I am thrilled to welcome you to MCA Chicago’s very first annual Chicago Performs series!
These two days of carefully crafted premieres and “first looks” at new performances showcase the vitality of Chicago’s performing artists in the city where they dwell—while also platforming them on the national stage. Performance artist Bimbola Akinbola, choreographer Erin Kilmurray, and theatermaker Derek Lee McPhatter have all worked with the museum previously, in part through the New Works Initiative, a set of programs for developing new performances to foster connection between artists, audiences, and communities. Today and over the coming years, Chicago Performs aims to spotlight the depth and range of the city’s creative landscape and support artists as they expand the scale of their practices with new works made with and for Chicago and beyond.
Chicago-based scholar Joshua Takano Chambers-Letson has written that “What allows the party, or a performance, to serve the will toward freedom and More Life is that another night beckons and that it can happen again. And again. And again.”¹ That “will toward freedom and More Life” is a necessity for people whose very lives are regularly called into question, such as the Black and/or queer artists in this year’s series. Performance is powerful in part because of its resilience, its contradictory potential to make a newly transcendent experience happen over and over—to create a feeling, something totally different, that we hope might return again. And again. The possibility of a moment not yet experienced, and yet filled with recognition (of ourselves, of society, of imagined worlds), is what brings many of us to performances—and parties, and vibrant conversations—with curiosity and eagerness.
I like to think there is something of that “will toward freedom and More Life” at play in all of Kilmurray, McPhatter, and Akinbola’s creations. Each artist crafts a self-contained ecosystem using body, sound, movement, object, and text to create a new and temporary universe; whether deconstructing and reconstructing the small cosmos of a dance before our eyes in search of utopia (Kilmurray), sonically articulating a future activist movement and its malcontents in the face of environmental catastrophe (McPhatter), or pushing their bodies to the limits of exhaustion while inviting anyone and everyone to linger in the celebration together (Akinbola).
Writer and activist adrienne maree brown says, “Resilience is perhaps our most beautiful, miraculous trait,”² especially if we understand human resilience as adaptive, collective intention. Performance calls its participants, both performers and audiences, into a shared resilience of sorts. A commitment to sit—or dance—through the experience together, to build a world together for an hour or so. Each of these artists uses distinct performance tools to amplify a larger question being asked across our city and our world now: how do we create shared resilience and collective intention—in the moment amongst each other, and as we imagine potential futures? Reflecting the complexity of this question, their works grapple with difficulty but also with joy, a connection between their practices that is the focal point of the accompanying panel discussion moderated by Tempestt Hazel, one of Chicago’s key voices curating and writing art into the record of humanity.
Over the next two days, these artists and their works draw us together to celebrate the potential of performance to propel us toward “More Life,” more joy, more resilience, and more collective intention. I hope you’ll join us, again and again.
—Tara Aisha Willis | Curator, Performance
¹ Joshua Takano Chambers-Letson, preface to After the Party: A Manifesto for Queer of Color Life (New York: NYU Press, 2018), xxii.
² adrienne maree brown, Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds (Chico, CA: AK Press, 2017), 126.
Erin Kilmurray | the Function
Thursday, September 15, 2 and 7:30 pm
Edlis Neeson Theater
- Captioning, American Sign Language, and audio description are provided for the evening performance. CART captioning is provided by Cathy Rajcan. ASL interpretation is provided by Julikka LaChe and Veramarie Baldoza. Audio description is provided by Victor Cole.
- This program contains moments of strobe lighting and loud music containing some sexual language. Performers remove some clothing.
- Run time is roughly 60 minutes.
About the Work
Erin Kilmurray is a dancer and choreographer—but more than that, she is a creator of space. She builds structures and invites her collaborators to use them for their own self-expression. The results are sexy, raw, and deeply heartfelt performances.
Regarded as a “Chicago institution,”¹ 2019 marked the 10-year anniversary of Kilmurray’s The Fly Honey Show, an annual cabaret celebrating body positivity, self-love, and acceptance. The show has grown from a one-night event with 30 performers in a loft space to a month-long, sold-out series featuring more than 400 artists in one of Chicago’s most profitable venues, Thalia Hall. Through it, Kilmurray has cultivated a family of women and queer people that runs deep in Chicago, lovingly referred to as “the hive.”
Seeking to bring the sweetness of The Fly Honey Show into her independent practice, she began work on the Function to further elicit agency, vulnerability, and empowerment on stage. The work is necessarily collaborative: Through each performance, Kilmurray and her team use an existing structure to iterate and collaborate—ultimately envisioning a feminist utopia. In fact, to create the Function Kilmurray and her dancers thought of their creative process as “cross-training,” learning from lighting and set designers, DJs, videographers, and other collaborators while also exploring authorship in performance. Sharing creative skills with a range of other artists and peers became a core tenet of the Function, just as COVID-19 would threaten the very act of performance.
As funding was secured for the project, the global pandemic shut down Chicago and the question of “how to function” took on deeper meaning for Kilmurray and her team. Torn between deep nostalgia for pre-pandemic life and the desire to build new ways of creating and living for the future while also battling inertia, Kilmurray began to describe her coping strategy as one built on “future nostalgia” (not to be confused with pop singer Dua Lipa’s 2020 album of the same name, though it’s easy to imagine Kilmurray, whose dance origins began in commercial music videos, using one of her disco-infused bops in a piece of choreography).
Kilmurray’s “future nostalgia” describes the uncomfortable, liminal space between longing for something that hasn’t yet been created and the labor of creating. Performance scholar Ramón Rivera-Servera, who until recently was based in Chicago, reflects Kilmurray’s sentiments: “the practice of performance constitutes an effort that requires both an investment in the possible, what might become of the exchange promised by the event, and a realization that pursuing that possibility entails as many pleasures as it invokes risks.”²
Embracing that risk and the resilience of her collaborators, Kilmurray has doubled down on her insistence that creative skill-sharing—of the sort that led to the Function—is a communal act leading to greater imaginative possibilities. The result? Not a finished product, but rather an ongoing practice of dreaming, experimenting, editing, iterating, and building toward a new future.
