Ayako Kato Art Union Humanscape To the Shore: ETHOS Episode I Review– Enlightened Story-Telling

Choreographer Ayako Kato Photo: Sally Cohn

As we stand in the beautiful foyer of the historic Colvin House, hypnotized by the half hour or so of watching eight female-bodied performers moving gracefully and intimately around the entrance hall and grand staircase, we are greeted for the first time by spoken words, temporarily breaking us out of the spell.

“I’ll be in the purple bathroom”, “you can find me in the library on the third floor,”, “I’ll be upstairs in the kitchen”, “or choose to stay here on the stairs for a while” the performers are suddenly making it clear that the remainder of our experience will be up to the choices we make.

Photo: Ralph Kuene

But where to start?

It’s not often that during a live performance the audience is offered a “choose your own adventure” journey, but here we are, an intimate audience of no more than forty, splitting up to follow one of the eight performers down one corridor or another, taking agency over the ways in which we will be viewing the remainder of the performance.

Ayako Kato’s/Art Union Humanscape To the Shore: ETHOS Episode I is an interdisciplinary experience that utilizes dance, story-telling, poetry, music and meditative practices throughout the work. The performance offers up several notions ranging from taking care of the environment to the importance of promoting self-love.

Creator Ayako Kato herself emphasizes in her program notes that, “we are all humans, and each of our movement matters as humanity”. Indeed, we discover that we will not only be viewers in this experience, but participants contributing to the life of the whole work.

Ayako Kato Art Union Humanscape Stages Performance Throughout Historic Mansion

This performance, which is part of the Pivot Arts Festival 2019, takes place at the historic Colvin House on Sheridan road in Chicago, situated right across the street from the beach. The house, built in 1909 has been restored and used as an event space over the past decade, boasts lavish decor and old touches such as intricate crown molding and 1920s era furnishing, making it, in this writer’s view, the perfect site for the afternoon’s performance.

The work is broken up into four “chapters” presented over the course of about two hours. The first chapter, serving as a prologue, starts out soft, setting the meditative tone for the types of movement qualities we can expect for the duration of the performance. We entered the house and immediately were confronted by the performers moving both together and separately in the foyer, navigating slowly and gracefully around each other not quite paying attention to their audience but not avoiding eye contact either. We realize we are all equals in this space. The performers’ simple and long navy skirts and cream colored blouses, by Amanda Franck, brush up against each other and add to the flowy, billowing tone of the movement. Long pieces of string and then later on ropes serve as a thread, literal and figurative – throughout the work, as the performers use them at different points to gently pull and guide each other through the foyer. Throughout one cellist and one double bassist provide a soundscape that at times is soothing and lulling, and other times is discordant and chaotic.

Then, just as we’re settling into this trance-like modality, creator and director Ayako Kato welcomes us at the top of the stairs and we are invited to choose our own path, deciding which performers we will follow into which rooms of this enchanting, historical house.

Depending on who you follow into which room and in what order, there are things you may miss altogether. This creates a truly unique, individualized experience for each of us. In each room of this charming old building, each performer relays something either about themselves or about the greater human experience to their audiences, often asking the guests in the room to verbally participate themselves. Using mainly a poetic format, the performers perform for five minutes each. We then move to the next room, taking in the sight of the remaining movers in the hallway who have not ceased performing, even behind closed doors.

The work concludes with an invitation to join the performers across the street on the beach. The audience, following the performers and musicians, are seated on white sheets facing the blue-gray waters of Lake Michigan. We then take in the last few quiet minutes of the performance. We hear only the sounds of the waves and the distant string instruments, as the performers move delicately in the sand before us, eventually making their way to the edges of the water. What a spectacle!

Kato and her collaborators create an intimate and one of a kind experience. In this writer’s view, the performances are generous and full of heart. We feel we are in a safe space free of judgment. You may also glean something about yourself and your own humanity from this experience.


Movement Collaboration, Stanza Content Provision and Performances by Tuli Bera, Aquarius Ester, Lesley Keller, Amanda Maraist, Jasmine Mendoza, Margaret Morris, Danielle Ross, Ayako Kato

Soundscape by Wilson Tanner Smith and Jason Roebke

Costume Design by Amanda Franck

Conceived and Directed by Ayako Kato

For more information visit the Ayako Kato/ Art Union Humanscape website

Learn more about dance by seeing dance through dancers eyes in the Picture This Post series, “Choreographers’ Eyes - Dancers Explain Dance”.  Watch this video preview of the story here— 




Jenny Oelerich Photo: LaTosha Pointer

Jenny Oelerich hails from Winnetka, Illinois and earned a BFA in Dance at the University of Illinois in Spring of 2019. During her time as an undergrad she had the privilege of working with Jan Erkert, Renee Wadleigh, and Abby Zbikowski among others. Jenny is an artist and dance teacher with students ranging from 3 years old to adults, and has recently earned her 200 hour yoga teacher certification under Linda Lehovec. Since graduating, Jenny has re-located back to the Chicagoland area. 


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