A Q&A With Ballet 5:8

Pick an evening and I can probably direct you to a show you should see. That being said, here’s a recommendation for you.

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From the latest musicals (read: Hamilton) to comedy shows and dance, Chicago is a city full of the arts. Pick an evening and I can probably direct you to a show you should see. That being said, here’s a recommendation for you.

One of the best parts about living in the city is the vast amount of events I have to choose from. Thankfully, my husband and I have friends who do a lot of awesome things that we get to see, and share with others!

I had the pleasure of meeting Julianna Slager, Artistic Director of Ballet 5:8, a few years ago through the church we were attending and we became quick friends. I was so glad when she invited me to one of her shows, as it was my introduction to all the Chicago dance scene had to offer! I always appreciate the way Ballet 5:8 can creatively and beautifully tell a story through dance, even for someone who’s still learning. Currently, they are in their 5th performing season and adding six new works to their repertoire, which I can’t wait to see.

Now, I’m not a dancer by trade, but I know the dance scene in Chicago is worth checking out. Thankfully, Julianna took some time out of her day to sit down and tell me a bit about her company and what makes the Chicago dance scene unique.

JC: We can probably agree that Chicago is a great place for the arts. What makes the dance scene in Chicago something that visitors should check out?

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B58: There is a thriving, innovative dance community in Chicago. We have companies of many shapes and sizes that produce every genre of dance. Chicago dance culture has a unique, 21st century contemporary edge that audiences love! Visitors that attend dance in Chicago will certainly come away with the sense of innovation and elegance that reflects the culture of this city.

JC: Tell me about Ballet 5:8 and why it’s unique?

B58: The creation of Ballet 5:8 was based on the idea that dance can be a forum to discuss ideas about life and faith. In my opinion, good art adds value to your life in a way that few things can. When I create dance, I do it from the mindset of wanting to give something meaningful to my audience. I aim to create work that can be enjoyed by the dance newbie or the seasoned dance critic. That process starts in the studio.

When we set or commission a dance piece we always ask, “How will this work speak to our audience?” Watching dance performance has been proven to be a wonderful tool to increase our natural capacity for introspection and empathy. Movement can speak in ways that words can’t. A well performed dance can elicit a visceral response from the viewer, something that is often surprising to an audience. At Ballet 5:8 we don’t do “dance for the sake of dance,” we are invested in using dance to communicate; to tell an honest, engaging story.

JC: What piece are you most excited to share right now?

B58: All of them! Seriously, I am thrilled to present five brand new works with five very different stories. Today in rehearsal I was particularly moved by Ripple Effect. This ballet tells a story of verbal abuse and the power of words. We don’t always see how one careless or heartless word can cause a ripple effect of pain, but it happens all the time. It’s a tough piece to watch because it cuts right to the heart. Even so, there is hope at the end that our fate is not predetermined, we can choose to change.

On a lighter note, we also have a piece that shows the humor and tenderness of young love. Before the Vows is based on my own experience falling in love, as well as the experiences of friends and family that I interviewed in the creative process. The piece is so sweet, starting with a first date, and moving through to a serious commitment. It’s an instant favorite, I mean, who doesn’t love to see people that are happy and in love?

JC: What is the best dance performance you have seen in Chicago, outside of your own of course?

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B58: I really enjoy the work of Crystal Pite, which can often be seen at Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. Pite is an absolute genius. She can take something as simple as an arm movement or a small head roll and make it so impactful and gripping. She is one of the most sought after choreographers of our day, and she consistently delivers beautiful, honest, mesmerizing work. Hubbard Street’s dancers did a great job with her movement, and I look forward to seeing future collaborations between Pite and Hubbard Street.

JC: Before the show, where do you recommend for a bite to eat?

B58: Actually, it’s where my husband took me on dates when we lived in Gold Coast!  RA Sushi on State and Elm, just a few blocks from Ruth Page Center For The Arts. They create all kinds of Japanese inspired dishes, and I have yet to find a more delicious roll than their Las Vegas Roll. I’ll warn you before trying it though, it may just make every other sushi place seem a little less exciting.  Definitely the place you’ll see me headed after the shows next weekend!

To learn more about Ballet 5:8 and view their upcoming performances, visit their website.

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