—Laura Paige Kyber | Curatorial Assistant, Performance
¹ Ashley Ray-Harris, “The Fly Honey Show grows into a Chicago institution,” The Chicago Reader, August 23, 2017.
² Ramón Rivera-Servera, Performing Queer Latinidad: Dance, Sexuality, Politics (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2012), 5–6.
Cocreated through collaboration between the following team of dancers, designers, thinkers, and live production makers.
CONCEPT AND DIRECTION
CHOREOGRAPHY DEVELOPED WITH PERFORMERS
Hannah Michal Santistevan, Keyierra Collins, Kierah “KIKI” King, and Maggie Vannucci
ADDITIONAL CHOREOGRAPHIC SUPPORT
Assistant Director/Understudy Sarah Ellen Miller
ORIGINAL DANCING COLLABORATORS
Dee Alaba and Tia Monet Greer
VITIGRRL aka Hannah Viti
the function is made possible through support from a Chicago Dancemakers Forum 2020 Lab Artist award, in tandem with creative time spent at the Field Center for Performance, Dance and Interdisciplinary Arts (Vermont), Harris Theater for Music and Dance (Chicago, IL), Ragdale Foundation (Illinois), Vashon Artist Residency (Washington), and through a weeklong independent residency made possible by laying some borrowed marley down on a barn floor.
Special thanks to Quinn Tsan, Shannon Matesky, and Joanna Furnans.
About the Artists
Dee Alaba (Original dancing collaborator; she/her) is a transfemme dance artist and teacher who was born in Davao, Philippines. She is a wildly dynamic performer, which has led her to collaborate with companies and independent artists such as Katlin Bourgeois, Ayako Kato, Erin Kilmurray, Alex Grelle, The Seldoms directed by Carrie Hanson, The Cambrian’s directed by Benjamin Wardell, and The Fly Honeys, among others. Alaba holds a BFA in dance from Columbia College Chicago.
Anastar Alvarez (Stage management; they/them) is a stage and production manager based in Chicago. They have worked with companies such as The Sound, Free Street Theatre, The Chicago Children’s Theatre, The Fly Honeys/The Fly Honey Show, and First Floor Theater where they are the company’s production manager. Their upcoming work includes Botticelli in the Fire at First Floor Theater and The Wizards in collaboration with The Chicago Latino Theater Alliance. They are committed to creating equitable, safe, and inviting collaboration spaces.
Keyierra Collins (Performer; she/her) is an international dancer, choreographer, and teaching artist based in Chicago. In 2020 she was awarded the 3Arts/Walder Foundation Awardee grant. As a dance artist Collins worked with artists like educator and international performer and choreographer Onye Ozuzu as well as France-based Rwanda artist Dorothee Munyaneza. She also has had the pleasure of working with many Chicago-based artists like Paige Cunningham, Emily Stein, Anna Martine Whitehead, and Sonita Surratt, to name a few. Collins’s work explores how dance and movement can be used to heal trauma, particularly the collective and individual trauma experienced by people of the African diaspora. She graduated from Columbia College Chicago in 2016 with a BA in dance. There she studied various dance forms, including West African, modern, jazz, ballet, hip-hop, and improvisation. Having toured and worked with artists in Haiti and Nigeria, Collins wants to continue to travel and collaborate with artists around the world.
Tia Monet Greer (Original dancing collaborator; she/her) is a West Coast–raised, Jersey-born dancer. Her performance credits include Peter Carpenter Performance Project, Joanna Furnans, Joell Hall & Dancers, six seasons with The Fly Honeys/The Fly Honey Show, and is a longtime collaborator with Erin Kilmurray. Greer is a realtor by day, and a brand new mother by day and night.
Erin Kilmurray (Director/Creator; she/her) is a genre-straddling dance artist drawing on space-making and movement practices found in nightlife culture, theater, and dance. Her work challenges traditional relationships between performer and spectator through electric, often political performance that enlivens body and environment. She is the creator/director of The Fly Honey Show—a decade-long project considered a “Chicago institution” that follows in the lineage of variety/burlesque performance manifested through an all-body-loving, fierce, empowering collaborative ethos. Consequently, her choreography has been presented in contemporary performance spaces, music venues, public parks, at bars, nightclubs, and on screen including the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Thalia Hall, The Dance Center of Columbia College, Lollapalooza, Empty Bottle, Pivot Arts, University of Chicago, Visceral Dance Chicago, Metro, Beauty Bar, and The Chicago Cultural Center, among others. Her 2019 evening-length work SEARCH PARTY was selected for a month-long cultural-exchange tour with dancebox-Kobe (Japan) the same year. Kilmurray stays deeply invested in broadening community cultures around dancing in Chicago, and has made dances for countless independent makers, parties, music videos, festivals, concerts, house shows, undergraduate programs, and theatrical productions. She is a Links Hall Fellow (2022–23), a Chicago Dancemakers Forum Lab Artist (2020), recognized as 50 People Who Really Perform for Chicago (2020, Newcity), and is newly on the faculty at Northwestern University, where she will continue dance practices that relentlessly amplify women, queer folks, the underground and the underdog.
Kierah “KIKI” King (Performer; she/they) is a native of Hartford, Connecticut, where she was homeschooled in their family’s café and attended Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts, learning the power of service, education, and creativity as central to life. She received a BFA in dance with a minor in Black world studies from Columbia College Chicago (2020) where their passion for social justice, activism, community building, and civic engagement came through in the forms of performance, teaching, training, demonstrations, and choreographic work. Since graduating, she has held creative residencies at Links Hall and The Dance Center, and performed with FORCE! by Anna Martine Whitehead, The Fly Honeys, and the South Loop Spark Plug initiative directed by Bebe Miller and Darrell Jones. KIKI’s choreographic work has been seen at Centre National de la Danse (France), Beyond The Bars Conference at Columbia University New York, College Arts Association, and the American College Dance Association (MI), as well as in RAISIN (6018 | North Gallery, Chicago) and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, organized by Industry of the Ordinary at the Design Museum of Chicago.
