As part of the Short Cuts series co-organized by Space p11 and the Chicago Loop Alliance, I performed two movement installations in a Pedway corridor inside the County Building at 121 N. LaSalle Street. Over the course to the two sessions, the work was experienced by hundreds of pedestrian passersby.
There’s no question that the weather here in central Illinois has been getting warmer faster than usual. Whether you believe in Punxsutawney Phil or the “alternative fact” of global climate change, it seems fitting that this weekend will bring highs in the 60s while The Unreliable Bestiary brings its BEAR out of hibernation. The Station Theatre will be home to an awakening beast for the next two weekends, which will sadly bring this three-part interactive, multimedia art installation to a close.
Deke Weaver and his accomplices have built an engrossing story of a near-future world – 2020 with risen sea levels and little to no electricity – where rangers in the Allerton-Meadowbrook-Kickapoo parks are trying to attract apex predators back to the area and re-balance the biome. For those of us who have been immersed in that world since fall, it will be the culmination of six months’ worth of randomly remembering snippets of story, phantom face-mask itching, and traipsing through muddy parks on a mini-geocaching adventure (btw – videos 5 and 6 are up). But if you missed the first two parts, or have no idea what an Unreliable Bestiary could possibly be, an evening spent at the Station with Deke Weaver’s den of incredibly talented artists promises an experience that will be worthwhile.
To that end, when getting together the interview questions for BEAR:Spring, Arts writer Sarah Keim offered up half of the questions, because she did not experience the Fall or Winter installments. The other half are written by me, because I have been all-in since I walked away from Meadowbrook last September. Deke Weaver and Jennifer Allen were kind enough to answer questions from both the uninitiated and the slightly-obsessed.
Read the full article: http://www.smilepolitely.com/arts/time_to_wake_up/
Deke Weaver’s Unreliable Bestiary series has a legendary – almost apocryphal – air about it. If you haven’t experienced one, but you’re talking to anyone involved in local art, you’ll hear about it. Usually, there will be some superlatives along with the word “indescribable”, and then they’ll try to encapsulate one moment that stood out to them. Maybe it will be the hand-holding ELEPHANT walk that Latrelle Bright remembers, or the feeling of summer-camp camaraderie that WOLF imparted to Thom Schnarre. Whatever it is, it will not sound like a normal piece of theatre, and it will be clear that the experience was both effective and affecting. While each Bestiary experience is unique, there are some common threads that are woven into every installment:
- The performance will not take place solely in a traditional space
- The audience will be limited to a small, intimate group
- You will not just sit throughout the entire work
- There will be choreography
- You will hear a story told by a master storyteller
- It will be FREE.
BEAR appears to be grander in scope than the previous three animals, while incorporating elements of each of the earlier tales into its presentation. We traipsed through a park, like folks did at Allerton during WOLF; we held hands in a line, like participants in ELEPHANT; and we ended up in an cozy space where we listened to Weaver spin a yarn, very similarly to MONKEY. Contributing artist Michael Collins wrote to me about this mélange of artistry, saying, “I think what I enjoy most is the layering of all the different styles of creativity…it ends up being really dynamic with all the different talent.”
What’s more is that BEAR is actually a triptych, with different experiences set for Fall, Winter, and Spring. You’re not required to participate in all three, but you’re given the tools to do so by signing up for Fall. Additionally, the world that BEAR builds is so immersive, I still feel like a small part of me lives there, and I am eagerly anticipating the next opportunity to go back. November’s not too far off, and February will feel like waking up after a long absence – clearly an intentional effect.
When I say it builds a world, I’m not being hyperbolic; co-director Jennifer Allen cites this as central to the mission of The Unreliable Bestiary:
“We’ve created a fantastical performance world that places people in an alternate space – just like if they go to a movie. […] I’m interested in transformation. I aspire to make work that gives people an experience outside of their “normal”. To expand their experience of being a human in the world. When we make these shows together – that’s a big part of what we’re hoping to achieve.”
My experience of the world they built together was an extraordinary success. Perhaps it was because I was on the last tour of the night, where darkness blocked out most of what I would find familiar about Meadowbrook Park and allowed me unusual access to the stars. The walk around the park, through both wooded areas and the prairie plants, is interspersed with several stops at educational stations, almost like a guided tour through a national park, made even moreso by the costumed “rangers” leading the group. Because part of the mythology of this world is that North America’s electrical grid has collapsed, participants are asked to spin the generator on a digital recorder that projects Weaver’s voice, reciting mostly true facts about various types of bears.
