In 1987 an American choreographer working in Europe turned ballet on its head. William Forsythe’s In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated, created for the Paris Opera Ballet and with music by Thom Willems, challenged the company’s classical dancers to move in ways they never had. As writer Zachary Whittenbury explains, “In less than half an hour, In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated decoupled the spatial-geometric tenets of ballet — that the relationships between limbs make certain positions of the body appear ‘classical’ in nature, or not — from the established list of steps with French names in ballet’s centuries-old syllabus. The new positions unveiled in Middle, as it’s known, were in fact the old ones, manipulated. Where five degrees of torsion, or épaulement, once gave a basic classroom shape some cosmopolitan élan, Forsythe pushed those tensions to their theoretical and physical breaking points.” The ballet set a new standard, making classical dance more athletic and sexier than it ever had been. Video courtesy Arthaus Musik.Zachary Whittenburg spent ten years as a professional dancer with companies including Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, BJM Danse Montréal, Pacific Northwest Ballet, and North Carolina Dance Theatre, now Charlotte Ballet. His subsequent freelance career included work with, among others, Lucky Plush Productions, Same Planet Performance Project, and Molly Shanahan / Mad Shak, plus instruction and coaching for the artists of DanceWorks Chicago, Luna Negra Dance Theater, Mordine & Co. Dance Theater, River North Dance Chicago, and Thodos Dance Chicago. Dance Editor at Time Out Chicago from 2009–12, Whittenburg has written for numerous print and online publications; contributes regularly to Dance Magazine; is a panelist and guest speaker, and tweets @trailerpilot about contemporary culture and the performing arts. As Associate Director of Marketing and Communication at Hubbard Street, he represented the company on the Chicago Dancemakers Forum consortium. He is currently Communications and Engagement Director at Arts Alliance Illinois, which positions arts and culture as a source of creative solutions to a broad range of challenges; promotes arts-centered learning and the development of a creative and adaptive workforce; fosters equitable access to and participation in arts and culture, and advances historically neglected or marginalized forms of expression. In 2017, he collaborated with artist Ginger Krebs on a catalogue and public events offered in conjunction with “Minor Local Slumpage,” a solo exhibition of sculptures by Krebs at Chicago Artists Coalition’s BOLT Gallery. Whittenburg remains engaged with dance as a member of the executive committee for the Chicago Dance History Project, and serves on the artistic advisory council for High Concept Laboratories.
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