Sarah Ellen Miller (Assistant director/Understudy; she/they) is a choreographer, dancer, writer, and bartender based in Chicago with a BA from Beloit College. Her freelance performance credits include work by Erin Kilmurray, Joanna Furnans, Kate Corby, Ben Law, Chris Johnson, Gina T’ai, Helen Simoneau, LOUD BODIES, Project Bound Dance, and Erika Farkvam, among others. She has been lucky enough to perform and present work at Going Dutch, Harvest Chicago Contemporary Dance Festival, Dance St. Louis, RAD Fest, Queerly Contemporary Festival (NYC), World Dance Alliance (Newfoundland/France), and the New Prague Dance Festival. As a lover of immersive dance/theater/bar shows, Miller has joyfully performed with Alex Grelle, The Fly Honey Show, made her directorial debut with Dani Wieder for Prop Thtr’s Rhinoceros Theater Festival, and is the cofounder of Reel Movement Project. She is currently collaborating closely with Alix Schillaci on Sunset’s That Way.
Bran Moorhead (Technical direction; they/them) is a non-binary queerdo who works as a Renaissance person in performance and stage craft, including technical direction, carpentry, stage management, and lighting design. With training in opera and musical theater, they said f*ck it and moved into the experimental, devised performance field. Currently, they are the production manager for local touring music venue Thalia Hall, and a longtime multi-collaborator with The Fly Honeys.
Hannah Michal Santistevan (Performer; she/her) is a dance artist in Chicago. Her early dance training took place in Colorado at Denver School of the Arts where she received an Arts Endorsed diploma, and later a BFA in Dance from Columbia College Chicago. Santistevan is actively engaged as a multi-genre choreographer, movement director, and performer under esteemed dance artists and merited venues, including: House for an Art Lover (Glasgow, UK), University of Texas, and University of Wisconsin, as well as Chicago spaces like Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, Columbia College, Links Hall, and now the Museum of Contemporary Art, under the direction of Erin Kilmurray. Currently, her dance/film work Love Letters, made in collaboration with Yuge Zhou, is being projected for public viewing on a 2.5 acre river-façade in downtown Chicago’s Art on theMAR through November 18, 2022.
Maggie Vannucci (Performer; she/her) is a Chicago-based dance artist and teacher. She is a company member with The Seldoms directed by Carrie Hanson and has worked with Khechari, Braeden Barnes, Sarah Stearn, and more recently Erin Kilmurray. She received her MFA with distinction in contemporary dance performance through VERVE led by Matthew Robinson in Leeds, UK, and a BFA in contemporary dance from London Contemporary Dance School. While in the UK and Europe she toured four original creations by Sita Osthimer, Matthew Robinson, Hanas Lengoff, and Lenka Vagnerova. Outside of creating and performing, she is a professor of dance at Northwestern and is certified in Bartenieff Fundamentals, which she includes in her somatic-based release technique class, incorporating floor work and improvisation. Through her classes, Vannucci is invested in cultivating a space that is sustainable for the body, community and connection.
VITIGRRL, also known as Hannah Viti (Sound design; she/her), is a proud Chicagoan. She’s also a radical, queer, femme dyke who believes that music helps us feel at home in our bodies. VITIGRRL is a sound artist, DJ, podcast producer, and sonic historian. She’s the resident DJ of the award-winning party Slo’mo and part of the iconic Good Girls collective—formed by legendary DJ’s Lori Branch and Lady D. She creates genre-bending soundscapes full of passion and power featuring classic Chicago House, UK Garage, Funk, Soul, Disco, RnB, and more. No venue is too big or small for her, igniting dance floors from Smartbar to Millennium Park in Chicago and recently clubs across the country. In 2020 she graduated from the Sound Arts & Industries Masters program at Northwestern University, where she grew her craft through infusing meaning, archival treasures, and musicality into everything she creates.
Dani Wieder (Dramaturgy; she/they) is a dramaturg and director working across performance, dance, film, and puppetry. She has previously collaborated with Erin Kilmurray as the associate director of The Fly Honey Show (2019). She has dramaturged and consulted for Remy Bumppo Theatre Co., Jackalope Theatre Co., Haven Chicago, and Nevermore Park Gallery, among others. Wieder’s live work has been presented by Jackalope Theatre, Prop Thtr, Hot Kitchen Collective, Rough House Theatre Co., Elgin Fringe Festival, and American Theatre Company, among others. She has directed both dance and narrative films, including the award-winning short Cool for Five Seconds. Currently, Wieder has an object included in the exhibition So Mini People at Happy Gallery, and is directing Hard Femme’s upcoming music video. She is a case manager for the Chicago Abortion Fund.
Sal Yvat (Styling) is a Memphis-bred, Chicago-made interdisciplinary artist working as a wardrobe stylist, costume designer, and creative producer. With a BA in advertising art direction, she is able to interpret and execute visual ideas by combining relevant market trends with detailed research and a refined personal perspective. Since 2016, Yvat have worked with a range of artists and brands, including Square, Nike, Yamaha, Conde Nast, and many more. With a love for connecting with people through wardrobe and fashion history, she is passionate about the ways fashion can be used to foster self-confidence and promote self-expression.
Bimbola Akinbola | You Gotta Know It: a durational moving meditation on (Black) collectivity, labor, and joy
Friday September 16, 10 am–5 pm
Viewers with intermediate to advanced experience with the Electric Slide are invited to join this moving meditation for as long as possible throughout its seven-hour duration. This performance space centers and celebrates Black collectivity, labor, and joy. Enter with intention. Bring your whole self. Leave as you must.
About the Work
If you know the steps to the Electric Slide, do you remember where you learned them? Was it at a wedding or a prom? Perhaps a family reunion or a birthday party? Do you remember how old you were at the time? Was there a specific person who taught you the dance? Maybe it was an older sibling, or an aunt. Or perhaps you just moved with the crowd until you picked it up through osmosis. In some cultural spheres, the popular 18-step line dance is as ubiquitous as birthday cake, and a moment of collective joy.
