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Chicago Dance Company Reaches Out To ‘Dance Citizens’

By Amy Ross

By Amy Ross

The future sustainability of dance depends as much on nurturing extraordinary artists as it does on cultivating an audience, true “dance citizens.” This is the philosophy behind DanceWorks Chicago, an organization founded in 2007 to provide a laboratory for early career performers while reaching out to the community. On Dec. 13, Danceworks gave a clear example of its intentions to engage the community: its staff opened company auditions to the public. Members of the audience were allowed to watch this competitive process, held at the Dance Center of Columbia College in Chicago.

“Creating an environment for meaningful exploration by artists and audiences is an important part of continuing the forward movement of the art form as well as part of building Chicago as a destination for dance,” said Julie Nakagawa, who directs DanceWorks alongside Andreas Böttcher. As they sum it up on their website, Dancework’s commitment is to “community” not “company”; to “participatory,” rather than the “proprietary.” An Evanston native, Nakagawa has invested her efforts in the development of dance artists and their collaborators since 2007, after retiring from a successful career as a dancer with Christopher D’Amboise’s Off Center Ballet, Cleveland Ballet, and Twyla Tharp Dance.

For Nakagawa, “making it” in the dance scene depends more on the measuring stick than on anything else, as there are many ways successfully participate in the dance community. DanceWorks Chicago fits into that equation by allowing dancers and choreographers to explore new levels of artistry through training, collaboration, mentorship, and performance.

“Dance has really grown in the past few decades, in lots of ways, not all of them qualitative. There’s more out there to navigate, whether studios, post-high school options, companies, non-profit structures, etc.,” she said. Although she works far from the commercial dance arena, Nakagawa believes that commerce and art can maintain a healthy and fulfilling relationship in dance, as they do in many other art forms such as architecture, fashion, music, and theater. “Technology provides a lens through which to experience more dance,” Nakagawa said.

“Technology is not changing the body and the possibilities of the body, rather it is changing how we view bodies in motion, literally and figuratively.” Dancework’s next live performance will be held on Saturday, January 17 in the Family Matinee Series at the Harris Theater, located at 205 East Randolph, Chicago. Tickets are available here. For more information on the DanceWorks community and upcoming events, you can visit the company website or follow its Facebook page.