Deeply Rooted Dance Theater’s Emerging Choreographer / Artist Showcase (review)

CHICAGO — There are plenty of dance companies who fuse Western and non-Western dance. Ballet is blended with modern, modern with African Diaspora, but rare is the dance company who creates such a delicious salad of dance forms as Deeply Rooted Dance Theater (DRDT). The influence of Horton, Graham, Classical Ballet and African dance are so clearly demonstrated in everything Deeply Rooted does, and its large ensemble of dancers are some of the best trained and most versatile in Chicago. They switch from grounded gyrations to Graham pleadings to arabesque turns in the blink of an eye. Technical virtuosity and unbridled passion are par for the course at any Deeply Rooted performance, and the Emerging Choreographer/Artist Showcase this weekend is no exception. It’s all-go-no-quit, high intensity, balls-to-the-wall dancing, with a few moment so exciting that I found it difficult to restrain myself from humming and exclaiming “YES” under my breath.

Deeply Rooted apprentices Nina-Rose Wardanian (jumping) and Jane Sawyer | photo credit Guy Rhodes
Deeply Rooted apprentices Nina-Rose Wardanian (jumping) and Jane Sawyer | photo credit Guy Rhodes

But what’s interesting about this particular performance, is that Deeply Rooted is playing the bench warmers this weekend. Company member Joshua L. Ishmon changes hats, directing and producing the annual showcase with Project Manager Adriene Barber. DRDT apprentices Briana Robinson, Jane Sawyer, Nina-Rose Wardanian, Jessica Winter-Troutwine and Christopher Woolfolk are joined by an ensemble of guests, notably including Paige Fraser on loan from Visceral Dance Chicago. As one would expect from the name, the Emerging Choreographer / Artist Showcase is designed to show off up-and-coming choreographers, and from forty applicants Tosha Ayo Alston, Nekira Grant, Keon Nickie, and Kameron Saunders were selected to present new or restaged works beside DRDT’s Dereque Whiturs, Nicole Clarke-Springer, and Ishmon.

The eight pieces on the program have fairly distinct flavors, although generally speaking they abide by Deeply Rooted’s MO: grasping the belly, covering the mouth, tortured contractions, drama, drama, drama… all that passion and angst can sometimes get a little same-same, however the fresh voices of the guest choreographers pulled out a few new stops. The evening seemed to progress in a bell curve, with more of DRDT’s African roots on each end. A traditional African dance with live accompaniment peppered with bits of ballet from Tosha “Ayo” Alston had moments that verged on cliche, as the dancers dressed each other to transform the ballet dancers into African dancers, but by the end of the piece, I forgot all about that. Standouts on the evening are Keon Nickie’s Sensual Feeling and Kameron Saunders’ Treading Thin. I didn’t think it was possible to stretch these talented dancers to their limits, but somehow Nickie has managed it in his hip contemporary piece dressed all in mix-matched tiny shorts. The end of Sensual Feeling clearly drives the dancers to the point of exhaustion, and this is when the magic really happens. Reckless abandon ensues as the big cast leaves it all out on the table, and wins. Saunders is a brand-spankin’ new choreographer hailing from St. Louis, already begining to form a prolific career. Treading Thin originally premiered in his home town at the 2013 Spring to Dance Festival, and this showing at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts was noticeably stronger.

Deeply Rooted Dance Theater’s Emerging Choreographer / Artist Showcase concludes June 28 at The Ruth Page Center for the Arts (1016 N. Dearborn). Showtime is 7:30pm; tickets are $25 general admission, available at the door or online.

Next up for Deeply Rooted Dance Theater:

DRDT continues its JOMBA! Initiative, a long-term cultural exchange with Flatfoot Dance Company from Durban, South Africa. Part of the three-year partnership include upcoming events and engagement opportunities made possible through a grant from the MacArthur Foundation’s International Connections Fund.

The JOMBA! Initiative: Community Symposium

Monday, July 7, 2014, 7:30–9:30 p.m. | Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E. 60th St., Chicago

What is possible in a cultural exchange between Americans and South Africans? What can we learn about our commonalities and differences with regards to slavery in America and apartheid? DRDT and Flatfoot artists reflect on how visiting each other’s countries has informed their perspectives about the global community, and both companies perform excerpts from their respective repertories.

Mandela Day Celebration: Dance and Social Change

Friday, July 18, 2014, 3–5 p.m. | Washington Park Arts Incubator, 301 E. Garfield Blvd., Chicago

Vuyiswa Tulelo, South African Consul General of Chicago, joins Deeply Rooted Dance Theater and Flatfoot Dance Company artists for this intimate performance and discussion about South Africa today. This program honors Nelson Mandela, those who served in the anti-apartheid movement and those who affect change through community partnerships

Summer Intensive Performance

Saturday, July 19, 2014 7:30 p.m. | Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport Ave., Chicago

Participants from across the country come to Chicago to participate in DRDT’s crown jewel, its annual Summer Intensive, which culminates in a performance of new and beloved choreography by the Summer Intensive artistic team, also featuring a special performance by Flatfoot Dance Company. DRDT’s Summer Intensive offers technical rigor and artistic development within disciplines of dance. During the four weeks, participants engage in a strong curriculum fostering learning and personal growth, along with opportunities to experience the company’s repertory through forums, workshops and performance

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.

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