For her seven-hour performance You Gotta Know It, Bimbola Akinbola invites viewers to join her—for as long as possible—as she and three other Black female performers repeat the dance for the duration of the museum’s open hours. As the work’s subtitle indicates, Akinbola reflects on the ideas of collectivity, labor, and joy to ask what it means to be “in community” through her performance. How are communities created? Who are they comprised of? And is community always joyous?
Many Americans learned the Electric Slide in gym class at school, but the dance is particularly meaningful in Black communities. Whether and how you take up the invitation to join Akinbola’s performance can reveal how you relate to the social dynamics of the situation: Do you immediately want to jump in, or do you hold back? Citing the influence of scholars like Miranda Joseph, who describes the “conservative, disciplining, and exclusionary effectivity of the invocation of community,”¹ Akinbola delves into the complicated nature of what it means to be in connection to others. No community is a monolith, but how much commonality is required, or difference is permitted, for the community to remain intact? Who is centered, who is placed at the margins, and what possibilities do those positions afford?
How long are you compelled to linger in connection, or proximity, to Akinbola’s performance? By connecting the work to the standard museum workday (10 am–5 pm), Akinbola reminds us of the labor required to remain connected to others. Often sources of great joy and recognition, relationships also require consistent care and attention. Akinbola joins a long history of durational performance-makers who investigate the relationship between art and life. For example, in 1980 Taiwanese performance artist Tehching Hsieh similarly connected art and industry with his famous Time Clock Piece, in which he punched a time clock every hour on the hour for an entire year, each time taking a single picture of himself.²
The Electric Slide has also been used to protest national labor policies. In his 1996 text “The Electric Slide Protest,” civil rights attorney Derrick Bell described the authority, beauty, and power shown in a Black woman-led protest against the Freedom of Employment Act, which threatened to end affirmative action. In cities across America, women gathered to collectively dance the Electric Slide for 12 hours in front of major government buildings. Take note of when your energy begins to flag: What new perspectives might you come to during those lulls? Can you find strategies to push through them?
Akinbola cites Arthur Jafa’s 2016 film, Love Is the Message, The Message is Death (MCA Chicago, Prisoner of Love, 2019),³ as a major influence. Jafa’s work presents a nuanced portrait of Black life in the United States set to Kanye West’s gospel-inspired song Ultralight Beam. A collage of video footage, the work points to the ongoing violence against Black people that is endemic to US history alongside Black cultural innovations toward joy, healing, and survival. Through her work, Akinbola also points to the ways in which Black joy is constantly usurped by other emotions like grief and confusion. Though it is usually understood as a celebratory tradition, Akinbola asks if even the Electric Slide could be seen as a disruption leading to violence and despair.
The Electric Slide was created in 1976 by choreographer Ric Silver to accompany “Electric Boogie,” a disco song by reggae legend Bunny Wailer. A subsequent recording by Marcia Griffiths renewed its popularity in 1983, and her 1989 remix cemented its enduring legacy. Akinbola’s work is not the first time the Electric Slide has been recognized for its ability to unify people. Porsha Olayiwola’s 2019 prose-poem, The Electric Slide is Not a Dance, Man!, compares its transcendent nature to that of comfort food—that when you enact it, you are immediately brought into kinship with something that feels like home. Most recently, Black Lives Matter founder Patrisse Cullors led a crowd of art-goers in a communal performance of the Electric Slide amidst the 2020 Frieze art fair. Titled Fuck White Supremacy, Let’s Get Free, Cullors’s performance was an opportunity to move, heal, and recharge the mind and body in defiance of demoralizing political and economic conditions. Akinbola’s piece is accompanied by a sound score by Elise Hernandez that ebbs and flows over the course of the day and is interspersed with found sounds taken from a variety of sources including police interactions and children on a playground. How does this use of sound impact your experience of the dance?
Joining the constellation of works centered on the Electric Slide, Akinbola invites viewers into another Black woman-centered celebration of community and resilience, while also reflecting on the essential questions about labor, violence, confusion, and sadness still inherent in our society.
—Laura Paige Kyber | Curatorial Assistant, Performance
¹ Miranda Joseph, introduction to Against the Romance of Community (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002), xviii.
² Adrian Heathfield and Tehching Hsieh, Out of Now, The Lifeworks of Tehching Hsieh (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2008).
³ Prisoner of Love, MCA Chicago, Jan 26–Oct 20, 2019, curated by Naomi Beckwith, former Manilow Senior Curator.
CONCEPT AND PERFORMANCE
ruby onyinyechi amanze, Holly Bass, and Jennifer Ligaya
ADDITIONAL LIGHTING DESIGN AND SUPPORT
Matt Sharp, MCA Theater Production Coordinator
About the Artists
Bimbola Akinbola (Concept/Performer) is a Chicago-based visual artist, performance maker, and scholar. Her artistic and scholarly work is concerned with the complicated and nagging nature of belonging, queerness, and the concept of family. Incorporating a variety of practices ranging from drawing and painting to rubbing her make-up stained skin across surfaces, her work explores mark-making and performance as modes of organization, remembrance, and repair. Bimbola has shown work at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Center on Halsted, The Riverside Arts Center, and Compound Yellow, and collaborated on creative projects with universities all over the country. She is an assistant professor of performance studies at Northwestern University.
ruby onyinyechi amanze (Performer), born in in Port-Harcourt, Nigeria, and based in Philadelphia, focuses her practice on paper to explore the vast magical potential of space and the balance between magnitude and weightlessness. Incorporating a working vocabulary of just seven elements, amanze plays with the possibilities of spatial relationships, both within the page and beyond its borders. Recurring beings and inanimate objects have the same function; flat forms interact (play) in endless configurations suggest movement through space and architecture. Indicators of geography, time, and place have been removed to unify the objects as a collective, while maintaining a sense of ambiguity. amanze is interested in the inherent ability of a work on paper to appear flat within its perimeter, while also conveying depth and infinite expansion. To remain minimal, yet achieve a spatially complex and poetic essence, is the challenge in her drawings. amanze was the recipient of a Fulbright Scholars Award in Drawing to the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, an Open Sessions participant at the Drawing Center, and an artist-in-residence at the Queens Museum, New York. She has exhibited her work globally including at the California African American Museum, the Drawing Center, and the Studio Museum in Harlem. In 2019, amanze was named the Deutsche Bank Featured Artist at Frieze New York. Her work is collected by the Deutsche Museum, Jewish Museum, Studio Museum in Harlem, and, most recently, the CCS Bard College Hessel Museum of Art.
