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Dance Mon May 20 2013

Chicago Dance Crash Presents: The Cotton Mouth Club

Chicago Dance Crash, whose Gotham City was hailed by the Chicago Tribune as one of the city's best in 2012, returns with The Cotton Mouth Club, its summer performance, choreographed by artistic director Jessica Deahr and Robert McKee, in a show that combines the "prohibition-era" with the 80s, taking the audience on a journey through swing, jazz, ballet, breakdance and more. Here, McKee talks about the show, how the movie Idlewild served as inspiration, and the important message audiences will take away from the performance.

Thumbnail image for CottonMouth2.jpg Daniel Gibson and Mary Tarpley; The Cotton Mouth Club.

When did you first know you wanted a career in dance? Was it one person or several people whom you were inspired by?

I started dancing as a kid, watching lots and lots of Michael Jackson videos, and learning the choreography and performing it for my family at family gatherings, reunions and things like that. It's kind of something that's always been in my blood. I went on to college to study more technical forms of dance--ballet, modern, jazz, and things like that.

You were a member of Giordano Dance Company for four years and are now a part of the Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago--what has that transition been like for you? How is choreographing for you now that you're in an academic setting?

The academic setting is enjoyable because the students are older, and older students are able to pick up faster. I try to teach them a lot of information in one semester and since they're older, it's easier to move faster.

Let's talk about Chicago Dance Crash and The Cotton Mouth Club, which has been described as a "prohibition fantasy." Tell us about conceiving this idea and what your thoughts were going in.

Jessica Deahr [one of the other choreographers] and I sat down at a coffee shop and just went in on it. The time period--we both really love it--it was that old speakeasy and moonshine business--and it's a little bit mysterious and little bit fun. People were in rough times then but they still found a way to have fun. I think that really translates to Chicago Dance Crash.

You used Outkast's Idlewild as the inspiration for the show; were you a huge fan of the duo, the movie, or both?

Definitely a huge fan. I've been listening to their music for a while, but when the movie came out, I just went nuts. It's such a fun fantasy world that they went into. The time period had been done before but I think it was a little bit different in the way that they approached it--a little bit more gritty and a little bit more real.

Do you mean the fact that they are hip hop artists, it gave that time period a different feel?

Yes, for sure.

What was it like creating the choreography and selecting the dancers and performers for this show?

For the creation process, we moved pretty quickly. We rehearsed three days a week and some of the time blocks were only two hours, so we kind of just went in and went full force with the information. I already knew all the music which was nice to draw into creating movement for, so I just had to go out there and try to bring something different. When you choreograph to Michael Jackson [music] it is a challenge because everyone knows the songs. So what I try to do as a choreographer is give a different way to hear the songs or showcase different parts of them, or bring them to life through different and more creative movement.

What did you like most about choreographing The Cotton Mouth Club?

The dancers are spectacular; the Crash dancers are so versatile, that anything that I could dream up I knew it was possible. And that opened up so many possibilities for choreography and movement. When you don't have to limit yourself as a choreographer, the creativity keeps flowing. I really appreciated working with Crash and that was definitely one of the benefits.

Several different dance styles are in this show--was that by design?

We wanted to use some of the versatility of the dancers. The dancers are more comfortable when they can be themselves and showcase all of their abilities as to add more to their character background.

How would you say this differs from other works you've created?

This show is much different because there's more of a storyline. I typically don't choreograph pieces to a storyline; I use more abstract ideas, emotions and things like that, with pieces that are based on a feeling or a concept. But this one has more of a storyline that you can follow along with; I feel like it's more accessible to all types of audiences, so if someone hasn't seen a lot of dance, they're still gonna have fun and enjoy themselves because they'll get to follow along.

What message do you think the The Cotton Mouth Club will convey to the audience?

I play one of the characters [Rooster] which is really fun and exciting to be on the choreographic end and to get to physically portray the idea myself. I think what the audience can grab from this is a little bit of familiarity and also a little bit of a perspective on how a slight choice we make affects everyone else. I feel like there's such a wonderful sense of community that we have in Chicago--and that's one of the things I like about your website--it's like, "Okay, if I want to go to this neighborhood or that neighborhood, there's so much information and such a sense of community." I think people are gonna feel inspired and energetic and they're also gonna take a bit of information back with them regarding the choices we make and their effect on everyone else.

~*~

See Chicago Dance Crash's The Cotton Mouth Club May 25 through June 9 at Victory Gardens' Biograph Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln; shows run Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and at 3pm on Sundays. Tickets are $20-$30 and are sale online or by calling 773-871-3000.

 
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