By Elaine Hegwood Bowen, MSJ
The Joffrey Academy of Dance, Official School of The Joffrey Ballet, presents four world premieres in the culmination of Joffrey’s national call for ALAANA (African, Latinx, Asian, Arab and Native American) artists to submit applications for the Joffrey Academy’s Tenth Annual Winning Works Choreographic Competition. This year’s Competition winners—Chanel DaSilva, Tsai Hsi Hung, Pablo Sánchez and Durante Verzola—each have choreographed an original work created for the Joffrey Academy Trainees and Studio Company.
The Crusader reached out to Chanel DaSilva to learn more about her artistic road thus far and her thoughts about her world premiere for the Joffrey Academy, BORDERS, which imagines the boundaries—both literal and figurative—that people place on themselves and others. DaSilva challenges the audience to look at how they separate themselves from others in the world, whether through physical means or psychological ones. BORDERS features a cast of 15 artists—ten women and five men.
DaSilva says that she received great encouragement while she was studying at The Juilliard School, and she’s happy that she stayed on course.
“As a 19-year-old I was going to drop Composition class because I didn’t think that I was good enough at crafting work to be called a ‘choreographer.’ However, my teachers saw something in me then that I couldn’t yet see in myself and they refused to let me quit. Thank God they didn’t let me quit!”
DaSilva also spoke about other influences in her career. She said that her time as a Dancer and Rehearsal Director with the Trey McIntyre Project helped guide her also. “I have always adored Trey’s work. He is so smart, inventive, and unpredictable with how he moves bodies through space—some moments that strike a chord and literally take your breath away.“
As it relates to the Joffrey Winning Works Competition, DaSilva says she’s been watching the works for years and has been inspired. “Even though I’ve been choreographing since college, for the past four to five years, I’ve been pushing myself to build up a more solidified body of work that was strong enough to one day submit as an applicant for the Winning Works competition. I am so immensely grateful that my time has come, and I’m excited to be a part of the 10th Anniversary.”
The seeds for BORDERS came from DaSilva’s own internal questions and struggles with the rising sense of xenophobia in this country and the world, she said. “Words like ‘wall,’ ‘alien’ and ‘border’ were bouncing around in my psyche and I began to feel the need to question all of it, and the boundaries that we as humans have created for ourselves, both geographically and psychologically.”
Within her Joffrey piece, DaSilva incorporates gestures that could be reflective of some of the experiences that humans are dealing with today as it pertains to borders. “I hope that my piece is provocative enough to start conversations among the audience about the world we live in today.”
The late singer and civil rights activist Nina Simone is quoted as saying that artists need to create work that is representative of the times. DaSilva considers this mantra when she’s creating. “Nina unabashedly shared her personal and political points of view through her artistic excellence. I often go back and forth with myself about whether or not to make a choreographic piece that could potentially have a ‘message’ and that doesn’t live purely in abstraction,” she said. “But then I think of Nina, and many other artists that have and continue to make work that was reflective of the time they were living in. Nina’s quote reminds me to trust my intuition, trust my heart, trust my voice, and to stay the path.”
And finally, DaSilva says that through her dancers her works aim to share her perspective about what it means to be human; the good, the bad, the ugly, the tender parts, the confusing parts, all of it. “In my opinion there’s ‘movement’ and then there’s ‘dance.’ I am constantly pushing the limits of my choreographic voice to make work that allows my dancers to feel brave enough to share themselves.”
DaSilva is just one of the artists featured in the “Winning Works” performances, and they all have worked hard. “It has been a decade of exceptional work and brilliant artistry for Winning Works,” said Ashley Wheater MBE, the Mary B. Galvin Artistic Director of the Joffrey Ballet. “I am so proud of the creativity of the last ten years. The level of artistic exploration by the choreographers and the growth of our students continues to exceed expectations, and all of us look forward to seeing Winning Works evolve in even bigger ways moving forward.”
To see the work of all the great artists, “Winning Works” expands to four performances in 2020 and returns to the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago’s Edlis Neeson Theater, located at 220 E. Chicago Ave., on Friday, March 20, at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, March 21, at 2:00 p.m., and 7:30 p.m., and on Sunday, March 22, at 2:00 p.m. Tickets for Winning Works are $30 and available for purchase at joffrey.org/winningworks.
According to an email, the Joffrey Ballet is postponing all upcoming performances of Winning Works, Don Quixote, and their Center Stage celebration until further notice.