It began with a poem...
To me, poetry is the essence of language. It should be read out loud for the ears to hear and the heart to process.
Dance communicates what the heart knows. Both poetry and dance speak to our hearts and from our hearts. They can bring together people who don’t speak the same language to feel, understand and experience humanity.
Poetry has been my muse ever since I can remember...
In undergrad I discovered T.S. Eliot’s poem The Wasteland, and the theater major in me read it as a Shakespearean drama, filled with contemplation, love, and longing, and ending with hope for a better world. For a graduate school project, I adapted the first section for the stage. Two years later, on April 20, 2001, four performers took to the stage to perform my adaptation of this famous poem. Every time I hear the soundtrack and the words to this poem, I am taken back to this moment, when I truly did not know that this production was the start of my career and would lead me to form what would become Chicago Danztheatre Ensemble.
As part of our 20th anniversary archival project, we transferred several VHS tapes to an external hard drive. I was excited to see the original production of The Wasteland. I will forever be grateful for the artistic collaboration of Jim Contreras, Allison Farnum, Melissa Lawson and Blake Montgomery who helped make this poem come to life!
In 2014 we included an updated version of The Wasteland as part of our first performance series at Ebenezer Lutheran Church, with original drawings and media from David Sorello, adding another layer to this beautiful poem.
Today in 2021 I’ve decided to visit this poem again. My performance work continues to evolve, and I don’t know yet what the next version might look like. New technology, current events, personal experiences—all this will make a mark on what will be onstage in spring 2022. I can’t wait to share it with you.
Founder and Executive Director
Did you know--Chicago Danztheatre Ensemble is not our “real” name? At 26, and just starting out, I thought I was just going to do one “project” at a time in a “danztheatre” style with a “company” of people. I wasn’t thinking about starting a not for profit.
Then, through a combination encouragement from others, a leap of faith, and destiny, I filed the Articles of Incorporation for Project Danztheatre Company, which on February 6, 2002, became official in the eyes of the IRS.
To market the company, many people suggested that the company go by “Adler Danztheatre Project,” because at the time I was the one creating the work. But this never felt right to me. It seemed a bit egotistical. I was taking credit for all the work, and that just wasn’t true.
From the start the collaborative spirit and creative voice of others has been present in all the work we do, on stage and in the classroom. Without our teaching artists and performers, our mission and vision would just be words on a paper. People bring the words to life. Our performance work is inspired by the people of Chicago. We teach the children and families of Chicago. Chicago is our home.
In 2006, after discussions with fellow collaborators, teachers and board members, we decided to change the name to Chicago Danztheatre Ensemble, to reclaim and recapture our multidisciplinary approach. This artistic direction was novel at the time—and the category of multidisciplinary artist did not exist, for funders and for the media. The Reader would call and ask, “Do you want to be listed as dance or theater?“ I would emphatically say both!
Our first show under Chicago Danztheatre Ensemble was Voices Project: Chicago Stories, based on true stories reflecting the diversity of experience within the city. We partnered with the now-defunct Neighborhood Writing Alliance’s publication The Journal of Ordinary Thought (JOT), which included reflections people make on their personal histories and everyday experiences. CDE took these stories and poems written by Chicagoans and turned them into performance. For example, we explored the concept of “home:” why do people make Chicago their home? Is it by choice or circumstance? What is the experience of calling Chicago home, and when does Chicago cease to feel like home? After this show we were known as Chicago Danztheatre Ensemble.
While our name has evolved over the last 20 years, we have remained dedicated to tanztheatre, defined to “unite all art media to achieve an all-embracing, radical change in humankind.”
Founder of Chicago Danztheatre Ensemble
2021 is our BIG year, because it is our 20th anniversary celebration. This year we aim to share our history, our impact, and the ways the world has shifted over the past 20 years. Mostly we will be looking forward to a brighter and stronger future. We have big plans for when we can come back together again.
This past year has been extremely vulnerable for me and many others. In January 2020, we had plans that quickly changed. We’ve seen the inequities in our society in overdrive. The heart of the world is exposed. The world is crying, and we need to come together to heal. I’ve been stuck creatively. When the stages closed, I felt I lost my voice.
The growth of CDE has a parallel journey to mine as an artist, which of course it should. I am the founder; I started the organization when I was 26. It's been on-the-job learning since the beginning.
In 5 years I’m going to be 50 with a 5 year old. I recently read an article that talked about women and motherhood. One thing that I can say is that my timeline in life is mine and not someone else’s. In my 20’s, I was starting a career and an arts organization. I didn’t have any money, and I was healing from trauma. In my 30’s, my career was finally going places. I was traveling, teaching, and performing. I was also in a dark place, stuck in a bad relationship and trying to understand the death of my father and Multiple Sclerosis. In 2012, I declared a new life start, just as the Mayan calendar was starting again.
