"I'm a whole-hog kind of person," he said. "If you're going to do itdo it." Wade Schaaf, founder and director of the new Chicago Repertory Ballet (CRB), is certainly doing it. With the debut of his company later this month quickly approaching, he's wearing a lot of hats: director, choreographer, bookkeeper, marketing specialist, fundraiser and webmaster, just to name a few. The shows on Sept. 21-22 reflect a year's worth of planning, preparation and passion. From filing 501(c)(3) paperwork to scheduling rehearsals to piecing together a group of dancers, he's doing it all.
An Elgin native, Schaaf performed in community musical-theater shows as a child and thought that dance lessons would help him get more parts. At 15, he started taking tap class and quickly added on ballet, jazz, hip-hop and tumbling. After receiving a bachelor's degree in theater arts from Northern Illinois University, his dance career immediately took off. He has performed with Ohio Ballet, State Street Ballet in California and Omaha Theatre Ballet, and spent almost a year touring the Baltic Sea dancing for Norwegian Cruise Lines. In Chicago, he danced for a season with River North Dance Chicago and, most recently, for three years with Thodos Dance Chicago.
Among the highlights in his time at Thodos are being able to choreograph on the company for the New Dances program and working with Broadway legend Ann Reinking, who created the role of Mayor Carter Henry Harrison in The White City for Schaaf. "It was absolutely amazing," he said. "Even as an understudy, I learned every single thing I could in rehearsals. I wanted to be a sponge with her. I wanted to hear what she had to say. She added the Mayor's Strut section at the end of the process. It's all Fosse. I was in heaven. I would watch videos of her doing these steps and I'd just try to be Ann Reinking. I feel like I poured myself into that ballet."
Injuries to his lower back slowed his performing career and he retired from concert dancing in 2011 (although he has one more round of Nutcracker performances this winter in Schaumburg as a guest artist and then hopes to hang up his white tights). He began to shop around his choreography, but soon he realized to be able to present the kind of work he really wanted, he would have to do it himself.
"I want to do repertory shows, but I also want to hone in on the heart of ballet and the tradition of ballet, which is telling stories," he said. "Not necessarily using ballet as the vocabulary, but I telling stories from a new or contemporary perspective through dance. So, I started asking around and talking to people and most of them encouraged me to absolutely not open a company.
"I understand that. It's very intense. It's a huge challenge, but I think there's something in me that's built to tackle these huge challenges."
Building on relationships with dancers he'd worked with previously, Schaaf assembled an impressive line-up of performers. He describes his handpicked company members as "kick-ass." The roster includes former dancers from favorite local companies like Joffrey Ballet, Giordano Dance Chicago, River North Dance Chicago, Inaside Chicago Dance and Thodos. "They were all super-willing to donate their time. They aren't getting paid for rehearsals," Schaaf said. "I have a small budget for the performances, but everyone is just excited to be working on a new project."
The September performances will include four world premieres, three by Schaaf himself. "Peoplescape: juxtaposition" tackles the many juxtapositions in life, "Lent et Douloureux" is set to the music of Eric Satie and there's a duet to Edith Piaf's "La Vie En Rose." The other world premiere, Of Alice, comes from local choreographic phenom Autumn Eckman (also director of Giordano Dance Chicago's second company and CRB dancer). The show is rounded out with two of Schaaf's earlier works"Shostakovich Piano Concerto" and "Tres Hip: a love story," which was made for Dance in the Parksand Jackie Stewart's The A.W.A.R.D. Show!-winning piece "It's not enough to close your eyes."
Schaaf is engaged to his partner of three years, CRB costume designer Nathan Rohrer. The couple lives in the Sheridan Park neighborhood in Uptown.
Chicago Repertory Ballet performs at The Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn St., Friday-Saturday, Sept 21-22 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $20-$25; visit www. brownpapertickets.com/event/260866.
Other area performances this month:
Common Threads, a collaboration of six different artists and companies perform at Links Hall, 3435 N. Sheffield Ave., Suite 207; Friday-Saturday, Sept 7-8, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Sept 9, at 7 p.m. Tickets are $12 online at www.linkshall.org or $15 at the door.
Voices of Strength: Two Programs of Contemporary Dance and Theater by Women from Africa will take place at The Dance Center of Columbia College, 1306 S. Michigan Ave., Thursday-Friday, Sept 13-14, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Sept 15, at 3 and 8 p.m. Tickets are $26-$30; call 312-369-8330 or visit www.colum.edu/dancecenter.
Kate Corby & Dancers will present In Whole or in Part at the Fasseas White Box Theatre at the Drucker Center, 1535 N. Dayton St., Friday-Saturday, Sept 14-15, at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Sept 16, at 7 p.m. Tickets at the door are $10-$15, while pre-sale tickets are $12 and can be purchased at www.fanfueled.com/Event/Details/3553-kate-corby-and-dancers-present-in-whole-or-in-part-91412.
Cover Band features five local choreographers recreating works from the Chicago Moving Company at Hamlin Park Fieldhouse Theater, 3035 N. Hoyne Ave., Thursday-Friday, Sept 20-21, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $12-$15; visit www.brownpapertickets.com/event/260329.
Kota Yamazaki/Fluid hug-hug will be at The Dance Center of Columbia College, 1306 S. Michigan Ave., Thursday-Saturday, Sept 27-29, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $26-$30; call 312-369-8330 or visit www.colum.edu/dancecenter.