Friday, May 23, 2014

Reflecting on My Internship - Omane Adu-Brako

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I came in like a wrecking ball!  Just kidding.  I did begin my internship in the marketing department at a really great time.  Things were hectic, crazy, and actually quite fun!  It was during the theatre’s longest running performance – Alvin Ailey Dance Theater.  What a treat!  I had not seen that company since I was in high school.  I fell in love all over again.

First things first, during my first week I received a semi-private, hour-long tour of the theater.  It’s crazy
because I have walked past the theater’s “secret door” entrance plenty of times as a student without even realizing the magic within.  Of course, I can’t disclose the location to said door; that part of the mystery you will have to come and see for yourself.  I’m a history lover, so the tour guide had me at hello.  I was aghast that the Auditorium Theatre only became registered as a National Historic Landmark by the U.S. Department of the Interior in 1975. Equally astonishing is that the Auditorium, during hard times, almost became a parking lot!  The building was completed in 1889 equipped with 4200 seats; the original seats are still in the upper balcony.  The architecture was designed by the famous architects Dankmark Adler and Louis Sullivan. Frank Lloyd Wright was an apprentice of theirs during the building of the Auditorium. Two more history facts and I’m done, I promise.  In a time of no air conditioning the Auditorium figured out a way to keep their patrons cool using air ducts and ice in the ceiling of the theater.  The last fact is a direct quote from one of its founders.  Sullivan said “If you want to see, you will sit in the middle, if you want to be seen you will sit in the box seats.” This retort was in response to the upper class patrons who expected to sit away from the other patrons.  This perfectly summarizes a place whose ideals of inclusion are not just limited to where patrons sit, but to the variety of artists that are brought to its stage.

So what have I done here? I’ve had the pleasure of telling people about our performances in a variety of ways.  My first project was to reach out to local businesses for our Alvin Ailey performances.  I sent out letters, solicited eblast trades with like organizations, and made plenty of phone calls. I helped out at our Young Professionals pre-show event, where our Junior Board made appeals for membership.  I was able to attend the opening of Alvin Ailey, I had never been to any show’s opening so this was thrilling! I was ecstatic that I could bring my mom and aunt to share in this experience with me.  The Alvin Ailey dancers were quite simply stunning. After the show there was post work to be done.  The marketing team stayed after to capture audience reactions from the show in order to upload the video to our YouTube page (I hope you are a subscriber to the channel!) Also, I created a tracking report which allowed me to analyze the tickets sold for the Ailey performances.  Through this I categorized specific inventory of all the discount codes and special pricing offers.  Seeing the revenue produced from the show was great, since sometimes as an intern you are removed from this sort of information.  Part of the duties of being an intern is doing ad clippings. This means cutting out and filing all of the advertisements the theatre places for its shows.  For the Ailey performance run, I had the additional responsibility to create a fine-tuned scan binder of all of the advertisements where our sponsors were featured.
Also during this internship I contributed ideas that were utilized for social media campaigns. I created advertising placements with a major magazine and radio station, which I was really excited about.  In addition, I also tweaked copy for these opportunities.  Without going into a laundry list of things I accomplished, I will say that I felt that my time here was impactful.

While here, my desk was located in the Department of Creative Engagement so I was able to hear action items important to that department as well, namely securing teachers and resources for our ArtsXchange and Hands Together, Heart to Art (HTHTA) program. Right now they are gearing up for HTHTA summer camp.  Additionally, I was able to speak to the other department heads (Development and Operations) in order to achieve a more rounded internship experience.  Today is my last day, sigh… but I had the opportunity to see so many wonderful performances while here. Did I mention this excellent perk? :)

Thursday, May 15, 2014

A Look Back: Israeli Folk Dancing, Idan Raichel and My Year Spent in Israel

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Tonight at 7:30 pm, The Idan Raichel Project graces our landmark stage for a night of world-music and a wonderful blend of cultures.  After tonight’s two-hour concert, we also invite audience members to join the Chicago Israeli Dancing organization in our Katten/Landau Studio for an interactive Israeli folk dance class. Click here for more information about the performance tonight.

