Celebrating 2019 Chicago Dance: A Community Sourced List

Editor’s Note: Three members of the Chicago dance community, Alyssa Gregory, Erin Kilmurray, and Nora Sharp approached Rescripted with a community-minded approach to celebrating the quality of Chicago’s dance world in 2019. The survey and its results were compiled in an effort by these folks to ensure all of the pieces lifted up by their community could be mentioned. We have so enjoyed embarking on this journey with them and learning more about the dance community by celebrating them. We hope you will too. 

Alyssa, Erin, and Nora: As Best-Of 2019 lists rolled out, we found ourselves reflecting on what kind of work receives recognition, whose voice has a say in selecting such highlights, what those chosen works signify, and through the lens of what platforms. How do these lists impact the broad and varied dance communities that call Chicago home? Honestly, what even is Chicago live dance performance?

We decided to try to find out, knowing this would be an ambitious and perhaps impossible task. 

With the intention of hearing from as many perspectives as possible, we reached out to 65 independent dancemakers, artists, and dedicated audience members –  asking them to propose a limited number of live dance performances that were the most exciting and meaningful to them this year. In a moment of collective brilliance, with over 145 individual performances submitted, many repeatedly, no single piece was mentioned more than 10 times.

In many ways, this list has become an archive. It accounts for every selected submission and every artist who participated in this project. The highlighted performances all received 5 or more mentions, and are accompanied by short pieces of writing from our contributors. 

We acknowledge that this list is incomplete – there are many more communities to reach out to and far more dance artists to connect with. We do believe this project reflects Chicago “as an incubator and home to incredible artists” working within a rich range of identities, aesthetics, forms, visibility, audiences, and resource/funding levels. We encourage you to go see more of it in 2020 – find something you haven’t seen before.

Our hope is that by facilitating this project and including all of the works our community chose to uplift, this list celebrates the dance that is created here, and moves toward representing the rich vastness and complexity of one of our city’s many art scenes. 

Alyssa Gregory, Erin Kilmurray, and Nora Sharp
Chicago-based independent dance artists

2019 in Chicago Dance: A Community-Sourced List

“If I had to contribute, I’d write something pithy, more broadly, about ‘Best of Chicago dance lists’ being more focused on Chicago as an incubator and home to incredible artists. That ‘Best of Chicago Presenting’ is not reflective of Chicago, but of how big money still favors big (white) production. Size and success are not synonymous.  See small dance. Patronize small dance.”   – Lizzie Leopold (Chicago independent dance artist + executive director of Dance Studies Association)

Project Tool – Onye Ozuzu. Photo Credit: Zac Whittenburg

600 HIGHWAYMEN and collaborators — MANMADE EARTH*
Aaliyah Christina — When Iva Met Eunice at Links Hall
Adrienne Truscott – THIS at the MCA*
Aerial Dance Chicago — HIGHER GROUND 
AJ McClenon — Water Music on the Beach
AJ McClenon — VEGA (In Progress) at MCA Chicago
Akram Khan’s Giselle set on English National Ballet at the Harris Theatre* 
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre / Jessica Lang* 
Amanda Milligan– Lady (part of Winifred Haun & Dancers’ I am (not) this body at Links Hall) American Ballet Theatre/Alexei Ratmansky – Whipped Cream*
Amina Ross (Curator) — Eclipsing Festival at Links Hall; specifically noted: Yun Ingrid Lee’s On Illegibility
Ananya Dance Theater – Shyamali*

Notes on Territory – Anne Martine Whitehead. Photo Credit: William Federking

Anna Martine Whitehead – Notes on Territory
Green Line Performing Arts Center
“This work is an incredible meditation on the uneasy and constant tension between fugitive and freed for African-Americans”
-Jane Jerardi (independent Chicago dance artist)

Anna Martine Whitehead + Clare Croft (Curators) — EXPLODE! Queer Midwest Festival featuring work by J’Sun Howard, Jennifer Monson, + others at Links Hall
Anne Imhof — Sex at AIC*
Apolitical Girl — Dear Diary at Berlin Nightclub
Ashwaty Chennet + Mandala Arts — The Firebird Suite with Chicago Sinfonietta’s Diwali celebration
avery r. young + Dorothée Munyaneza — neck | bone for Poetry Off the Shelf
Ayaka Nakama — Freeway Dance at Links Hall*
Ayako Kato — Ethos Episode 1
Ayako Kato — Green Tea at Links Hall
Ayako Kato and dancers — Self-Centered Selves at Links Hall
Ayako Kato, Nejla Yatkin + Ysaÿe McKeever — Dances For This Land
Ayesha Jaco with Damon Locks + Move Me Soul — Chississippi Mixtape at Links Hall and the Rebuild Foundation
Ayodele Drum and Dance — Sorsonet at the Columbia Dance Center 45th Anniversary Celebration Show
Ayodele Drum and Dance — 10th Anniversary Concert
Ayodele Drum and Dance — FeminEssence Burlesque
Banks Performance Project — Our Community. Our Art.
Black Monument Ensemble at the South Shore Cultural Center / Chicago Humanities Festival
Bob Eisen, Jessica Cornish + Thomas Melvin performance as part of LinkScircus at Links Hall
BraveSoul Movement — The Rosina Project at the Pivot Arts Festival

