Choreographer Nejla Yatkin wants Chicagoans to recognize the splendor of
their city. With her site-specific pieces, Yatkin takes inspiration from
natural spaces to create works that invite viewers to look at their
surroundings from new perspectives.
Last year, Yatkin showcased the serenity of Jackson Park’s Garden of the
Phoenix with the help of South Chicago Dance Theatre. It was such a success
that the Chicago Park District asked Yatkin if she would like to
choreograph a new work, and she was quickly enchanted by the Burnham
Wildlife Corridor, the largest stretch of natural land along the Chicago
“I wanted to showcase different beautiful sites in Chicago,” says Yatkin.
“This one spoke to me because of the Caracol sculpture, and when I was
visiting it the first day, there was this white owl sitting there and it
was amazing to see this gorgeous creature on the lake.”
Taking audience members through the north end of the corridor—Yatkin
recommends wearing comfortable shoes—”Conference of the Birds” features
flocking patterns inspired by birds and movement dictated by nature.
“When you look at a tree, it’s not organized line after line straight,”
says Yatkin. “There are lines combined with waves combined with spirals.
That becomes a basis for the structural improvisation of the dance.”
The unpredictability of nature is a major part of its appeal for Yatkin.
“On stage, you can set everything the way you want it, but in life it’s not
the same,” says Yatkin. “The sun could be bright one day, cloudy the next
day. But that’s the beauty of site-specific work. You feel so
interdependent and interconnected with everything around you, and you
really feel it when you’re out there dancing.” v