“One of the coolest things about art, in all forms, is how much it influences and inspires new art.” That’s just one of the many insightful ideas that come up when you talk to choreographer Mary Tarpley, especially if you talk to her about Repurpose, the intriguing and very promising concert that she and The Den Theatre are presenting Friday, March 22nd through Sunday, March 24th. It’s a Dance Concert to be sure, but one that has been carefully designed to present dance successfully to a much broader audience.
Tarpley is especially well-prepared to come up with an idea as innovative, and yet as audience friendly, as Repurpose. As a dancer, she’s one of the multi-talented performers that make Chicago Dance Crash such a sensation, and despite the elegance and precision of her classical skills, she can just as effortlessly tear up a stage when the choreography is hip hop or acrobatic. As a choreographer, she premiered a stunning work called I Know Places last fall, an eloquent and sympathetic look at the pain of personal isolation, along with a beautiful, and completely different, balletic duet called Quiet Hallway. I Know Places was built in some measure to expand on the Edgar Allen Poe poem Alone, a line from which appeared unobtrusively on the set behind the interweaving performance by four dancers.
That’s important because it was in many ways the beginning of Repurpose. “We wanted to incorporate theatre and other forms of art to make a dance show appeal to a wider audience,” Tarpley says, describing how the idea for Repurpose got started. “We went through many ideas, including possibly basing all the dance pieces off of existing plays, but we eventually expanded the concept to include a wider variety of initiators. Because of the success of I Know Places, which opens the show, we really looked for art that could create an interesting and satisfying dance piece. All of the choreographers found art and music that sparked a choreographic vision.”
The choreographers that she’s talking about are a close-knit creative conspiracy of similarly imaginative, and substantially fearless artists that Tarpley has worked with before. Kaitlin Webster and Neile Martin both perform in I Know Places, and Tarpley says that right away, both were enthusiastic about expanding the idea to become what is now Repurpose. The essence of the concept is to create choreography that is inspired by, and which inevitably expands on other, existing works of art.
“Kaitlin was immediately interested and showed me the Kiki Smith sculptures that her new work Limb is based on,” Tarpley says. “Her piece is amazing — it involves dancers moving through flour, creating a piece of art all its own in the ever changing patterns and designs of the flour on the floor.” Martin’s work Scopofilia uses a piano both musically and physically to create movement. Stephanie Paul, the Artistic Director of Be the Groove, presents a new work called Resilient by Design. “Stephanie had been involved in the process since the very beginning,” Tarpley says, “and she began workshopping ideas and movement on her students at Northwestern. We used her complete piece as the instigating piece of art to create a new trio for Repurpose.”
Tarpley is one of those artists whose creativity, while fiercely independent in its conception, is still completely capable of embracing an awareness of the audience. One of her prime collaborators in Repurpose is another artist made from much the same cloth when it comes to imagining how to effectively present artistic creations. “Ryan Martin, the Artistic Director of The Den Theatre, originally presented the idea of a dance show at The Den to me,” Tarpley says. “From there we had discussions and meetings about what the overall concept should be, and we’ve worked together on the practical aspects of the show such as lighting design, event space, marketing, ticket sales, and rehearsals.”
It’s actually quite a visionary approach to presenting Dance, and in several different ways at once. The Den Theatre is a successful multi-theater space that manages to combine an unusual friendliness with high standards of professional theater presentation. The idea of expanding its focus to include concert dance is a carefully-constructed innovation, just like the lounges and cafe settings that are interspersed with its performance spaces. To find just the right presentation of dance to make such an effort successful, Repurpose carefully re-imagines what is most likely to welcome a non-dance audience, and yet does so with a presentation that turns out to be very much in line with what choreography can do best anyway.
“I think choreographers often find something to create a piece about,” Tarpley explains, “and not just in this show, either. Often it is a concept or a story, an emotion or music. The concept of Repurpose isn’t really anything new, it is just trying to bring to light that which we as artists and creators already do.”
Repurpose is at The Den Theatre on Friday, March 22nd and Saturday March 23rd at 7:30 PM, and on Sunday March 24th at 3 PM. Tickets are available at Brown Paper Tickets (and they’re really reasonable too, especially with promo code “crash”).