A Look Back: Israeli Folk Dancing, Idan Raichel and My Year Spent in Israel

By Auditorium Theatre Production Associate Matthew Tepperman

In anticipation of tonight’s performance of The Idan Raichel Project at Auditorium Theatre and the subsequent post-show, folk dancing event in the Katten/Landau Studio held by the Chicago Israeli
Dancing organization, I would like to share a story about myself.

I am not a professional dancer or ballerina at all. In fact, if you met me in person, you’d say I’m as graceful as an elephant. And you’d probably be right at that, too; however, there’s something about Israeli Folk Dancing that makes me feel like I have been a dancer all my life. 

When I was eleven years old, I learned about Israeli Folk Dancing at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin.  As campers, my friends and I each participated in a quick dance class as we were sampling through all of the arts activities. We learned a few easy dances for the week before moving onto the next activity.  At the end of the week before the lunch hour, the camp took a half hour of free time to perform these dances at a large area down by the lake.  At that point, those who knew or wanted to learn the dances would all participate in a really fun afternoon of Israeli Folk Dancing.  There were campers and staff of all ages that joined in and soon enough, the whole area was filled with folk dancers!  I remember as a camper, or even later as a staff member at Camp Ramah, if it was a Friday afternoon before lunch, I would be dancing down by Lake Buckatabon with more than half the camp while the rest watched on.  And even after all these years, I still remember those dances.

Let’s then flashback to eight years ago. I had recently graduated high school and made the decision to defer my freshman year of college to study and live in Israel for the year. One of my first memories of living in Israel is of participating in a great night of Israeli Folk Dancing. A handful of my friends and I were walking through Emek Rafaim in Jerusalem and went to one of the school halls nearby that hosts many nightly programs for adults. When we got there the room was already full of people dancing in a giant circle. It took a minute to understand the choreography mid-dance, but as soon I picked it up, I jumped right in and felt like I had been doing it for years. That’s the great thing about folk dancing: it’s very communal, very fun to participate in, and anyone can do it.

As someone who has lived in Israel and experienced the culture and even seen The Idan Raichel Project live in Israel before, I can’t help but think back to those fond memories. This is mainly because everything The Idan Raichel Project does musically is so memorable. I can still recall the past two times I saw him live and what I was doing. The collaboration of additional cultures into melodies that the group produces, and the amount of energy the singers put into their performance is almost unparalleled. They always make the experience not just intimate and enjoyable, but very meaningful as well.  As a fan of The Idan Raichel Project and as someone who has experienced the culture, I cannot be more thrilled that they will be performing at Auditorium Theatre.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Illinois Native Michael J. Novak – Dancer for Paul Taylor Dance Company

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Being a dancer in the Paul Taylor Dance Company, I am so very blessed to travel the world doing what I love. I will soon be entering my fifth year with this organization and I have traveled to 64 cities and 6 countries.  But in all those travels no city can compare to the city where I grew up: Chicago. 

Now, in truth I was raised in the northwest suburbs, first living in Elk Grove Village and eventually in Rolling Meadows where I spent most of my childhood.  When I was growing up, “going downtown” meant an adventure, usually because it was saved for special occasions: holidays with the grandparents; seeing the Christmas windows at Marshall Field’s; or day-trips to the museums.

Funny enough, the Auditorium Theatre holds a very special place in my heart. When I was about nine, my parents took me to see my first Broadway musical - "The Phantom of the Opera" – at, of all places, the Auditorium Theatre.  We sat very close to the stage that night, and, being so young and impressionable, I was taken away by how such a fantastical world felt so real and accessible.  I don’t think I knew that I wanted to be a performer that night.  But I knew I never wanted that experience the end.

