image: Jennifer Frankfurter
Last week I had the opportunity to sit in on one of the final rehearsals for Jess Martin’s dance concert, Exploration: An evening of Dance, Discovery, Creativity, and Fun which performs for a third year at Links June 7th through the 9th at 7pm. Exploration is an integrated dance concert featuring dancers with and without disabilities as well as a wide range of gender differences, ages, and traditional dance training. Pulling directly from Exploration’s mission statement, the concert seeks to:
Tell a story.
Talk about struggles in a creative, open, and safe environment.
Change people’s perception about disabilities.
Encourage people to follow their dreams and not be afraid to ask questions.
Have fun and not take life too seriously.
As I walked into Links’ white box to peek in on rehearsal, I saw company members doing just that. Jess, who uses they/them pronouns, lay on the floor with their dancers cracking jokes and working through some movement for their new piece Ocean. “Are there too many bananas?” Jess asked their dancers, “I just don’t want it to be too predictable.” After rehearsal, Jess and I spent some time talking about the upcoming concert.
Jess, who previously went by Jessica, got their start dancing with MOMENTA and has performed professionally with the company for the last 12 years. While at MOMENTA in 2011, they found their passion for choreography:
“I surprised the director. She said that when I first told her I was going to go on and do my own show, she was like, ‘I knew you were interested in choreography, but I’m really impressed that you want to start your own thing’… I’m hoping to continue producing, not just for myself, but so that other people see it’s possible.”
Jess and I talked about their process of choreographing on an integrated group of dancers. Jess has some movement limitations and is constantly asked by ambulatory folks, myself included, how they teach movements that they can’t do themselves. Their answer is exactly how every other choreographer does it:
“I’ll refer to a particular artist, I’ll say ‘do you know Graham fourth position?’… I know my terminology, and I know how to explain the movement so well now that it’s like, ‘do it like this, do it like a wave,’ I’ll use a lot of imagery… and they can give me options and I pick one… It’s hard, but it’s not as hard as people think.”
The evening of short works— all choreographed by Jess with collaboration from the dancers—is broken up into multiple sections. This year, many of the sections have themes relating to nature and humanity. Every year, there is a section titled “Struggle” during which dancers have an opportunity to express their personal struggle through dance.
A piece Jess is particularly excited about, titled “I am Human,” ties the whole show together. It features the song Pulse, by Melissa Etheridge which honors the 49 victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting. Jess, who is constantly modifying their movement to fit the mold of the dancers around them, took this piece to flip the script. In this piece the dancers are asked to copy Jess’s authentic movement as Jess moves freely within their own style.
I’m going to leave you with Jess’s vision statement of Exploration which I think really sets the tone for the evening of dance they are about to present:
“Everyone can dance: Our struggles help define our uniqueness. Because we look at our struggles in a positive way, we do not put limits on anyone. We are open to the idea that anyone can dance. It doesn’t matter your age, race, nationality, sexual preferences, physical challenges, mental challenges, or body type. We want to look at the person inside and see how they can use their uniqueness to share their messages with the world.”
Kaitlyn Dessoffy is a dancer, writer, dance maker, and occasional teacher who pays the bills by caffeinating the masses. After graduating with a theatre degree from Loyola University of Chicago, Kaitlyn danced with Joel Hall II, the Lucid Banter Project, Nick Cave, J. Lindsay Brown Dance, and currently The Laboratory Dancers.
Jess Martin is a choreographer, dancer, public speaker, and writer. They enjoy exploring the different ways bodies can move within a space. Their focus on their new choreography for this year’s Exploration is the human condition and the things that surround us, like the ocean the moon. Accessibility for all people to do what they want to do, and they know it is different for everyone!