Hamilton: Melody and Narrative

Just in time for Independence Day, I was able to see the musical about America’s founding fathers. I finally got to be in “the room where it happens” last weekend! Yes, I got to see the Broadway hit Hamilton.

Continue reading


Dance Theatre of Harlem: Return

I’m still feeling energized and thankful for a stunning production by Dance Theatre of Harlem at the Auditorium Theatre last weekend.

It’s the time of year for valuing the people in our lives. I’ve been having a relaxing time with family away from the city for Thanksgiving, but part of my heart is still at the Dance Theatre of Harlem student matinee with my students. Continue reading

Page to WebPage?

December always seems to fly by, doesn’t it?! This time of year I’ve been traveling quite a bit and not around as much for the fabulous Chicago performances this time of year. But I still found myself engaging with the arts through new media and the internet.

Technology really is changing the way we look at performing arts.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, you can’t have the arts without people. But there are so many ways technology is giving us more opportunities to be consumers of performing arts.

I’m examining  3 hot, recent examples that are changing the way we think about what performing arts should be.

What do you think has the most potential? What do you think the future holds?

  1. Performing Arts with Google

So this is really crazy to me. I went to open on new tab on google chrome and there, at the bottom of my screen, something like “click here to explore the performing arts.”

Thought #1- “Gosh, google analytics know me well!” Click! Thought number #2- “Yes! The internet is actually working to make performing arts accessible.”

Then I played with it for a bit and investigated more.

There weren’t many full length performances which I was really hoping for. But it was really lovely and a great foundation for what could be with buy-in from cultural giants around the world.

I watched ballet, I looked at archives, I went onstage at Carnegie Hall, I took a tour of the Kennedy Center all from my computer chair.

I was excited when on my travels, I got to take a tour of the Kennedy Center irl.

However, Continue reading

Seeing Eye to iPhone


Before Turkey Day, I went to another Thursday event at the Harris Theater, Mix at Six featuring Lucky Plush Productions.

The Mix at Six structure is interesting. Affordable, short performances on a weeknight so people can attend after work at 6pm. They build enthusiasm for the artist’s other full length performances at the Harris Theater.

A social event for young, hip artistic types that otherwise don’t have plans on a Thursday. It’s a smart move to increase audience awareness, but are there some flaws? But what about people who don’t work in the loop? Is the concept popular?

Seats were general admission, which would make it easy to invite friends at the last minute with tickets only $10 at the door. But, everyone at the performance fit on the orchestra level. Considering there are 3 balconies, it certainly wasn’t a full house.

I’m in full support of low ticket cost and promoting theatrical events to make them more accessible to the community. Mix at Six is an excellent test case to see what this type of series could do for a community. I think much smaller scale cities would see brilliant results from this type of program with not a lot of competition for a Thursday night slot. I’m curious to see what it looks like as the series continues.


Lucky Plush Productions seemed to be a great fit for the evening as well. I’ve wanted to see them perform for a while and admire their mission to create “work that is richly complex while also being broadly accessible.” It’s a challenge to strike that balance, which makes the troop especially intriguing in my mind.

Their work has a delightful fusions of dance with theatrical, comedic story arcs. I was impressed with the honesty of the performance.

Especially the second number, struck me as an inventively realistic critique of reality tv. A part that really stuck with me was one of the performers dancing with her phone between her ear and her shoulder all while carrying on a conversation.

We are drawn to watching one another in “real” form on tv and on stage. This is essential to performing arts, but also eery with technology observing our every move. Even the first piece “The Queue” set in an airport also had awareness of being watched as inherently important.

Lucky Plush reminds us that the performing arts are about being watched. And in our world full of technology, it’s trickier to define what it means to watch or be a consumer of performing arts. And they do so with an affable sense of humor mixed with a critical eye to deliver very entertaining work.


I’m a fan of this Lucky Plush clip from “Punk Yankees” in 2012    Watch it!

The pervasiveness of technology is used a lot as a theme these days. We are both drawn in and creeped out by all that the capability of the technology we use everyday. Especially for the arts, artists can use technology to help create/stage their work (youtube, garageband, vine etc.), but art can’t be done without humans at all. Different from the work of engineers, artists can’t be replaced by computers because their work is inherently humanistic. And that’s the important part.


I drew on this theme of technology and the ever watching eye. I recreated the iphone with signature background as a pencil drawing. We spend so much time staring at our phones like little zombies. I thought, what if the phone looked back at us? (…besides from the obviously creepy “periscope”-esque camera functions). So I added a subtle face in the stars peering back at the viewer.-

How much art is around us everyday that we don’t really see? How much art could there be around us if we were just looking in the right ways?

