Deeply Rooted Dance Theater and Natya Back-to-Back at the Harris (preview)

On my visit to the studios of Ballet Chicago yesterday, looking out from the 19th floor over the ballet barres at our beautiful skyline, I kept thinking that this is what I imagined life as a professional dancer to look like. The rehearsal climate at Deeply Rooted Dance Theater (DRDT) is intensely focused and serious, though the love, passion, and commitment each individual in the room has for what he does is crystal clear. In watching The Dance We Dance Suite during the company’s final preparations for an upcoming night at the Harris, I witnessed veteran Deeply Rooted Dancers in a smattering of works that spans the company’s repertory.  In its nearly 20-year history, DRDT has always been led by the stoic Kevin Iega Jeff and co-founder Gary Abbott. In watching the collection of dances in the “DWD Suite“, one gets the sense s/he is witnessing not just the history of the company and its body of work (which holds obvious ties to Martha Graham and Ailey). I also got the sense that what I was watching was a statement about being a black person in this country – and the wide array of experiences that include slavery, love, community, and religion. No matter the topic, each performance feels like a devotional. The love these dancers have for what they do is unmistakable, and contagious. The program title, Generations, is reflective of the lineage, loyalty, and continuity of DRDT’s mission to “re-imagine and diversify the aesthetics of contemporary dance.”

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Also on the program is the world premiere of Haidya, from company member and Summer Intensive Director Nicole Clarke-Springer. Hadiya is a  response to the recent shooting of 15-year old Hadiya Pendleton at a Chicago Park.

Says Clarke-Springer about the work:

Hadiya began as a search for a deeper connection to a higher calling within.  As a child, my parents would “pray over me”-calling to the spirits for spiritual covering as I began my day.  I would hear the small voice protecting me. This would prove to be the initial quickening of my spiritual relationship that would guide me through my life’s journey into motherhood, thus continuing in the tradition of my parents.

It was as a mother that I mourned for Hadiya Pendleton.  I recall my initial reaction being “Where was the covering? I’m sure her mother prayed for her, just as mine had prayed for me.”  Intrigued by the beauty of her name and in search of a deeper understanding, not only to this tragedy but to those of many others, I discovered the word “Hadiya” meant  “spiritual guide”.  The death of Hadiya pushed me further to explore our relationships as spirits. This is dedicated to those beautiful spiritual guides, who through their tragedy, inspire others to a higher cause – our (re)connection to spirit.

In keeping with the theme of the evening, Hadiya employs Clarke-Springer’s 7-year-old daughter Sophia with other young performers from Studio One. This is the first time DRDT has incorporated children in a performance since Ghrai DeVore, daughter of DRDT veteran Elana D. Anderson, performed as a young girl. Ironically, DeVore returns on loan from Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (!) to join the company in Hadiya and the duet Wild is the Wind (part of the DWD Suite).

Generations, a one-night-only performance Friday at the Harris Theater, comes on the heels of a summer three-week tour as the first American dance company to appear in the JOMBA! Contemporary Dance Festival in Durban, South Africa. Shortly after returning from South Africa came an announcement that Deeply Rooted would return with support of a $40,000 grant from the MacArthur Foundation aimed at multi-year international collaborations.

Deeply Rooted Dance Theatre’s Generations takes place Friday, Nov 1 at 8 p.m. at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance (205 E. Randolph Dr). Tickets are $40–65; a $150 VIP ticket includes a post-performance reception with the choreographers and dancers. Tickets available at the Harris Theater box office, 312-334-7777 or online at

Also coming up:

image001The day after Deeply Rooted’s Generations, Natya Dance Theatre takes a turn on the Harris stage for the world premiere of The Seventh Love.  Natya, the longest running contemporary Indian dance company in Chicago, brings Eastern teachings about various aspects of love to life in an evening-length humorous dance-drama revolving around the Hindu god Krishna. Original music from Rajkumar Bharathi is played alongside true stories from women in Chicago. The stories, exploring topics such as arranged marriage, domestic abuse, and lessons from real-life relationships keep the program relevant to the experiences of modern day Indian-American women.

Natya Dance Theatre’s The Seventh Love premieres at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance Saturday, Nov 2 at 7:30pm. Tickets range from $24 to $75 and are available by calling the Harris Theater Box Office at 312-334-7777 or online at

Author: Lauren Warnecke

Lauren Warnecke is a reporter for NPR affiliate station WGLT and freelance arts and culture critic, primarily reviewing dance for the Chicago Tribune. Lauren enjoys cooking, cycling and attempting to grow things in her backyard. She lives in central Illinois.