You may not be able to physically see something, but that does not take away from its existence. Take for instance, what happens behind the scenes to create and produce a dance concert. As an audience member, you see the magic of movement and theater before your eyes; what you do not see is the countless hours of rehearsal, research and refinement necessary to present what appears before you. Furthermore, in today’s financial climate (especially in regards to the arts), limits on funding mean that a company may only be able to produce concerts on an annual basis. So what happens to these artists between shows? They keep creating! And that is part of the message behind J. Lindsay Brown Dance’s production of Alive & Well: Dances about Resilience.
In creating this program, Lindsay created a platform for artists to express their creative voices with the knowledge that they would see a financial return on tickets sold. This is not the company’s first dive into supporting new works and emerging choreographers, but it is important to note that in each and every endeavor, Lindsay ensures that participating artists are financially compensated. Earlier in this introduction we mentioned the difficulties in financial support, so to step out and make a consistent commitment to paying artists is no small feat. Believe it or not, many who are just starting out in choreography or dance performance are not paid for performances, and most accept the fact as a way of “paying their dues” to the industry. They say what you have is worth what someone will pay for it, and if producers are unwilling to pay their artists, what incentive or example do audiences have to follow? By giving her participating artists the financial compensation they deserve, Lindsay sets a standard and conveys how she (and how we as audience members should) value art.
Alive & Well: Dances about Resilience also seeks to redefine resilience by presenting a wide range of creative concepts from an equally wide range of perspectives. The program features three choreographic works by J. Lindsay Brown herself, along with a collection of new works from up-and-coming choreographers from the Chicago area. DancerMusic Dance Editor Kristi Licera recently caught up with Linsday to learn more about how the program aims to accomplish redefining resilience, as well as more about the concepts and visions behind the works to be presented. Here’s what she told us:
…no matter what is happening in the outside world, no matter what is happening around you… you can continue to create and refine your craft.
Kristi: We learned from your press release that the title of your concert comes from a 1968 musical revue whose music is the score for one of your company’s most recognized works. Before we dive into that choreographic work and the remainder of the evening’s program, can you tell us more about why you chose Alive & Well: Dances about Resilience as the title, as well as how you chose the participating choreographers?
Lindsay: The short answer is that I pulled the title from the lengthy name of the 1968 musical revue, Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris. On a deeper level, I wanted to communicate that my company (and by extension, me) continues on, regardless of the outside world. Even if you don’t notice us, we are still here, still creating. And I think that’s important for all artists to remember that no matter what is happening in the outside world, no matter what is happening around you, that you can continue to create and refine your craft. The earth doesn’t stop spinning because of an election, a tragedy, or if you don’t get a grant.
In some ways, this is a follow up to a previous concert I produced in 2017 called Out of the Echo Chamber. If we are out of the echo chamber, that’s great; it is time to wake up, keep living and show real resilience. There’s a very narrow definition of “resilience” right now, and I’m weary of seeing so many artists present their opinions in a very specific, narrow way. I want to make works that are interesting outside of this specific time frame and this political context. I am also eager to show that dance is a form of resistance, even if (and maybe especially if) it’s not explicitly saying “here are my feelings on politics/current events”. There are so many more dances to explore, and it is incredibly important to make those dances! This is not to say that my works exist outside of time and space — I’m sure seeing certain works now will be different than seeing them in ten or twenty years, but I don’t feel the need to beat the audience over the head with any specific agenda aside from showing quality, authentic, interesting dance.
I want to help others show their work in a way that is fair and beneficial – especially folks who might not be connected to a crowd where that’s not natural or easy for them.
I also view Alive & Well as a fertile ground for new/under-produced choreographers. I want to help others show their work in a way that is fair and beneficial – especially folks who might not be connected to a crowd where that’s not natural or easy for them. It can be difficult, and I know that first-hand. I want to make it a little easier when I can. I am finding ways to cut down (or eliminate) application fees, limit tech fees, and enable guest choreographers to make money from ticket sales. I don’t have a large budget, but I want to lead by example. I hope that the next generation of choreographers will realize “well, if Lindsay managed to pay me (or give me a cut of the profits), then I can do that too,” and that they will pay their dancers, collaborators, use contracts, treat them respectfully, etc.
Our company loves to improvise… and it’s always a breath of fresh air to watch the company riff off of each other.
Kristi: There are quite a few choreographers participating in Alive & Well: Dances of Resilience. The program features works from new and up and coming choreographers Haley Stueber, Kaitlyn Dessoffy, Jaimee Jaucian, Gabriela Ortiz , Lauren Reed, and Timothy Tsang. Bailey Johnson and Rachel Vogeney have chosen to collaborate on a new work, as have the creative team that includes Katherine Dorn, Dani Koeck, Katherine Scott, Joanna Taubeneck, and Stephanie Terrell. These choreographers were selected in December and are currently working on their pieces. The program also contains three works by you; can you tell us about those works, as well as a bit about some of the pieces that are currently being created by the other choreographers?