Notes on Territory – Anne Martine Whitehead. Photo Credit: Florence Woo.

Bryan Saner, Matty Davis & collaborators — Wood Bone Mill , performed in Bryan’s backyard
The Cambrians + dancers — Chicago Dances 2019 at The Preston Bradley Center
Cathy Marston — Jane Eyre with the Joffrey Ballet
Carole McCurdy, Harlan Rosen, Aurora Tabar — Not Nothing to Hide at Outerspace
Charlie Universe + Lily Emerson — Mr. and Mrs. Wednesday Night at The Hideout
Chicago Danztheatre Ensemble — i bet you think this dance is about you
Chicago Obihiro Exchange with Asian Arts Improv Midwest
Chicago Summerdance 2019
Circles & Ciphers and Edvetté Jones — Protest in Fashion event
Clare Barron + Lee Sunday Evans —- Dance Nation at Steppenwolf Theatre Company
Co-MISSIONS Festival of New Works: works by Jasmine Mendoza, Elijah Motley, Tuli Bera and Paul Scudder at Links Hall; specifically noted: Jasmine Mendoza’s in the darkness she laid to rest
Cristal Sabbagh (Curator) — Freedom From and Freedom To series at Elastic Arts
D. Sabela Grimes — Electrogynous at The Dance Center of Columbia College*
Danielle Ross (Curator), Pepe Álvarez, Joanna Furnans, Anna Martine Whitehead — Dwellings at Roman Susan
Emily Johnson — Then a Cunning Voice via The Dance Center of Columbia College*
The Era — In the Wurkz at Links Hall

Search Party – Erin Kilmurray. Photo Credit: Matthew Gregory Hollis.

Erin Kilmurray – SEARCH PARTY
Links Hall + Pivot Arts Festival
“Search Party makes, crosses, destroys, and recreates borders, to tear down. These dancers show us that with great physicality comes tenderness and care, empathy, and thus equality. They break the boundaries between audience and performers, they literally draw lines with neon tape, cross them, and thus defy their meanings. ”
– Sarah Stearn (Chicago-based dance writer / co-producer of j e l l o )

Eryka Dellenbach, Hanna Elliot, and Nola Sporn Smith — Make the Brutal Tender / Power Ouch! Festival at Links Hall
fka twigs — Magdalene* at the Riviera Theatre
Francesca Baron — Idiosyncrasy Frequency presented in New Dances 2019
Gare Centrale and Une Compagnie — Axis: The importance of Human Sacrifice in the 21st Century at the Chopin Theater*
Ginger Krebs — Escapes & Reversals at Unity Lutheran Church

Search Party – Erin Kilmurray. Photo Credit: Matthew Gregory Hollis

Goat Island Retrospective at multiple locations; specifically noted: BADco’s Impossible Dances* and Jefferson Pinder’s This Is Not a Drill
The Grelley Duvall Show 2019 — created by Alex Grelle, directed Mary Williamson + co-choreographed by Zac Whittenburg + Kasey Alfonso + Jyl Fehrenkamp at The Hideout
Gurdjieff Ensemble + HaitiDansCo at the World Music Festival*
Honey Pot Performance — ways of knowing
Hot Tawdry (Curators) — House of Burlesque at House of Blues
Ida Cuttler and collaborators — Comfortable Shoes
Indo-Russka Romani Dance Journey in the Parks
In/Time Festival at multiple locations; specifically noted: Ingri Fiksdal & Jonas Corell Peterson’s STATE* and Robin Deacon’s Vinyl Equations at Links Hall
Irish Dance – Auditorium Theatre

aMoratorium – J’sun Howard. Photo Credit: Kiam Marcelo Junio

J’Sun Howard — aMoratorium
multiple locations
“[performers] Bowser and Gray both offer their bodies as conduit for spirit, mixing the heat of social dance with the exuberance of praise.”
– Brianna Heath (Chicago-based dance writer / performer)

Jabowen Dixon — performance for The Justice Hotel at 6018 North
Jasmine Mendoza & Macie Stewart — improvised duet opener for KHGB
Jeez Loueez (Curator & Producer) — Jeezy’s Juke Joint at The Promontory
Jenn Cooper + Christine Shallenberg — JC Space Radio Frequency Workout series at OuterSpace Studios
Jennifer Harge — FLY | DROWN at Hilton Orrington Lobby as part of 2019 DSA Conference*

Doing Fine – Joanna Furnans. Photo Credit: Christine Wallers.

