The Passionate and Wise Body: Links Hall Celebrates its 40th Birthday: a response by Ayako Kato

A reflection on Links Hall’s* 40th Anniversary performance and celebration.

March 30, 2019

images: Ayako Kato


How much impact can one venue make in the community? How many people have been and could be involved in making the place to be as it needs and it’s hoped to be? 

Links Hall celebrated its 40th Birthday/Anniversary by throwing a big party as LinkSircus on March 30 co-curated by Bob Eisen and Bonnie Brooks. The event featured eight groups of dance artists/companies, including one of the founders Bob Eisen, utilizing both Studios A and B with total nearly 200 audiences in present.
In the evening, J’Sun Howard & Jennifer Karmin, Same Planet Performance Project, Zephyr Dance, Tom Lee & Rika Lin, Kristina Isabelle/Michigan City Moves, The Seldoms, Bob Eisen & Jessica Cornish, Asimina Chremos and Honey Pot Performance are presented.  
Bob Eisen and Jessica Cornish presented New Duet with painter/printmaker Thomas Melvin. The music, “Plasma Birds” by Merzbow, brings a consistent piercing machine noise. Flipping the front and back sides of Studio A, situating viewers surrounding the stage area, and giving the top area of the riser for Melvin to paint on the large pieces of paper coving all the three back windows, Eisen and Cornish tirelessly cycle, circulate, and twirl themselves by twisting, turning, running, hopping, becoming upside down, and rolling down the stairs with their bodies. Definitely, the movement is not pretty, yet vigorous and wild. The craziness and momentum of Eisen’s body are transmitted through Cornish’s body and enhances her extremely expressive detailed physicality. Those two slender powerhouse performers’ spirits are matching. They tackle, lean, pull, balance on one another and rotate the movement tasks as if they are twin brother and sister, albeit their differences.
Their movement qualities go beyond human logic, throwing viewers into the absolute moment of existence: “I move therefore I am.” It’s soothing and encouraging to watch. The performance reminds of butoh master Kazuo Ohno’s words, “Do not think this and that. Just do your best.” Then, Eisen’s and Cornish’s life-betting sincerity toward movement starts to communicate: “Who cares about what to think and say?” “You exist now, so live fully.” Or they might be expressing non-stop craziness of human activities until we are totally exhausted and bring all of us to the end. When Cornish and Eisen finish their dance, at the same time, Melvin’s bold colorful live painting comes to conclusion, proudly looking upon them with his glittery eyes and the red cheeks. It’s rare to encounter this much purely honest “performance” which reflects our human reality.
With this momentum, passion, and truthfulness to himself, Eisen must have let Links Hall be born with his fellow artist founders Carol Bobrow and Charlie Vernon. And thanks to them, thousands of artistic children have been experimenting through Links Hall for 40 years, keeping the flame in Chicago. 
A natural experimentalist as a dancer, choreographer, and improviser Asimina Chremos, who is the former director of Links Hall between 2000 through 2005, the writer for TimeOut Chicago between 2005 through 2010, the founder of OuterSpace (former Silverspace), performed her solo Passé. She left the Chicago dance community in 2010 and is now living in Philadelphia. She is still dearly missed as both scholarly and artistically giving and invested artist in the community. Again, it is a gift to view the intelligent and wise spirit of dance which was caught or sent by the dance goddess. 
Chremos is ready to begin her performance, yet life is improvisation. So one after another, a new member of the audience enters to Studio B, and as an experienced improviser, she decides to accept the moment of others along with her moment and welcomes those people to enter into her space. She succeeds to handle the overwhelming condition as a performer and pacifies the air in the room to be ready for observing her movement in silence or with her own occasional vocal sounds. Chremos’ body just channels what comes through her with the flawless flow with her breath. This graceful grounded mover’s dynamic being through improvisation soothes us. Again, honesty with a disciplined and trained body struck the viewers. 
Meida McNeal and Abra Johnson of Honey Pot Performances also let the viewers drop something excess to fall into an honest place through their Ways of Knowing. They know that dance doesn’t need to be elaborated. They know that the simplest movement can create something enormous and address human essence, in this case, something emerges between the two, possibly empathy. Just by facing each other, McNeal and Johnson tenderly, yet firmly build and gradually reveal the relationship between two people. This African American experimental dance professional company has been active in Chicago since 2001 and has been the only one company demonstrating the consistent developments of their inquiries on Afro-diasporic feminist themes in the Chicago contemporary dance scene. 
Ayako_Links_3_Honey Pot
The birthday party was concluded with the announcement by Director Roell Schmidt: “If you have been Links Hall staff members and volunteers, Happy, Happy. If you have been board members and supporters of Links Hall, Happy, Happy. If you are the audiences of Links Hall, Happy, Happy. If you have been the artists/performers of Links Hall, Happy, Happy.” Sharing the news of her leaving the venue at the end of the 40th season (June 30, 2019), Schmidt tried her best not to let any of us feel down during the Birthday Party, putting aside whether she succeeded to do so or not. She has been creating and establishing the big new chapter and legacy of Links Hall since 2009 and her powerful team, Anna Trier, Felicia Holman, Brett Swinney, and Board Members are also nothing but heroes for the community. Roell, you will be DEARLY missed, and we CANNOT THANK YOU ENOUGH for nurturing all of us through ALL your lovely hard-core work.
Links will continue as long as all the people and artists who have been supporting keep the effort to protect the flame of passion, wisdom, and honesty through artistic expression.
“Able to evoke whole landscapes in a single exhalation” (New City Stage), Ayako Kato is an award-winning Japanese-native contemporary experimental dance artist originally from Yokohama. Recent years, she has been extending her realm of movement to the experiential and participatory field–through her own work in both traditional venues and site-specific settings (including in nature). She has been directing her company Ayako Kato/Art Union Humanscape since 1998 through interdisciplinary collaboration, particularly focused with over 60 musicians/composers in the US, Japan, and Europe. She is a recipient of 3Arts Award in Dance; 3Arts Residency Fellowship at the Camargo Foundation in Cassis, France; “Best of Dance” in the Chicago Tribune; Links Hall Co-MISSION Fellowship; Players: The Fifty People Who Really Perform for Chicago by Newcity Stage, Meiner Achievement Award; Chicago Dancemakers Lab Artist Award and beyond.


(*) PRJ is partnering with Links Hall to celebrate their 40th anniversary by providing a platform for artist-to-artist responses to the work that is presented as part of the Pay-the-40th-Forward season. Thank you, Links Hall, for all that you do for the dance and performance communities in Chicago. Congratulations on 40 years!