Chicago Dance Crash is a company as unique as its artists, with a history of bending the rules of concert dance. In its 15th anniversary season, this band of professional misfits took on the task of creating an original full length production, ‘The Bricklayers of Oz’ – currently in the running for ‘Most Inventive New Work’ in Dance Magazine’s Readers’ Choice Awards 2017.
Before we go any further, I should mention that I am a current company dancer for Chicago Dance Crash. I could write this article just to press you for votes (which I will do later), but rather, I invite you to get to know me and my personal journey during the creation and production of this show. Take a step back in time, and discover not only the reasons why Dance Crash deserves your vote, but why this company will always have mine.
A Sum of Passions
I grew up in a household filled with music and movement. At a young age, I immersed myself in the arts, and the first full length production I ever found myself in was The Wizard of Oz. This photo was taken when I was 5 years old. Looking at it 20 years later, I realize that it sums up my journey to Chicago Dance Crash and ultimately, to re-inventing my life. I have always had the need to be an individual (hence my separation from the other three dancers in the above photo) and have always had a special place in my heart for classical art. It led me into the world of concert dance in college, and I found myself searching for a home exclusively with modern and contemporary ballet companies.
After graduating, I jumped into the world of contemporary concert dance. I began seeing the clauses in my contracts that would not allow me to alter my physical appearance without permission. Clauses like this are commonplace, and during that time I did not grasp how deeply the stipulation affected me. In essence, I had to ask permission to express my individuality and I began to need that same type of permission in nearly all aspects of everyday life. Still, I continued to push myself in this aesthetic – too proud to let my hard work studying classical techniques go to waste, and so wrapped up in trying to do so that I lost sight of who I was as a whole.
When I first received my contract offer from Chicago Dance Crash, I was afraid. I had spent the last six years of my dance training with my back to the hip hop community and culture, but auditioning for Crash brought back a flood of beloved funky fresh memories and reminded me of how much joy hip hop brought to my life. Memories of watching Michael Jackson on MTV and the sounds of A Tribe Called Quest slowly began to resurface. I could close my eyes and see my mother in the kitchen, bobbing her head along to Earth, Wind, and Fire, and then the look on her face when I used to blast Outkast in the car. My mother taught me how to love many different things, and is the living example of being a sum of your passions. I realized that as much as I wanted to be the ideal contemporary concert dancer, that world could not house the sum of my passions, nor would it be the proper place for me to continue to explore them. Something had to change, and it was the view I had of my life.
I realized that as much as I wanted to be the ideal contemporary concert dancer, that world could not house the sum of my passions, nor would it be the proper place for me to continue to explore them.
After a road trip through my memories, I took a closer look at the contract – no hair clause! This may not be a big deal to most people, but to me, it was the sign (or lack thereof) that convinced me to sign my name, change my path, and embrace a truer, more expressive life.
A Group of Individuals
One of the first things that our Artistic Director, Jessica Deahr, said to me was that the company is a group of individuals. She emphasized the importance of our differences, and how those differences serve as the foundation of what we create and who we are as a whole. This message will always be true to who we are as Dance Crash, and is more apparent than ever in ‘The Bricklayers of Oz’. Most concert dance that I have created or performed asks that you find the part of yourself that identifies with the person or character you are supposed to be in the context of the work. You live within that work, usually as part of a corps of dancers that are a reflection of the same identity. The costumes are the same, the movements are meant to be done in perfect unison, and if you are my parents, this means that sometimes you take pictures of the wrong little Asian girl at the local dance studio showcase.
Jessica emphasized the importance of our differences, and how those differences serve as the foundation of what we create and who we are as a whole.
