We all have days where we can easily fade into the background, where we disappear in the hustle and bustle of life’s increasingly accelerating pace. Sometimes we just need to take a step back to gain perspective, but there are also moments where we feel pushed to the side, forgotten or unnoticed. It is in these moments that we must find the strength to speak, to stand up for ourselves or in the case of Chicago’s newest dance festival, literally step forward and confidently ‘take up space’. It is both the theme and name of the festival, curated and hosted by Mackenzie King and Megan Rhodes. These Artistic Directors, the former of Moonwater Dance Project and latter, of Peckish Rhodes Performing Arts Society, have joined forces for Take Up Space, which aims to celebrate and provide a communal space for women in dance.
The festival, which takes place November 21-24 at Chicago’s Den Theatre, features a collection of ten independent female choreographers and female-led dance companies presented in two programs. Independent choreographers include Hanna Bricston, Kaitlin Webster (HighFalutin Dance Theater), Abigail Stachnik, Alysia Johnson (Hubbard Street Dance Chicago) and Nicole Lemelin. The festival also brings in some of the Chicago’s freshest female-run companies, including Hot Crowd, forward. the movement, Banks Performance Project, Cattywampus Dance, and from New York, 2nd Best Dance Company. In addition, Moonwater Dance Project and Peckish Rhodes Performing Arts Society will be presenting works in both programs.
DancerMusic Dance Editor Kristi Licera recently caught up with Mackenzie King and Megan Rhodes to learn more about Take Up Space and how the festival came to be. Here’s what they told us:
…I honestly believe that a majority of dancers and choreographers want other people to succeed. The intention is to bring that supportive environment to the forefront.
Kristi Licera: One of the current issues at the forefront of dance is gender-based inequality. While we continue to strive for equality in the professional dance ecosystem, we must also take notice of the inequalities that occur behind the scenes, especially when it comes to the demographics of choreographic commissions and positions of influence (like directors, boards and executives. One of the goals of Take Up Space is to provide a platform for female dance makers and up and coming female-centric dance companies. Can you tell us more about how you developed the ideas for Take Up Space? How did the festival come to be, and what are your hopes for its impact on the dance community at large?
Megan Rhodes: In all honestly, Take Up Space started as an accident. Originally, Mackenzie and I had the intention of doing a split bill show that only involved Moonwater Dance Project and Peckish Rhodes Performing Arts Society. However, due to some unforeseen conflicts and scheduling issues, that split bill show was no longer an option. We took those issues and made a “make lemonade” decision. This project has really grown into so much more than either of us anticipated and I’m excited to share this festival with the participants and the audience. I hope this will be a major networking and community strengthening experience for everyone involved. The dance community has a nasty reputation of being cutthroat and competitive, but I honestly believe that a majority of dancers and choreographers want other people to succeed. The intention is to bring that supportive environment to the forefront.
…we wanted to give space to female choreographers/artistic directors to feel empowered in their influence in the dance community.
Mackenzie King: We talk all the time about how sometimes, as a woman in a position of influence within our companies and communities, we struggle with the stereotypical issues of saying “no” to something — worrying about if our voice is being heard and asking, “Do they like me? Am I being kind/assertive?” That list of questions could go on and on. With that being said, we wanted to give space to female choreographers/artistic directors to feel empowered in their influence in the dance community. We all know this isn’t an issue exclusive to the dance world. However, what makes the dance community unique in this way is that most of what you see on stage are women, but the people making the decisions about what and who is on stage are men. We are underrepresented in the executive part of this field and this festival is going to be an example of what happens when women can come together and let their voices be heard. We hope this serves as a springboard for these dance makers to help and support each other in the future. We want Take Up Space to become a platform for us to celebrate our accomplishments, influence and progress as we continue to push the boundaries and take up space.
I talk to my students all the time about how they should be proud of the space they take up — that choreographers, artistic directors and audiences want to see them fill the space with their body, their mind and their movement. They don’t need to be apologetic for being in the space; they need to be proud and take command. That concept helped us name the festival because we realized we needed to be proud of ourselves and celebrate how much space we take up.
It’s really exciting to bring together a large group of people who all have the common goal of creating and sharing art.
Kristi:Take Up Space features a number of artists, including the companies that you each founded and direct: Moonwater Dance Project (Mackenzie King) and Peckish Rhodes Performing Arts Society (Megan Rhodes). Can you tell us more about how you curated the program for Take Up Space and about the participating artists? What can audiences expect to see in each of the two programs?
Megan: In curating this show we reached out to choreographers and companies who had strong female leadership. I wanted to involve my contemporaries who had also been participating in the festival circuit and were in the process of producing their own work. In bringing together all of these artists, we hope audiences will see some new works and be introduced to new companies/choreographers they haven’t heard of before. With the two programs (Program A, Thurs/Fri and Program B, Sat/Sun) an audience member could see one show on Thursday and a completely different show on Saturday. This variety is something I’m personally looking forward to. It’s really exciting to bring together a large group of people who all have the common goal of creating and sharing art.
…[we] were blown away by the overwhelming support of our fellow female dance makers.
Mackenzie: Take Up Space stemmed from the idea that Megan and I have been noticing so many of our female friends and colleagues creating some of our favorite pieces of work. These women have been inspiring us creatively and we are so impressed with how they run their businesses. When we came up with the idea for the festival, we started brainstorming people we knew personally or people we looked up to and would love to be a part of the festival. We started asking the list of people and were blown away by the overwhelming support of our fellow female dance makers. Several of the choreographers are making pieces specifically for the festival and a lot of those pieces have a female-centric concept to them. Other companies/choreographers are using pieces from their repertoire that they are excited to show. I am particularly excited to see two of my colleagues from college that are flying out from New York City to present their work: Nicole Lemelin and Hannah Garner from 2nd Best Dance Company. I think they will bring a fresh mindset to the Chicago dance community, and it will be great to see old friends and how their work has grown!
Moonwater Dance Project and Peckish Rhodes Performing Arts Society present Take Up Space November 21-24, 2019 at The Den Theatre (1333 N Milwaukee Ave, Chicago, IL 60622).
Program A (Thursday, November 21 and Friday, November 22):
Moonwater Dance Project • Peckish Rhodes Performing Arts Society • 2nd Best Dance Company • Alysia Johnson • Banks Performance Project • Kaitlin Webster • Nicole Lemelin
Program B (Saturday, November 23 and Sunday, November 24):
Moonwater Dance Project • Peckish Rhodes Performing Arts Society • Abigail Stachnik • Cattywampus Dance • forward. the movement • Hanna Brictson • Hot Crowd
Tickets to Take Up Space are available via The Den Theatre.