Too Real

When Redmoon Theater planned their annual spectacle for this year they chose the fanciful theme of a town destroyed by water. Spectacle ’05: Loves Me . . . Loves Me Not was to be a mythical portrayal of the aftermath of a “cataclysmic flood,” with Redmoon transforming the Jackson Park Lagoon into “a water-bound village . . . complete with sunken houses.” The story would be about citizens forced to “start life anew on or off ‘the grid of society’ with its inherent consumer conveniences.” Artistic director Jim Lasko says he started rethinking this as soon as the hurricane headed for New Orleans, but it wasn’t until last week–just two weeks before opening–that “it became crushingly clear that the story we were telling was not even a viable option. What previously might have read as mythical or even whimsical was now going to read as tragic.”

The main components of Redmoon’s set are two sunken edifices–a house and a mechanic’s garage–that Lasko says “look exactly like the pictures under the newspaper headlines.” Given the “new set of baggage” the audience would be bringing to that imagery, he concluded that everything around them, including the script and a bunch of commissioned props, would have to be scrapped. Now rewriting the whole thing, he says only two of ten original pieces of music and two of nineteen costumes are salvageable. (He’s thinking about displaying some of what had to be set aside.) The creative team, including composer Jeremy Jacobsen (aka the Lonesome Organist) and costume designer Tatjana Radisic, are scrambling to come up with replacements. Spectacle ’05 involves a cast and crew of about 120 (counting the band and a gospel choir); Lasko says “it’s amazing how willing people were to let go of work that had been going on for three months.”

“We were writing a parable about colonization, a story of opposition,” Lasko says. “Now it’s trying to be a hopeful story about cooperation in the struggle for survival.” For Redmoon, which has been “looking for ways of creating dynamic, truly community-engaged work,” it’s also a chance to address the real spectacle–the reality TV we’ve all been witnessing, with its actual submerged houses, floating bodies, and life disturbingly “off the grid.” Lasko e-mailed Redmoon’s patrons that the ensemble is “poised to respond in our own way to this tragedy, to pull a community together to grieve and help, and to create something beautiful, meaningful, and hopeful.”

Loves Me . . . Loves Me Not opens September 16 and runs through September 25 (with a free preview September 15); 10 percent of the $10 tickets (free for kids 12 and under) will go to victims of Hurricane Katrina through the Red Cross, which will also be accepting donations at each performance.

Hubbard Street 2 Gets a Boost From Euro TV

Filmmaker Marcus Behrens was looking to make a dance film in Chicago for European public television. At a dance fair in Germany last October he bumped into Hubbard Street 2 managing director Andreas Bottcher and wondered if HS2 would be interested. Bottcher and his wife, HS2 artistic director Julie Nakagawa Bottcher, quickly agreed, and last Sunday they were taping a cushioned floor (don’t try this without the help of the Chicago Film Office) to the Franklin Street Bridge so Bottcher could catch their ensemble of six young dancers springing into the air and tossing themselves to the pavement while the el slid by in the background. The 25-minute HS2 film will be aired on the performing arts channel Arte for a prime-time audience of 500,000 in January, just prior to the company’s next tour of Europe–where they may soon have a higher profile than they do at home.

“We do 50 or 60 performances a year in Chicago,” says Bottcher, “but most of them aren’t open to the general public, and we don’t have a regular season.” As Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s junior arm, HS2 does the heavy lifting in education and outreach, schlepping to schools and starring in family matinees. Bottcher says the troupe is a sort of laboratory, taking risks the parent company wouldn’t (its repertoire consists primarily of work by emerging choreographers), and most of the regular Hubbard Street audience never see it. But last year HS2 went to Europe four times, picking up bookings at venues (like universities) that can’t afford the parent company, which costs about three times as much to produce, and attracting audiences the same age as HS2’s 17- to 25-year-old dancers.

Launched in 1997, HS2 uses about $450,000 of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s $6.5 million annual budget and has graduated a dozen dancers so far into the parent ensemble. Signed on as coproducer for Behrens’s film, it’s trading choreography and performances in return for North American rights to the piece, which includes lakefront, Gold Coast, and Millennium Park settings. Behrens initially wanted to showcase the work of a single choreographer, but the Bottchers were determined that the film reflect the diversity of HS2’s repertoire; they prevailed and the dancers performed excerpts from different choreographers at each of the half dozen locations. At the Franklin Street Bridge, it was the muscular patterns of Katarzyna Skarpetowska’s group piece Stand Back, with percussion-only music by Nandor Weisz and a chorus of road, rail, and river traffic.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Saverio Truglia.