Ahmad Simmons begins his third season as a dancer with River North Dance Chicago this week. The high-energy repertory company has officially been on break since April, but Simmons didn't get much rest. Instead, he spent the entire summer choreographing for five different companies, including Pursuit Production where he is co-director, and has four premieres of his work later this month.
"This summer has been a whirlwind for me," he said. "I somehow got all of these choreography projects. Everything I wanted ended up happening. It's been a whole summer of choreography."
Earlier this summer, Simmons worked with the dancer of DanceWorks Chicago, then went on to choreograph for Nomi Dance Company's performance A Few Good Men featuring all male choreography. His work is also the closing piece in Dance in the Parks, a series of free dance shows across Chicago's public parks and he was chosen to be the guest choreographer for Thodos Dance Chicago's New Dances 2013. When Simmons spoke with Windy City Times, he had just seen a final showing of his newly commissioned piece. "It's the most exciting thing for me, because I really wanted that guest spot," he said. "It's all about faith and my question of spirituality and religion."
Simmons, 25, grew up in Fort Worth, Texas, in a very religious family going to church two or three times a week. His life as a child was "church, piano lessons and school." Knowing he was gay from a very early age, he eventually began to question the lessons he was learning and has put those uncertainties into this dance. "I don't think I've ever seen Thodos dancers move this way," he said. "They are so hungry and open. I'm really excited for it."
He's also excited about the world premiere of Blood Wedding this month from his production company, Pursuit Production. Simmons started the company two years ago with his friend Kacie Smith. The two met in 7th grade at the Fort Worth Academy of Fine Arts. They went separate ways for college with Smith studying directing at University of Michigan and Simmons dance at Point Park University.
Eventually, they reconnected and recently lived together in Chicago. The name of the company came from watching an episode of Oprah talking about the human pursuit. "We were thinking about recovery and growth and thought we should start a project," said Simmons. "We have these huge points of view in different ways. It's more dance/theater. We thought we should see if Chicago had room for it."
Blood Wedding is the second large performance from the company in two years. Based on a play from Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca, the dance/theater performance tells the story of a bride on her wedding day torn between two lovers. For a twist, Smith and Simmons have set the work in the Dustbowl South with blues music. "I love blues music and we needed somewhere to set it, so we figured that would be the perfect kind of weight to give these characters," said Simmons. "The dialogue and text can be a little dense, but we have the blues to bring it to an understandable place. It gives it heart."
The crossing of dance and theater is a natural fit for this collaborative production, which has The Moon as a speaking character. "The imagery just screams movement," Simmons said. "Just like in musical theater, when you can't say anymore, you sing. When the emotion gets really heightened, that's when we add movement." The show will run for 16 performances at Studio BE, an intimate 30-seat theater in Lakeview. "It's up close and personal. It's really cute and convenient," said the Wrigleyville resident.
Pursuit Productions presents Blood Wedding at Studio BE, 3110 N. Sheffield Ave., Thursday, July 18, at 7:30 p.m. through Sunday, Aug. 11, at 3 p.m. Tickets are $18; visit www.pursuitproductions.co/ .
Other performances this month:
Nomi Dance Company presents A Few Good Men at The Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport Ave., Saturday, July 13, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $12-$30; call 773-935-6875 or visit www.athenaeumtheatre.org .
Aerial Dance Chicago presents Gravity: a world-premiere production at The Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn St., Saturday, July 13, at 7 p.m. and Sunday, July 14, at 2 p.m. Tickets are $30; visit www.aerialdancechicago.bigcartel.com/product/gravity-world-permiere .
Thodos Dance Chicago presents New Dances 2013 at The Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn St., Friday-Saturday, July 19-20, at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, July 21 at 5 p.m. Tickets are $10-$35; visit www.thodosdancechicago.org/NewDancesTicketPurchase .
Audible Odyssey presents Heard Again, for the First Time with work from seven tap artists at The Den Theatre, 1333 N. Milwaukee Ave., Friday-Saturday, July 19-20, at 8 p.m. Tickets are "Pay What You Can" with a suggested donation of $20; visit www.heardagain.brownpapertickets.com .
Chicago Human Rhythm Project presents Rhythm World 2013, an annual festival of tap and percussive arts that includes classes, seminars, workshops and performances with some of the world's preeminent tappers at multiple venues in downtown Chicago, Monday July 22, through Sunday, Aug. 4. Pricing varies. For more information, visit www.chicagotap.org .
Dance in the Parks performances are at multiple venues beginning Tuesday, July 23, through Friday, Aug. 2, at 6:30 p.m. All show are free. For more information, visit www.danceintheparks.org .
LEVELdance, in its inaugural performance, presents One at The Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport Ave., Saturday, July 27, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $25-$52; call 773-935-6875 or visit www.web.ovationtix.com/trs/pe/9795354.
Ensemble Project and Signal Ensemble Theater's Julie Ballard and Anthony Ingram collaborate with Lauren Warnecke/Art Intercepts to present the third season of PRODUCE at Signal Ensemble Theater, 1802 W. Berenice Ave., Saturday-Sunday, July 27-28, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $8; call 773-341-8940 or visit www.artful.ly/evetns/1476 .