Holly Bass (Performer) is a multidisciplinary performance and visual artist, a writer, and a director. She currently has work on view at the National Portrait Gallery’s 2022 Outwin Triennial. Her creative output includes durational performances lasting from 5 to 12 hours, as well as video, installation, and photography. She has received numerous Artist Fellowships from the DC Arts Commission and was a 2019 Red Bull Detroit artist-in-residence and a 2019 Dance/USA Artist Fellow. She is a 2020–22 Live Feed resident artist at New York Live Arts and a 2021–22 Smithsonian Artist Research Fellow. A Cave Canem fellow, she has published poems in numerous journals and anthologies. As an arts journalist early in her career, she was the first to put the term “hip hop theater” into print in American Theatre magazine. A gifted and dedicated teaching artist, she directed a year-round creative writing and performance program at the DC juvenile detention center for four years. She is currently the national director for Turnaround Arts at the Kennedy Center, a program that strategically uses the arts to transform schools facing historic inequities.
Elise Hernandez (Soundscape) loves to listen, connect, and vibe. They grew up in Miami with sounds and influences from across the Caribbean and Latin America, witnessing how music can usher home and belonging, anywhere. When they aren’t working as an evaluator and researcher with queer elders, you can find them curating playlists for parties in their parking lot, reading and writing sappy poetry, spending time with their beloveds, or dancing for themselves in the mirror à la Rihanna.
Jennifer Ligaya (Performer) is an AfroPinay sound and performance composer and and artist-scholar born and raised in Chicago with an interdisciplinary background in visual art, vocal performance, dance, and theater. Mother to a Scorpio son, MA graduate of the Interdisciplinary Art program at Columbia College in Chicago, and PhD student of Performance Studies at Northwestern University, her original work includes solo and collaborative performance compositions and sound installations. A sponsored artist, grant recipient, and commissioned multimedia artist, her compositions amplify critical conversations around identity, liberatory practices, ancestral indigenous knowledge systems, and moments of communal healing, through the weaving of traditional and contemporary sound, performance, and personal ancestral folk arts practices. The newest core member of Honey Pot Performance, Ligaya’s current creative practice explores Afro-Asian feminist subjectivities and speculative arts, indigenous healing and survival practices, and the genealogies of anticolonial spiritual-political resistance.
Derek Lee McPhatter | Water Riot in Beta
Friday, September 16, 7:30 pm
Edlis Neeson Theater
- Captioning and American Sign Language provided for this performance. ASL interpretation is provided by Julikka LaChe and Veramarie Baldoza.
- Run time is roughly 60 minutes.
About the Work
Derek Lee McPhatter’s script for Water Riot in Beta opens by locating the action in place and time: “We’re somewhere on the former shores of Lake Michigan in Chicagoland, in a future time following the fall of the Grid and the official end of American Empire.”¹
McPhatter’s Chicago is defined by its loss of access to water and the end of national infrastructure as we know it. The script will ultimately be fleshed out and staged further than the version presented this fall through Chicago Performs; for now, an omniscient host (played my McPhatter himself) oversees and explains the goings-on of what he describes to the audience as “an imaginative story,” with “a manifesto involved. You know . . . protest, fist-up kind of stuff. Because there’s something wrong, something broken all of us can feel in our spirit, in the air, in the ways we are with each other.”²
Imagine that the stage before you sits at the top of a large dam, which holds at bay Lake Michigan—nearly depleted and utterly inaccessible to most Chicago citizens. The concert that happens on this stage is a protest, an occupation of the threshold where the dam (or rather, the computer that controls it) holds sway. This threshold is also where the dam could, one day, open wide or crumble, finally releasing the lake’s life-giving water to the city. The protesters who take the stage take over this threshold space in an act of refusal, an act of desire and care for their communities, and an act of creativity and transformation towards thriving—a distinctly Black creative practice that, by the end of the show, paves the way for the characters to “enact new ways of inhabiting freedom,” as Black feminist theorist Tina M. Campt writes.³
The term Afrofuturism is often used to describe cultural creativity that imagines possible futures for Black people, often through science fiction. But McPhatter takes more inspiration from Afrosurrealist art and literature. Where Afrofuturism is future-oriented, writes literary scholar Rochelle Spencer, Afrosurrealism looks at the present with new perspective: it “explores cultural memories and futuristic dreams as tools of resistance against modern-day racial oppression,” offering those tools for use today.4 The characters in Water Riot “turn back” to our present-day for inspiration in their protest. Exploring the future through the familiar protest movements of our contemporary world—Black Lives Matter, Occupy Wall Street, the Standing Rock protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline—Water Riot invites us to consider the present in relation to this possible future. Water Riot imagines a moment of resistance set not just in “a future time,” but rather our future. The show is also a moment of resistance in our own time, staging the urgency of climate crisis and inequality—and the necessity of change now—in a Midwest often assumed to be a future safe haven from coastal decay but riddled with its own ecological devastation.
The sound of Water Riot—which plays out on the stage within the stage, as the characters make what is familiar in jazz, soul, blues, rock, and punk into something entirely new—is an act of musical imagination. McPhatter and composer Mike Przygoda ponder what a concert might sound if Black music was not only foundational to all music in the United States, but understood and acknowledged as such. As Kevin Young has written, “Rather than depend on the official record, Black folks have used memory as a new means of transmission; a shadow book of ear music, coded complaint, and burrowed belief.”5 Indeed, McPhatter’s characters weave together familiar musical genres and the language of protest, depicting a future that calls our present to the fore. Together, they demonstrate the integral role of Black creativity and imagination in remembering what has come and what comes next; “uncovering the weave that already exists,” as Young describes it.6 Water Riot positions us to look at ourselves and our protest movements with the critical distance of future generations—and consider not only how we remember protests past, but how our own will be recalled.
