I Don’t Believe in Islands

All dances are related.  All dancers are connected.  All choreographers borrow from one another.  I don’t believe in islands.

Introducing, Archipelago, an evening-length work comprised of solos and duets from a handful of incredible Chicago dancemakers.  Each choreographer is contributing about 10 mins. of material (a solo or a duet), and then we will work together to craft the through lines and the transitions, creating the opportunities for relationships to emerge.

Save the date! January 24-26 at Stage 773.  If you’re interested in contributing, shoot us a line.

 photo by Matthew Gregory Hollis

photo by Matthew Gregory Hollis

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Day One

Every time I start a new dance it’s scary.  It is simultaneously my least and most favorite part of the choreographic process – day one of a new dance.  Historically, it’s a flop.  The things created on day one in the studio rarely end up on stage.  It’s the day when I tell a lot of bad jokes to distract from my lack of preparation.  It’s the day when I think to myself that my dances always looks the same and that I’m once again rearranging the same seven moves.  It’s the day when I most appreciate the trust my dancers put in me, as I flail around the space.  It’s the day when I decide to quit making dances.  And, it’s the day when I once again start making a dance.

 photo by Arn Klein

Dancers judging me. photo by Arn Klein

We sold out the Ruth Page Center for the Arts. I took on “Bolero” and no one threw tomatoes. I worked with the Graham Company as a part of their Lamentation Variations project. New dancers were invited into the Leopold Group and they want to stay for more.  I am proud of what we put on the stage.

But day one doesn’t care about any of that.  I am always humbled by day one.

I have to remind myself not to be seduced by the promise of newness.  Newness can never be the ideal, any more than it can actually be achieved.  I have to remind myself that this empty feeling will soon be replaced by a fullness – full of ideas, full of impatience for the next rehearsal, and full of more productive anxieties.

Here goes another day one.  I’ll let you know more about this new dance once I’ve recovered from the first rehearsal…

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Mary Gulino is a senior at Northwestern University, a Radio/TV/Film major and a dance minor.  This summer she was our incredible intern.  Below are some of her thoughts:

 photo by Arn Klein

photo by Arn Klein

In college, people use the term “the real world” like they’re referring to some exotic country or unchartered territory.  “Over the summer, when I was living alone in the real world…,” “People don’t do it like that in the real world,” “I’m so nervous about being in the real world.”  That type of mentality, I’ve come to realize, is usually accompanied by a giant side of delusion.  Especially at my university, where we are not protected by a buffer of cows and fields on all sides, the real world is inescapable.  There is no real separation to speak of between us students and the world in which we live.  We are consumers, producers, citizens.  And some of us are artists.  We do not create in a vacuum—we create in the real world.

This summer, my experience working with The Leopold Group has solidified the notion in my head that college and “the real world” are inextricably connected—indeed, that college is very much a time to start making meaningful connections and getting one’s hands dirty in various fields of interest.  It has also dawned on me during this time that the arts world is more approachable than I had ever before considered, because it is constantly shifting, based on who is choosing to create and how they choose to go about it.

Through my capacity as “intern,” (a title that carries several connotations, most of which are negative), I was treated, to my surprise, as a collaborator right off the bat.  My opinions were valued, and the more opportunity I had to speak my mind, the more Lizzie and the dancers were able to read my honest investment in their work.  The mood of the rehearsal environment was conducive to artistic growth throughout the arc of my summer spent with the group.

The more my non-dance friends asked me what I was doing with my time this summer, the more it dawned on me that the reason I was traveling into Wicker Park twice a week was so that I could collaborate with artists outside of an institution.  Even though I have danced my entire life, I had never known this type of independence.  I had always known the comfort and security of a large, established entity.  It makes sense to me that The Leopold Group has fostered such a sense of intimacy and authenticity in their rehearsals; they have self-started and rapidly carved out their niche in the modern dance world, and the relative newness of the company is a reminder of the impressiveness of that feat.

The drive and proactivity of The Leopold Group as a unit, I think, is my biggest takeaway and source of inspiration.  Lizzie and her dancers began to create dances, not because someone asked them to, but because they wanted to.  (Of course, they now have a strong demand and following.)  My time with them has inspired me to continue to connect with artists and collaborate on projects.  Art is not created in a vacuum, nor need it be created from a place of competitiveness or staunch independence.  Even the most rebellious or revolutionary artist can benefit from the support of others.  Even though Lizzie is a powerhouse with a breadth of artistic and academic knowledge coupled with nonprofit administrative prowess, she still values the importance of inclusion and mutual support every step of the way throughout her process.

At the end of my time with The Leopold Group, I was not concerned about making a dramatic exit, because I did not feel that anything was ending.  I know that I will see them all again soon, and that I will stay up to date on their performance schedule throughout the year.  Maybe I will even volunteer to crew for them again.  My time with them was refreshingly lacking of the “summer camp” effect, in which people create tenuously intimate relationships that cannot sustain past the end of the program.  Rather than giving me an ephemeral summer activity, The Leopold Group has given me valuable insight into the Chicago dance scene.  Through them, I have met other dancers, choreographers, and theatre crew who make a living producing art around the city.  It feels good to be a part of something, and it feels even better to know that this is just the tip of the iceberg.

I used to fear graduation—I viewed it as a sudden cliff, or a hairpin turn with zero visibility.  Having seen what postgraduate life has to offer, I now trust myself to connect with talented peers and also spearhead the advancement of my own work.  I may fall into something cushy, or I may end up reinventing the framework in some way so that cushy isn’t an option.  Either way, if worst comes to worst, I already know people.  I know people in the real world.

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