Lindsay: There’s going to be a diverse set of works! It would take way too long to go dance by dance, but I know that Bailey Johnson and Rachel Vogeney are exploring an alien planet in their work, and Kaitlyn Dessoffy is presenting a work informed by experience as a non-binary performer; the dance itself is more about the struggle to twist oneself around to fit the director’s vision.
There will be everything from solos to large group works. Haley Stueber, who has taken part in the company’s “New Choreographer’s Initiative”, will have her professional debut with a work about being stuck in unhealthy cycles. I’m so excited for her and have been so happy to see her take risks and push herself to new levels.
On my end, I have three works in the show. “In the Moment” is a structured improvisation that I debuted last year. Since then, I have been refining the structure and rules over subsequent performances. It features a timer, some audience staring, wacky conversation starters, and so much more. It’s always really fun to watch and to do—did you know people have really strong opinions on polyester? That’s the kind of thing audience members learn from this dance. Our company loves to improvise (we even do full length improvised musicals with The Glitter Island Gang), and it’s always a breath of fresh air to watch the company riff off of each other.
I felt like a post-post-modern choreographer trying to channel a 20th century modern master, and sometimes I thought that would break me; I couldn’t use all my usual tricks to take up time or to shift the focus like usual, so I had to dig in and truly focus on structure and form.
We’ll also be showing a newer piece called “Atheists in Foxholes”, which debuted in December as part of a Beethoven festival. It blends text by C.S. Lewis with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 7 In A Major, Op. 92: II. Allegretto. Honestly, that work was very challenging to make. For one thing, I didn’t really plan on making it. I was at a conference, and there was a speaker discussing C.S. Lewis and WWI. During the talk, I got an email asking if I would be a part of the Beethoven Festival, and the coordinator asked what the dance would be about. I just wrote down whatever the speaker was saying at the time, listed a Beethoven work I’d had my eye on, and sent it off, not really expecting that we would do the show.
Well, turns out we would do that show, and suddenly I had to make the work a reality. It’s a great piece, but daunting. It deals with Christian faith, WWI, death, survival—really, really big topics that are hard to sort out in life, let alone in a dance. We really stretched ourselves creating movement that could live up to an overwhelmingly stunning score, and to honor the score without becoming too attached to it. That’s a fine line to walk, and it was just a different way of working for me. I felt like a post-post-modern choreographer trying to channel a 20th century modern master, and sometimes I thought that would break me; I couldn’t use all my usual tricks to take up time or to shift the focus like usual, so I had to dig in and truly focus on structure and form. Luckily, my cast is amazing—I honestly don’t know how they make it through this dance and seem so energetic at the end.
I love playing against the score, which is manic, dramatic, sardonic, and achingly beautiful all at the same time. It’s very human.
We are also bringing back a fan favorite, previously called “Beneath the Skin”, but now expanded and renamed “Alive & Well”. As I mentioned earlier, it is set to music from the generally unknown and forgotten Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris. My veteran company members love performing this work. It’s mysterious, emotional, and continues to grow as I add on more dances and more songs. The original version premiered in 2015 (for Chicago Danztheatre Ensemble, our fiscal sponsor), and it marked a new era for me as a choreographer. Simply put, it raised my own standards for my own work. Like the soundtrack, “Alive & Well” jumps around from setting to setting, from tone to tone, with each section existing simultaneously by itself, but also in relationship to all the other parts. It explores really vague sounding ideas—connection, vulnerability, love—but it feels deeply personal, pulling the focus into small, captivating vignettes. I love playing against the score, which is manic, dramatic, sardonic, and achingly beautiful all at the same time. It’s very human.
Looking forward, I am taking more applicants for the next batch of participants for my mentorship program. I received choreographic coaching from teachers and professors from ages 13-25, and I am a stronger artist for that. Most people haven’t had that blessing. I love helping others find their choreographic voice, to help push people past their comfort zone, but also to listen, reassure, and encourage. I also give participants a slot in our productions, so they will have a time and place to show their work. Anyone interested should contact me via my website jlindsaybrowndance.com.
J. Lindsay Brown Dance presents Alive & Well: Dances about Resilience Friday, March 1 and Saturday, March 2 at 7:30pm. Audiences are also invited to attend an open dress rehearsal on Thursday, February 28 at 8:30pm. All performances and the open rehearsal take place at the Fasseas White Box Studio at the Drucker Center (1535 N. Dayton, Chicago, IL 60642).
For tickets, visit www.jlindsaybrowndance.com/alive–well.