Ready for Valentine's Day?

Dance Crash's Chantelle Mrowka and Daniel Gibson (Photo by Johnny Nevin)

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."

Ironically, the very openness that makes the evening so popular with non-dance audiences is a big part of what attracts the dance artists themselves to the program. Lizzie Leopold, who is presenting an imaginatively unique duet in collaboration with Bread and Roses Productions' Josh Weckesser, is a prime example of the kind of creative talent that Duets for My Valentine attracts. As the Artistic Director of her own Company, Leopold Group, she's particularly aware of the intricacy of making any program work, let alone one this ambitious. "Chicago Dance Crash does an awesome job of curating this kind of thing," she observes, and a big part of the reason for that is their ability to bring to the program artists who are not only accomplished in a diversity of styles, but who are also willing to be creative with that diversity. Leopold's duet, for example, is actually choreographed for a single dancer, although there are in fact two people on stage; Leopold Group's Amanda Dye moves to both music and spoken word, as Weckesser reads the original poem that was the starting point for the work.

Wade Schaaf, Artistic Director of Chicago Repertory Ballet, brings a completely different texture to the program, reprising, and this time performing in, a duet with Danielle Scanlon that he originally created for the Company's debut concert last fall. Set to Edith Piaf's "La Vie en Rose", it's an immersion course in the language of romance, sweeping and elegant. "I thought that it would be a great pair for this concert," Schaaf says, "something romantic, and kind of balletic. Since there are going to be a lot of different companies with a lot of different aesthetics, I thought this would be ideal for this concert."

It may be that the mutual awareness, across such substantial differences in styles, of all of the artists who participate in the show is what really makes it so effective. Based on their own reputation for diversity, Dance Crash can bring together talent from so many different parts of the dance world that the variety and imagination of the evening is practically guaranteed. Beyond that though, there's an artistic excitement about the program that, not surprisingly, adds substantially to its reputation as great entertainment. Behind the scenes there's a communal, almost conspiratorial enthusiasm among those who make Duets for My Valentine work.

Jessica Deahr, Dance Crash's Artistic Director, says that along with all of the challenges of co-ordinating the massive undertaking that is Duets, there's another significant dimension to the process. "It's a really nice way to get to know all of the other companies in town," she says. "For us, besides the excitement of seeing what they bring to Duets, it's a great chance to enjoy what all of these other companies and artists are doing." From aerial to ballet and from hip hop to tap, there's a lot of different ways for two people to dance together. Modern, jazz, or new innovations that don't have a name yet, there's a lot of different ways that a choreographer and two dancers can make a movement story that shines a rich red light on the most colorful subject there is. The whole idea is actually kind of unlimited, but Duets for My Valentine is a real good place to start.

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