Archive for August, 2009

Dancer Highlights

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

What happens when over a hundred of the country’s greatest artist athletes meet backstage? Chicago Dancing Festival is a melting pot of talent. Give yourselves (and others) a shout-out by commenting below. Welcome to Chicago!

Doin’ Battle: Marc Macaranas hits up Hanna Brictson

Sunday, August 16th, 2009

photo by Cheryl Mann

Marc Macaranas is possibly River North Chicago Dance Company’s biggest fan. He is also a founding member and astute dancer with DanceWorks Chicago (who will be performing as part of the Chicago Dancing Festival throughout the day in Millennium Park on Saturday August 22, 2009).

Hanna Brictson is in her sixth season with RivNo, dynamic and unforgettable she will be performing Robert Battle’s Train with the company on Tuesday August 18th: New Voices at the Harris Theatre.

Marc and Hanna have both worked with master choreographer Robert Battle. Recently they sat down to discuss their shared experience.

River North’s style, to me, is very lush and expressive and makes use of a lot of port de bras; Robert Battle’s style is definitely not the same. How would you say that Train has evolved into the signature River North piece that it is now?

I think the reason it’s evolved into a River North piece is because of the intent behind it. I find a lot of our pieces, at least for me, are emotionally connected, and that’s how I connect with the audience. So although this is on a completely different level, River North is not harsh usually, I’m able to connect to the audience with that same River North style. It’s not so much about the movement, it’s about the feeling you get from it – that makes it River North.

DanceWorks Chicago also has two of Robert’s pieces, Etude and Takademe, and doing his work is some of the most physically demanding dance that I’ve done; what energy do you have to channel to meet the physicality of the work or is there ever a moment you can just “phone it in”?

Ok, definitely never phone it in – I can never do that. I think it’s a calmness I need to have, which sounds completely opposite, but I think to start from that, almost as if it was a silence -  it’s a place to build from. Sometimes you get through it at that calm level and then your will power kicks in at the last minute.

So there’s two different kinds of energy? A physical energy and a mental stamina?

I feel like the mental stamina is there from the beginning… when I start, the intensity is there in my mind, but physically I’m coming from a place where I know how to work things, and I’m coming from my knowledge as a dancer – how to use your body, how to work through things, and then at a certain point, I can’t use my knowledge, I can’t use my technique, I can’t use what people have taught me; all I can use, literally (I know it sounds corny), is how much power I have inside of me, and then it’s something I can’t even describe… it’s part of what makes me live, that strength that you need sometimes.

Specifically when performing Train or when you do any River North rep?

Train has totally pulled out a different side of myself and a different side of my physical self, and I’ve never felt like I had to pull physically to get myself through something the way I have with Train, I can’t even compare it to anything else.

I think Etude and Train come from different vocabularies, but they definitely come from the same voice. What would you describe that voice to be, that intent?

For some reason, the word “life” comes to mind. Robert didn’t give us a whole lot of direction on what the reason was behind what we were doing, so i’ve had to create that – for me it’s how I’ve gotten to this point in my life. I think that when I’m dancing Robert’s stuff, it’s that journey through those times you don’t want to talk about anymore but you let it out through those 3 minutes.

We both know that Robert works very quickly. Do you think the intensity of that short period speaks to the style of the movement? Do you think it would change if given a longer creative process?

I think it probably would have changed if [the process] was longer. When he sets it so quickly, it never gets to that finished cleanliness that it’ll get because you rehearse it plenty of times, but from what you know of how it’s supposed to be, it always continues to stay in that raw stage… I feel like a lot choreographers want to start cleaning before they finish their works and he didn’t feel the need to that, he left it up to us. When you see it that quickly, and that movement is crazy fast, it’s going to be raw, it’s going to be whatever you make of it.

Do you think the piece has maintained the same integrity or purity as when Robert come to create it on you, or has it become something else to take on that River North quality?

I think it evolves every time we do it, the nature of getting stronger at it and deciding what you want to make of it every time. I’ve never thought of it in a River North way… I keep it in a separate world, I just think of it as Train, I don’t even think of it as a  piece of River North’s rep, I think of it as Robert Battle’s Train.

