Making Art for an Audience: Chicago Dance Crash Starts the Revolution

Chicago Dance Crash (Photo by Johnny Nevin for aotpr.com)

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.

In much of the contemporary dance world (and in most other arts as well), the idea that a creative artist can actually consider what an audience will enjoy and still be true to their own vision is almost unimaginable; what makes Chicago Dance Crash more than a little revolutionary is that they don't even think it's a contradiction. "We're an arts organization that tries to be entertaining," says Mark Hackman, co-founder of the Company. "A lot of people believe you're supposed to have an honest voice and not care what people think, but we actually include that in the creative process."

Their creative process is as complicated as any, because of the incredible range of movement possibilities that can come into play. They emphasize three broadly different talent sets, which Hackman describes as ballet, hip-hop and acrobatics, and one of the reasons their performances resonate so strongly is that everyone in the Company is capable in all three areas. "When we find dancers for the Company," Hackman explains, "they'll usually be really strong in one of the three areas, and then we'll train them in the other two." The result is a palette of possibilities and colors that most choreography can never find, let alone arrange and blend into a captivating work of art.

Bringing all of it together is an exceptional challenge, and it requires equal parts of vision and versatility in a choreographer. "If we have a hip-hop dancer, a ballet artist, and an acrobat, to set something on them you have to be versed in all of those styles," says Hackman. "It's a lot more challenging to choreograph." That's why the Company assembled an especially talented and carefully chosen group of choreographers for their Fall Concert this week at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts in Chicago. Hackman and Jessica Deahr choreographed the opening work, "I Didn't Realize I Wasn't Minding My Own Business", and the first act includes works by Daniel Gibson ("Reminiscing On My Future"), Lindsey Rhoads ("We Deal With It In Different Ways") and Nick Pupillo (Eins). Stephanie Martinez premieres "They All Seem Sweet" to open the second act, which includes works by Rich Ashworth ("The Social Element") and Jon Lehrer, whose "Morphic Slip" closes the show with an ethereally astonishing visual journey.

Together, it's a deep and enchanting artistic collage, a meeting of minds and widely diverse methods. By the time Dance Crash puts a show together, it doesn't really seem to have much to do with the wide range of their talent and inspiration, or with the careful philosophical approach they use to make their art. In completely different ways, but with a remarkable consistency, the choreographic architecture of each work and multiple talents of each dancer end up morphing into something unique and continuously whole.

Despite, or more likely, because of their commitment to every interwoven detail of an unusually complex process, a Dance Crash performance can fashion all of that innovation and imagination into something an audience can actually see, appreciate, and enjoy. When the curtain comes up on a Dance Crash perfomance, showtime is all about the people who come to share what they made, which is just the way they planned it. Art for an audience --- it could start a revolution.



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