Some of mankind’s greatest discoveries were accidental. If it weren’t for these happy accidents, we would be missing everyday items such as super glue and (god forbid, especially if you’re a college student) the microwave. But we should also remember that accidents can pave the way for artists, including the dancers at Simantikos Dance Chicago. Founder and Artistic Director Haley McElwee did not start with the intention of creating a dance company, but in the three years since its founding, the company has experienced growth that has taken them from area rug-sized performance spaces to artistic collaborations in Italy. DancerMusic’s Kristi Licera recently caught up with Haley to get a peek into Simantikos’ upcoming performance at. Here’s what Haley told us:
Kristi: Can you tell us about the performance and which choreographers you will be presenting?
All of the work in this concert is in some way related to either a wonder about societal habits or an effort to change one.
Haley: This concert is titled I Wonder… and was inspired by Wait, What?: And Life’s Other Essential Questions by James E. Ryan. In his book, Ryan explains that “I wonder why…” keeps a person engaged with the world and “I wonder if…” implies an effort to make a difference/change within it. According to Ryan, these questions can be asked of anything and everything around us and should be used as often as possible. All of the work in this concert is in some way related to either a wonder about societal habits or an effort to change one. This title isn’t meant to ask the audience to find a through-line in the repertory presented, but rather to loosely tie these pieces together with a thin, common thread.
This concert will premiere four new works choreographed by Michel Rodriguez Cintra (Chicago), Stephanie Nugent (Indianapolis), Natalie Johnson (NYC) and one by myself in collaboration with Tuscany-based contemporary composer, Norberto Oldrini. It will also feature a sculpture by Luis Sahagun that was exhibited at the MCA this Spring. Lastly, we will be showing two pieces from past seasons: one choreographed by Connor Cornelius, and one choreographed by myself.
Kristi: Tell us more about Simantikos. How did your company come to be, and how does this performance align with the company’s mission of “[addressing] social injustices and societal concerns through movement”?
One of my dancers at the time was Greek and explained that explained that “simantikos” means “important” in Greek
Haley: Simantikos started almost by accident. As a dancer new to Chicago, I was dancing and teaching as much as I could, and I missed the choreographic process that I had my senior year at Indiana University (IU). I was teaching at Kenwood School of Ballet and Kristi Andarcia, the studio owner, was kind enough to let me use the space for free with some occasional cleaning help. I began working with friends to reset a piece that I presented at IU called “Mirrors in our Screens”, and after performing it at Locallective Gallery’s Indelicate and Noumenon Dance Ensemble’s New Moves, we decided we wanted to keep working together and further develop the piece. People started asking us what our entity name was. I literally google searched “cool words” and “semantics” came up. Brandon (my boyfriend at the time and still a large part of how Simantikos has gotten as far as it has) was pursuing a PhD in Linguistics and I said “Babe! Semantics is a ‘cool word’!” We agreed Semantics Dance Chicago didn’t have a great ring to it. One of my dancers at the time was Greek and explained that explained that “simantikos” means “important” in Greek and especially at that time, our repertoire was pretty focused on getting a message, idea, or point across. We thought it well-suited our intention and had a ring to it.
When we really got our name together, I began applying for any and every opportunity I could find – even reaching out to little events that had no previous intention of including dance in their program. We once performed at Cupid’s Undie Run on a stage that must have been 6ft x 12ft in a sea of drunk people in their underwear who had no idea what they were watching and were likely confused (but seemed to like it!). Luckily, we’ve upgraded in performance venue and events. We’ve now performed in venues throughout Chicago including the Ruth Page Center for the Arts, The Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, Greenhouse Theater, ChiArts, and soon UIC Theatre. We also toured throughout the Midwest, NYC, and Toronto and spent time working with Norberto Oldrini in Torrita di Siena, Italy.
[My dad] always told me to “work every job as though I have as much skin in the game as the owner”. Now that I am the owner, I definitely see why.
My dad was and still is a huge part of my persistence to grow the company as a real and licensed, professional company with an educational studio. He is the hardest working person I’ve ever met and is the epitome of “hustle”. He has only ever encouraged me to do the same. He always told me to “work every job as though I have as much skin in the game as the owner”. Now that I am the owner, I definitely see why.
Simantikos Dance Chicago presents I Wonder… Saturday June 2 at 7:30pm at University Illinois Chicago Theater – 1044 W Harrison St, Chicago, IL 60607. Tickets to this one-night only performance are available online via Ticketleap. Learn more about Simantikos Dance Chicago by visiting www.simantikos.com.