Dance for Life is a yearly fundraising event held in Chicago at the Auditorium Theatre, but this year the gathering of dance professionals and supporters will take place in a virtual format. Choreographer Hanna Brictson was asked to choreograph a world premiere – a challenge under usual circumstances – made more difficult by COVID-19. We sent Hanna some questions about how she crafted this new work, and her answers were educational–but perhaps even more importantly–hopeful.
What was the path that led to you being asked to make a dance for Dance for Life 2020: United as One?
My path to creating the new piece for DFL 2020 happened in the heat of the pandemic. DFL contacted me and noted that they loved the piece I had submitted in early February, “Natural Women.” This was back when it would have been in the show. Having seen my works over the last few years, they asked if I could create a brand new piece to represent the current situation. It wasn’t clear at this point when or how we could do such a thing during a quarantine. Then the wheels started turning and the plan to create virtually and do a film was born.
Can you talk just for a moment about your background in Chicago dance and how this affected your approach regarding the World Premiere you have choreographed for the event?
My background in Chicago starts from the beginning. I grew up in the suburbs and by the age of 15 was training very closely with River North Dance Chicago. At 18, after graduating high school, I joined River North as a company member, and that’s where I danced for 12 years, eventually choreographing on the company and being an assistant rehearsal director. During those years, I was brought into the DFL family, performing several years with RNDC at the performance each year—a definite highlight in my early career. Following RNDC, I joined Visceral Dance Chicago. I was able to perform again in DFL with a different company. Two seasons later I submitted my own choreographic work to be in the show. Prompted by mentors and pushed to show what I could do choreographically, I did it. It was picked for 2018. It’s been a journey! To be on both sides of the Auditorium stage as both a dancer and choreographer is beyond emotional for me. That young passionate 12-year-old never would have guessed that, at 34 years old, I would have accomplished these things. It still is quite surreal, and I am extremely grateful and honored to create and have people actually enjoy it! DFL has given me such wonderful opportunities.
Dance for Life has always been about community. Can you speak to the challenge of trying to bring that feeling into this year’s virtual event?
The community aspect was a challenge for this creation! We never were able to rehearse in person. We had only communication through emails, YouTube videos, and a few Zoom calls. I actually did note sessions talking to my camera and uploading it online to send! Completely different than the normal. Many dancers in Chicago had traveled home, taken breaks, and so much more during their own journey through a quarantine and worldwide pandemic. When I first started reaching out to people, it seemed like this was exactly what people needed in their life. Dancers are hungry to feel and share. These dancers are the most generous and humble humans. They really came together in a rough time for us all. Community is a tie that we will always have together. Sometimes it may seem thinner, but Chicago’s dance ties are a bond that will continue to stay strong and collected. We felt distanced at first but quickly realized we actually were capable of anything. That day, that ONE and ONLY day we came all together to film, we felt so strongly about our Chicago Dance Community, and so happy to finally be together!
What did you learn from this unusual approach to creating a work under these circumstances?
I learned through this process that a lot is possible going forward in this new world approaching us. I can still create under intense circumstances. It’s actually a very optimistic view for me to look forward to. We have a great community of dancers that are eager to create and share with the world. We need to keep dancing and creating as much as we can right now.
Those who are interested in participating in Dance for Life 2020: United as One can find information at Chicago Dancers United. It begins Saturday evening at 6:30 pm, CST.