DEFINING CHICAGO DANCE…
Concert Dance Inc. is the official contemporary dance company and an Artist In-Residence of the Ruth Page Center for the Arts in Chicago, IL. CDI creates and presents contemporary works that evolve from a choreographic collective under the artistic direction of Emmy Award-nominated choreographer, Venetia Stifler, often using live music, video and other media in its performances. The dancers are both highly trained technically and active in the development of the movement vocabulary. Their skills of improvisation and ability to create visual imagery results in work that is not only of the highest caliber, but also artistically proficient and emotionally satisfying.
In 1984, CDI became the dance company in residence at Mundelein College (now Loyola University). In 1987, when its Artistic Director Venetia Stifler became the Director of the Dance Program at Northeastern Illinois University, the company moved its operation to the NEIU Campus. In 1999, CDI toured to Edinburgh and performed as part of the prestigious Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The company was well received and highlighted in the press as one of the “best of the fest.” In 2003, Venetia Stifler was commissioned by the American Composer’s Forum to collaborate with a composer in the creation of a new work to be premiered that year. Also in 2003, the Ravinia Festival commissioned Ms. Stifler to create “Aftermath: The Dance” to music by renowned composer Ned Rorem. This commission by the Ravinia Festival marked the beginning of an on-going relationship for CDI in the creation of new dances that have premiered each summer at Ravinia since 2003. In 2009, CDI was again commissioned by Ravinia for a new dance that was presented as part of their year-long Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Celebration. “The Better Angels of Our Nature” featured the music of Lawrence Dillon, with spoken word borrowed from Lincoln’s personal letters. The Lincoln Trio, a piano trio, performed live and Welz Kauffman, Ravinia President/CEO, narrated.
During its 30th Anniversary performance season in 2011, the Chicago Tribune noted that “Artistic Director Venetia Stifler and her CDI - Concert Dance Inc. are marking 30 years on the dance scene – an impressive achievement, all the more so in an art famous for its casualties.” TimeOut Chicago in their review of the performances enthused “At the start of its fourth decade, Venetia Stifler’s collaborative finds balance between experience and spontaneity. If the last and newest work on its triple bill is any indication, CDI/Concert Dance Inc. is entering its thirties with experience and spontaneity in good balance.” The 2011 performances at the Ravinia Festival also celebrated CDI’s 30th Anniversary Season with a retrospective of the dances commissioned by Ravinia. Additionally, CDI presented a world premiere, “A Soul Enlightened,” to the music of Franz Liszt that featured live accompaniment by Mezzo Soprano Tracy Watson and pianist Mikhail Yanovitsky.
From 2004-2009 CDI - Concert Dance, Inc. also performed for JTAMS Productions in Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania at the historic Mauch Chunk Opera House. This summer residency created a number of new choreography, the most significant being a work relating to the coal mining history of the region. “The Day of the Rope,” a stirring dance conveying the story of the sometimes-violent Irish immigrant group known as the Molly McGuires who fought for labor reforms in 19th century America, premiered in Pennsylvania in 2005. The singing of Kathy Cowen, nationally renowned singer of traditional Irish ballads, accompanies the piece and lends a powerful infusion of authenticity. Venetia Stifler’s re-envisioned production of Ruth Page’s groundbreaking 1947 ballet cartoon, “Billy Sunday” came alive again in 2007 with several stage productions and in the PBS documentary special produced by HMS Media. A two-year project, “Billy Sunday” not only brought this masterpiece work to new audiences, but also garnered several Emmy nominations from The National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences.
International projects have and continue to be an important part of CDI - Concert Dance, Inc.'s focus. In addition to the 1999 tour in Edinburgh, the company traveled in 2006 to the Prague International Dance Festival for several performances. This week-long dance festival brought together dance companies, educators and dance artists from around the globe. In May of 2009, CDI was awarded a $50,000 grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation’s International Connections Fund and a $15,000 grant from the Governor’s International Arts Exchange Program of the Illinois Arts Council to travel to China as part of a cultural exchange program. The program, “The International Dance Learning Project,” was piloted by CDI and allowed them to perform, teach and present its unique brand of American contemporary dance to an international audience of 1,000 people. It also created the stepping-stones of a new world premiere work that was presented at the Ravinia Festival in 2010. Utilizing travel logs of their experiences in China, this new multi-media work explores how the company’s perceptions and realities were affected by a 3000-year-old culture that remains unbroken.
In 2017, the company has completed a work inspired by Chicago Architecture. Director, Venetia Stifler, a native Chicagoan holds an intense connection to the city’s architecture. From Louis Sullivan’s organic decoration to the modern skyscrapers that line the city center, Stifler, with collaborator Frank Vodvarka, explored architectural points of interest. With Vodvarka’s photographs as a backdrop, Stifler created a kinesthetic reality where humans interact with architectural materials, lines, planes and shapes. The result is an intense emotional expression of how we experience architecture. The work was included as part of the city’s Architectural Biennial in 2017, and was performed in several prestigious locations including Crown Hall at the Illinois Institute of Technology, the Ravinia Festival, Millennium Park, and the Ruth Page Center for the Arts.
CDI continued to perform in collaboration with the Ravinia Festival in 2018, showing a piece entitled Fly Me to the Moon, choreographed to music by Frank Sinatra. CDI also created and performed a work in progress called Dances with Words and Music, in collaboration with the Poetry Society. This work utilizes and derives inspiration from poems by Lorca, e.e. cummings, Dorothy Parker, and Langston Hughes. The choreography lives within a multimedia environment of live musical accompaniment and animations created by visual artists Kelli Evans and Frank Vodvarka. The poetry piece is a work in progress that has been performed in both the 2018 and 2019 season. During the 2019 Ravinia Festival, CDI performed Dance With Words and Music as well as El Salón México in Bernstein’s two-piano arrangement, with choreography by Venetia Stifler and the piano played by Welz Kauffman and James Morehead.