Your mission is to walk, concentrate, learn, and sanctify our land in an attempt to invite these apex predators to our still mostly-healthy environment. Again, maybe aided by the nighttime environment, it was very easy for the small group of eight to remain silent, opening us to sensations we wouldn’t casually notice within the city limits. Aside from the stars, we heard all of the evening wildlife and felt pockets of cool and hot air coming off the surrounding plants. It was easy to imagine that all our thoughts were focused on bears, especially because some of the information we gathered from the stations was equally surreal and amusing, making it easy to ruminate upon. The rangers and some performers kept us engaged on the trail, but the walk is mostly wordless.
One of the stops along the way is different – less educational, more observational – but leads into an emotionally-heightened state. In a small, wooded clearing, Weaver’s partner in both art and life, Jennifer Allen, demonstrates her dance and performance skills with two other artists. While the outer parts of the costumes are truly exceptional, don’t neglect observing all of the articles of clothing and know that the choices are intentional. There is a moment when you may be pushed past your comfort zone, I’ll admit I was hesitant, but after a second it seemed only natural to join the experience, to give myself over to the world that had been created.
Head Ranger Nicki Werner spoke about this with me, and hearing it from her made me realize that moment was leading me to the same realization she’s had:
“One of the most valuable lessons that I have really taken to heart is that you have to make the culture you want to be a part of. And that is what the Unreliable Bestiary is doing: imagining ways of thinking and being that are out of the ordinary, and that have exponential potential to make an impact on the world we live in.”
This is Werner’s third involvement with Weaver’s works, having helped with both ELEPHANT and WOLF. Aside from corralling attendees and giving background information, she helped create the den installation that awaits participants at the end of the tour. As a big girl with two fake hips, this element concerned me the most, as “crawling” is not on the list of Things Which Are Easy For Me To Do. Of course, the rangers did offer an alternative, but by the time I had walked for more than an hour I was all-in and wasn’t going to deviate now. Removing our shoes, we all crawled through an enclosed, but not pressing, space filled with blankets and soft padding until we got to a warm comfortable space facing Weaver.
If, like many within C-U, you have had a chance to hear Deke Weaver tell a story, even at PechaKucha, you know that this is a special kind of magic that befits his name. If, like me before this, you have yet to experience it, know that people aren’t exaggerating when they describe how incredible it is to listen to him. The sense of quietude followed us into the den, and we huddled mostly together to listen. His inviting voice, individual eye contact, and general spark drew us in even closer. By the end of the tale, when Weaver promised to see us in the spring, to me it felt like a mutual pact made between us.
The Spring element of BEAR will be held at the Station Theatre, and I imagine that there will be a high return-rate of Fall participants. Also, the Winter element is interactive, coordinated through the Unreliable Bestiary website, requiring the audience to travel through the AMK Habitat Corridor during November through January. There is more information contained in the Field Guide that comes with your tickets.
For full review go to: http://www.smilepolitely.com/arts/bear_witness_to_the_unreliable_bestiary_before_its_gone/
Photo Credit: Natalie Fiol
February 2, 2017
A combination of environmental influences blended with technological advancements and human interaction form the theme of the February Dance.
The annual February Dance will be held Thursday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $23 for adults, $21 for senior citizens, $17 for non-University students and $10 for all current University students and children. February Dance is one of the celebrations commemorating the University’s sesquicentennial anniversary.
The performance includes four pieces, choreographed by Charli Brissey, Rebecca Nettl-Fiol and John Toenjes with guest artist, Chad Michael Hall and Renée Wadleigh. All of the pieces stem from contemporary and modern dance, and also incorporate electro-acoustic music and original scores from Ken Beck, Jason Finkelman and Toby Twining.
Approximately 40 dancers will be showcased in the concert, which is dedicated to Wadleigh, who retired from the University in December.
This year’s performance explores the mutual relationship between humans and the environment around them, or Designed Environments. Each piece expresses this theme in its own way, whether it be through lighting, costumes, technology or set design.
