Broadway veteran and Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater dancer Sean Aaron Carmon is looking forward to performing in the company's annual Chicago tour later this month at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University. Yet before Carmon takes the stage as a dancer, he is excited that he has an opportunity to share his work as a dancemaker with Chicago audiences through the Joffrey Ballet's 2017 Winning Works Choreographic Competition.
"I tend to look ahead and am always prepared for what's next," said Carmon, stressing that he is well-aware that a dancing career can be short-lived.
So Carmon has been strategically finding opportunities to create choreography on top of his hectic global touring schedule of performing dozens of Ailey repertory pieces. After he saw many peers participating in Winning Works, Carmon decided to enter the national seven-year-old Joffrey competition dedicated to increasing opportunities for choreographers of African, Latino( a ), Asian, Arab or Native American heritage.
Once named a winner ( and with the blessing of Ailey artistic director Robert Battle ), Carmon scheduled to set his world-premiere piece on students from The Joffrey Academy of Dance during the annual three-week January vacation for Ailey dancers. Carmon's Suite Hearts features a score by Japanese classical composer Takashi Yoshimatsu, and was inspired by a recent breakup with his long-time boyfriend.
"It was specifically going to be about the flirting and the fun of putting yourself back out there," Carmon said. "Also, it was a big thing for me because most of the work that I have done has always been darker in tonemuch more aggressive and not so light-hearted. So it was a new experience for me."
Carmon was also keen to share his years of ballet training and modern dance experience with the Joffrey Academy students. Since most of the students' training is so rooted in classical ballet, he was keen to push them out of their comfort zones with more contemporary steps and moves.
"No one only does just classical ballet anymore," Carmon said. "The audiences want more and so ( many of the world's top ballet companies ) have had to adapt and I think that is exactly what the Joffrey has done in creating this award. They've adapted to the changes of the world because people want to see more. They want to see themselves on stage. It's the same thing with representation in the movies."
Carmon is grateful to be a Winning Works choreographer, especially if it helps him to continue creating new pieces and working in dance studios. It's all part of Carmon's efforts to avoid a desk job once his career as a dancer is over.
"This is me figuring out who I am and who I want to be," Carmon said. "And what I want my voice choreographically to be."
Carmon's Suite Hearts is featured alongside pieces by choreographers Shannon Alvis, Karen Gabay and Jimmy Orrante in the Joffrey Ballet's 2017 Winning Works Choreographic Competition. Performances are at 2 and 7 p.m. Saturday, March 11, and 2 p.m. Sunday, March 12, at the Harold Washington Library Center, 400 S. State St.
Tickets have been claimed for all of the free performances. For more information on ticket waitlists and the competition, visit Joffrey.org/WinningWorks.
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater returns for its 47th annual Chicago visit at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University, 50 E. Congress Pkwy., with six repertory performances from Wednesday, March 22, through Sunday, March 26. Tickets are $33 to $115; visit AlvinAiley.org or AuditoriumTheatre.org.
Suicide and sibling rivalry
Playwright Sarah Sander is amazed at how quickly her world-premiere play Sycamore was picked up by Raven Theatre. Sander credits her many theater contacts for spreading word about her family drama touching upon gay teenage suicideeven before it was officially finished.
Sander's involvement with a writing group in New York's Page 73 Productions is what helped alert director Devon de Mayo ( Lost in Yonkers and You Can't Take it With You at Northlight Theatre ) to put Sycamore on Raven's radar. De Mayo directed Sycamore as part of Raven's 2016 [Working Title] new play-development series of staged readings, and is now helming its official debut.
Sander did not write Sycamore to be an "issue play" tying into the much-reported spate of LGBTQ teenage suicides over the past few years. Instead, Sycamore was "always more about the characters than the issue."
"I wouldn't feel comfortable going into specifics because it's not my story," said Sander about the emotional gestation of the play. "It's a compilation of several different people I know."
Another interesting aspect of Sycamore is that it pits the high-school character of Celia ( actress and playwright Selina Fillinger ) against her younger gay brother, Henry ( Julian Larach ), as they both romantically pursue their new next-door neighbor, John ( Johnathan Nieves ).
"Most of my plays are about me trying to process something," said Sander, cautiously adding that Sycamore concerns "a sense of familial duty, but also a yearning that would go against that duty and how to reconcile that."
Sycamore continues through Saturday, April 29, at Raven Theatre, 6157 N. Clark St. Performances are 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays ( no show Thursday, March 16 ) and 3:30 p.m. Sundays. Saturday matinees at 3:30 p.m. begin March 25. Tickets are $43-$46, $38-$41 for seniors and $21-$22 for students. Call 773-338-2177 or visit RavenTheatre.com.