I needed to stop comparing myself and Chicago Danztheatre Ensemble to others. I had to create my own path. Listen to my intuition.
Turning 40, I felt pushed creatively and emotionally, and change was happening. It wasn’t until an unexpected pregnancy at 42 that the thought of having a baby clearly entered my mind. It was a journey to have a baby. I’m working on losing the weight and getting my body back into shape. Would it happen faster if I was 20 or 30? Sure, but I would not be the person I am today. I will be a better artist, parent and human by understanding my path and timeline in life.
I guess what I’m trying to say, especially to those who are also trying to figure it out for themselves, is learn from others but do not follow other people’s timelines. Create your own. That's what I did, and that's how we are here celebrating 20 years of this company.
Over the next couple of newsletters and through social media posts, I will be sharing our history, artistry, and programming, and the evolution of artists connected to CDE. Stay tuned to our social media for more. Make sure you are on our email list to be the first to get all the exciting upcoming news.
Executive Artistic Director and Founder
photo by Matthew Gregory Hollis
Perseverance and resilience are two words that come to mind reflecting on 2020. While there has been much uncertainty in the world over the last several months, the human spirit is filled with “perseverance and resilience.” Seeing how people have come together to care for one another and build community through trying times gives me hope.
I have seen our teaching artists persevere through the difficulties of remote learning to connect with our students. I have seen our students at our remote learning site persevere through the trickiness and frustrations with the help of our teachers.
While we may not be on stage, through our 20th-anniversary project I’m reflecting on all the artists and technicians we’ve worked with and the many stories we have told, and how through the ups and downs as a non-profit, we are resilient, and we persevere to create art. We do this because art is vital to the community.
This year, we’ve had an opportunity to redesign our website and logo, create communications and sustainable business plans, and update our strategic plan. All of this foundation work is important to sustaining an organization.
As we look to return to the stage in the fall of 2021 and celebrate our 20th anniversary, we need your help in rebuilding.
If you are able to give financially, any amount is helpful. We also ask that you help us create community by sharing Chicago Danztheatre Ensemble with your friends, families, and colleagues. If you have been to one of our performances, or have been involved in one of our programs, we would love to hear your story on how CDE has impacted you.
I hope that in this season of reflection, you can find light and love and be filled with it. My light is the people who make CDE happen and my daughter, Miriam Sky.
Executive Artistic Director and Founder
photo by Matthew Gregory Hollis
The staff, artists, and board of directors of Chicago Danztheatre Ensemble condemn the systemic racism that has led to the deaths of George Floyd, Tony McDade, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Laquan McDonald, Sandra Bland, and so many others. CDE particularly mourns the loss of Jemel Roberson, the son of Beatrice Roberson, a paraprofessional from Pritzker Elementary School. Jemel was killed nearly two years ago while doing his job as a security officer.
During this time, I am often speechless. I do not always have the words to comfort our students or artists, so I listen. And what I consistently hear is people are hurting, and they want action. We cannot always effectively make change on a nationwide scale, but we can at the community level. We can continue to hire artists and teachers of color, and uplift Black voices and Black stories in our produced work. We can continue to bring books into classrooms to educate our students about race and equity. We can seek to teach empathy and compassion and show students how to use their voices to bring change in their communities.
In President Obama’s recent statement, he says that if we want to bring about real change, “the choice isn’t between protest and politics. We have to do both. We have to mobilize to raise awareness, and we have to organize and cast our ballots to make sure that we elect candidates who will act on reform.” We can make a change in our communities by electing local officials who can systematically make change. Read more:
CDE’s vision for Chicago is that all residents are inspired to make our community and world a better place by exploring important social issues in an artistic setting. We aim to build a platform for the voices of the diverse communities we serve. We ask you to stand with us in supporting Black lives, Black voices, and Black stories. They matter.
- Ellyzabeth Adler, Founder and Executive Director
Tonight, May 8th 2020, would have been opening night for What We Carried, a night I have been looking forward to for a year. But tonight we cannot celebrate with you in person or dance with Jean Parisi’s breathtaking art installment. Tonight we cannot show you what we so desperately want to share, to highlight the struggles and successes of immigrants.
But what I am choosing to focus on is the day that we will share this work with you. When we can dance for you and share this collection of stories. The days of Togetherness.
This work would have been dedicated to my grandmother who immigrated from Columbia in the mid 1900’s and worked as a nurse before passing away at a young age.
