Smile Politely

Five things in arts this month: February 2022

Some express their love with food and drink, others with gifts that range from sweet to spicy. It will come as no surprise that this writer’s love language is art—visual, theatrical, literary, and movement. And as with my food and drink, I prefer my arts experiences to be layered, balanced, innovative, locally-sourced, and often bittersweet. The February 2022 arts calendar, despite its COVID and weather-related cancellations, burns bright with offerings that were created from the depths of the imagination and the heart. I invite you to experience one of these opportunities, solo or with a special someone. Your very presence will reflect back the passion and devotion C-U creatives have poured into their work despite the continuing challengings of the pandemic. Much of the work previewed here centers the kind of love you won’t find in a greeting card. The love that reaches across divides, builds bridges, and shares lived experiences. A love fueled by empathy, understanding, and community. 

Danse Soirée de Bonbons/Dance by Rebecca Nettl-Fiol

Close of up a group of dancers some looking at each other, others looking away or at the camera.

Photo by Natalie Fiol.

It’s no secret that the way to my heart is an interdisciplinary art experience. The combining of visual art with dance and music yields more than sum of its parts. The alchemical interactions transcend disciplinary boundaries, yielding a complex feast for the senses.  Danse Soirée de Bonbons offers a number of short works by Dance at Illinois faculty member Rebecca Nettl-Fiol, selected from her repertoire from 2007-present and featuring songs by Jacques Brel.

With performances by Joe Bowie, Laura Chiaramonte, Roxane D’Orléans Juste, Jacob Henss, Rachel Rizzuto, plus Alex Tecza and Kato Lindholm, Danse Soirée de Bonbons is both a celebration of Netti-Fiol’s work and an opportunity to see members of the Dance at Illinois faculty in performance. Years ago, I saw Alex Tecza and Kato Lindholm perform in an art-filled warehouse space. I fully expect Danse Soirée de Bonbons to be filled with that same transcendent magic. 

Danse Soirée de Bonbons/Dance by Rebecca Nettl-Fiol
February 10th, 7-8 p.m.
February 11th, 3-4 p.m.
February 12th, 1-2 p.m., 3-4 p.m.
Krannert Art Museum
500 E Peabody, Champaign
Free, order tickets online

Tickets are required and limited to 20 per performance. Plan to arrive at least 10 minutes prior to the start time. Performances will be approximately 40 minutes long.  A reception, featuring food and conversation, will take place after each performance.

Reckless Law, Shameless Order: An Intimate Experience of Incarceration

Digital tryptic image showing 3 Black faces in profile in front of barred prison windows.

Kenneth Norton, Reflection, 2021. Digital art. © Kenneth Norton. Photo from the Krannert Art Museum website. 

Reckless Law, Shameless Order: An Intimate Experience of Incarceration offers what artists everywhere aim for: the chance to uncover hidden spaces, undermine societal assumptions (about punishment and justice), and create new narratives told from those impacted the most. 

The curator’s statement observes this:

Around the world, millions of people are held in prisons, jails, detention centers, camps, and other sites of confinement. In fact, thousands of carceral spaces permeate contemporary life. The economics, spatial planning, and logic of punishment shape our everyday lives, even if we have not had direct experience with police, courts, ICE agents, detention centers, jails, or prisons.

The process in which this work was created is perhaps even more important than the art itself, as it offers a map for others wishing to explore this territory in their own genre or discipline.

Through transnational dialogues facilitated by art and art-based workshops, formerly incarcerated artists engaged in intimate conversations and collaboratively collected created artifacts and objects desired during imprisonment or those that kept them connected to their outside life; created installations of banned smells, videos of pervasive surveillance, and they shared their experience of time and space with artworks that could be seen only in the mirror in another installation with embedded related soundscapes. This collection along with artists’ individual artworks are displayed in this exhibition.

Artists include Vincent Robinson, Kenneth Norton, Monica Cosby, Lauren Stumblingbear, Imran Mohammad, Pablo Mendoza, Sarah Ross, and Nasrin Navab.

Design, Execution, and Curation by University of Illinois Visiting Artist Nasrin Navab in collaboration with Sarah Ross and Pablo Mendoza.

Reckless Law, Shameless Order: An Intimate Experience of Incarceration
February 11th-April 2nd
Krannert Art Museum
Hood Classroom, lower level
500 E Peabody, Champaign
Make your reservation online.

Related events:
Opening Reception; February 11th, 1-3 p.m.,
Performance of My Name is Inanna, a play by Ezzat Goushegir, the resident playwright of Chicago, performed by Maryam Abdi:  February 18th, 1-3 p.m.

Varslaren (The Whistleblower)

Close up of a house of cards.

Photo from the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts Facebook page.

