Death's Door Dance Festival is a celebration of the presentation, process, and passion of human expression. It was developed to create community among artists and to encourage a greater appreciation for dance by the public through accessible engagement.
It Started with S'mores.
I’ve always aspired to someday create a Summer dance gathering. An event where artists can workshop ideas and share their works-in-progress. A community space, where artists have access to classes, conversations, and performance opportunities. A Jacob’s Pillow, of sorts, right here in the Midwest.
I imagined tackling this well into the future. And I never expected it would happen so soon. Then the pandemic hit and my spouse and I moved from Chicago to Door County.
In January 2022, I extended to a few friends: “Would you want to camp out and show what you’ve been working on in a Covid-friendly environment?” I was purely testing the level of interest. The volume of enthusiasm was inspiring. It was clear, we missed creating work, we missed showing work, and we missed each other’s company.
It was time for us to gather again.
I started crafting emails and making phone calls. Before I knew it, this informal, one-night performance snowballed into a full-blown festival: a pop-up performance at a hip farm-to-table restaurant, a pavilion performance on a beach, an improv jam at a local farm with live music, classes in two different village halls, and a roundtable discussion with published author/artist/scholar Sarah Wilbur on the current state of dance- all of which was free and open to the public. This “camping trip” exploded. And there you have it: Death’s Door Dance Festival.
I have a brief window to reflect on this festival, one created on a whim in a mere 6 months. It certainly wasn’t what I expected, “a few friends” with a “one-night, informal engagement” turned into a joyous weekend of learning, sharing, and dancing with old friends while creating some new.
My mission to create a free public dance event was accomplished. The community classes that were designed to be inclusive (all ages and abilities) had great turnout. Sunday’s conversation, “How Dance Works, Now,” was filled with not just artists but the public as well. And the closing event, The Improv Dance Jam, opened its doors for all bodies to celebrate...and they did.
Saturday’s forecast: “chance of rain at 10pm.” Optimistic, we opted out of a rain date. A local business offered a bunch of umbrellas “just in case.” Four works in, it started to sprinkle. Then it started to pour. To my surprise, the artists danced and the people stayed. The spirit of Pina Bausch perhaps?
The evening closed with Visceral Dance Chicago’s “Ash in Rainbow.” As they bowed, the sun peeked through the clouds. And there it was, a double rainbow arching over the bandshell. We danced through the rainstorm and people stayed to enjoy it. It was clear: Dance matters.
Death’s Door Dance Festival- If we build it...it will become...and it will grow.
And, by the way, no one camped.
KELLY ANDERSON is the founder of Death's Door Dance Festival and the Artistic Director of Kelly Anderson Dance Theatre--a company inspired by variety, theater and comedy. Evening-length works include: THE END IS HERE and that's ok. presented in Links Hall's 40th Anniversary Season, Skits and Pieces, presented in Steppenwolf's LookOut Series (2017), "In Sarah's Shadow: The Eleonora Duse Story," a co-creation with Writer/Director Olivia Lilley at Prop Thtr (2017), “Livin’ the Dream" (2017), VAUDEVILLE! (2015) and the Chicago company debut, Message Me If... in 2014. Prior to her arrival to Chicago in 2012, Kelly co-created the evening-length: this is how we disappear and The Little Things with Portland-based performance company bobbevy. Kelly has created two solo shows with the Danceworks Performance Company (Milwaukee, WI), Vaudeville and The Bra Project. Her most notable independently produced works include a dance/theater/opera collaboration, 26, with Milwaukee Opera Theatre, choreography for Gal Friday Film's Missed Connections, Red Knife Lottery's music video "Junkie Jazz", the creation of The Mondo Lucha Dancers for the Mondo Lucha Variety Show, two collaborative evening- lengths, Vacant (w/Kelly Zwiers) and Bad Meat (Jacob Neumann), choreography for A Wrinkle in Time with actor/director Mark Metcalf and The First Stage production of Peter Pan. Her work has been performed in The Minnesota Fringe Festival, Detroit Dance Festival, and her commissioned work, Shower, was presented at Puffin Room in NYC. Chicago performance credits include D49 Festival (2014), Harvest Chicago Contemporary Dance Festival (2014), THAW (2013-2021), It's Happening! (2017 & 2016) and Mediums (2016) at Links Hall. Anderson was awarded a CoMISSION through Links Hall for their 2019-2020 season.