Getting “Familiar” with Jessica Lang | Interview by Jay Franke

Monday, August 10th, 2009

Jessica Lang is in Chicago setting her world premiere that will be a part of the Joffrey 09-10 dance season. Young and extremely gifted, she is also one of the “New Voices” selected to present her work as part of the 2010 Chicago Dancing Festival. Jay Franke, co-founder/artistic director of the festival recently sat down with Jessica to discuss her piece To Familiar Spaces in Dream that will be performed by the Richmond Ballet on August 18th at the Harris Theatre for Music and Dance at Millennium Park.

In this piece, you have used music by 3 different composers: Philip Glass, John Cage, and Craig Armstrong. What connections did you make between these 3 musical compositions and the movement?

To Familiar Spaces in Dream is the second part of a two-piece full evening idea about piano music. I chose these musical selections because my piece uses contemporary piano music as its inspiration and I liked the mood and depth these composers captured through this single instrument. The piece has a set of 8 white boxes representing the white keys on the piano, all various lengths as well as 8 dancers, this number representing the idea of an octave in music. I wanted to explore the percussive side of the piano so that is I why I chose the John Cage piece because it uses a prepared piano and gives nice opposition to the Glass and Armstrong selections. The movement helps take this idea beyond its logical concept and open up channels for emotional reactions and deeper meaning. The sister piece to this is called From Foreign Lands and People (Commissioned by Colorado Ballet, 2005). That work, to classical piano music, has a set of 5 long black boxes, representing the black keys on the piano, 2 long and 3 short indicating their arrangement on a piano. The full picture is that the entire piece From Foreign Lands and People…To Familiar Spaces in Dream could be on a program together giving an insightful look at how this one instrument can be versatile in sound and feeling, both a percussive and string instrument.

What was the creation process like for you and the dancers at Richmond Ballet in regards to the 8 boxes used in the piece?

We designed the boxes and had them made before I got to Richmond so I could start on day one with them in the space. When I create with objects, they are physically used, not just set up in the background. There were 16 objects in the studio that day that I had to make into a piece, 8 dancers and 8 boxes, and I knew it was my job to make them have a purpose and be present on stage.  The challenge is that the boxes are quite heavy, and they don’t reset themselves as I created the choreography. So there was a lot of time spent just dragging them around the space and resetting them so we could try the phrase or idea again. It could have been exhausting, but it was just part of the process that I think both the dancers and I knew we had to do and we became really excited by what we were creating.

In much of your work you incorporate scenic elements and props- what challenges do these elements hold for you as a choreographer?

I became really interested using props and other elements in my work because of the challenges they propose and the way my imagination began to run wild with images. How can I create a piece where the scenic elements add meaning to the overall work and are not merely a trick to falsely excite the audience?

My challenge lies in craft and relating every element that goes into the piece (music, sets, costumes, lighting) to each other. If a prop or set does not add meaning to the piece, I don’t use it. I am really focused on the craft of making dance, the overall painting of the piece. I do not get obsessed with trying to investigate movement or the steps and I don’t find it necessary to focus on movement invention. It has all been done. I am not going to reinvent the arabasque or create a new technique. I create dance where musicality is extremely important, there is a sense of humanity in the movement, the movement feels good on your body and that the audience, no matter their experience with dance, is part of the end result.

Your husband, Kanji Segawa, electrified our audience last year with his stunning solo of Robert Battle’s piece “Takademe.”  How do you balance your busy work schedules with time together?


photo by Todd Rosenberg

He is amazing in “Takademe”!! And I am not saying that because I am married to him!! I am so happy he was able to share his performance of this piece in particular with your audience because it is really a great experience when the right artist meets the right piece of choreography. It is just magic! Unfortunately, I missed it. I was creating a new work on Cincinnati Ballet and I just could not get away. We are always busy and since we met 10 years ago we have had a schedule like this. As freelance artists, you take work when you get work and you are just so grateful for it! We are quite used to the time apart, and although the good-byes are hard, we both are so happy for each other that we are able to do what we love and what we have trained our whole lives for. Neither of us would take away the opportunities so that we could be together. We travel with each other when our schedules permit and we cherish our time together. For example, Kanji just came with me for the first 2 weeks while I was at Joffrey and came everyday to help me in the studio. We have fun working together. We try not to go more that a month without a visit. And when we come home from tours, we have that excitement to share what we did and what we accomplished. We have such an understanding of what our lives are with careers in dance that this is just perfectly natural for us.

…and on that note, what does Jessica Lang’s calendar look like for this upcoming year?