—Tara Aisha Willis | Curator, Performance
¹ Derek Lee McPhatter, Water Riot in Beta: A Cyber Punk Opera.
² McPhatter, Water Riot in Beta.
³ Tina Campt, “Constellations of Freedom” in In search of African American space: redressing racism (Zürich, Switzerland: Lars Müller Publishers, 2020), 12.
4 Rochelle Spencer, AfroSurrealism: The African Diaspora’s Surrealist Fiction (Milton Park, UK: Taylor & Francis, 2019), 6.
5 Kevin Young, The Grey Album: On the Blackness of Blackness (Minneapolis, MN: Graywolf Press, 2023), 266.
6 Young, The Grey Album, 289.
WRITER AND HOST
Derek Lee McPhatter
COMPOSER, BANDLEADER, KEYBOARDS
Casey Robards, DMA
Jerrell L. Henderson
VOCAL LEAD (VERO)
VOCAL LEAD (BOBBIE)
VOCAL LEAD (NIK)
VOCAL LEAD (SKUTTERS)
Karissa J. Murrell Myers
This project was commissioned by the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago through the New Works Initiative, with lead support provided by Elizabeth A. Liebman.
Special thanks to Lawrence Baker, Nicole Michelle Haskins, Nancy Moon, and Chicago Dramatists. Water Riot in Beta is part of Derek Lee McPhatter’s NightQueen performance suite. Additional support is provided by Creative Capital and the Illinois Arts Council Agency.
About the Artists
Myra Boone (Producer; she/her/hers) is an interdisciplinary creative producer, who works on a diverse array of digital, television, marketing, film, and live performance projects. Highlights include director of operations for the Black Alphabet Film Festival and film acquisition consulting for the Recognition Film Festival in Brussels. She has produced numerous television commercials for national campaigns and several independent digital series currently available on OTV | Open Television. Boone has managed live performance projects for Barak adé Soleil and produced the original 2016 concert presentation of Derek Lee McPhatter’s Bring the Beat Back, featuring original music and performances by avery r. young and Alexa Grae.
Steve Corley (Drums) is percussionist and educator in various genres of music. For more than 25 years he has been committed to being a lifelong learner and deliverer of quality music. Receiving many accolades, such as Most Valuable Musician and Outstanding Music Educator from peers and accomplished musicians alike, speaks of just how dedicated and passionate he is about delivering quality music. Corley studied music performance and education at Shaw University in Raleigh, North Carolina, under the direction of Charles Brown. Receiving awards for outstanding performance, Corley was noticed by many local artists and started to perform with various groups such as the award-winning IMA Jazz Ensemble, The Raleigh Jazz Ensemble, and internationally recognized vibraphonist, Stephen Hobbs. Corley has collaborated musically on many levels. With gospel music being an ongoing musical stamp in his life, Corley has maintained his roots in gospel music by recording four live albums with Grammy and Stellar Award–nominated gospel artist Bishop Larry Trotter and the Sweet Holy Spirit Choir. Pushing to discover new experiences, Corley was informed about and recommended to audition for the Tony Award–winning stage play Oprah Winfrey presents The Color Purple, and was selected to play drums and percussion for the national tour. All while his music performance career has been highly successful, he has maintained a highly acclaimed career as a music educator as well. Since 1999, Corley has taught general music, choral performance, instrumental band, and percussion ensemble on the elementary school and secondary educational levels. Steve started playing drums with the Chris Greene Quartet in 2011. The vast array of musical genres covered in this group has pushed his musical approach to the limits. Along with the other members of the group, in 2018, the instrumental unit won a Chicago Music Award as “Best Instrumental Jazz Group.” Corley has replanted himself back in the vast Chicago music scene, performing with many local artists such as the Chris Greene Quartet, Crosswind, The Emotions, Carazz, and many more. Beyond all of the performing, touring, and teaching, Corley’s passion is spending time with his wife, Nikkiya, and two daughters, Jenae and Jaylah.
GoldGrrl (Vocal lead, Nik; she/her) is a queer Afro-Panamanian singer and dancer who specializes in metal scream vocals and performs Old Way Vogue with the House of Alain Mikli. She has a background in jazz choir and participated in the Georgia District Honor Choir. GoldGrrl led volunteer vocal workshops for G!RLs Rock camp and received an Awesome Foundation award in 2018 to teach adults how to scream safely. She was the lead vocalist for Chicago metal band ERZULIE from 2014 to 2019, which also raised funds for Chicago Women’s Coalition and Puerto Rican Relief Fund. Currently GoldGrrl pursues a solo career that combines pop, metal, and rap while also acting as frontwoman for three Chicago bands: the psychedelic rock band Electric Mothership; the acoustic folk duo Las Quintanas; and the metal music collective Reko & Tha Purse Snatchers.
Jerrell L. Henderson (Stage director; he/him/his) is a theater director, puppeteer, and African American theater historian and archivist. Through the mediums of theater and/or puppetry and film, Henderson seeks to disrupt generational curses of self-hate (racism, homophobia, religious intolerance, etc.). This fall, he will be splitting his time between codirecting Marys Seacole by Jackie Sibblies Drury with Griffin Theatre in Chicago and collaborating with The Classical Theatre of Harlem and St. Ann’s Warehouse on Little Amal Meets The Classical Theatre of Harlem: A LIVING POEM in Bryant Park in NYC. He is the League of Chicago Theatres recipient of the 2022 Samuel G. Roberson, Jr. Resident Fellowship.