As I grew older I eventually started taking dance classes at the Bonnie Lindholm School of the Dance in Palatine, IL.  Chicago, however, stayed in the periphery as every year our dance troupe went downtown during Thanksgiving to perform for the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival. The temperatures were usually frigid, but dancing downtown, especially along Michigan Ave for the Tree-Lighting Parade, is a very special memory for me. There was something about the magic of Christmas in the city (not to mention the magic of dancing alongside Mickey Mouse and Goofey) that made me so happy.  It was literally the stuff dreams are made of.

When I started attending William Fremd High School, the Drama Department became my home away from home.  I loved doing theater, but dance – true dance – started to become a calling for me, and I started to shift my focus to my dancing. Once I was old enough I would ride the train downtown to take the professional classes at Lou Conte Dance Studio. Of course, I had no clue what I was doing in those advanced classes. Honestly, I would just stare at the Hubbard Street company members. I remember being so distracted by their brilliance I never actually learned the combinations in class. Afterwards, I would spend the rest of the day downtown: always stopping by The Palmer House Hilton then walking to the Art Institute, north along Michigan Ave to Water Tower Place and spend the late afternoon at the Ohio Street Beach.

A lot has happened since those long days strolling downtown as an aspiring dancer. There have been many adventures, injuries, unexpected surprises, and struggles...lots and lots of struggles. It took almost ten years for me to find a dance company where I felt home, but the search was not in vain.  At the age of 27, I was asked to join the one and only company I yearned to dance for: the Paul Taylor Dance Company.

What is it about Paul Taylor’s company? Well, the repertory is remarkably vast; it’s emotionally sophisticated, and it can be as dark and disturbing as it is glorious. Then there are the dancers.  No one can dance like Taylor dancers dance. They understand the beauty and thrill of a simple walk, run, fall, and jump, and they execute them with a reckless abandon that is truly spectacular.  To dance among those accomplished artists and find myself grow with them is truly a dream come true. And to work with a master like Paul Taylor in the studio? Well, it's life changing, honestly.

I have not performed in Chicago since 2001, and to be returning as a member of the Paul Taylor Dance Company... to be dancing at the Auditorium Theatre... and to be staying at the Palmer House downtown? It's going to be a surreal experience!  I'm looking so forward to showing my friends and family what I've been doing for the past 13 years, that it's been worth it, and that Paul Taylor's company is where I am home. But I think deep down there's something else I'm looking forward to: walking around the city as a critically acclaimed dancer of one the world's best dance companies and saying, "Remember me Chicago? Well, I’m proud to say I finally made it."

Michael J. Novak performs with Paul Taylor Dance Company at the Auditorium on May 17 – 18. Visit the website for tickets and information.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Dancing in Chicago - Thodos Dance Chicago's Tenley Dorrill

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The Auditorium Theatre is so thrilled to bring a collection of Chicago dance professionals together for the week of June 23 – 28 to teach our first annual “Made In Chicago” Dance Intensive, a week long summer camp for dancers age 10+ with at least two years of dance experience. We kick off our “Made In Chicago” Dance Intensive blog series with a peek at Thodos Dance Chicago’s teaching artist, Tenley Dorrill!

Dancing in Chicago:  As a senior in college I feared graduating without an answer to the question everyone was asking, "What are you doing after graduation?" I knew of many dance companies that I would love to be a part of, but I wasn't sure where to audition. I had attended Hubbard Street's dance intensive the summer before and had heard of Thodos Dance Chicago. After a few months of researching I came back to the company and discovered how well it matched what I wanted. Located in the city of Chicago, I knew that I would have the opportunity to take open class, teach dance, and be a part of a large dance community. Thodos stated that they valued dancers who were also choreographers, and they offered their own unique outlet for dancers to create, teach, and perform. The audition was intense with four cuts narrowing the group to four people (three of whom are now company members).  Melissa Thodos asked those auditioning to perform a self-choreographed solo then sit for an interview. The interview questions were very thoughtful and I could tell that they knew what they were looking for, which is something I respect. I was given an offer to be a "dancer apprentice" in the company. I was thrilled! I knew how lucky I was to have the opportunity to live and dance with such a great company in this wonderful city.