‘Bricklayers of Oz’ was my first dive into a large scale Dance Crash production. It took very little time to realize that there weren’t really characters in the show, WE were in the show. I got to be me – all of me. Each of us got be be a complete version of who we are to form a united group, creating a more dimensional form of artistic and emotional expression. It was the first time that a director or choreographer challenged and bluntly asked me to be exactly who I was – and it was a validating moment. In dance, and especially in classical forms, its hard to convince yourself that what you are is enough. You spend countless hours staring at yourself, your body, in the mirror, begging it to be better, to do more. This time, I got to spend my countless hours soul searching, and making sure that I had the confidence to share who I was with my dance family and audience. To me, this is the purpose of art – to foster a deeper understanding of yourself and most importantly, to share what you find.
I Get It
One of the biggest challenges of concert dance has always been getting my friends to suck it up, buy a ticket, and see the show. My boyfriend is the perfect example of this. When I was in college, he would come to my dance performances and afterwards, I would ask him what his favorite part of the show was.
He: ‘My favorite part of the show was you.’
Me: ‘Aw, that’s what you said last time. Did you get the story of (insert dance piece here)?’
He: ‘No. It was weird. I don’t really get what you guys were doing.’
And so on and so on for every show that he has ever come to see me in…. until Bricklayers of Oz. I kid you not, it was the first time I had ever heard him tell me that he wanted to see a show again. After years of seeing me on stage, he had a favorite part, and even dug into some of the socio-political contexts of the show over dinner. My parents (bless them!) saw every performance over our opening weekend! More peers than I can count on my fingers and toes – with their notoriously tight artist bank accounts – shelled out the full ticket price to grab a seat. And here is why…
We Sure Got the Ball Rolling
Being part of the creative process and then performing ‘The Bricklayers of Oz’ brought me closer to myself, my community of artists, and to the city of Chicago. I am a firecracker of personality with a head of hair to match. I found my home and a family of dancers that is just as weird as I am. In working through the story line of this production, I gained a deeper understanding of the history of Chicago and why it lies in its current condition.
Aside from being the milestone production for Crash’s 15th season, ‘The Bricklayers of Oz’ is essential because of its power to start a conversation and ignite curiosity.
Recall the purpose of art – to foster a deeper understanding of yourself and most importantly, to share what you find. I dug deep, and I shared. What I got in return and in response was overwhelmingly touching, positive, and sometimes utterly poignant. After each performance, I found myself in the lobby, with not one silent mouth to be seen. Every pair of lips had whispers of glitter, loud laughter, or serious contemplation for what they had just witnessed. Aside from being the milestone production for Crash’s 15th season, ‘The Bricklayers of Oz’ is essential because of its power to start a conversation and ignite curiosity. I harnessed that power to evoke change within myself, and will continue to use it to make positive changes to my surroundings. I can only hope that you harness that power…
and vote… by clicking here.
Voting Details: no login, or email required. Simply click the ‘read more’ button in the article and fill out the purple form and hit submit. You can vote up to ten times per device. Voting closes September 25, 2017 at midnight.
Photos by Ben Licera Images
Special Thanks to all who came to see our show and support our production:
Stage Manager: Shannon Desmond
Lighting Designer: Erik Barry
Costumes: Jeff Hancock
Choreography by Jessica Deahr with additional source material by Rich Ashworth, Keeley Morris, James Morrow and Steph Paul. Thank you to the dancers for their contributions.
Promotional Photography: Ashley Deran
Based on the stories and reality of L. Frank Baum
The Bricks were made by Josh Weckesser and Bread & Roses Productions
Narration and original lyrics by Al Tamper
The Skeezers (aka the Bricklayers): KC Bevis as the leader ‘Jinjur’, David Ingram as ‘Nick Chopper’, Kristi Licera, Zak McMahon, Elijah Motley, Porscha Spells and Monternez Rezell
The Munchkins: Charlie Cutler, Brian Hare, Brian Humpherys, Kelsie Jayne as ‘Nimmie Amee’, Kelsey Reiter and Danielle Wilson
…and Jessica Deahr as the Wicked Witch of the East.
For more information and upcoming events, visit www.chicagodancecrash.com