I have been in Chicago since July 26th working with Joffrey Ballet on a premiere and I don’t settle home again until November 15th. This is one of my longest stretches I have ever had that I go from job to job directly. Immediately after the festival performance I will travel with Richmond Ballet to create my 5th premiere on the company. I will go back to NYC for 3 days to teach a new course on choreography for the NYU/ ABT program before Kanji and I travel to Texas Christian University where I will set one of my works and he will set one of Robert Battles’ pieces. After this I will go to Kansas City Ballet to create a premiere and simultaneously set one of my works on the company in a month, then I am off to a residency at Goucher College to set a work and teach, then back to Richmond to premiere the new work, and finish up this trip with a new creation on the University of Richmond. I can’t believe when I go home it will be the end of fall and almost Thanksgiving! And that is just the travel itinerary for this year. But like I said I am grateful to be working, and even more so because I love what I do! And I can’t forget that I will be back in Chicago in April 2010 to premiere my Joffrey piece!


To Familiar Spaces in Dream will be performed by the Richmond Ballet on August 18th as part of “New Voices” - one of the “all free” performance events of the Chicago Dancing Festival.

It’s a small world after all… Part 3 – Michael Snipe Jr interviews Linda-Denise Fisher-Harrell!

Wednesday, August 5th, 2009

Linda-Denise Fisher-Harrell | Photo by Andrew Eccles

I recently asked Michael Snipe Jr to interview Linda-Denise Fisher-Harrell while she was in Chicago teaching for the Hubbard Street summer intensive. Check out this interesting conversation between two friends as they discuss Chicago ties, Fisher-Harrell’s take on Alvin Ailey’s Cry and life after Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Thanks Michael and Linda for this great read!

Michael Snipe Jr: So Linda, I know that you’ve come through Chicago for many years throughout your career with Ailey, but do you have any other connections with Chicago?

Linda-Denise Fisher-Harrell: Yes, after I left Juilliard I danced with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago before joining The Ailey Company.

MSJr: Have you any connections with Jay Franke and Lar Lubovitch, the two founders of the Chicago Dancing Festival.

LDFH: Well, I just found out that some years after me, Jay Franke also attended the Juilliard School and then joined Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, and I worked with Lar Lubovitch on 3 separate occasions while at Ailey. The first piece I did was a 15-minute duet called Fandango, set to Maurice Ravel’s Bolero. The second was called Cavalcade and the third was The Time Before The Time After (After The Time Before)

MSJr: So you’re going to be performing Mr. Ailey’s solo Cry here at the Festival, how does that make you feel?

LDFH: Nervous, Tired, Scared, Excited…Many, many things are going through my mind.

MSJr: You learned it 13 years ago, and I know it’s a long solo, do you still worry about stamina, or can you just get into a groove and perform it.

LDFH: OH yes, stamina is still an issue, especially since I’ve been away from the company for a while, but my being away from the company and the solo will also contribute to and enhance my performance.

MSJr: How so?

LDFH: Dancing can be so self absorbed at times and when I used to do the solo, it was a lot about the steps and getting through it. Now that I have stepped away from performing as much, I am teaching and mentoring. I had a baby girl, and I’ve just been experiencing other aspects of life, all of those factors will contribute to my journey in the solo.

MSJr: And what a journey it is. I know that there are three sections to the solo. Do you have a favorite?

LDFH: I will have to say it’s a toss up between the first and the second sections. With the first section, you have the cloth and it can be used in so many ways. As it lies in your arms it can be a body that you’re mourning over. When on the floor it can be represented as you scrubbing blood off the floor and as a slave cleaning…but just as easy as you are cleaning the floor with it, you take it and wrap it around your head and you become this noble queen. It’s amazing. The second section allows you to lose yourself emotionally. You can dig deep within yourself through the music and you’ll be surprised with what you might find.

MSJr: That sounds fantastic Linda. I know many people are excited to have you back in Chicago and to be a part of the Chicago Dancing Festival. What’s the largest audience you’ve ever performed for?

LDFH: I think it will be for this festival. I’ve performed in Athens, Greece at the Herodes Atticus Theater and they attract huge crowds, but I heard last year there were about 10,000 people here for the Chicago Dancing Festival. Now, that’s exciting.


Don’t miss Linda-Denise Fisher-Harrell’s exciting performance of Alvin Ailey’s Cry on Saturday, August 22 at the Celebration of American Dance in Millennium Park! Be sure to come early to nab your seats at the Pritzker Pavilion or stake out a plot on the lawn – this is definitely going to be the dance event of the year!