“Art, for me, is something that completely drives my life,” said Michelle Kranicke in a phone interview with Windy City Times. “I’m most comfortable and happy when I’m in it.” Kranicke has spent more than 20 years at the helm of Zephyr Dance, and will perform in and present the aMID Festival Jan 21-31 at Links Hall.
Each bringing decades of experience to the festival, Kranicke considers the mid-career contemporary dancers and performers sharing the bill to be her heroes. As many of her peers are retiring from the stage to take other roles in the dance community, Kranicke remains committed to performing. The artists recruited for aMID ( Deborah Hay, Bob Eisen and Cynthia Oliver in the first weekend and Bebe Miller with Darrell Jones, Smith/Wymore Disappearing Acts and Pranita Jain in the second ) have chosen similar paths by remaining onstage beyond a conventional career length; each created or restored works for aMID inspired by the topic of how artists’ aesthetics changes as they age.
But aMID isn’t about aging, exactly. Sure, the festival is centered around what happens to the physical body as it changes over time; for dancers and performance artists engaged in body-centered practices, the effects of aging are magnified. In a field that often celebrates superhuman physical feats, each performer inevitably comes to terms with his/her humanity, and the changes in physicality that occur over time. “There has been a lot of emphasis on the word ‘aging,’ but aMID explores versatility, maturity, and expansive thinking in dance,” said Kranicke, and the approach, process and products of those investigations are fodder for rich discussion about how audiences view dance as well as what choreographers, dancers and audiences value in dance performance.
Kranicke’s personal investigation into her movement practice lead to changes in her choreographic aesthetic, and Zephyr audiences may have noticed distinct changes in how Zephyr creates, presents, and performs dance. “There is virtuosity in the sense of technical/physical prowess, and virtuosity that comes from the restraint of being still,” she said, and prudence often comes from time and experience onstage. While young dancers sometimes rely on fast, explosive movement to impress audience members, mature performers command the stage through their presence, as though saying, “I invite you to watch me, I invite myself to be seen,” said Kranicke.
In acknowledging a change in her physical capabilities, Kranicke now finds more possibilities than limitations. “It’s not about closing up or minimization. It’s about maximizing and expanding opportunity,” she said. “If I am no longer able to physically maneuver specific movements or techniques, what does that open up for me? What are the pathways that are more available?” Kranicke simultaneously began to question how she positioned herself in relation to the other members of her company. “I have to confront whether or not a particular maneuver is necessary, and if so, who’s going to do it? I’ve found this to be a fruitful exploration. … I look at it as some of the best work I’ve been doing.”
Some of the noticeable products of this investigation are that Zephyr presents work less frequently, creates over a long period of development, often exploring site-specific and durational work that takes hours to unfold. Dance patrons who have followed Zephyr over the years will notice a clear departure from its early “dancier” dances. In confronting traditional definitions of dance virtuosity, Kranicke occasionally skirts the line between dance and performance art, creating multidisciplinary performances that can be examined from all sides and in multiple iterations.