Lucky Plush shows the beauty, the humor and the poignancy of real life. When we engage with the world around us, art can be anywhere from an airport to the cell-phone in our pocket. Mark your calendar for their show Trip the Light Fantastic: The Making of SuperStrip at the Harris Theater on March 3!

If you can move, you can dance. If you can see, art is all around you.

Twyla Tharp. I had been looking forward to this 50th anniversary tour performance at the Auditorium Theatre for a while now!

One of the first texts I read in college was the introduction of Tharp’s book The Creative Habit. Just stepping into my own routine for the first time in my life, I thoroughly embraced her thoughts on rigor and routine in developing creative ideas. This text really was formative for me. So with this performance coming, I checked the book out from the library to grow closer to her thoughts on creativity and to what had enthralled me as a college freshman.

The performance

Even in the program notes, she lets us into her creative process yet doesn’t let the dance become overwrought with conceptual narratives. Dance is simply movement.
The Bach pieces had a exquisite balance of formal ballet influence mixed with signature “Twyla” moves. In contrast to the rigidity of ballet, they seem to be how the body wants to move. Especially the coupling. The pair work was innovative and fluid. There would be tight arabesques and then bodies swaying together at the hips, as if you popped into a Latin night club.
The conclusion tied together the piece and united the dancers in a circle. (Which called to mind this image of a Matisse painting, that was an influence to her (I read that after I saw it at intermission)). Free and jubilant. The dancers went through a journey and came back together, united in doing the choreography from the opening. The work came full circle. I also think it goes to show how powerfully visual images resonate in this piece.
Henri Matisse Dance II
 After intermission, Yowzie exploded in full, vibrant color.


RIka Okamoto

Twyla Tharp




Rika Okamoto is simply remarkable. It is clear watching her that she has worked with Twyla Tharp in diligent study. Something about the joy she exhibits and an indescribable nature of her movements reminds me of videos and photos of Twyla Tharp herself.

Check out this side by side. It really is remarkable how well she exhibits the style.

I simply couldn’t take my eyes off of her when she was on stage, particularly in Yowzie.

Lack of precision gave way to really show how individual dancers move. Even the bows were differentiated. I really think her work shows us about life as simple as it can be whole also hinting at the complexities of the relationships and the people around us. She lets her dancers be themselves, embody their character and life and then juxtaposes them together like a breakfast club of dance personalities.

What is the future of dance?

Especially in dance and classical music, today we start to expect robotic precision. Recording technology fights for our attention and the market for dance companies becomes even more elevated. During the performance, I thought about how great it is that this type of free-form performance can be sustained. But for how long? With video streaming and our dependence on technology, where is the place for live performance?

Perhaps grass-roots performance organizations can fight against this stigma of art-making being only reserved for the perfect.

I went to see The Luna Troop‘s dance concert the following night after I saw Twyla Tharp. Their mission is to include non-professional dancers and give them performance opportunities reconnect them to the joy of dance. Their age range spans 5 decades!
J. Lindsay Brown and dancers of Ensemble Espanol also graced the stage with Rogers Park High School dancers too. It was really inspiring to see these Chicago community organizations coming together
Twyla Tharp’s company is not the standard ballet troupe. The age range of dancers is wider and they are not forced to blend in with precise synchronization like a band of robot soldiers. Her work makes bounds to challenge what we think of as a professional dance group.
Seeing these two performances back to back, I felt delighted that a variety of dance groups can exist doing innovative work on a large scale and a small scale. (Keeping in mind this is Chicago and large, urban cultural hub) Though so many activities vie for our attention, dance is still something that is electrifying live and can move us at many different levels on precision, especially when love of the craft guides the movement.
Everyone can be an artist!
 Something beautiful about the world of technology that we live in is that we are given so many opportunities to get our art out there. Immediately iPhoneography came to mind when thinking of how to transfer the idea that art doesn’t have to be high-brow precise to be good art to visual art. We don’t need Michelangelo technique to capture a moment. We have cameras, filters, tilt shifts and ways we can make the art of everyday, fantastic with a device we carry around with us all the time.
There are even large scale awards and competitions. http://www.ippawards.com/ Not to mention instagram! @artofchi recently had a contest for the best scene of a chicago landmark taken in an innovative way.
Check it out!
I took a few picture that I thought the design aesthetic was pleasing. And I liked the unity of the circle like Twyla Tharp used in the Finale of the Bach piece.
As a culture, embracing everyday art more gives more opportunities to enrich our lives with sharing human experience. The arts should not be a craft only for a select few, the more people they can reach, the more we are connected. Let’s innovate and keep creating no matter what level, because there are always more ways we can engage with art.
We are all artists, no matter what age, skill, or ability. 
I’m particularly looking forward to the aMID festival this Winter that “celebrates the underserved performative body of the aging artist and challenges commonly held views regarding the age demographic of a dancer or physical performing artist.” This will be an exciting show and I think a lot of these themes of countering precision and celebrating that age can’t even hold back the joy of dance. It’s one to put on the list!