Aaron Holland (Vocal lead, Vero; he/she/they) has been performing in and around Chicagoland for more than 18 years. Recent credits include: 33 to Nothing (Red Orchid), SPAMILTON (Royal George), Madagascar! and Seussical! (Chicago Shakespeare Theater), The Legend of Georgia McBride (Cardinal Stage), Wonderful Town and A Christmas Carol (Goodman Theater), Xanadu! and Hair (American Theater Company), She Loves Me and Sister Act! (Marriott Theatre-Lincolnshire), The Color Purple (Mercury Theater), Goodnight Moon and Dot & Ziggy (Chicago Children’s Theatre), and Passing Strange (Bailiwick Chicago). Holland’s TV credits include: Chicago Med (NBC) and APB (FOX). Holland received the Kingsley Colton Award at The Kennedy Center in 2003 and holds a BFA in performance theater from Virginia Commonwealth University. Holland is a spokesperson and advocate for the advancement in research and finding a cure for pancreatic diseases.
Mz. Honeywater (Vocal lead, Bobbi; she/her/hers) has been making music in Chicago for more than 15 years. She is the founder and frontwoman for Honeywater Live, a band that performs for all occasions and can be seen in many venues in and around the Chicagoland area. Her talent has afforded the opportunity to sing on stages all over the United States and Europe. She is a proud mother of two girls, Lyric and Melody, a licensed cosmetologist, a PMU artist, and the operations manager for her family business, yet still finds time to build things.
Derek Lee McPhatter (Writer/Creator/Narrator) is a Chicago-based theater-maker committed to new work that engages diverse communities, emphasizing narratives at the intersection of race, class, gender, sexuality, and technology. McPhatter is a founding playwright with the Fire This Time Festival, and was featured in Harlem9’s 48 Hours in Harlem Festival—two Obie-award winning platforms that champion Black playwrights and theater-makers in New York City. McPhatter served as librettist, book writer, and lyricist for five new music-theater works with the Lyric Opera of Chicago. He is a 2021 Creative Capital Awardee. McPhatter is the MCA’s inaugural Chicago Performance Commission grantee through its New Works Initiative Program.
Mike Przygoda (Composer/Bandleader/Keyboards) is a composer and multi-instrumentalist from Chicago. He served as composer and music director for several new music-theater works in collaboration with Derek McPhatter at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. Additionally, he has composed for film, television commercials, live theater, and a variety of dance companies, and has produced and engineered a number of albums for local Chicago musicians. In his spare time, Przygoda writes songs for and leads his own band, The Przmatics, whose debut album was awarded “Best Indie Rock Album” of 2017 from Indie Rock Cafe. He was awarded a Jeff Award for “Artistic Specialization in Percussion” for his work on Moby Dick (Building Stage Theater).
Casey Robards, DMA (Music director), is a Korean adoptee, pianist, and vocal coach known for her sensitive musicality, stylistic versatility, and expert collaborative skill. She has given recitals with singers and instrumentalists throughout the United States, Europe, Central and South America, and Asia. Her 2021–22 performances include conducting Three Decembers (South Bend Lyric Opera), La Boheme, La Traviata (Bay View Music Festival), and Carmen (MOSI) and recitals with Ollie Watts Davis, LaToya Lain, Kenneth Overton, Karen Slack, Brian Downen, Sara Fraker, and Bernhard Scully in projects involving history and justice narratives told through spirituals and art song of Black composers, ecomusicology, and newly composed music. Dr. Robards is an assistant professor at the University of Illinois.
Jasmine Robertson (Vocal lead, Skutters; she/her/hers) is an actor, writer, and Chicagoland local. Her Chicago credits include Failure: A Love Story (Oil Lamp Theatre), Notes & Letters (Underscore Theatre), Ruined (Invictus Theatre), Shipwrecked! An Entertainment (Oil Lamp Theatre), and Lesbian Shorts (PrideArts). Her other credits include Fugitive Songs, Member of the Wedding, Twelfth Night, Romeo and Juliet, Intimate Apparel, The Spitfire Grill, Servant of Two Masters, and She Kills Monsters.
Meika Sha (Guitar; she/her) is a multi-instrumentalist who has played with a few notable Chicago ensembles: Willy Dynomite, The Przmatics, Dean of Women, Girlband, Stella & The Heatbirds, and 3 Stacks of High Society. Born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Meika brought her stylings to Chicago in 2003. During the day she teach elementary- and middle-school music at a private school in Chicago’s Andersonville neighborhood.
Sal Yvat (Costume design) is a Memphis-bred, Chicago-made interdisciplinary artist working as a wardrobe stylist, costume designer, and creative producer. With a BA in advertising art direction, Yvat is able to interpret and execute visual ideas by combining relevant market trends with detailed research and a refined personal perspective. Since 2016, she has worked with a range of artists and brands, including Square, Nike, Yamaha, Conde Nast, and many more. With a love for connecting with people through wardrobe and fashion history, Yvat is passionate about the ways fashion can be used to foster self-confidence and promote self-expression.
Talk | Joy as a Question: Chicago Performs artists in conversation with Tempestt Hazel
Thursday, September 15, 6pm
About the Event
Joy as a Question is presented as part of Chicago Performs, the MCA’s annual weekend of groundbreaking new performances by Chicago artists. Each year, three artists share new works of performance, including pieces developed through MCA’s In Progress series and the New Works Initiative Chicago Commission. Chicago Performs is organized by Tara Aisha Willis, Curator, Performance and Public Practice, and Laura Paige Kyber, Curatorial Assistant in Performance and Public Practice.
MCA Talks highlight cutting-edge thinking and contemporary art practices across disciplines. Joy as a Question is organized by Willis and Daniel Atkinson, Manager of Learning, Adult Interpretive Programs.
About the Speakers
About the Speakers
Tempestt Hazel is a curator, writer, and co-founder/co-director of Sixty Inches From Center, a Chicago-based collective of writers, artists, curators, librarians, and archivists who have published and produced collaborative projects about artists, archival practice, and culture in the Midwest since 2010. Through her work at Sixty Inches From Center, Field Foundation, and collaborations across Chicago and the midwest, Tempestt has worked alongside artists, organizers, grantmakers, and cultural workers to explore solidarity economies, cooperative models, archival practice, and systems change in and through the arts. You can see more of her editorial, curatorial, and other projects on her website.
