Free For All

I’ve been a little absent from blogging enjoying some free time in the some of the last weeks of summer. But it’s good to be back! It was nice to enjoy some time in Chicago and some time away. (As you’ll see on my instagram, including some time eating donuts in Madison :D). And now, I’ve saved up some good posts for you all about the fabulous free festivals at the end of the summer.
Chicago Dancing Festival happens every year in late August. The festival brings together a remarkable mix of world premiers and classic pieces from chicago and around the world for free.
This festival is a highlight for me and this season, I grabbed some dinner to eat in the stand by line and eagerly entered the Opening Night at the Harris Theater. (One day I will crack the code to reserving tickets in advance!)
One of my favorite experiences was last year seeing Martha Graham company perform “Errand in the Maze.” I had seen a video of the performance before and I was in awe to see it performed live. These types of experiences make the festival a masterpiece in and of itself.
Chicago Dancing Festival at the Harris
Does the festival really fulfill its mission of expanding accessibility?
Incredible festival and the Pritzker Pavilion helps a lot in expanding the audience, but more could be done in terms of accessibility. It should be free, it’s great that it’s free! Many people who can’t afford to see these world renowned companies get a chance to do so without charge. I couldn’t help but notice though that my fellow dance attendees seemed to be predominantly an older crowd of fancy dressed people.
It takes clear dedication to get your butt in a seat. Even showing up an hour and a had before the show, we were slightly nervous that we wouldn’t get in. Has the festival overgrown itself?! I called the MCA and they said they “sold” out of tickets within the first hour.
Expanding beyond venues just in the loop would be incredible for accessibility. Chicago Human Rhythm Project had a wonderful Stomping Grounds Festival that toured with different Chicago Rhythmic Dance companies to cultural hubs all over the city. CHRP also premiered a work at the Chicago Dancing Festival this year continuing this work. They collaborated with Trinity Irish Dance and Ensemble Espanol for a piece on Thursday night of the festival. Chicago Dancing Festival celebrates collaboration and exchange in ways that promote this type of work by bringing it to the public. I just wonder what a next step to expand further would be, location expansion would be impactful.
Program
Now to the dancing…
I was glad I saw the opening night which had a variety of visiting troupes. One of the great aspects of the festival is the combination of exposing the work of local companies and bringing in visiting companies that it might be difficult or rare to see otherwise.
Ballet Hispanico stole the show for me on Opening night. Their piece was entitled “El Beso”  which explored the intricacies of a kiss. El Beso showed the value of cultural exchange with Spanish elements in the dance by Spanish choreographer Gustavo Ramírez Sansano. The interactions between the dancers were poignant and original. My favorite was a duet between two men in which they share a passionate kiss. (It was a triumph to see this homosexually charged duet, after my last post!) The set piece in this number divided the stage using a Spanish lantern with fringe to divide a portion of the stage. The dancers played with the private/covered space behind the lantern and then how their relationship changed once they were fully exposed out of the lantern. Stunning!
 Spanish lantern<–this example gives you an idea of the style…
A few of the dances shown toyed with the boundaries of the stage, stretching just beyond sight. In addition to the “lantern” duet, in “El Beso” dancers fully stretched to the wings fluidly dancing while dipping behind the curtains.
Heaven on One’s Head by Pam Tanowitz began with a screen raised halfway bisecting the dancers body. With the head “in the clouds” so to speak. Dancers were partially masked by curtains throughout the performance by the screen and then off in the wings. The piece featured live music from the chicago philharmonic. It challenged conventions and did something beautiful with perception that pushed past boundaries.
Melissa Toogood and Dylan Crossman in Heaven on One’s Head. © Christopher Duggan.

Melissa Toogood and Dylan Crossman in Heaven on One’s Head. © Christopher Duggan.

The ancient tradition of paper cutting resembled the set of Ballet HIspanico’s piece and played nicely with the theme of seen/unseen. The cultural exchange that happens with the Chicago Dancing Festival is one of its greatest strengths and papercutting has roots in cultures all over the world.
Papercutting has roots in Japan, but many other countries and cultures around the world have their own practices of papercutting. One of my favorite examples is the papercuts at O’Hare by Qiao Xiaoguang that feature scenes of Japan melding into scenes of chicago. The originals are at the Field Museum, but they are so fitting at the airport where different cultures come into contact.
City Windows at O'Hare

City Windows at O’Hare

I decided to try my hand at it. I thought of paper snowflakes and what is happening behind the negative space. I was pretty excited about the pattern in this adult coloring book I got. When I was younger, I wanted to be a “professional color-er” and color artists pictures (actually a real job, but not called that obviously). Here was my chance! It was actually challenging to decipher the patterns and decide how to choose which colors where and where they repeat.
I’m pleased with how it turned out. The colors show a fusion of different people coming together, but some are seen and others, left out of view. Anytime a festival of art is put on, many might enjoy it, but there will be some on the outskirts, some left unseen. The papercut overlay also represents a shared culture through this art form adapted in many cultures around the world. Unity and Inclusion are the goal, but the road to fully achieve it is difficult.
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