By Megan Kramer
DanceWorks Chicago made its debut in the Harris Theater’s 2014-2015 Exelon Family Series on Saturday, with a program that included the premiere of a piece titled “Red Beans and Rice-ly Yours.”
If you missed the performance, you can catch DanceWorks’ next performance on Friday, Jan. 30 at 7 p.m. at the Lou Conte Dance Studio, 1147 W. Jackson. The Family Series, which opened in November with the children’s music band Dan Zanes and Friends, will wrap up its season with the Peking Acrobats Feb. 6-7.
Julie Nakagawa, DanceWorks’ artistic director, who also co-founded the company in 2007, said participating in the Family Series was a way to continue the company’s relationship with the Harris while fostering the family ideal that the company values.
“We took into consideration that it’s named the Family Series,” Nakagawa said. “The word ‘family’ applies to the audience and also the community we’re trying to build.”
For the one-hour show Nakagawa chose several works that exhibited the dancers’ athleticism and allowed the audience to get to know them individually. “The rate in which i am” was performed by the full company, all dressed alike in dark red, form-fitting outfits. Yet each dancer was lit by a separate spotlight, creating a piece that truly felt like six solos in one.
Participating in the Family Series, Nakagawa said, was also a good fit for DanceWorks because the company focuses on young artists.
“Julie creates a safe environment and takes artists early in their career, giving them tools and training them for the broader dance community,” said Matt Wenckowski, one of DanceWorks’ six company members.
Wenckowski performed the duet “Call the Whole Thing Off” with Sarah Elizabeth Stockman. Wenckowski, who started dancing around age 10, is partial to duets.
“Interacting with someone else on stage,” he said, “makes the performance better and more real, in a sense.”
DanceWorks’ closed the Family Series program with, “Red Beans and Rice-ly Yours,” a piece for the full company choreographed by Taylor Mitchell and inspired by the music of Louis Armstrong. The premiere, Nakagawa said, was a “gift” to the Harris for inviting them to perform.
“The word ‘family’ applies to the audience and also the community we’re trying to build.”
– Julie Nakagawa, co-founder, DanceWorks
“It’s very fun and energetic and had a sense of humor,” she said. “We thought older audience members familiar with Louis Armstrong could connect with the dance musically as well, and it gave younger audience members a chance to maybe hear something new.”
After the show, the audience was encouraged to stick around and meet the dancers.
“It was really nice to be in that environment and feel appreciated,” Wenckowski said. “Young kids are easily impressed by things and have this enthusiasm about them. Even when we were on stage I felt like we were being appreciated.”