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Chicago Dance Crash heads to ‘Gotham City’ for power-packed production

Julian Devine playing role 'Kerry' 'Gotham City' which runs weekends June 8 July 15 DCA Storefront Theater Chicago. | Emily

Julian Devine playing the role of "Kerry" in "Gotham City," which runs weekends June 8 to July 15 at DCA Storefront Theater in Chicago. | Emily Coughlin

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◆ June 8-July 15

◆ DCA Storefront Theater, 66 E. Randolph

◆ Tickets, $25

◆ (312) 742-8497;

Updated: June 7, 2012 11:26PM

Chicago Dance Crash, the company devoted to creating power-packed mashups of break-dance, ballet, jazz, hip-hop, acrobatics, the Brazilian martial arts form known as capoeira and good old fashioned storytelling, has decided to pull out all the stops to celebrate its 10th anniversary season.

For its world premiere production of “Gotham City,” running for six weekends (June 8-July 15) at the DCA Storefront Theater in the Loop, choreographer Jessica Deahr and writer Mark Hackman have gathered 30 specialty dancers (Dance Crash’s largest ensemble to date), to bring to life a story loosely inspired by the classic backdrop for DC Comics’ Batman series — but without the actual Batman figure.

Billed as “a choreographed graphic novel that is not your typical dance concert,” the show, which began rehearsals more than six months ago (and has a budget of about $40,000, which is huge for this company), will unspool in a fictional urban landscape where night life is an underworld environment, and where danger and fear lurk at every turn.

“We’ve never really devised such an in-depth story,” said Deahr, who noted that getting the rights to the concept took “lots of legal work.”

“But Mark [Hackman] has created a wholly original scenario from this cold, dark urban environment — a place where anything can happen. And I think it’s going to be a perfect showcase for us.”

The story, in two acts, is a study in power struggles and betrayal that plays out between sunset and sunrise on a single day in Gotham City.

“The environment of the show is very much based on what we all understand the comic book ‘Gotham City’ to be,” explained Deahr. “And several of the main characters in the show are based on existing comic book characters. But Batman does not physically appear in the show, even though his presence is communicated, and even dictates some of the show’s actions from time to time.”

“As for Gotham City itself, it brings to mind a dark, dirty, dangerous, fast-paced world where you never know what you’ll find at the turn of a corner or the end of a dark alley,” said Deahr. “The place smells like a sewer or a dank subway, and it feels menacing. You never can be sure about who is running the city from one moment to the next. And I think what makes this setting perfect for a production is that it is well known and universally perceived, so the audience is already on board with a sense of the world they are about to be immersed in.”

The strongest, angriest, craziest types of people are at play here — with some struggling for power and others just struggling to survive. Among the main characters are a flamboyant gang leader, a young female pickpocket, a dirty cop, a wandering orphan, an enigmatic con man, a director and a pair of newlywed tourists. Gangs roam the streets. The audience, placed on all four sides of the stage, are close to the action.

Dance Crash has never been afraid of tackling the subject of violence.

“From the start this has been a company that explored the extremes of human interaction through the most athletic forms of contemporary dance, though we are no one-trick pony,” said Deahr, who has worked with the troupe since 2007. “We continually look for new ways in which to turn violence into dance. And even when we stage fights they are more about dance than about traditional combat. They grow out of the content and the characters.”

Although eight dancers form the core of Dance Crash, the company has called on many outside talents for this show — some still in their teens, others veterans capable of performing the many different specialized styles and acting tasks needed to tell this story.

“We have a break-dancer from Culture Shock Dance Troupe, we have contemporary dancer/gymnast Paul Christiano, we have some dancers from Same Planet Different World,” said Deahr. “And we have an announcer who does a countdown for the city, with warnings and time signals. We also have an amazing soundtrack mix that goes from glam rock weirdness, to the rap of Ludacris and DMX, to the voice of R2D2. The challenge is to tell the story without words.”

Deahr, who grew up in Arlington Heights, confesses she was never into comics as a kid. She studied dance at Illinois Wesleyan, and along the way acquired the techniques of “a crazyquilt of styles.” She earned a living as a cruise ship performer — touring North America, South and Central America, Europe and Asia as a dancer and aerial artist with Royal Caribbean Productions, and Goldberg Entertainment for the USO. She also has performed with and choreographed for many Chicago troupes.

“Over the years Dance Crash has developed such a strong audience base,” said Deahr. “Part of it is young, though we don’t bill ourselves as a hip-hop company, and part of it is just dance-lovers, mostly in their forties and under. We also have a lot of fans thanks to our ‘Keeper of The Floor (KTF)’ Dance Competitions.”

One final note: While audiences might get caught up in a green haze at moment, they will definitely NOT be seeing Batman flying around fighting crime.

“We really went a different route with this one,” said Deahr. “We didn’t want to simply reenact a Batman movie or try to create exact copies of specific characters, though true Batman fans will catch a ton of references through everything from character names to the powers they have. We definitely reference Batman through plot action and technical aspects to convey to the audience when his character is present, or controlling something from out of sight. But aside from that, and the fact that the action takes place in Gotham City, we will give you something different.”

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