Editors Note: Picture this Post (PTP) recently spoke with Aerial Dance Chicago’s Artistic Director, Chloe Jensen (CJ) about the world premiere of BLACKBIRD.
(PTP) How did you first get started with aerial dance?
(CJ) I was studying dance at Northern Illinois University and during my senior choreography class, we had to explore the use of a prop. For my project I created a choreography with suspended ropes and bars. This was my first exploration with taking dance up into the air, and after that, I just couldn’t go back. At the time I did not know anything such as “aerial dance” existed, but I was enthralled, and it was at that point I decided I was most interested in taking my choreography into the air. Upon graduation, I realized what an extremely challenging pursuit, but with lots of persistence over many years, I was able to create and establish Aerial Dance Chicago to support this vision of taking dance into flight. The company was founded in 1999, but for the first couple of years most of my work was with ground based props because it took awhile to find a studio space that would support the aerial rigging and allow my pursuits at a cost I could afford with a very limited initial budget.
What are some things you wish people knew about aerial dance?
I wish people understood the intense physical, logistical and other challenges. For aerial dance, our theatre costs are sometimes doubled or even tripled. While dance is already a time and resource intensive activity, aerial dance takes these demands even further. The amount of hidden, behind the scenes work and costs that goes on to do this type of work is something I have to try to keep a sense of humor about. Despite it all, I think it is worth it when dancers finally take flight.
I also wish people viewed aerial dance as a fine art, the same as any other concert dance form. I hope that my work through Aerial Dance Chicago can establish aerial dance as a recognized and supported fine art and concert dance form. As challenging as the art may be physically, financially and logistically, I do believe it is a powerful form of artistic expression with possibilities we’ve just started to explore. I also hope the work of Aerial Dance Chicago will inspire dancers of Chicago (and beyond) to explore their craft and the potential for expression beyond the traditional dance floor.
Please tell Picture this Post readers briefly about your choreographic process
My work often begins with a rigging design idea, a structure for which new movement ideas can take shape. I like to use improvisation to explore new movement and I enjoy exploring the fine details in movement, and most of all I love discovering new movement potential. My choreography is subtly influenced by the social, political and environmental issues in our world today, but not literally. Rather my experiences of things things become very abstracted, taking shape viscerally, in movement sequences, dancer interactions and group structure ideas. I am also very inspired by music during my creation process, but I often set a final choreographic work to an entirely different piece of music than what provided initial inspiration.
What inspired blackbird?
Blackbird was created in collaboration between three choreographers - myself, Karen Fisher Doyle and Tracy Von Kaenel. We all researched various cultural significance of the Blackbird and with this inspiration each took our own turns in the development of the choreography. The piece is abstract, but explores darkness versus light, vulnerability versus strength, and the impetus to move beyond a bound existence toward the discovery of flight.
What does Blackbird mean to you?
Blackbird represents potential. At least for me, I was inspired by an immense potential that I sense all around us all the time. At the same time, we often have a feeling that despite all of this potential, we are all stuck in a box. How do we free ourselves enough to let our potential unfold? For me too, there is a lot of relevance with regard to the way we see the world in such a black and white way where it is “good” versus “evil". I see the blackbird as a messenger, guiding us toward a perspective that is much closer to the truth—that it is not the good guys (us) against the bad guys (them). Rather, the potential for darkness and for light, and everything in between is something that exists within each of us.
Are there mechanical lifts or pulleys used in this production?
Much aerial work uses special lifts and winches to raise performers into the air. There are no mechanical lifts or devices used in Blackbird or in any of our work for Aerial Dance Chicago. That means the power to fly comes only from the dancers - both their physical strength and their belief in themselves that they can master a three-dimensional dance floor. The dancers verge on doing superhuman things, yet they do this solely with pure human power.
What do you hope audiences get from the experience when they attend?
I hope that audiences will walk away feeling inspired, invigorated and brought together by the experience. Blackbird is an intensely physical, creative, living art work that is designed to be experienced in a live, social environment. In our world trending toward more sedentary living, consumerism and constant individual immersion in hand-held devices, maybe this show, and other live, concert dance experiences are needed more than ever to help remind us that we as human beings need to move, create and connect.
July 14th at 7:00 PM
July 15th at 5:00 PM
Ruth Page Center for the Arts
1016 N. Dearborn Street
Chicago, IL 60610