Pivot Arts Festival switches it up online | Feature | Chicago Reader

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Pivot Arts Festival switches it up online

The annual celebration of multidisciplinary performance adjusts for the times.

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Update for June 5: Pivot Arts has made some changes to the schedule for this year's festival. The livestream celebration and dance party originally scheduled for tonight's opening night have been postponed to June 11. Instead, tonight will feature new works on video by Red Clay Dance Company (originally scheduled June 6) and the Era Footwork Crew (as scheduled). See the festival website for complete schedule.

Pivot Arts has been an incubator for multidisciplinary performance for nearly a decade, and its annual festival, which usually takes over several venues in Edgewater and Uptown, is the public culmination of those development efforts. But with the COVID-19 shutdown, the company knew they had to, well, pivot. And so this year's festival, running June 5-30, is a virtual feast of dance, theater, music, and solo performance. 

Though the recorded pieces in the festival will go "live" on the site at specific dates and times from June 5-11, the content will remain available through the end of the month. 

For Pivot's founder and director Julieanne Ehre, moving online made sense. "We produce and present adventurous and contemporary performance. So we are not a traditional theater company or dance company. Our whole purpose is to reimagine what's possible in performance." And though some of the festival's previously scheduled work "made no sense to be online," Ehre says that they will be rescheduled for next year. Meantime, the artists who are going forward with the current incarnation will be paid the same as they would have been for the live version.

One of the "silver linings" of the reimagined Pivot Festival for Ehre is the ability to bring in artists from outside Chicago, including New York-based Obie Award-winning solo performer David Cale, who has been performing at the Goodman for decades. He's appearing as part of the (Un)touched series of short video performances, debuting on June 8 and curated by Ehre and  Tanya Palmer, the former director of play development at the Goodman who currently heads the MFA program in dramaturgy at Indiana University. Palmer and Ehre asked Cale and several multigenre performers (including dancer and Reader contributor Irene Hsiao) to create short video performances reflecting on "both the absence and impossibility of touch and moments of connection during the quarantine."

One of the rescheduled artists is Alex Alpharaoh, a solo performer and writer from Los Angeles whose work reflects the experiences of undocumented Americans. But though he isn't presenting new work this year, the festival kicks off on Friday with a screening at 6 PM of Lidieth Arevalo's documentary Alpharaoh, which captures the national tour of the artist's solo piece WET: A DACAmented Journey. Alpharaoh will participate in a Zoom meet-and-greet as part of a fundraiser for Pivot. Tickets for that event are $25, but all other festival offerings are free, though of course donations are welcome.

Friday also features a livestream dance party led by artists from The Rosina Project, a collaboration between Chicago Fringe Opera and BraveSoul Movement street dance troupe that premiered in last year's festival and that recasts Rossini's The Barber of Seville as "a story of female empowerment and interracial friendship." The livestream will include songs and dances from that piece and an invitation to audiences watching from home to join in.

For Vershawn Sanders-Ward, founding artistic director of Red Clay Dance Company, the festival going online provided an opportunity for her company to revisit a piece she originally created in 2017, Art of Resilience, which was further reimagined last year as a site-specific piece, Art of Resilience 2.0, for the DuSable Museum's Roundhouse venue. That version reflected on the strength and vibrancy of Black communities in Chicago, as well as the role of segregation and violence against them. In Resilience Reimagined, Red Clay dancers embody the work they did last year from their homes and other site-specific places. 

Says Sanders-Ward, "The piece is about claiming space, particularly for Black and Brown bodies. So my first thought was about how we are relating to our home spaces, being kind of confined to spaces that are our own, that we created, but that we may or may not spend that much time in." 

She adds, "I'm asking them to be vulnerable and transparent. Letting people see your home space—that's a very sacred space." And yet, as Sanders-Ward points out, the police slaying of Breonna Taylor in her Louisville home shows how easily that sacred space can be violated for Black citizens. While the pieces the dancers perform in the festival may not explicitly reflect on Taylor's death, Sanders-Ward says, "It's just a part of our lived experience that I'm sure the dancers carry with them and it will appear as it makes sense in their ideas about resilience and space." The festival will also feature a recording of the DuSable performance, so viewers can see the new pieces (which debut on Saturday) in conversation with the earlier performance. 

Director Seth Bockley and writer Drew Paryzer's Superfluxus, originally intended as an immersive installation and performance (inspired in part by escape rooms) taking place throughout the Edge Theater building on Broadway, transformed into a choose-your-own-adventure virtual experience, set in a "surreal and sinister lunar landscape in the year 2120."

"This is not a work that is a commentary on the present pandemic or situation," says Bockley. "But it does inevitably reflect some of the preoccupations that we all have around isolation." With the help of a tech team that includes video designer Tony Churchill and games designer Melissa Schlesinger, who has also designed escape rooms, Bockley and Paryzer were able to translate their original concept in a way that Bockley hopes will "plant the seeds for that future live version." 

For Ehre, the virtual festival can't fully fill the gap left by the shutdown of museums and theaters, which is why many of the artists scheduled online this year will be returning live when it's safe to do so. But she says, "The idea that access to the arts is no longer in existence is a complete tragedy for me. I want to make sure that people still have some access to art. And not just archival work, but to things that are being created right now."  v

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