The most revealing line in Chicago choreographer Lizzie MacKenzie’s biography as Artistic Director of Extensions Dance Company may be this one: “Lizzie spends most of her free time teaching and choreographing.” The realization that this is what Lizzie MacKenzie would describe as “free time” does a lot to explain her astonishingly broad range of accomplishments.
Many successful choreographers have had accomplished careers as dancers, and many company artistic directors are also accomplished choreographers. Lizzie MacKenzie, however, is at least unusual, and may be unique, in that she continues to be a successful and highly-respected dancer with one of Chicago’s leading companies (River North Chicago Dance Company), while also working as a leading choreographer. In 2008, she won the prestigious Choreographer of the Year award from Dance Chicago, presented by the Cliff Dwellers Foundation, to follow up on her 2006 New Voice Outstanding Choreographer award.
Her choreography is always graceful and fluid, and one of its most compelling attributes is a remarkable sense of dynamic architecture. In fact, whenever possible, it’s good to see her works at least once from a balcony, because there is a moving structure to what she does that becomes really apparent when seen with a full view of the stage.
Interestingly, this ability to master overall structure may be more the result of a focus on detail than on preconceived design; her designs actually seem to result from the careful composition of individual movements. Watching her in rehearsal with Extensions Dance Company, I heard her make an observation that does a lot to explain the coherence, but also the fullness, of her choreography. “Everything has a reason.” And when you add all of those reasons together, the result is inspired choreography.
Lizzie MacKenzie’s newest piece, “Time Now” is an eight-minute piece set to an original composition by Chicago group ‘ohana. It’s currently in rehearsal with her own Extensions Dance Company, and will premiere this fall.