Staging a Dance in a Frank Lloyd Wright Masterpiece

Marc Vitali: There is choreography in the sanctuary.

At Unity Temple, dancers rehearse in an active church that is also a national historic landmark.

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Winifred Haun, Winifred Haun & Dancers: I think what happens when people come into the space is they really respond to the nod to nature and light that Frank Lloyd Wright put into the space and then also the sense of order. This space is very ordered, designed, considered, linear, and it’s just very inspiring.

It’s a beautiful way to see the dance framed by the space, but it’s also lovely to see the space with the human form in it.

Vitali: It is a site-specific dance, unique to the setting, with live music written by composer Renée Baker.

The performance by the company Winifred Haun & Dancers is titled “The Light Returns.”

Haun: That’s a reference to Frank Lloyd Wright’s unique and beautiful use of light and the way he made it happen within Unity Temple, and it’s also about the light that is slowly entering back into our lives after two years of the global pandemic.

We’re collaborating with the space, but we’re also collaborating with the humans that work here.

Heidi Ruehle, Unity Temple Restoration Foundation: The mission of the Unity Temple Restoration Foundation is to restore and preserve Frank Lloyd Wright’s Unity Temple. Part of our mission is to educate the public about architecture and the arts.

Vitali: The structure was completed in 1908.

Its primary material is reinforced concrete, a revolutionary idea in the early 20th century.

Ruehle: This is an important building. It’s a national historic landmark and also a UNESCO World Heritage Site so we have the responsibility to make sure the building is safe and that anything that happens programmatically in the building respects the space and keeps it safe.

Vitali: The performance presents an opportunity for a former dancer who is now a guest choreographer.

Elysia Banks, Choreographer: It’s very nice to be able to create art in space that’s not created for art. To go and make art happen in places that they’re usually not presented in.

I’m having fun. I’m doing new things here in this space that I’ve not done previously and I’m doing them b/c the space inspired me to do those things, and the set-up of the show inspired me, forced me to do things that I don’t normally do.

Haun: We also like to perform in traditional theaters, and we’ve been around the country in traditional theaters. But I love the opportunity, and we take it as often as we can, to perform in a different space. It’s almost like creating a new art form, because it’s not about the dance, not about the architecture, not about the music. It’s about the combination of those.

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Winifred Haun & Dancers will perform “The Light Returns” two times Saturday, Feb. 26 at Unity Temple in Oak Park. 

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