Bimbola Akinbola is an interdisciplinary artist and scholar based in Chicago. Working at the intersection of theory, performance, and visual art, her scholarly and artistic work is concerned with the complicated and nagging nature of belonging, queerness, and the concept of family. Incorporating a variety of practices ranging from drawing and painting to rubbing her make-up stained skin across surfaces, her work explores mark-making and performance as modes of organization, remembrance, and repair. Bimbola has a BA in American studies and studio art from Macalester College, and a PhD in American studies from the University of Maryland, College Park. She is an assistant professor of performance studies at Northwestern University.
Erin Kilmurray is a genre-straddling artist drawing on space-making practices found in nightlife culture, theater, and dance. Her work challenges the traditional relationships between performer and spectator through electric, often political performance that enlivens body and environment. Her work has been presented by The Dance Center of Columbia College, Links Hall, Thalia Hall, Pivot Arts Festival, and DanceBox in Kobe Japan, and has held residency through High Concept Labs, University of Chicago Performance Lab, and Ragdale Foundation, among others. Kilmurray has received support through 3arts and Chicago Dancemakers Forum’s 2018 Greenhouse Program. She is the founder and director of The Fly Honey Show, which has run annually for more than 10 years.
Derek McPhatter is a Chicago-based theater-maker committed to new work that engages diverse communities, emphasizing narratives at the intersection of race, class, gender, sexuality, and technology. McPhatter is a founding playwright with the Fire This Time Festival, and was featured in Harlem9’s 48 Hours in Harlem Festival—two Obie award–winning platforms that champion Black playwrights and theater-makers in New York City. McPhatter served as librettist, book writer, and lyricist for five new music-theater works with the Lyric Opera of Chicago. He is a 2021 Creative Capital Awardee. McPhatter is the MCA’s inaugural Chicago Performance Commission grantee through its New Works Initiative Program.
Thursday, September 15
2–3 pm | Performance | Erin Kilmurray, the Function (matinee performance) | Edlis Neeson Theater
A feminist, utopian dance party first developed in Chicago’s underground performance scene, Erin Kilmurray’s the Function explores agency, authorship, grief, and pleasure. Get tickets.
4–6 pm | Opening Day Cocktail Hour | Marisol Restaurant & Bar
Join artists and curators for a drink at the Marisol Restaurant & Bar counter.
6–7 pm | Talk | Joy as a Question: Chicago Performs artists in conversation with Tempestt Hazel | MCA Commons | SOLD OUT
The artists of Chicago Performs discuss their creative processes, the themes in their work, and what it’s like to make their lives as artists in the city of Chicago.
7:30–8:30 pm | Performance | Erin Kilmurray, the Function (evening performance) | Edlis Neeson Theater | SOLD OUT
A feminist, utopian dance party first developed in Chicago’s underground performance scene, Erin Kilmurray’s the Function explores agency, authorship, grief, and pleasure.
Friday, September 16
10 am–5 pm | Performance | Bimbola Akinbola, You Gotta Know It: a durational moving meditation on (Black) collectivity, labor, and joy | MCA Commons
Join Bimbola Akinbola as she leads a seven-hour Electric Slide marathon in this meditation on Black collectivity and the work and joy of being in community. Get tickets.
7:30–8:30 pm | Performance | Derek McPhatter, Water Riot in Beta | Edlis Neeson Theater
A cyber rock opera following water rights activists as they seek hope despite ecological crisis and resurgent fascism, Derek McPhatter’s epic work draws on Black voices in punk and electronic music. Get tickets.
8:30–11 pm | Chicago Performs After Party | MCA Commons
Join for a celebration and dance party to cap the series with DJ Sadie Woods + Friends.
About Performance and Public Practice
The MCA is committed to fostering social connections and presenting the most thought-provoking creative arts of our time. The MCA commissions and presents performing arts and opportunities for dialogue with leading artists and scholars from Chicago and around the world. These events serve as spaces for gathering throughout the museum and online. The MCA’s groundbreaking live experiences are an integral part of the museum’s cutting-edge, multidisciplinary programming. Along with exhibitions, publications, and programs, MCA Performance and Public Practice welcomes visitors to experience the work and ideas of living artists and exercise their own civic voices.
CHAIR OF THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES
Cari B. Sacks
JAMES W. ALSDORF CHIEF CURATOR
Tara Aisha Willis
Laura Paige Kyber
THEATER PRODUCTION MANAGER
THEATER PRODUCTION COORDINATOR
DIRECTOR OF PRODUCTION
VIDEO PRODUCTION MANAGER
AUDIO VISUAL MANAGER
ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR OF SALES AND TICKETING
Casey Van Wormer
BOX OFFICE MANAGER
ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR OF VISITOR ENGAGEMENT
BOX OFFICE SYSTEMS MANAGER
VISITOR EXPERIENCE MANAGERS
VISITOR EXPERIENCE ASSISTANTS
Chicago Performs is supported by The New Works Initiative which puts the creative process at the heart of the MCA’s relationship with Chicago by supporting the development of new performances and creative projects.
Lead support for the New Works Initiative is provided by Elizabeth A. Liebman.
The MCA is proud to work in partnership with Chicago Dancemakers Forum as a consortium organization.
Lead support for the 2021–22 season of MCA Performance and Public Programs is also provided by Elizabeth A. Liebman.
Major support is provided by the Alphawood Foundation and by Julie and Larry Bernstein.
Generous support is provided by Lois and Steve Eisen and The Eisen Family Foundation; Ginger Farley and Bob Shapiro, Martha Struthers Farley and Donald C. Farley, Jr. Family Foundation, N.A., Trustee; Susan Manning and Doug Doetsch; Carol Prins and John Hart/The Jessica Fund; and anonymous.
Additional generous support is provided by Ms. Shawn M. Donnelley and Dr. Christopher M. Kelly, Cynthia Hunt and Philip Rudolph, Ashlee Jacob, Anne L. Kaplan, Sharon and Lee Oberlander, D. Elizabeth Price and Lou Yecies, and Enact, the MCA’s Performance & Public Programs affinity group.
The MCA is a proud member of the Museums in the Park and receives major support from the Chicago Park District.