Joanna Furnans — Doing Fine at the grey space
“This was just a beautiful lovely way to spend an hour – the light was wonderful, her setup was unique and I appreciate the chance to read, to look, to not look, to zone out, to engage, to learn more about her or the story she told. She is a beautiful mover. She is one of my
favorite choreographers in town. She is always challenging herself.”
– Kristina Isabelle (independant Chicago dance artist)

Joshua L. Ishmon — Colors
Julie Brannen/SheWolf Sacred Movement — This Too Shall Pass
Katie Carey — Even Lovers Drown presented in New Dances 2019
Ken Gasch and Chris McCray (2019 Re-boot Curators) — Poonie’s Cabaret featuring multiple artists at Links Hall
Keyierra Collins — Clara Lucille: In Crossing

Marginalia. Photo Credit: Ian Ace Vechhiotti

Khecari ft. performers Amanda Maraist + Kara Brody — Marginalia at Links Hall
“I felt so many things throughout this show… it felt like I was witnessing (re-experiencing?) the interior landscape of so many relationships… intimate, powerful, gentle, hard, sensual… all of it was there, laid bare, with vulnerability and honesty. ”
– Julia Rhoads (Chicago dance artist + artistic director/Lucky Plush Productions)

Kristina Fluty (Choreographer) — Go Dog Go at DePaul
Laksha Dantran — traditional kuchudi repertoire at Sivananda Yoga Center
Leslie Buxbaum Danzig + Jessica Thebus — Atalanta at Chicago International Puppet Theater Festival
Lineage: The Black Dance Legacy Project (multiple artists) at the Logan Center
Lucky Plush — Rink Life at Steppenwolf Theatre Company
Malpasso Dance Company with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago*
Mandala Arts (producers with Chicago Park District) — I Gusti Pak Ngurah Kertayuda / Parables in the Park at Ping Tom Memorial Park
Mandala Makers Festival in May
Manuela Infante — Estado Vegetal at MCA Chicago

Marginalia. Photo Credit Ian Ace Vecchiotti.

Marceia Scruggs and Dedrick Gray — Rebuke It!
Meida McNeal — The Fifth City Revisited for Co-MISSIONS Residency showing at Links Hall
Michelle Boule — The Monomyth at Links Hall*
Mitsu Salmon, Laryssa Husiak, Christine Shallenberg — Triple Heartbeat at Links Hall
Mocrep — Other Sensations at the Neo-Futurarium
Molly Shanahan/Mad Shak — Ex/Body at Dovetail Studios
Momenta Dance Company — Counter Balance IX
Natya Dance Theatre — INAI – The connection
Nejla Yatkin — Moving Nature Dreams
Nico Rubio — By Way of Taps: A J Dilla Tribute at Thalia Hall
Nicole Clark Springer — Forces set on Deeply Rooted Dance Theater

Project Tool – Onye Ozuzu. Photo Credit: Zac Whittenburg

Onye Ozuzu — Project Tool
at the Sweetwater Foundation + other locations
“One way to mark the progress of Ozuzu’s ongoing Project Tool is to count the number of painstakingly made, hexagonal tiles laid out in whatever venue hosted the performance most recently. (Handbuilding and woodworking techniques, learned and refined by her collaborators, are applied to the construction of modular, sprung dance floors advancing agency and self-sufficiency.)…some performances just feel like a glimpse at best possible outcomes.” – Zac Whittenburg (Chicago-based dance writer)

Out of the Woodwork — including work by Sarita Smith Childs, Jenai Cutcher, Meida McNeal, Jacqui Sinclair, Amy Wilkinson, + many others

The People’s Church – Po’Chop aka Jenn              Freeman. Photo Credit: Candace Majors.

