Christine Rich Dance Theater Graces Chicago

From CU Cityview Nov. 22-28, 2002
By Tiffany Marie Arnold

Four young performers from Urbana’s Christine Rich Dance Theater are among the 2,500 artists participating in Dance Chicago 2002. The local studio was featured alongside Joel Hal, Joffrey Ballet, and other Chicago dance greats performing in the five-week dance festival. Dance Chicago runs from November 2 through December 1 at the Athenaeum Theater and includes eight different programs. Dance styles range from classical ballet to hip-hop. The studio has already shown at the festival on November 8-10, 16 and 23 but will be performing three pieces, Cloud 10, Parenthesis and Rainforest, on November 26, 29 and 30.

The Athenaeum Theater’s Main Theater can hold 1,000 people, an intimidating number at best, but 12-year-old Jessica Stark is a 7-year veteran. She said her nervousness turned into excitement when she stepped on the stage for the first time. The children performed Rainforest in the program designated for children’s dances, Dance For Kids, Too! But the youngsters are also featured in the “adult” sections, Jazz Rhythms and New Dances. Becky Ramos and Andrew Cribbett, both 10 years old, are the youngest performers to ever perform in New Dances.

The festival was exclusive to Chicago-area companies, but Dance Chicago founder John Schmitz said Christine Rich Dance Theater was “one-of-a-kind”-there weren’t any studios like it in Chicago proper, so they had no choice but to go outside the city. “What seems to be exceptional about Christine Rich’s school is that it’s not just ballet. She has cross-training. She actually has her own patented program that accelerates the progress of her dancers. She’s got kids at 9 and 7 years old that look like they’re 18 or 19 years old. If I were a parent in Champaign-Urbana, I would be very happy she was there. I just wish we had a school as good as hers in Chicago.”

So, when Rich sent her videotape in, it was decided that Chicago proper didn’t have that thing going on. Rich entered an original piece, Cloud 10, into an introductory program to Dance Chicago called Dance Slam, and was one of the five choreographers selected from Dance Slam to compose work for Dance Chicago 2002. The program oriented up-and-coming choreographers to dance production, Schmitz said. “They’re like caged animals,” he continued. “You have to tame them to the limitations of concert dance. This is not a recital.”

Each composition was allotted five minutes with a set of restrictions. A committee, after reviewing the pieces, asked some of the choreographers to submit their pieces to Dance Chicago. Schmitz said Dance Slam was the first time he’d ever seen or heard of Christine Rich Dance Theater. Schmitz said he found out more about Rich’s unique style through dance company connections. Most choreographers have a couple of Dance Slam competitions under their belts before they’re invited to Dance Chicago, Schmitz said. Rich was invited after her first submission. Rich said Dance Chicago 2001 inspired her Cloud 10 submission for Dance Slam. “I thought there was a lot of disconnect, choreographers excluding the audience instead of including them. I wanted to give them a dance they can become an emotional part of. I thought there was too much emphasis on very important dancing. I felt there was a lot of disconnect from the humanity that could be taking place on stage-children [find] a way to bridge the gap.”

She said she has had trouble describing the piece. “It’s interesting because people keep changing their minds about what it is,” Rich said. “I could tell you what it’s not. All my jazz has a very strong influence on ballet. I like to see the lines on stage, but I also like to see a lot of passion, character development.”

Her composition demolished taboos in Cloud 10 with choreography that featured both adults and children dancing on stage together to Michael Jackson’s “Heaven Can Wait.” “There are certain artists that are almost never used in concert dance, and Michael Jackson was one of them,” Rich said. “I thought that was interesting that there are some songs that are great to listen to, but never used in concert dance.”

Schmitz said using pop-music is a risk for choreographers who want their piece to endure beyond its present time setting, but he said the choreography in Cloud 10 makes the music a non-issue. “Cloud 10 got a great response from the audience,” Schmitz said.

Rich entered a slightly different piece in the festival. She said she experimented with Cloud 10 by setting the choreography to the orchestral score from the film Road to Perdition and by changing the name of the piece to Parenthesis. In addition to the name and music swap, Rich took out the parts with the children. Now, the piece only features the two adult dancers, Sarita Smith-Childs and Paul Christiano. Though the changes transformed the dynamics of the piece, both compositions were featured in Dance Chicago. Rich said she hopes her work has impacted the dance community. “I have from time to time been to concert dance, and the artistic director will come and talk before or after the show,” she said. “I hear them say how they are losing their audiences and how they need to do more choreography that relates to the audiences. I watch their shows and it’s the exact opposite. It’s exclusionary. I would rather talk to the plumber than the dance director after the show. If people feel stupefied that’s not good. If you want audiences to come and pay their hard-earned dollar and you put something on stage that excludes them – that’s just horrible. It’s like taking people’s money and saying you don’t care.”

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