Ballet and theater companies on the North West Side are bringing back live performances for the first time in years – and are hoping audiences will show up

PORTAGE PARK — Kitara Bradley will be on stage with a live audience for the first time in two years this weekend.

Bradley is the principal dancer in the Chicago Ballet Center’s first production of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale “The Snow Queen,” which opens Saturday at the Irish-American Heritage Center, 4626 N. Knox Ave. This will be the company’s first show since late 2019.

On the ground floor of the same building, the Filament Theater is preparing its first in-person show since 2020. “Gather” is a two-person show inspired by the pandemic.

Bradley, 17, invited all her family and friends over to watch her perform for the first time since the pandemic began.

“We haven’t done a show in forever and that’s my favorite part,” she said. “The kind of dancing we do is not like a soccer game where you can come and watch at practice. We don’t have weekend games. … My mom hasn’t seen me dance in forever, so that means a lot to me, and I’m graduating this year.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Kitara Bradley practices in costume at the Chicago Ballet Center, 4041 N. Milwaukee Ave., in Portage Park on February 1, 2022 before the next performance of Snow Queen.

After the pandemic largely halted live performance and heavily impacted the arts, Far Northwest Side businesses are reviving in-person and family-friendly shows to highlight the hope, beauty and inspiration that creativity can instill, especially in times of distress.

Bradley works hard with his peers at the Chicago Ballet Center, located in the Portage Lofts at 4041 N. Milwaukee Ave., which has been in Six Corners for nearly 10 years. It never closed during the pandemic, but switched to virtual classes which its younger students have struggled to adjust to, said Tracy Baldwin, the school’s communications director and longtime volunteer.

The show also marks another first for the company: its first full production, featuring dancers aged 10 to 17 performing ballet and tap dancing.

“This show is great for young kids to come see what dance is and can be for them,” Baldwin said. “To see the next generation pursuing art is really encouraging, especially in a world where there’s a lot of dark stuff going on. It’s their gift to us.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Mia Aguilar, Kitara Bradley and Jessa Scifo warm up at the Chicago Ballet Center, 4041 N. Milwaukee Ave., in Portage Park on February 1, 2022 before their next performance of Snow Queen.

Paul Abrahamson, founder and director of the Chicago Ballet Center, said the show represents the resilience of creative expression and its road to strengthening local arts companies post-pandemic.

“I hope more people truly understand that it’s the creative arts that have gotten everyone through COVID and quarantine,” Abrahamson said. “It was whole cities coming out on their balconies and singing in the streets. … All of these things reflect the basic need and desire for the performing arts.

Abrahamson hopes “The Snow Queen” and other artworks returning to the community can demonstrate “the beauty and strength that is in all of us” in ways that politics and technology cannot.

“In all this chaos, [we can] bring some order and calm, whether in the structure of a ballet class or a performance narrative that now focuses on the goodness and strength that each of us has within,” did he declare.

“The Snow Queen” will play at the Irish-American Heritage Center at 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. Saturday. Pre-purchased tickets are $15 and tickets purchased at the door are $20. All participants 5 years and older must present proof of vaccination and wear a mask.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Jessa Scifo, Kitara Bradley and Mia Aguilar put on their pointe shoes at the Chicago Ballet Center, 4041 N. Milwaukee Ave., in Portage Park on Feb. 1, 2022 ahead of their upcoming Snow Queen show.

Filament recently began rehearsals for “Gather,” which explores what it’s like to see each other in person again after a long hibernation, said general manager Krissi Ann McEachern.

The show runs from February 26 to March 27, uses physical distancing to artistic advantage and meets audience members where they are, McEachern said. The show will have a limited capacity and the public will be located in small modules called “chalets” which are part of the production set.

The hour-long play breaks the fourth wall and examines what shared space looks like these days, especially for families with young children whose rituals have been upended due to the effects of the pandemic on virtual learning , socialization and access to art.

“You come with your family unit and you’ll have a house in the theater that will be your cabin,” McEachern said. “The show tells the story of a town and your cottage exists in that town.”

For Filament – which works with children and young students, who weren’t able to get vaccinated so quickly – reopening has been a slow and difficult process.

The non-profit organization was founded in 2008 and has been in the Knox Avenue space since 2012.

But McEachern is looking forward to seeing more live shows in the community and learning from other artistic leaders about how best to get ahead, engage audiences and keep creating.

“A lot of the reopening looks very vulnerable – we’re coming out of a two-year vacuum without being able to temperature check against other people to see what customers are interested in,” she said. “Not only is the energy of the arts picking up steam, which is really exciting, but it also sets us all up for more success when we can find out what other people are doing.”

“Gather” will premiere at 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. weekends at the theater. Anyone 5 years and older must show proof of vaccination and wear a mask. Tickets are $25 per cabin, which seats two to five people, for previews and will be $45 starting March 5.

Other theaters on the northwest side are also returning to the stage.

In Norwood Park, the Chicago Kids Company began in-person shows in late 2021. The nonprofit theater company, celebrating its 29th year, presents “Alice in Wonderland” at the Stahl Family Theater, 5900 W Belmont Ave. at Belmont Cragin.

The show runs at 10:30 a.m. on Fridays and 1 p.m. on Saturdays until February 25. Tickets are $14. Masks are mandatory but proof of vaccination is not.

The company will also present “The Ugly Duckling,” aimed at young children, from March 23 to May 6 at the Stahl Family Theater and from May 12 to August 12. 5. at the Beverly Arts Center, 2407 W. 111th St.

Credit: Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
Jessa Scifo puts on her pointe shoes at the Chicago Ballet Center, 4041 N. Milwaukee Ave., in Portage Park on February 1, 2022 before the next performance of Snow Queen.

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