I began to prepare for life in Chicago by finding two roommates from Craig's List and applying to teaching positions. I applied all over the city and only heard back from a handful. I accepted jobs at Thodos's youth program, North Suburban School of Dance, and Chicago Contemporary Dance Theater.  Thodos started in August and I don't think we ever stopped until our Harris show in March! Learning so many dances in such a short time proved to be a great challenge. In many of the dances I was the only person who had not performed the piece, and I needed to learn extremely fast. At SMU we had many performances but usually focused on only a few dances during a semester. At Thodos, the company was working on over ten concert works, two story ballets, and two educational shows over the course of a few months. The pressure was great but I had the most wonderful season working with the incredibly talented company members and leaders who constantly inspired and encouraged me every day. 

Thodos threw me into many parts that challenged me in new ways. The most significant was the role of Helen Keller in "A Light in the Dark." Only after my first performance did I believe I could embody this complex character. The story is very emotional with highs and lows shifting moment by moment. I got some great advice about portraying Helen from one of the members of Thodos, Natalee Cooney, who has a BFA in Theater from NYU. She told me to always think about what Helen wants. Does she want love and comfort when she thrashes in anger? Does she want to find truth when she feels her teachers’ hands? This completely changed the way I approached the emotional range of Helen. Instead of thinking, "Ok, this is when I'm supposed to be happy" I thought about why Helen would be happy. This feedback from Natalee has also influenced the way I want to perform in other non-character driven pieces. Every piece has a tone or persona to convey. I want to always pursue honesty on stage and asking why I, the dancer, want to move in a certain way. I hope to find more integrity and transparency in my performance by constantly asking myself, “What do I want for this piece?” Once this question is answered, I understand where my purpose is and how I can give myself to the roll in an authentic way.  

My greatest challenge in the transition to professional life is finding joy and satisfaction in everything I do as a student, teacher, and performer.  Dance is almost like a truth serum in that the observer can always tell your intention.  Dancers are always on display and the constant criticism can cause damaging effects to an artist's confidence.  Throughout this year, I have at times felt lost in knowing my purpose as a dancer and teacher.  The thing that gets me out of this funk is shifting my mindset from focusing on my own needs and instead working for the greater good of others.  One of my favorite quotes is by Lewis Carroll, “One of the secrets of life is that all that is really worth the doing is what we do for others.” Great art and satisfaction comes from the act of giving and not taking. Dancers are, in some ways, naturally inclined to take and be selfish artists.  We take instruction and criticize its impact, we take choreography and judge its value, we take the stage from others through our desire to be seen.  This result is emptiness because dance is a fleeting fulfillment. If we constantly seek to give ourselves to this craft through a strong presence in class, a positive and engaged response to the choreographer, an active connector to fellow performers, we can feel more fulfilled and less selfish in our art. The career of a dancer is never stable or consistent.  The task must be to find consistency in an understanding of your reason to pursue dance.  

It is so important to keep reminding yourself why you dance and why you can meet the demands of performing professionally. We are constantly seeking approval from others and will rarely get the feedback we want to hear. Instead of seeking acceptance from others, seek to find satisfaction in the moment. Find what encourages you every day whether it is helping others or creating art.  Whenever I begin to doubt myself in a rehearsal I often imagine that my close college friends are in the room and supporting me. It takes me back to my safe place at the SMU dance facility where I felt comfortable to do anything. I am seeking to find comfort in this new home. A dancer always needs to be improving and learning from others, while also maintaining our integrity to what makes us unique. 

For more information or registration for our “Made In Chicago” Dance Intensive, click here or contact Katie Brown at or Kristen Smiley at

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