Fall Arts Guide 2008, People: Darrell Jones

Choreographer

September 11, 2008
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People

Darrell Jones

Darrell Jones seems to have found his metier in mob action. The first piece he choreographed in Chicago—Third Swan From the End, performed at the Galaxie last September—played with the sweaty dynamism of club dancing while it explored voguing as a response by gay black men to the prejudice they face.

Now he's working on a sextet for the Seldoms, Whiff of Anarchy, that looks at group energy in a different way. The inspiration for the piece, which previews at the Loyola University Museum of Art 10/28 and 11/8, was "this cheesy show on Bravo about the best riots and disturbances of 2007: football games with riot behavior and other things around the world," he says. "I got fascinated by the body formations. The crowd seemed like an organism. I started to look closer, and there was a logic to this organism even in different settings."

Third Swan From the End was the product of a Chicago Dancemakers Forum grant Jones received in 2006, the same year he got another big break: a tenure-track job at the Dance Center of Columbia College. Not bad for a guy who'd just moved to Chicago from New York in late 2005. But if Jones seems like a child of fortune, at 39 he's no kid. He's paid his dues, having danced with Urban Bush Women, Bebe Miller, Ralph Lemon, Ronald K. Brown, and butoh master Min Tanaka.

Energy comes up a lot when Jones talks about dance. Asked about the differences between concert performance and voguing, he says both require rigor—but while a professional works in a studio with an instructor who "hands out" knowledge, a social dancer is in a club where alcohol or drugs "produce a different type of openness. And you're taught not necessarily by one person but by a group giving a kind of energetic affirmation: 'That was fierce!'"

Jones says he's drawn to voguing, which he's done for years, because of its community: other black gay men. "It's empowering. There's not a known [dance] language, but a known attitude—a common sass, looking at things with the head slightly tilted, seeing underneath.... It can become a high art, and the crowd knows when it happens."

For Whiff of Anarchy he began reading up on a different sort of crowd dynamic. In a psychological journal he came across the phrase he lifted for the title of the piece. He says it suggested "a sensation that happens in the body," triggering collective and individual chaos.

Like Seldoms artistic director Carrie Hanson, whose last work addressed landfill, Jones is curious about subjects that seem far removed from dance, a curiosity he says was spurred by an early choreography class. "The instructor kept telling me to read about architecture, astronomy, things outside of dance, to bring those in," he says. "The form is dance, but it's not just about the dance."

Jones will have another piece to show besides Whiff this fall. In September he performs a duet, Traitor, at the Other Dance Festival, with his collaborator, Dance Center professor Lisa Gonzales.

a Traitor runs Thu-Fri 9/25-9/26, 7:30 PM, Hamlin Park field house, 3035 N. Hoyne, 800-838-3006 or brownpapertickets.com, $12-$15. Whiff of Anarchy previews Tue 10/28, 6 PM, and Sat 11/8, 3 PM, at Loyola University Museum of Art in conjunction with its exhibit "Art of Democracy," 820 N. Michigan, 312-915-7600, $5 nonmembers. It premieres 2/19-2/21/09, Thu-Sat 8 PM, Dance Center of Columbia College, 1306 S. Michigan, 312-344-6600, $24-$28. —Laura Molzahn

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