Duets on the menu for Friday’s CDF

The Chicago Dancing Festival opened last night and I’m still buzzing from the excitement. Walking past a line of hopeful dance patrons in a standby line akin to what one might see at a Sting concert, I felt a wave of gratitude rush over me. Coming to CDF reminds me of how magical it is to have this caliber of dance in our city. The stunning world premiere of Kyle Abraham’s Counterpoint was the cherry on top of this well rounded program that spanned decades, genres, and tastes. There was something for everyone, including two very different, yet equally striking duets. A second viewing of Joffrey’s svelte new parents Victoria Jaiani and Temur Suluashvili  performing the pas de deux from Possokhov’s Bells almost made the piece grow on me, but not nearly as much as Martha Graham Dance Company’s restored Errand into the Maze.

Martha Graham Dance Company in Graham's 'Errand Into the Maze', showing Friday in the Chicago Dancing Festival | photo by Cheryl Mann
Martha Graham Dance Company in Graham’s ‘Errand Into the Maze’, showing Friday in the Chicago Dancing Festival | photo by Cheryl Mann

Both duets are worth seeing again, and fortunately that’s about to happen on Friday for the second CDF evening at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA). Festival founders Jay Franke and Lar Lubovitch’s smart curatorial sensibilities bring an evening of duets to the MCA’s more intimate venue. Alongside Bells and Errand into the Maze is CDF’s second world premiere on tap: a yet-to-be-titled duet set on The Nexus Project (Ben Wardell and Michel Rodriguez-Cintra) with choreography by Ron de Jesus….

… that is…. until an injury sidelined Wardell and ultimately the new work de Jesus created for them. I had a chance to catch up with Wardell, mastermind of The Nexus Project (which, coincidentally was one of my favorite-est things in 2013, if not ever), over the phone Monday morning. While on tour with Lucky Plush Productions we spoke over our respective bowls of granola to talk about this latest development.

It has always seemed to me that what The Nexus Project is, at its core, is tied to a highly specific process combining source material from several choreographers. It’s a process developed, executed, and performed by two men: Wardell and Cintra. With Wardell on the bench, the announcement that Autumn Eckman and Jamy Meek would fill in to perform a work by a single choreographer under the guise of The Nexus Project came as a surprise, and begged the question:

What, exactly, IS The Nexus Project?

“The process is exactly the same,” said Wardell, and the project is continuing in the same manner, collecting a database of dances created by lots of notable choreographers. Wardell has an interest in the public seeing the source material, and using highly developed pieces as part of the future mix and match. The Dancing Festival presented an opportunity to make that happen. When he got hurt, Wardell called everybody, and de Jesus, Eckman, and Meek (a former Hubbard Street Dance Chicago member) immediately got to work creating an entirely new piece. “I’m sure they could have adapted the other piece… but I think it is important that what’s shown is something that is created on the dancers themselves.” Despite the time crunch, it’s a better situation for the dancers, the audience, and ultimately for The Nexus Project, which now has two source material pieces to work with in the future. The piece has been developed over a matter of hours, not days, and though Wardell doesn’t entirely know what to expect, he has every confidence in the three artists at work.

But the question remains: though the process is the same, Cintra and Wardell have cultivated an aesthetic and a mechanism for male-male partnering that felt really critical when the Project premiered. What about a Eckman/Meek (female-male) duet by Ron de Jesus makes it The Nexus Project?

Following a highly successful run of performances last Winter, Wardell took time to consider just that, and in presenting a new-new duet by Ron de Jesus on a man and a woman, is somewhat forced to half-announce that The Nexus Project will eventually become something much bigger.  What The Nexus Project was, and will continue to be as it grows, is a vast interconnected choreographic web. “A certain aesthetic is not that important to me,” he said. “To me, The Nexus Project is a process for building movement pieces” in a highly collaborative, yet ultimately authorless venue. The company is based around  “building these really intricate relationships” – Relationships between dancers, choreographers, and artistic communities.

It seems as though The Nexus Project – a duet that’s been propelled from infancy to the main stage of Chicago’s largest dance festival in the course of a year – has even greater things ahead. Like world domination of dance…

…ok, not really, but if anybody is the guy who could do it, it’s Ben Wardell. It’s not quite world domination he has in mind, but something even better: a sustainable, innovative, remunerative model for dance. There’s little room to argue with that.

Also on Friday’s program: Adam Barruch in Belladonna by Adam Barruch and Pam Tanowitz Dance in Passagen, a CDF premiere performed with live accompaniment.

The Chicago Dancing Festival continues with two showings Friday at 6:00pm and 8:00pm the Edlis Neeson Theater at the Museum of ContemporaryArt (220 E. Chicago Ave., entrance off of Pearson). Tickets are sold out, but empty seats or tickets unclaimed at 15 minutes prior to curtain time will be released to those in a Stand-by line. Stand-by lines begin one hour before each performance, in person only. All seating is general admission. Visit the Chicago Dancing Festival website for more information.

Art Intercepts is pleased to be a member of the 2014 Chicago Dancing Festival blog partners program. Get exclusive insider info, plus news and reviews throughout the festival.


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.