”, and plays on D. Jeremy’s track “Feel The Love”. Finally, the event features a performance by Extensions Dance Company, performing Lizzie MacKenzie’s new work “Time Now”, to an original ‘ohana Dreamdance score written by Dan Agosto and Johnny Nevin.
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.
I spent a really enjoyable -- and enlightening -- Sunday afternoon at Extensions Dance Company, getting to know the company who will be performing Lizzie MacKenzie’s new work TIME NOW, set to the original ‘ohana score that she and Dan Agosto and I have been working on for the past few months. (http://extensionsdance.com/index.html)
Extensions is a remarkable company; I walked in about fifteen minutes early, and that gave me the chance to watch Lizzie working with the dancers on the first section of “Time Now”. It was an impressive display of focus and commitment; Lizzie MacKenzie’s choreography is passionate in its detail, and these are fast-paced, dynamic details, uncompromising in their demand for technique and co-operation. So it wasn’t surprising to see a company that Lizzie founded displaying the same intense focus that she herself is known for. It also wasn’t surprising because I’ve seen Extensions perform several times, and their performances always have a graceful fire that I find unique.