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“Fresh Dances” | Preview

Young dancer-choreographer Emily Miller finds her footing between Chicago and New York.


At 17, Californian Emily Miller went to New York to train at [node:14770667 link=Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater;]’s school. “I was like, Oh shit! I’ve got to live here. I love this. It’s fantastic. And then I applied to four [New York colleges] and got rejected from all of them.” She instead enrolled in [node:90785 link=the dance program at Columbia College Chicago;], “the best thing that ever could’ve happened to me,” she says, and graduated in December 2008.

Now 25, Miller realized her dream in October, when she moved to West 137th Street in Harlem. But she’s part of a growing number of contemporary-dance makers who are navigating the rough seas of dancer life by optimizing time spent in multiple locations. “There’s more room for me to curate and produce in Chicago,” as well as more time and more resources to choreograph, she says by phone before a rehearsal from Wicker Park coffeehouse [node:150375 link=the Wormhole;]. Friday 5 through Sunday 7 at [node:136839 link=Links Hall;], Miller’s GET DOWN/PICK UP Company and four other groups will show new and recent work in “Fresh Dances,” which Miller organized, mostly from the East Coast.

“What I want to do in New York is dance,” she explains, “and I want GET DOWN/PICK UP to become a bi-city project.”

She has a mentor and model in Madison, Wisconsin–based choreographer Kate Corby. On the other side of Los Angeles from her hometown of Encinitas, Miller danced Corby’s solo Brute at the SB-ADaPT (A Dance and Physical Theater) festival in Santa Barbara last month. For “Fresh Dances,” Corby will show a duet in-progress for Miller and [node:14835033 link=Michael Rioux;].

Despite her flexibility and willingness to work away from home for long stretches—Miller is back in the Midwest until August 15—ends don’t always meet. In Chicago, Miller waited tables at [node:14782129 link=Dick’s Last Resort;], and in New York she does the same at Abigael’s on Broadway.

She spends 20 hours per week at [node:59263 link=David Dorfman Dance;], a company founded around the time that Miller was born, doing development, marketing and social-media work. Originally a volunteer, she started getting paid a few weeks ago. “She said, ‘I just really want to help,’ ” remembers Dorfman managing director Monika Jouvert, “and, like any small dance company, we need anything you can give us. She brought in a whole new, fresh energy over Twitter, Facebook and all of that good stuff, and led a big Kickstarter campaign that was really successful. She’s also writing a lot of grants for me. She’s a beautiful writer, on top of everything.”

In May and June, Miller welcomed visitors to a massive light and sound installation by Ryoji Ikeda, the transfinite, in the Park Avenue Armory. She hopes also to work there during the [node:14752917 link=Merce Cunningham Dance Company’s final performances this winter;]. She enjoys Alexandra Beller and Dorfman dancer Kendra Portier’s classes at Dance New Amsterdam, but e-mailed me to add, “New York may be the ‘dance capital’ of the U.S. but I still can’t find a class that compares to [Chicago teacher] Laura Wade’s.”

Things are falling into place, if not in one single place. “My idea of how I’m going to be involved in the dance world has changed,” Miller says. “It’s less, What do I want to achieve? and more, What do I know about myself and how am I going to best fit in? I used to want to be [node:127565 link=Paul Taylor;]. [Laughs] Now there are a lot of people that I’m interested in.”

Catch five “Fresh Dances” at Links Hall, Friday 5 through Sunday 7.

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