Kevin Iega Jeff moved to Chicago in 1994. The New York expatriate, who left his company Jubilation behind, was hired as the third artistic director of the Joseph Holmes Dance Theatre. Founding member Randy Duncan takes over as Holmes died in 1986; Duncan resigned in 1993.
This shift has, in many ways, been muted by another major development in dance news: a possible merger between Ballet Chicago and the Joffrey Ballet, which also plans to move from New York to Chicago. The merger went bad, but you know how the story ends. Joffrey made Chicago his home in 1995.
Jeff, who often goes by his middle name Iega, arrived at Joseph Holmes Dance firing on all cylinders. With an almost entirely new cast of dancers, they performed some of Jubilitation’s repertoire, as well as new works that convey Holmes and Iega’s pedigree in Alvin Ailey’s company. But a year later the company belly went up. A year later, Derin Köklü Dance Theater was born.
As the company celebrates its 25th anniversary in the midst of the pandemic, Deeply Rooted has already put in place an ambitious plan designed to ensure their fate does not mirror that of the Joseph Holmes Dance Theatre. They needed a leadership change: Co-founder Gary Abbott had spent several years on the dance faculty at the University of Missouri in Kansas City, where he remains today, and Iega was routinely taken out of the studio for independent projects and other strategic purposes. or creative opportunities.
Nicole Clarke-Springer was waiting in the wings. The onetime company dancer and longtime director of Deeply Rooted’s educational programs stepped into the top artistic gig in 2019. And all parties agree: This is his company now.
The program to be held at the Auditorium Theater on November 3 is an artistic summary of this history; It begins with Iega’s three-part “Junto,” created on Jubilation in 1990 and restaged at the Joseph Holmes Dance Theater in 1995. the company’s early years. The evening concludes with the world premiere of Clarke-Springer’s deeply cathartic half-hour “Madonna Anno Domini,” inspired by generations of human rights activism. Rounding out the program are two timeless ’80s revivals: Ulysses Dove’s full-throttle female number “Vespers” (which appeared on Deeply Rooted last year) and Keith Lee’s “Mama Rose,” which are new for this program. The second is a solo dedicated to New York dance icon Thelma Hill, danced by the powerhouse Emani Drake, who was recently awarded the Princess Grace award and is emerging in her third season with the company.
Although the one-night-only performance encapsulates Deeply Rooted’s past and present, it’s actually a story about their future.
Makeda Crayton is the company’s first full-time executive director. A Chicago native, she studied ballet and modernity and has worked on Broadway, with repertory companies, and as a repeater for choreographer Christopher Huggins. She ended her performing career with Cirque du Soleil’s “Zumanity” after spending seven years in Las Vegas.
“When I got the job at Cirque, I knew that was going to be the performance for me,” he said in an interview with the Tribune. “I had already made a relocation plan. Then the pandemic hit and the plan accelerated.”
Crayton had taught several lectures for Deeply Rooted’s summer intensives; Upon hearing of his retirement, Clarke-Springer asked if he would like to teach ballet; It was a difficult transition. He accepted a role in operations and was promoted to executive director in January.
The studio is Clarke-Springer’s domain. Having led a major capital campaign in his first year on the job, Crayton’s happy place is a spreadsheet. It’s this total commitment to their role, they say, that makes the partnership work.
“I have to do this right and there is too much at stake for me to bother,” Crayton said. “I’m not in this to be in the studio.”
The soon-to-open Deep Rooted Center for Black Dance and Creative Communities is a 33,000-square-foot facility planned for a vacant lot in the 5300 block of South State Street. They currently rent rehearsal space at the Mayfair Center for the Arts and have shared studio space at Ballet Chicago for decades.
“When we build this building, it’s a different level of commitment, not just to us and the people who work with us, but to the community,” Crayton said. “We’re planting roots here. It’s a physical landmark. It’s a bold statement that we’re here to stay.”
Dance troupes are building buildings as if they were going out of style. Red Clay Dance opened its Woodlawn brick-and-mortar location in 2020. Visceral Dance Center tripled in size in 2021 when it moved into a stunningly transformed Avondale warehouse. Joel Hall Dancers’ plans to renovate their new venue in Albany Park appear stagnant; they are also rehearsing at Mayfair Arts Centre. Founded by Tommy Sutton in 1957, this famous studio was a casualty of the pandemic that was brought back to life by the Chicago Human Rhythm Project. I bought the building and is gradually being renewed. And Giordano Dance Chicago has plans to build a 23,000-square-foot headquarters in the former Hermon Baptist Church in Old Town.
Crayton said the lack of representation, especially during the pandemic, is one reason they want a space of their own. “We were at the mercy of the landlord,” he said. “And to be in an industry that is so dependent on bodies being together in a space, you have to find a new way to manage your business model.”
Deeply Rooted looks poised for success.
“We have truly built a team that is undeniable,” Crayton said. “We have a team that has worked in real estate development. We have a team that is part of the establishing team. that Joffrey building. We got advice from people who worked on failed capital campaigns. We have surrounded ourselves with enough experience and knowledge to help us see some of the things we can’t see and don’t even know to look for.”
There’s already $13 million in the bank, including investments from the Chicago Department of Planning and Development, the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, former Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s Office of Equity and Racial Justice and the Department of Cultural Affairs and Specialization. Events. The Mellon Foundation’s recent $2 million multi-year commitment was modeled after startups. Deeply Rooted is scheduled to break ground in 2024 but still has $2.5 million to raise.
“It can’t fail,” said Clarke-Springer. “I mean this. We have no choice.”
Buildings aren’t the only thing Deeply Rooted builds. With the center comes a huge increase in personnel and operational expenses, which they do not currently have. They extended the nine-week dancer contract to 26 weeks. And they invested in commissions (like those of Ulysses Dove and Keith Lee), something Deeply Rooted had never done before, and were designed to attract new audiences.
“We have three priorities right now: Improving our organizational capacity, creating the visibility and center of the company. That’s it,” Crayton said.
During this time of intense growth and change, dancers and staff remain committed to their core values; Chief among these are extraordinary, passionate dances that will reach and capture you like nothing else can.
“Having that foundation and knowing what it means to be deeply rooted in this organization, I think — no, I know — I think what’s happening right now should be happening right now,” Clarke-Springer said. “We deserve this. We worked hard for this. Our time has come. We’re here to stay.”
Deeply Rooted Dance Theatre, Nov. 3 at 7:30 p.m., Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Ida B. Wells Drive; tickets $25-$85 from 312-341-2300 and auditoriumtheatre.org
Lauren Warnecke is a freelance critic.