Pursuit Productions tackles difficult dance theatre with ‘THEM’

Pursuit Productions is the collective effort of director Kacie Smith and dancer/choreographer Ahmad Simmons. As co-Artistic Directors, the two have produced a wide range of works in their few years of working together — some more clearly dance, some more clearly theater. One thing is for sure: these two are good for each other, elevating their respective forms through a uniquely collaborative process.

In their latest project, THEM (premiering July 10 at Preston Bradley Center), Simmons is at the forefront as he completes work supported by a Chicago Dancemakers Forum Lab Artist Grant. The 75-minute production is a foray into a new aesthetic for Simmons incorporating text, a mix between distorted, amorphous shapes and more traditional Dance (capital D), and a massive 12 x 40-foot video/animation installation created by painter Ennis Martin and animator Radek Michalik.

Simmons’ inspiration for THEM originated from a quote by Rainer Maria Rilke:

Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.

Simmons (right, in blue hoodie) gives direction to the cast
Simmons (right, in blue hoodie) gives direction to the cast | photo courtesy of Pursuit Productions


It seems as though “the dragon” is fed by the things that divide us: race, class, gender, sexuality, politics and religion. Our need for division, voluntary or not, leads to societal unrest and violence. Simmons tackles this difficult and timely topic subtly through interpretive movement and text, and literally through Martin’s mythical paintings. Dancers from a wide range of backgrounds (Marco Clemente, Cait Cucchiara, David Ingram, Rebecca McLindon, Alexis Staley and Malachi Squires) descend into the dragon’s belly where hatred, intolerance and discrimination live. Working together, they struggle to escape.

Pursuit Productions presents THEM July 10-26 at the Preston Bradley Center (941 W. Lawrence Ave). Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00pm, Sundays at 7 pm (no performance on 7/17). Tickets are pay-what-you-can, at the door or online.

THEM is supported by a Chicago Dancemakers Forum Lab Artist Award and an Individual Artist Program Grant from the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs & Special Events.

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.