5 Questions with Deeply Rooted Dance Theater’s Nicole Clarke-Springer About Looking to the Future
Deeply Rooted Dance Theater spent nineteen years constructing one of the most complete and creative visions in concert dance, and then they spent a year celebrating with a series of highly regarded concerts, both retrospective and forward-looking. Celebrating isn’t that different from constructing at Deeply Rooted, though. Their approach to everything dance — to people, to performance, to putting all the best things they can find together — is always based in the same principles, the same vision of carefully determined good will. Everyone at Deeply Rooted seems so committed to that vision that everything they do reflects it, whether they’re constructing or celebrating or both.
After closing their twentieth anniversary with a massively successful series of performances at Chicago’s Logan Center (their performance of Fana Tshabalala’s INDUMBA was named Dance of the Year by the Chicago Tribune’s Lauren Warnecke), they’re already right back at it. They’re performing at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday, February 24 at 7:30pm in a program entitled Looking To The Future.
The program includes works by Kevin Iega Jeff (Church of Nations and In a Child’s Eye), Gary Abbott (Desire), and Nicole Clarke-Springer. Clarke-Springer’s Femme was featured, and widely admired, in Deeply Rooted’s Twentieth Anniversary concerts, but their Looking To The Future presentation at the North Shore Center will also include the World Premiere of her work Alice.
We asked Nicole about her new work, and about a lot else too, and here’s what she told us:
Johnny Nevin: Can you tell us what some of the ideas behind your new work Alice are? What was it about those ideas that made you think of exploring them in a work for a solo dancer?
I knew it was always my work and my work alone that would help me to become clear, and I did. But I didn’t truly explore “how” and “why” it happened—I think this is what made me explore this work as a solo.
Nicole Clarke-Springer: The concept behind Alice was inspired by a time in my life when I found myself in dark spaces, which led me to rely on certain vices in order to maneuver through my journey. I felt as if I was moving through space in a fog. I knew it was always my work and my work alone that would help me to become clear, and I did. But I didn’t truly explore “how” and “why” it happened—I think this is what made me explore this work as a solo. I have a family now and need to be clear of “rabbit holes” and the unforeseen twists and turns that come with decisions that set you on your journey. I’m the type of individual who, once I have decided on something, commits and “ingests” it into my spirit. Eat me/Drink me…
Johnny: We’ve heard that you’re planning a larger work, a ballet that Alice will be part of, and that you’re currently working with the very intriguing title Be Gentle With Mother. Can you tell us a little about how you are imagining the full work?
Nicole: At this moment the larger work Be Gentle With Mother (title inspired by Chicago artist Janice Bond) focuses on five aspects of women and their struggles, victories, revelations etc.
It was a class that changed my life mentally, physically and, most important, spiritually. Iega and Gary worked us into such a frenzy that the studio mirrors fogged up!
Johnny: Deeply Rooted Dance Theater is such a remarkable artistic community, in part because of the way that the Company’s mission and its art derive so directly from the same creative ideas and intent. You must have a very unique perspective on this, working as Dance Education Director and Lead Rehearsal Director, and on the Company’s Artistic Staff with Kevin Iega Jeff and Gary Abbott. Not everybody knows that you also performed with the Company, though. Can you tell us a little about how you first came to be a part of Deeply Rooted Dance Theater?
Nicole: I had just graduated from Butler University as an Arts Administration/Dance Major and was in the process of moving to New York (down payment on an apartment) when a friend invited me to come to a summer intensive audition. I agreed and went, figuring it was a free class. It was a class that changed my life mentally, physically and, most important, spiritually. Iega and Gary worked us into such a frenzy that the studio mirrors fogged up! I remember this 6’3″ “being” covered in sweat, arms stretched so far wide that his fingertips appeared to touch the walls, standing before me and a small voice deep inside spoke to me and said, “You are never leaving here.” I went home, announced to my mother, “I’m not going to New York” (she asked who was going to live in the New York apartment she just paid for; she later made me reimburse her the entire amount by the way), and I began my journey with Deeply Rooted Dance Theater. I have never regretted that decision and have been a better woman, wife, mother, friend—human being—because of it.
If attuned to the innate voice that guides us, we have the ability to speak to a multitude of issues in a non-gender manner because it is from a place of spirit that is not gender-specific. That’s where I create from—spirit.
Johnny: Your recent work Femme has been described as a piece that “celebrates the allure, courage, beauty and strength of women,” and in your new work Alice, you are again bringing into focus your perspective as a female choreographer. Can you share some of how that perspective informs and inspires your work?
Nicole: This perspective informs and inspires my work greatly! It’s the lens through which I view almost everything. I think women in general have the ability to approach things from a place of spirit, being the ultimate beings of creativity. If attuned to the innate voice that guides us, we have the ability to speak to a multitude of issues in a non-gender manner because it is from a place of spirit that is not gender-specific. That’s where I create from—spirit. My female form is just the vessel in which it takes place. I do think there are necessary moments of interaction between women that must take place only among us. Yes! It is in these moments that it becomes imperative that we support and care for the fragility of our spirituality. That’s where works like Alice/Be Gentle With Mother become important. Creating vulnerable spaces where honest, healing, nonjudgmental discussions take place are imperative. If that can be done through art—how cool is that?
Women—when walking in our power—bring balance, compassion, strength, truth to the conversation. For so long, the narrative has been written for us, but today our voices are growing and becoming stronger in our unified efforts to walk in power and truth. As a female choreographer of color, it is my mission to be an active voice in this narrative that researches who we are, discusses common weaknesses and celebrates our victories.
For so long, the narrative has been written for us, but today our voices are growing and becoming stronger in our unified efforts to walk in power and truth.
Nicole: I’m looking forward to creating work, thus leaving a legacy that inspires my daughters and the world to keep striving to be better.
Always hoped that I’d be an apostle
Knew that I would make it if I tried
Then when we retire we can write the gospels
So they’ll all talk about us when we die
– The Apostle Song
Jesus Christ Superstar
Deeply Rooted Dance Theater will be at The North Shore Center for the Performing Arts (9501 Skokie Blvd
Skokie, IL 60077) for one performance only at 7:30pm on Saturday, February 24, 2018. Tickets are available online from the North Shore Center, by phone from the North Shore Center Box Office at (847) 673-6300, or in person at the box office (9501 Skokie Boulevard – Skokie, IL 60077, M-F 10am to 5pm, Saturday 12noon to 5pm or until show time).
PHOTOS (from top): Nicole Clarke-Springer’s Femme (Photo by Ken Carl) • Deeply Rooted Dance Theater in Nicole Clarke-Springer’s Femme (Photo by Ken Carl) • Nicole Clarke-Springer (Photo by Ken Carl) • Deeply Rooted Dance Theater in Kevin Iega Jeff’s In a Child’s Eye (Photo by Ken Carl)