Today I still want to dedicate this work to my grandmother, one of many whose story of immigration was lost - and in extension, I also want to dedicate this day to our frontline workers and heroes during this pandemic - our nurses, our grocery workers, our doctors, our cooks. To the ones putting their lives at risk for us all. The days of Togetherness will come, and I can’t wait to share this work with you all once we have made it there.
- Maggie Robinson
Interim Artistic Director, Chicago Danztheatre Ensemble
A phrase from What We Carried.
I’ve spent months thinking about what this performance means to me, and what it might mean to its potential audience.
Growing up as a queer artist in Indiana, it wasn’t uncommon to get somebody’s shit thrown at me from a passing car, along with a shout of “what’s up Fabio,” or “look out, faggot!” You couldn’t dress too fancy, “present” as too effeminate or artistic, and I learned, over time and repeated abuse, including from my own family, to blend in.
As a white male living in Chicago, it’s not uncommon to be sneered at by people in what are ostensibly my own queer communities, assuming I’m just another cis male, not queer enough to fit into the gay or trans communities, told to go live in my “privilege,” (which I do no doubt have), and again, forced back to blending in.
Intolerance is everywhere. I started working in an ensemble after making a series of performance works about toxic masculinity and white supremacy, and my impulse was to somehow try and codify the refraction of our belief systems as we move through the distortional and dissociative effects of these forces on our minds.
That ensemble, called Mirrorglass, is also an interrogation of the “blinkering” and fragmentation that occurs in any instance of emotional or personality disordering, or in any instance within which subjective, lived experience is fragmented beyond recognition. Similar to how art is not inherently inclusive. It has to be wrested into meaning.
I’m so proud to work with the dancers forming this ensemble as they move in and out of Mirrorglass, and to finally see myself, reflected in our efforts at a salutary artistic collaboration, so thank you to Viginia VanLieshout for dancing this with me, Tate Glover for providing choreography, Chicago Danztheatre Ensemble Artistic Director Maggie Robinson, Marketing Coordinator Sophia Sinsheimer and to the tolerant of this world.
- Michael Workman
Michael Workman is an artist, writer and reporter, choreographer, dance, performance art and sociocultural critic. In addition to his work at the Chicago Tribune, Guardian US, Newcity magazine, Workman is also Director of Bridge, a Chicago-based 501 (c) (3) publishing and programming organization. His choreographic writing has been included in Propositional Attitudes, published by Golden Spike Press, and his Perfect Worlds: Artistic Forms & Social Imaginaries by StepSister Press was released in October 2018 with a day-long program of performances at the Museum of Contemporary Art and SITE/less Chicago.
Come see Michael's work in The Queer Landscape, playing March 20th and 21st at Ebenezer Lutheran Church Auditorium!
I didn’t realize I was gay until I was in my late 20’s, and even then, it was a long, painful journey to accept my own identity. There were so many layers of cultural learning and expectations, forces both internal and external shaping who I thought I “should” be. “How Did You Not Know” is an exploration of the many iterations of myself I went through in those years.
Dance has always helped me to process and reflect on my feelings, learning about my own perspective through the work I set: the creation of a piece being an integral part of understanding my own experience. In this work, I have reset and re-imagined pieces I created during my long, hard journey to self-acceptance, allowing the pieces I set during those periods to be a guide to my mindset and perspective at the time of its creation. By linking these old pieces together, my evolving world-view can be tracked through those years - my journey away from the church and religion, my slow gain of self-reliance and self-worth, and the realization of my sexuality. It is also a high-level view of my evolving style and skill - I grew a lot as a choreographer and storyteller in the 5-year span these pieces cover.
It is a little daunting to put such a personal work on stage in front of an audience - it’s a little like reading my diary aloud. It can be embarrassing to look back at what I thought was true in those times, what I thought was real, who I thought I was. But through the years of this journey, and the process of creating this piece, I’ve learned that I have always been the woman in these pieces, and she will always be a part of me. I didn’t quite know who she would be later, who the integration of these disparate parts of myself would end up being. Turns out, she’s me.
- Paula Ward, Lucid Banter Project
Paula Ward (Artistic Director, Lucid Banter Project) is a dancer, choreographer and producer from Madison, Wisconsin. She was a youth company member of the Madison Ballet, danced in Hope College’s modern and jazz companies while earning her BA in Dance and Chemistry, and spent a decade with the Joel Hall Dancers in Chicago, Illinois. She directed the Joel Hall Dancers Youth Company and Le Ballet Petit School of Dance before forming her contemporary dance company, the Lucid Banter Project, which is currently in its fourth year. Lucid Banter presents in many non-traditional spaces and stages, as well as on film.
See Lucid Banter Project's "How Did You Not Know" in The Queer Landscape, March 20th and 21st.