NYC dancers break into Chicago scene

By Bertha Serrano

A New York-based modern dance company is gaining popularity after introducing real-life situations and physical exhaustion into their choreography and routines.

The David Dorfman Dance Company performed four times at Columbia’s Dance Center, 1306 S. Michigan Ave., Sept. 26-28 to sold-out performances. Although the dance company has performed at Columbia before, it was the first time a world premiere dance was introduced. The company has also performed in South America, Great Britain and Europe.

Phil Reynolds, executive director of the Dance Center, invited the company to Columbia because the content of their work was timely and appropriate for Chicago in an election year, he said.

“David Dorfman is a very important and influential American choreographer, and we were particularly interested in the content of the two pieces that were performed in the dance center,” he said.

Alycia Scott, community outreach and education monitor at Columbia, was in charge of collaborating with the company prior to the performance at the college.

“The performances were amazing because Dorfman really believes in giving to his audiences and giving to people,” she said. “‘Disavowal’ was very engaging with the audience because the dancers went into the audience and did segments with the piece in the actual audience between the seats.”

When Dorfman founded the company in 1984, he started with a low budget and a couple of friends willing to dance to his choreography in New York City.

“We are trying to make connections with real-life situations in our dancing, and I think that differentiates us from other companies,” he said. “We work with physical exhaustion, and we don’t try to tidy up the effort involved.”

Dorfman’s ideas for performances come from historical events and issues that seem timely. The dancers performed “Underground” and “Disavowal, ” at the world premiere show at Columbia.

“Underground” is about the Weatherman organization that was popular in the ’60s and ’70s and involved with anti-war protests in the Vietnam years. The group also participated in the protests that occurred around the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Dorfman came up with the idea for “Underground” after watching a documentary about the Weatherman organization.

The “Underground” performance was made up of 38 dancers wearing sweatpants, jeans and T-shirts. The music was upbeat and projections of TV screens were used as backdrops.

“I used to be angry. I was so angry, I would go to protests and marches and sometimes I’d even break stuff,” one of the dancers in the show says. As he finishes speaking, a loud noise of breaking glass is heard.

The other performance, “Disavowal,” which means denial of any connection, is about John Brown; an abolitionist in the 1800s.

“We called the piece ‘Disavowal’ and based it on John Brown, although it’s not a historical piece necessarily throughout, it ties present issues with the slavery movement,” he said.

Dorfman said the dance company is influential because dancers get into their work so much that they bare their souls through movement and let exhaustion take over when applicable.

“We try to be very theatrical, dramatic and funny,” he said. “We tackle issues [like] violence, apathy, racism and inhumanity.”

The company has upcoming shows in New York City where they will introduce “Disavowal” to the audience and continue touring with “Underground.”

“I like being political,” Dorfman said. “I want to make a difference while I’m still here and make art that can somehow affect change that makes people think and feel.”