Tempest Transformed

By a turn of fate, I saw Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s The Tempest on the first Friday night performance of its run. Magic is illuminated in this telling of Shakespeare’s play with Teller (of Penn and Teller) as one of the Adapters/Directors along with Aaron Posner.


There were easily over twenty substantive magic tricks laced throughout the show. I couldn’t help but think “Wow. This is what a big budget can get you.” There was so much art packed into one evening, it was almost unbelievable. From the magic tricks, to the live band playing Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan songs, to the ornate set, Chicago Shakes firmly established itself as an institution of performing arts anchored in patrons willing to dish out the dough.


Beckoned in by Ariel

Beckoned in by Ariel

Magic enchants the audience from the moment they walk into the space. The front of the stage tampers into a ship cabin and audience members climb in. Ariel (played by Nate Dendy) engages audience members with card drawing tricks. Starting the show off with this bridging of the world of the play literally into the audience was extremely captivating. When spent cooped up in the lobby until minutes before show, the theatre space instantly opened up to the world of the show (minus a few incidents of audience members dropping cell phones from balconies or making out with their dates…) The style of the magic space was echoed elegantly by the set.


Prospero’s magic was not so much a mystical quality, but a performing art. This tale placed the role of Prospero as the magician rejected by his family for his passion for performing magic tricks. The rejected artist figure challenged the role of art practice to the individual. Ariel takes on a “Teller-like” role for the beginning of the show, letting the magic speak for him. Prospero and Ariel create their world through magic, which contrasts with the stark family Prospero left behind, laced-up and focused on money and power.
But what happens when arts are intersected with money?
Most productions I see are making ends meet to bring performances to an audience. The small budget can sometimes transfer to the stage impacting some qualities of the performance. With The Tempest, the struggling artist was juxtaposed with an art space that spared little expense to deliver a fantastic show. But it happened with such elegance that the irony of struggle with a large budget was buried underneath the pearl of the storytelling. Even with all the flash, the artistic balance was remarkably managed to truly present the story.


The audience was transported to the world of Prospero’s island with ease and thus, affected by the story’s emotions. Through this telling with magic arts emphasized, the focus and desire for revelation of a trick draws an audience in. Magic is an art of transforming. But at base, all the arts can transform. Whether its the audience viewing, the artist practicing or ideas changing, the arts challenge us to think and adapt understanding. Another reason why the cornucopia of art forms (magic arts, visual set, theatrics of Shakespeare’s story, music in the band, movement/dance of Caliban) in this telling of The Tempest was a profound choice.


To focus on Caliban, his interpretation in this telling cast him as a transformed being. He was played by two actors almost fuzed together to be a creature that only the magical island could sustain. This unique staging transformed what we typically think of as dance or movement and made it grotesquely intriguing. Caliban, therefore, is a creature that can only exist in the magical space of the island, because he has been so altered by it.


One of my favorite lines from The Tempest well represents the idea of transformation in this production.

Nothing in him doth fade,

But doth suffer a sea-change 

Into something rich and strange (Act I, Scene II, 399-401)

Let’s unpack these lines. One does not simply undergo a sea-change, but “suffers.” The weight of transformation does not come easily without pain. The material of the sea-change remains intact, as “nothing fades” but becomes something other, “rich and strange.” The sea-change is hauntingly dynamic because the sufferer comes out of it better (rich), yet marred (strange).

Dedication to art can be a type of sea-change. The artist’s identity is re-formed only through suffering to something “rich and strange.” Prospero fits well as a tortured artist. Sea-change has cast him aside and pushed his art practice. Through the suffering of his family abandoning him, over his magic initially and then as Miranda slowly steps away from him, we see before us a sea-change. Out on Navy Pier, with waves crashing up, the audience at Chicago Shakes experiences its own sea-change at the performance of The Tempest. Not fading the content of the story, but augmenting it with content that makes it more rich and strange.