“The idea of how we shape our space is how we live and how we think. A major part of understanding ourselves is how we shape our environments,” said Jan Erkert, professor and head of the dance department. “The theme brings about the sense of how our environment is changing with technology and how that’s allowing us to act with our environment in many new ways.”
Designed Environments also help the audience better understand the meanings behind the pieces and how they relate to each other.
“I think the audience can look for a general theme throughout the show about how the choreographers use space alternatively and are really doing cool things with technology and putting you in a different atmosphere,” said Jenny Oelerich, sophomore in FAA. “Even though all four pieces are very different, I think that will be the common thread throughout the whole show.”
This year’s dance stands out from the University’s past dance performances because of its utilization of technology. This year, an app will be used throughout John Toenjes’s piece titled “Critical Mass.” Developed by Tony Reimer, professor of sound design, the app serves as a way for the audience to be directly involved with the show. Audience members will have the opportunity to go on the stage and interact with the dancers. They will also have the ability to control things, like the direction of the dance and the lighting in the auditorium from their seats.
“It came about from computer technology, where you design an environment or space that is activated by motion capture,” said Toenjes, associate professor and undergraduate director of dance. “The space is just there until you activate it. People come into the environment, and because the people are there the environment changes. We’re using the cell phones as a way for the audience to influence the course of the dance.”
One of the main features of the app is it explains the meaning and inspiration behind the dancers’ choreography. This feature will be beneficial to audience members who often find it difficult to understand contemporary dance. The app also helps the audience better relate to the dance and understand the emotion behind it.
“In our dance, there’s a section where the cast is dancing solos that they all choreographed with ideas in mind about social media,” Toenjes said. “They each have an identifying logo on their costume, and we have buttons that match those logos on the app that explain what motivated them to create those movements.”
Aside from Toenjes’s piece, the three other pieces are titled “In the String Room” by Nettl-Fiol, “Therapoda” by Brissey, and “The Quench” by Wadleigh.
Nettl-Fiol’s piece was inspired by the Greek myth of Eurydice, specifically the story of Eurydice’s journey to bring his wife Orpheus back from the underworld. It explores the metaphors of water, string and the underworld and displays animated pictures projected behind the dancers.
“It’s not a narrative with some kind of story but I think it reads as something other than abstract movement. Everybody brings their own experience of watching it and appreciation of movement,” said Nettl-Fiol, professor and undergraduate recruitment director of dance.
Erkert said the best takeaway of February Dance is the professionalism the rehearsal process teaches students and the student-faculty relationships made. These experiences provide students with the skills they will need in both the professional world of dance and their careers at the University.
“The whole show is collaborative with students and faculty. It’s an incredible chance for students to work with guest artists and faculty throughout the whole process of learning a dance and choreographing and performing it. We think of the Krannert Center as a living laboratory where they learn to make work in a professional way,” said Erkert.
February Dance is a representation of the research and experimental attitude that dance the University displays.
“If you haven’t seen dance before and aren’t familiar with it this is a great way to expose yourself to this art form. Also, it’s a very diverse show too, all the pieces are very different stylistically and I think no matter where you’re coming from you can find something that you’ll connect or relate to,” said Oelerich.
Happy to be dancing in the February Dance Concert at U of I. I’m dancing in Rebecca Nettl-Fiol piece, In The String Room, which I was also the assistant choreographer for. Come check it out!
Photo Credit: Natalie Fiol
Curated by John Toenjes, February Dance 2017 will include works by Charli Brissey, Rebecca Nettl-Fiol, John Toenjes, Renée Wadleigh, and guest artist Chad Hall. These artists will create exciting new approaches to the choreographic experience by exploring Krannert Center spaces and the possibilities they offer for expanded notions of live performance, deeply involving the audience in the experience of live dance. Dancers and the audience will move through active and passive environments activated through both natural and computer means, designed for action and reaction, on a continuum from tightly controlled to artificially rebellious.
February Dance with run three nights: 2/2- 2/4 at 7:30pm.
Tickets available at https://krannertcenter.com/events/february-dance
The Summer Showcase at Master Dance is Aug 6th and I will be presenting an excerpt from my new work Disappearing Wonder! If you plan to attend, get your tickets now. There will be amazing student and pro shows ranging from ballroom to contemporary and fantastic food by Chef Joe Jamisola!
Time and Date: Aug 6th 6:00pm
For Tickets Call: (847) 359-8062 Price: $30