In his children’s book “What It Feels Like to Be a Building,” Forrest Wilson explores the basic elements of architecture. His illustrations using human figures, (plus some dogs and rams) which squeeze, pull and tug, give us a clear sense of how the human body feels when it encounters architecture.
As a Chicagoan, proud of our city’s architecture, and as a choreographer, Wilson’s book prompted me in 1985 to make a dance that explored the human kinesthetic and emotional relationship to the form, texture, materials and design of architecture. Fast forward 32 years, I found myself wanting to re-imagine this dance using today’s technology and with the eyes of a choreographer who’s creative process and point of view had evolved.
Besides dancers, I needed a collaborator who could help me capture important city images, which would eventually become part of the work. I asked my friend, Frank Vodvarka, Professor Emeritus of Art, at Loyola University in Chicago to be a collaborator. His wife is a design architect, so I knew I could call on her for advice and it would be a positive influence on the work.
We began our exploration by using a historical reference to Louis Sullivan. With his system of Architectural Ornamentation as a starting point, we explored some of Chicago’s most iconic environments – including what used to be known as the Carson Pirie Scott building. Sullivan’s ornamentation on the main revolving doors of the building creates a sense of revolving energy. What seems to come from the idea of a seedpod generates into a flowing design full of energy and growth.
The dancers had little trouble relating to this idea and began to improvise, their bodies reflecting the flow of the Sullivan design. Frank also began to explore and created what might have been Sullivan’s process for the design, first we see a seedling then the sprout and soon the full-blown Sullivan design. Set to a Bach Cello sonata, the first section of the work was taking shape.
Chicago’s Bascule Bridges are another ever-present architectural and engineering presence in our urban environment. How does it feel to be a bridge, especially an iron bridge that moves? Simple ideas of heavy, push, pull, tension and balance was expressed through movement. We began to “know” the urban darkness that these bridges imply.
Trunnion bascule bridges have two leaves that swing vertically on large pivots. The large counter weight is hidden in the bank of the river under the bridge. This type of bridge is quick opening and does not obstruct the river with a center pier.
The “bridges section” as we call one part of the work, inspired an active leaning, lifting push and pull of movement invention, leading to a dramatic still moment of bodies precariously leaning, pulling and suspending in space. Performed to a sound scape of clanking of metal, audience members report having a vivid, kinesthetic response to the dancers interpretation of these iconic representations working class city life.
I am so proud of all of the dancers from Concert Dance Inc, and the collaborators for their dedication and hard work in re-imaging this piece, that I originally created in 1985. The work, entitled “The Chicago Project: Future Present”, had its world premiere last week at the Ravinia Festival on September 7 and 8, 2017. It will be repeated for Chicago audiences to help celebrate the Chicago’s Architectural Biennial on September 21 and 22, 2017 at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts.
See a little behind the scenes of Concert Dance Inc. rehearsing and performing “The Chicago Project: Future Present”