In the production’s program notes, devising director Genesee Spridco shares that Varslaren (The Whistleblower) is inspired by Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People, and by current circumstances. Set in 1880s Norway, “Ibsen’s play is a classic of political theatre. Its themes of greed, corruption, and the power of propaganda are relevant as much now as when he wrote it. The play has the capacity to speak to current American concerns, and this adaptation, devised by University of Illinois faculty and students, updates the original to reflect our own moment in history.”

Spridco goes on to both explore the timeliness of the original text and the concurrent need for its reimagining for a 2022 audience. 

“Our ever-changing relationship with health and safety that mirrors this story from Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People made for fertile ground to dig in and create. In the world of natural forces, two opposing forces create a tug of war, whereas three opposing forces create much more complex drama—unlikely allies, renegotiations, and betrayals, which we see when science, politics, and media dynamically tango with each other. As we dove into this physical theatre adaptation as an ensemble, we collaborated our perspectives to dig into the parts of Ibsen’s story we found most compelling.

We removed the binary, a homogenic persona that the original work provided into a space that opened up perceived gender roles. As an ensemble, we wrote and improvised voices for our own characters and for each other’s characters in the collective hopes to further illuminate that the “People” of Brønnen were the focus of this story. We explored the ways they (and by extension, we) are swayed by different influences, yet together as a compact majority, the People can create an emotional and potentially destructive force of its own.”

Pandemic life may have left us numb and anxious; however, productions like this, though challenging for both actors and audiences, are crucial to our processing, healing, and our ability to find knowledge and beauty in our darkest moments. 

Varslaren (The Whistleblower)
February 11th-18th, 7:30 p.m.
February 19th, 2-4 p.m.
Krannert Center for the Performing Arts
500 S Goodwin, Urbana
Tickets: $10-$50, order online.
Contains adult content.

Spectrum Dance Theater: Strange Fruit

Group of Black dancers, shown from the waist up, stretching arms into the air.

Photo from Krannert Center for the Arts Facebook page.

Named for the 1937 poem and Abel Meeropol song, made famous by Billie Holiday, Strange Fruit is a contemplative dialogue in movement presented by Spectrum Dance Theatre and created by artistic leader Donald Byrd.  As promotional text for the performance reminds us, “The lyrics are an extended metaphor linking a tree’s fruit with lynching victims. The impetus for this work is the employment of lynching as a tool of racial terrorism during the Jim Crow Era.”

In this “dance/theatre work,”  the “facts of lynching act as a springboard into a highly personal interior space and state of mind,” played out “as a series of dance/theatre vignettes, which though abstract, are “informed by the reality of these brutal acts of terrorism.” Following the performance, Bryrd and members of the company will engage in a discussion with audience members. “The performance will close with Byrd and members of the company participating in a discussion with audience members.

“The work may be purely an aesthetic experience” to “absorb Byrd’s ambitious dance vocabulary, or it may wrap itself around a compelling civic issue, encouraging a community to examine ideas and attitudes that may impact lives long after the dancing has stopped.” Either way, this visit from Spectrum Dance Theatre is not to be missed.

Spectrum Dance Theater: Strange Fruit
February 19th, 7:30 p.m.
Krannert Center for the Performing Arts
500 S Goodwin, Urbana
Tickets: $10-$50, order online
Performance will be approximately 1 hour, 20 minutes.

Editor’s Note: On February 16, 2022, at 4:30 p.m., attend Donald Byrd’s free presentation and panel discussion, Social Justice and Just Causes in Knight Auditorium at Spurlock Museum (600 S Gregory, Urbana).

By the Way, Meet Vera Stark

Red velvet chair with pillows in front of red and gold curtains. B&W Hollywood sign photo and Emmy award statue on top of a dresser.

Photo (cropped) from the Station Theatre Facebook page.

If you’re not familiar with the playwright Lynn Nottage, it’s time to change that. Nottage won a 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Sweat, which you’ll have the chance to see this April at Krannert Center for the Performing Arts. In By the Way, Meet Vera Stark Nottage “draws upon the screwball films of the 1930s to take a funny and irreverent look at racial stereotypes in Hollywood,” as she guides us through the 70-year journey of the life of Vera Stark, “a headstrong African-American maid and budding actress, and her tangled relationship with her boss, a white Hollywood star desperately grasping to hold on to her career.”

Directed by Thom Schnarre and assistant director Kahiliah Lane, the work presents a deeply complex conflict when “circumstances collide and both women land roles in the same Southern epic.” What follows becomes the source of critical debate for years to come.  

By the Way, Meet Vera Stark
February 24th-26th, March 3rd-6th, 7:30 p.m.
February 27th, 3 p.m.
The Station Theatre
223 N Broadway, Urbana
Tickets: $13-$25, reserve online

Top photo from the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts Facebook page.  

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