Po’Chop aka Jenn Freeman — The People’s Church of the G.H.E.T.T.O.
at Blanc Gallery
“’The People’s Church of the G.H.E.T.T.O.’ is timely, as other black artists in Chicago and around the world are taking up expressions of the black church: gospel music, shouting, praising and ritual to explore the possibilities and tools available to marginalized groups seeking liberation. Po’Chop invites us to indulge in the history of black women, with the understanding that if we acknowledge and affirm their work it will take us from glory, to glory, to glory. Ase’.” – Brianna Heath (Chicago-based dance writer / performer)

Po’Chop and Hijo Prodigo aka Virtue — Starting Before You’re Ready at 1700 Steppenwolf
Pol Pi at the Between Gestures Festival* at The Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago
Pope.L — The Escape at the Art Institute
Praize Productions Inc — Smells Like Freedom
Pranita Nayar — Ratri: Music and Dance of the Night
Precious Jennings performing work by Nana Shineflug — Approach 9 (Echo Project)
Project Bound Dance — Notified
Ragamala at the Harris Theatre
Red Clay Dance Company — Art of Resilience 2.0 at DuSable Museum
Red Clay Dance Company — La Femme Dance Festival
Rena Butler —work presented at Inside/Out with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago

The Peoples Church – Po’Chop aka Jenn               Freeman. Photo Credit: Candice Majors.

Rennie Harris / Alvin Ailey — Lazarus at the Auditorium Theatre*
Rhino Fest — multiple artists, produced by Prop Thtr
Rika Lin and Tom Lee — SUJI – Lines of Tradition at Beyond the Box
Robyn Mineko Williams — Echo Mine with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago
The Runaways — The Final Doing Drugs and Dying in Outer Space Ritual at Other World Theatre
Sasha Velour — Smoke and Mirrors
The Seldoms — Exit Disclaimer at Steppenwolf Theatre Company
Silvita Díaz Brown (Sildance/AcroDanza) — Leyendas & Realidades at Links Hall
South Chicago Dance Festival — multiple artists
Spectrum Dance Theatre — Rambunctious Iteration #3 The Immigrants* at The Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago
Street Performer / Tap Artist (name unknown) who uses a block during the Christmas season at the Lake Red Line station
Synapse Arts : New Works featuring work by Amanda Ramírez, LOUD BODIES, + Nora Sharp

The Fly Honey Show X — Erin Kilmurray (creator/director) + co-choreographed with Alyssa Gregory, Kasey Alfonso at The Den Theatre
“This is the best, most important dance show in Chicago. It never gets the recognition it deserves, except from the ideal, life-changing community that has grown around it. Using dance and art to build community and center focus on the beautiful and endless stories carried by the often marginalized, mistreated, silenced, ignored, and / or downtrodden majority of our society is uplifting and brilliant and in a way a struggle to wrap my mind around. Every time I go I’m reminded of how the first time I saw it, my goals as an art maker were forever shifted. ”
-Benjamin Wardell (Chicago-based performer + artistic director/The Cambrian’s)

Thick Time Radio Station at High Concept Labs
Tiff Beatty, Nicole Lynn Fox, + Carole McCurdy at Links Hall
Time Brickey’s solo in Joshua Levin’s garden
Trikone Chicago and Tribhang (Hosts) — Satya: A Community Arts Evening

The Fly Honey Show 10. Photo Credit: Matthew Gregory Hollis.

Tuli Bera + Sarah Stearn — J e l l o performance series at multiple locations
Urban Bush Women — Hair + Other Stories at The Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago
Vershawn Sanders-Ward with Sam Trump + dancers — Envisioning Justice, Envisioning Joy event
The Vertical Sideshow / Chris McCray (Ray Gun) + Ken Gasch (Bazuka Joe) — Giselle at Links Hall

*Denotes work that toured to Chicago, where understood as such.
Location of performance listed where available/known.

List of contributors

Aaliyah Christina , Anna Martine Whitehead, Ashwaty Chennet, Aurora Tabar, Ayako Kato, Benjamin Wardell, Berit Frejand, Brianna Heath, Darling Shear, Dee Alba, Destine Young, Ellen Chenoweth, Elysia Banks, Felicia Holman, Ginger Krebs, J’Sun Howard, Jane Beachy, Jane Jerardi, Jenn Freeman/Po’Chop, Jess Martin, Joanna Furnans, Jordan Kunkel, Julia Rhoads, Kait Dessoffy, Kara Brody, Kia Smith, Kristina Isabelle, Laksha Dantran, Lizzie Leopold , Marceia Scruggs, Meghann Wilkinson, Rachel Damon, Raheim White, Raquel (Rocky) Monroe, Rika Lin, Regina Rodriguez aka Irregular Girl, Roell Schmidt, Sara Zalek, Sarah Stearn, Tuli Bera, Vershawn Sanders-Ward, Willy LaQueue, Zac Whittenburg, Zach Nicol

Editor’s Note: If any publication wishes to re-post this list, this information is free and intended to be shared. We ask that you link to the original post accompanied by the phrase “this article was originally published on Rescripted” at the top of the new post.

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