BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
This month Deeply Rooted Dance Theater will transform Millennium Park into the magical land of Goshen, thanks to a Grammy Award-winning songwriter, a Gospel artist singing the number one hit “Deliver Me, This Is My Exodus,” and the choreographers inspired by the healing power of its words—all forged in the context of the pandemic.
With gospel artist Donald Lawrence, singer Le’Andria Johnson, members of the Tri-City Singers, and Zeke Locke & The NuXperience sharing the stage with the dancers, GOSHEN will preview August 25th at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, with performances continuing during Deeply Rooted’s 25th anniversary season. “GOSHEN is a spiritual ZIP code,” explains Deeply Rooted Artistic Director Nicole Clarke-Springer, one of the choreographers for the contemporary dance. “This journey you take that allows you to heal and deal with spiritual afflictions that hinder you from walking in your true power.”
She continues, “The tradition of gospel music allows for healing from pain. It grew out of slavery and the need for the Black community to communicate and trust in a higher power to relieve us from such pain. On a human level, we all know and go through trials and tribulations and the need for joy at the end. GOSHEN relates to all and the profound need for healing.”
To reflect the human experience and all its contemporary voices, the company collaborates with nationally renowned choreographers, across the spectrum of modern, ballet, and African dance, and in this case with renowned musicians. “Working with Donald Lawrence, who has written some of modern gospel’s biggest hits, including five Billboard number one songs, and singer Le’Andria Johnson, who has won Gospel’s top Stellar awards, we will bring to life on stage and in real time the drama of the Biblical exodus from the land of Goshen,” says Clarke-Springer. “We are thrilled that both will be there August 25th. The performance features the Tri-City Singers and pushes the boundaries of how gospel music is defined.”
Clarke-Springer, who grew up in Joliet, said that her mother believes she began dancing “while still in the womb.” Her minister father offered a program of liturgical dance in his church, which she loved, in addition to the ballet classes she embarked on starting at age three. She went on to major in dance at Butler University and planned to audition for Alvin Ailey in New York. That all changed when she went to an audition in Chicago and met Deeply Rooted’s Kevin Iega Jeff (its co-founder and creative/executive director) and co-founder and associate artistic director Gary Abbott: “A voice inside my head said, ‘You are never leaving his side.’ ”
She credits dancing with Deeply Rooted Dance Theater with opening doors to perform with a multitude of talented individuals, including the legendary Roberta Flack. “Our performance of Jeff’s work Flack was the company’s first at the historic Auditorium Theatre. The experience was one that I will never forget,” she recalls. “Ms. Flack is the consummate professional and an amazing artist. I will forever be grateful for the opportunity to perform live with her.”
“Together we’re growing an organization into a Chicago institution,” Jeff explained to Classic Chicago just last year. “That’s our vision for the next 25 years: to continue growing Deeply Rooted into an institution that champions Chicago’s Black creative voices and our human diversity.”
To Clarke-Springer, Jeff and Abbott, who choreographed GOSHEN with her, are “geniuses” in their field: “They use modern, ballet, and traditional African-American dance forms to create a language all by itself,” she says. “I see choreography as a collaborative process, and generating energy is huge,” she adds. “When I first got started, I would codify my work and write down every step before interacting with the dancers. Now I want the dances I create to be a collaborative process with my dancers—they should have a voice. For GOSHEN, we are working with 12 dancers and two apprentices.”
We asked Clarke-Springer what we should look for as we head to this destination she has helped to forge: “I hope the audience steps into the land of Goshen with open hearts and spirits and finds healing, hope, and joy for the post-pandemic future.”
Her parents, husband, and dancing daughters (Sophia, 15, and Sydney, 12) saw GOSHEN when it previewed at the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts at the University of Chicago. Of the experience, Clarke-Springer shares, “Sydney gave me the ultimate compliment of an adolescent: ‘Mom, this is the coolest thing I have ever seen.’ ”
GOSHEN previews August 25th at 7:30 pm at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, 201 E. Randolph Street with free general admission and reserved patron tickets, ranging in price from $25 to Host Committee reserved seating from $150-1000. For further information, visit deeplyrooteddancetheater.org.