More than that, it’s a study in the art of understanding — understanding dance, understanding audience, and understanding what’s important in the arts.
In the background, quiet and mostly unseen, there’s an art that makes all of the other arts that we see in dance concerts possible. Dance concerts don’t just happen; somebody has to present them, and doing so well is very much an art. But it’s a complicated one, and it’s even more complicated when you present dance and theater and music and fine art at the same venue. Moraine Valley Community College’s Fine and Performing Arts Center has been doing that so well for so long that they’re not only celebrating their 25th Anniversary this year, they’re doing it with an even more imaginative and engaging series of presentations. One of the most imaginative is the Chicago Dance Crash performance on Saturday, November 17th at 7:30pm, and because of who Crash is, and how this all came together, it promises to be one of the most engaging as well.
Tommy Hensel is the Managing Director of the Moraine Valley Fine and Performing Arts Center, and he’s seen the last eleven years of the Center’s accomplishments first hand. Hensel brings a broad personal history in the arts to the art of managing a venue, with three decades of experience as a professional actor, singer, stage manager and director. When Chicago Dance Crash takes the stage at the Moraine Valley Community College Fine and Performing Arts Center’s Dorothy Menker Theater, they’ll be performing a World Premiere by choreographer Amirah Sackett entitled Al Nafs, and the story of how Tommy Hensel brought all of this together is a study in the Art of Presenting. More than that, it’s a study in the art of understanding — understanding dance, understanding audience, and understanding what’s important in the arts. We asked Tommy to share with us some more of the impressive backstage story behind the front-of-house performance we’ll be seeing on November 17th. Here’s what he told us:
With that in mind, Chicago Dance Crash was the first and most obvious choice for me to contact.
Johnny Nevin: The Moraine Valley Community College Fine and Performing Arts Center is celebrating its twenty-fifth anniversary, and you’ve been there for eleven of them. The Center has an impressively broad and active schedule of performances, yet this is the first time that you have commissioned an original work for a dance concert. Can you tell us how it is that you got the idea to bring Chicago Dance Crash to the Center, and especially how the Mosaics grant program from The Association of Performing Arts Professionals (APAP) was so vital to this idea?
Tommy Hensel: We are now in the last year of a three-year grant-funded program from the Association of Performing Arts Professionals for the Building Bridges: Arts, Culture and Identity program. Moraine Valley, along with one consortium and three other individual organizations, received funding to build knowledge and appreciation for arts and culture with roots in Muslim-majority societies. This grant program is supported by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art and helps support mission-critical projects that demonstrate the power of the arts to strengthen communities and increase intercultural understanding across America. Moraine Valley’s specific project is titled Mosaics: Muslim Voices in America, and our focus is to highlight the artistic and cultural diversity of Muslim artists living and working in the United States.
As we began to explore the various options for artists, we realized that hip-hop is a medium that seems to be extremely prevalent among Muslim artists – vocal, spoken word, and choreographic. With that in mind, Chicago Dance Crash was the first and most obvious choice for me to contact. Their work is rooted in the same styles that many Muslim choreographers have been using, and I felt that the connection could be powerful. Additionally, the grant specifically asks us to focus on Millennial audiences – those people between the ages of 18 and 35 (more or less). That particular group also seems to have a strong affinity with hip-hop and other similar art forms.
As my first commission, I was also clear that I wanted to work not only with high quality professionals, but with people I know personally.
As my first commission, I was also clear that I wanted to work not only with high quality professionals, but with people I know personally. I have known the founders of Chicago Dance Crash for years and have long wanted to book them in my season. The fact that we are all friends, that they are a superb company with a strong record of championing new work, and that they have the edgy, athletic style that I wanted in this project combined to make Chicago Dance Crash the perfect partner.
This was an exciting process for me, because I was able to bring together a group of people who should work together and who, I hope, will continue to work together in the future.
Johnny: You were very actively involved in bringing Chicago Dance Crash together with Amirah Sackett, whose work Al Nafs will premiere at the Dance Crash performance at Moraine Valley Community College’s Fine and Performing Arts Center on November 17th. What inspired you to be so creatively involved in making all of this come together, and how did you go about accomplishing it?
At the APAP conference in New York City in January 2017, I set up a meeting with Chicago Dance Crash to discuss the commissioning project. After that meeting, we all went off and started to develop a list of potential choreographers. I remembered at that point that I had met Amirah Sackett in September of 2016 at the Arts Midwest Conference in Milwaukee, WI. She was performing as part of a collective which included Omar Offendum, The Reminders, Asad Ali Jafri, and Zeshan Bagewadi. I was incredibly impressed with her style, her artistry, and her choreography. After the performance, I met her and became instantly impressed by her passion and her personality. After exploring her work a bit more, I felt strongly that she was the perfect choice for the commission.
I reached out to Jessica Deahr, Charlie Cutler, and Mark Hackman and gave them her information. They loved what they saw, so I connected them all together and they set up a meeting. Luckily, everyone involved was equally excited by the meeting. The team from Chicago Dance Crash had never met her, and she has never met them. After that initial meeting, they all enthusiastically embraced the collaboration.
I have always prided myself on being a “connector,” the type of person who loves to bring people together to create new connections. This was an exciting process for me, because I was able to bring together a group of people who should work together and who, I hope, will continue to work together in the future. Out of this, also, we will have an exciting new work that can then have a life long after the grant program has ended. For me, that’s the most thrilling part of a commission – the idea that whatever we create will continue to live on long after the initial project is done.
I have always prided myself on being a “connector,” the type of person who loves to bring people together to create new connections.
The Moraine Valley Community College Fine and Performing Arts Center (Dorothy Mencker Theater, 9000 West College Parkway, Palos Hills, IL 60465) will present Chicago Dance Crash on Saturday, November 17th at 7:30pm, in a program that will include some of Artistic Director Jessica Deahr‘s most in-demand recent work, and a World Premiere of Al Nafs by Amirah Sackett.
Tickets are available online from seat advisor.com. (Box Office Phone: (708) 974-5500)