I interpreted this quote visually to reflect art’s transformation. I chose watercolor relief for several reasons (…besides that I love them). 1) Adding water transforms the paint from something hard into a watery (sea-like?) pigment combining qualities of both paint and water 2) The vibrancy of the colors is dependent on each time you add water which makes it multi-dimensional 3) The transformation to make the relief “appear out of nowhere” like magic.
The presentations of Shakespeare transform today. How many Shakespeare in the Park performances have you heard of? Or even popular films based on the bard? (I wrote a little bit about this after Chicago Shakes Greatest Hits, here). Art continues long passed the playwright’s life and constantly strives for the new in order to change the audience’s perspectives on a classic. Posner and Teller wanted to accentuate the art of magic connected to Prospero and in doing so, exposed truths about the transformation art can cause.

Take the… Red Line; A Tale of Chicago + Jazz

Chicago and jazz just go together! Friday night of the Chicago Jazz Festival was something special in the midst of such great musicians with a large group of people in the middle on Millennium Park. Very special, very Chicago.

It is the time of year where we, in our northern climate, realize that the cold will come again, soon. And we try to squeeze in the maximum of free outdoor performances and activities in the last few weeks of summer that anywhere more temperate might spread out over the course of the year.

It’s one of my favorite times to be a Chicagoan.

As I exclaimed at the opening of this post, Chicago and Jazz have a rich history together. With the Great Migration, many African American families brought Jazz influences from the South as they made their way to Chicago. The Jazz scene is alive and brilliant in the 21st century. (I think this wikipedia article touches on a brief history and opinions of Chicagoans saying “The Jazz Festival is among the most important annual public festivities in the city.”)
Billy Strayhorn Festival
Friday night of the Chicago Jazz Festival was part of the Billy Strayhorn Festival that is happening through the end of November. Festivals on festivals! Billy Strayhorn himself was a great composer and pianist who played with Duke Ellington, and, for some time, was in his shadow. Strayhorn historically was made secondary to Duke Ellington and pushed out of the Jazz limelight as both an African American and openly gay man in the 1940s-60s. Many of Strayhorn’s compositions were misattributed to Duke Ellington. Most famously, Take the A Train (You definitely know it, by tune if not by name, take a listen.) “Take the A Train” closed out the Millennium Park performance giving the Second City a taste of New York.
I want to linger on Billy Strayhorn as he shows how important inclusion is in art. His legacy of artmaking became displaced. The minority groups he represents deserve their footing in the arts and for a legend, such as Strayhorn, to be recognized sets precedence for inclusion. The Billy Strayhorn Festival reaches all over the city in different venues and jazz clubs to attract a variety of people. Also crossing arts forms, engaging dancers and panelists in the festival. I’m particularly excited for the Chicago Human Rhythm Project to honor Strayhorn and the Copasetics. (You might note, Friday night of the JUBA! performance this year was dedicated to music of Billy Strayhorn as well, read my post about it here.)
The Billy Strayhorn Festival is happening now to celebrate what would be his 100th birthday. With such a big crowd, there is clearly a strong curiosity for jazz alive in our city. But how do we think of Jazz today? Has jazz become a new classical to us? That’s where it’s lumped in at a record store. (The place of records and recordings in our digital age is a whole other matter too!) The crowd on Friday at the Pritzker Pavillion was the biggest I’ve seen there. Chicagoans from many different walks of life and musical backgrounds/interests made it out for Jazz. Whatever the state of Jazz to our 21st century society as a whole, in Chicago, we revere Jazz and we respect figures like Billy Strayhorn.
Jazz is an exciting spontaneous music form with its use of improvisation. Improvisation is a lot about reacting to one another. As a listener, improvisation feels engaging when ideas are bounced around the ensemble and manipulated to something interesting. Each player shares their individual voice on a common musical topic. Improvisation mirrors life in that, you don’t really practice much for interactions. (maybe presidential debate or like job interviews, but not normal interactions). You don’t practice running into an ex, you don’t rehearse hearing bad news. It just happens and through life, we exercise our flexibility in how we react to one another.
For an art project, I wanted to channel a visual art improvisation. So I adapted a game I used to play with my mom. I collaborated with my friend Tiffany over froyo to add some fun with a touch of light-heartedness.
You start with two pieces of paper and coloring utensils. The first person draws a squiggle until the second person tells them to stop. Then vice versa. They exchange papers and have to turn the squiggle into an image. Next, I added a twist that once we had our images, we would  make them a joint piece of art in the last final details and named it. And voila, “Bird of Paradise” was born.
This is a fun activity to do while on a road trip, while babysitting, while watching a movie with a friend, or you name it! Turning squiggles into stories keeps your creativity thriving, while practicing skills it takes to think on your toes in conversation. Art can speak, we just have to be aware of the language.