Ellyzabeth Adler founded Chicago Danztheatre Ensemble in 2001 to bring together artists that wanted to inspire positive change in the world through performance. Calling it "performance with a purpose," the ensemble's first project work-shopped an adaption of T.S. Eliot's The Wasteland. These performance contextualized Eliot's poetry with movement and physical theater; they tackled the concepts of facing fear of emotional rejection, fear of death, regret of what could be, and the peace that comes with a form of enlightenment.
Receiving accolades from critics, the ensemble gathered again in 2002 to stage T.S. Eliot's Death's Dream Kingdom and a reworked version of The Wasteland. The 80 minute performance received positive reviews from critics and audience members. Several reviewers pointed that the cross-disciplinary nature of the performance kept the audience's attention during pieces in whose written form are often difficult to interpret. The success of these pieces confirmed in Adler's mind that there was indeed a need in Chicago's cultural scene for "tanztheatre."
Spurred on by their early successes, Chicago Danztheatre Ensemble received official 501c3 status in 2002. The newly recognized non-profit continued to do several other performances that year, including the Vaudeville Underground in Chicago's Logan Square neighborhood and The Fringe Festival in Ontario, Canada.
About this same time, Adler developed the outreach program at Chicago Danztheatre Ensemble seeing students “needing so much more than just learning the art…they needed their own voice.” Adler knew from personal experience that the arts could be therapeutic. When her father was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, she often turned to dance to cope with her family’s struggles. Seeing that many of her students were also experiencing instability in their home lives, Adler wanted to give them a constructive coping mechanism and a way to express themselves. She felt that “as artists, it is our responsibility to teach them to create.”
Adler developed the Arts Educational programs to teach the creative process to students in pre-K to fifth grade, drawing inspiration from the students' daily curriculum. "Adler believes a benefit to teaching through the arts is that it accommodates a wide variety of learning styles, be it visual, audio, tactile, or kinesthetic. One of the most successful programs endeavors has been the "Books Alive" program, in which students read a book and then analyze the story through performance and art. In addition to improving reading and comprehension skills, the books have a social justice mission as well. "It's important for these children to learn about healthy ways to process anger - especially those that might not see that at work in their home lives," Adler comments.
When working with middle school and high school students, Adler felt the program should be altered to give the students more responsibility and ownership of the material they were creating and to provide more rigorous instruction in the arts. Students that participate in “Teen Artist Project” work in groups to write, produce, and perform a cross-disciplinary performance piece at the end of the term.
Since those early years, Chicago Danztheatre Ensemble has found its niche in cross-disciplinary, socially conscious performance and outreach. Each performance piece has either highlighted an issue of social justice or explored an aspect of the human condition. We currently work with 3,000 students throughout the Chicagoland area, working to expose them to a wide spectrum of fine arts and foster their creative voices.
From 2004 to 2008, Chicago Danztheater Ensemble created and produced the Full Circle Festival, which created performance opportunities and collaborations between other dance and theater companies in Chicago and introduced them to “danztheatre” as an art form.
In October of 2011, CDE celebrated its 10th anniversary with Mirrors, an original work based on the Sufi poet Jelaluddin Rumi. We are proud to continue in our commitment to performance with a purpose.
In 2012, many changes are on the horizon for CDE as we grow artistically through new medium such as film, podcasts and explore more of Rumi's poetry.