Extensions Dance: How Artists Compete

Extensions Dance
Extensions Dance

Extensions Dance, the Company founded and directed by Lizzie MacKenzie for exceptionally dedicated young dancers, would be what is normally referred to as a “preprofessional company” -- I think I’ve used that term in an earlier article, and it’s certainly accurate. None of these dancers are professional in the dictionary sense, where the most basic definition of “professional” means “to be compensated monetarily for work performed.” The term “preprofessional” actually has a very positive implication in the dance world, because it implies a level of commitment and ability in the company members that is characteristic of someone who will dance professionally.

I went to see Extensions Dance at the American Dance Awards competition at Governors State University last Saturday, and I’ve never seen a more professional demonstration (although that’s true every time I see this company anywhere, in rehearsal or in performance).

I saw them perform Lizzie’s work Time Now --- the score of which is the ‘ohana Dreamdance track Time Now (Mackenzie Choreography Mix) (iTunes link) (Amazon link), as well as No Coincidence with Max Perkins and Natalie Pearson, Hide and Seek with Jaime Borkan and Miranda Borkan, and the full ensemble work View From Here . Their performances showed the same crystalline focus that I always see in Extensions, the same flowing elegance that all of Lizzie’s choreography seems to have.

The only difference was that this was “competitive” dance. You would never have known it, if you had only seen Extensions perform, because they always perform the same way -- with complete commitment to the art they’re expressing. But I knew it was a competition because I’d seen the mind-numbing schedule at the ADA website (141 performances over two days), and because I was sitting in an auditorium with dancers from all of the other companies and schools in the competition, with a huge ADA logo on the stage behind the dancers. The performances followed breathlessly one after another, each introduced by a numeric announcement from the panel of judges (”Number 267, Production Modern Competitive” for “Time Now”) who sat at a table in the front of the audience.

Some of my favorite, and most characteristic Extensions moments (to take nothing away from their sparkling performances) were actually when they weren’t on stage. When I walked in to Governors State, not at all sure where to go, I barely noticed a company of dancers grouped on the floor in the middle of a large lobby, impressively dressed in company warm-ups, stretching and rehearsing. I was walking right by them before I recognized everybody in Extensions. As the afternoon went on I watched them rehearse to an iPod docking station, oblivious to a hundred possible distractions, as if they were in dress rehearsal at Lincoln Center. Once, when the iPod gave out in the middle of a piece, they immediately began counting out the choreography without missing a beat (and certainly without missing a step).

My general impression is that artists don’t compete. I’ve always thought that excess competitiveness suggests a lack of imagination. I love competition in many forms (now including dance), but it’s too bad when anyone gets hypnotized into thinking that a single numerical ranking (who came in first, what’s number one) is evidence of anything truly important. I like competition best when people compete like Extensions does -- where you can’t do anything very different, because you’re always focused to the best of your professional ability, anytime you’re performing. Rehearsal, guest appearance, big contest, at home practising on your own, doesn’t matter. A pro is a pro.

Extensions Dance Company presents their 2010 Showcase on Saturday, May 29, 2010 at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 North Dearborn Street, Chicago, IL 60618.

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