Immersed in their art
Dancers plan to hit the road in mobile dwelling/performance structures
Writer: By MELISSA MERLI
The News-Gazette, Sunday August 7, 2011, Urbana-Champaign, ILLINOIS
URBANA — Hallie Aldrich and Sarah Haas, who both finished master of fine arts degrees in dance this spring at the University of Illinois, believe the struggle to create a dance career that pays a living wage is pretty
“You can be sure you´ll never have enough money unless you´re one of the few hundreds who work for established dance or ballet companies,” Aldrich said. “Most people go into related businesses, like Pilates or bodywork, or else into teaching, in order to pay the bills.”
Those and other alternatives do not appeal to Aldrich, a choreographer, and Haas, a movement artist.
So they are creating their own and somewhat unusual dance careers that will take them on the road for residencies and performances at universities and community centers.
What´s more, they will travel, live and perform in their own ecologically sensitive mobile dwelling/performance structures they designed, with help from architecture Professor Mark Taylor.
“We basically call it an Eco-Mobile,” Haas said. “Parts of the wall will come down into a stage space. When you´re done, you crank the wall up.”
Jan Erkert, head of the UI Dance Department, called the project entrepreneurial and imaginative.
“The project is really exciting — the idea of building their own space in which they can live and perform and be mobile,” she said. “Dance artists often live in untraditional manners, but these two are making a conscious effort to sculpt a life in which they can travel and perform.
“They don´t have to have money for an apartment. They can create residencies around their Eco-Mobile. They are expanding their art but also building a whole lifestyle around it. They´re experimenting and blazing new ground in integrating all these things.”
Last week, Haas and Aldrich, who know of no other dance artists who have created similar mobile dwelling/performance spaces, and friends were in the beginning stages of adding the structure to Haas´ custom-made flatbed trailer.
Despite the recent and prolonged heat wave, the two and volunteers have worked on Hass´ project outside each day in a grassy area on South Goodwin Avenue in Urbana, next to the UI´s 2011 Solar Decathalon House building site.
Each woman´s flatbed trailer has the same design, but the blueprints for their homes diverge, with Aldrich settling on a modular design and Haas trying to use as many reclaimed materials as possible.
“Sarah´s is one that could be built with regular materials, like reclaimed lumber available to anyone,” Aldrich said. “Mine is a modular-based. You have to know how to put it together before you order the materials.”
For her Eco-Mobile, Haas purchased for $50 a clawfoot bathtub she plans to put in her kitchen, which will be a bit bigger than her bathroom. “For me, it will be like camping out,” said Haas, who will travel with a cooler rather than a refrigerator.
Aldrich is forgoing a tub for a shower space. Each Eco-Mobile bathroom, though, will have a composting toilet.
The bedroom and living room in Haas´ will be combined, with a platform, with storage underneath, that will rise up from the floor and serve as a bed or table.
Also a Trager bodyworker, Aldrich will divide her living space in two to include a simple, neutral studio where she will have her massage table and where dancers can make pieces and perform.
Outside the home, Aldrich´s stage will drop from the two ends and one side of the Eco-Mobile. Haas´s will drop from one side wall and a back wall.
And they´ll be able to travel anywhere year-round: Each home will be
insulated to accommodate four-season living.
For energy, Aldrich hopes to install solar panels, marine-size wind turbines and LED (light-emitting diode) lights.
On a tighter budget, Haas would like to eventually incorporate solar panels. She does plan a filtrated rainwater reservoir, with the water
collected from a slightly slanted roof with gutters.
Each Eco-Mobile will be 24 feet long and will conform to highway regulations as well as rules for parking recreational vehicles at parks and campsites.
Haas and Aldrich consider their Eco-Mobiles not only a way to start off their post-MFA dance careers but also as part of the “tiny home” movement and as models for the working poor.
A Chicago-based artist, Haas, 33, hopes to take her Eco-Mobile on the road in late August. She has set up dance residencies in Detroit, at Austin Peay University in Clarksville, Tenn., and possibly in Utah. Locally, she will take her Eco-Mobile to the CU Pride Fest from 4 p.m. Aug. 20 to 2 a.m. Aug. 21 in Urbana.
A Seattle native, Aldrich, 39, might have to build her Eco-Mobile in Seattle because most of her building materials likely won´t arrive in Urbana to meet her timeline.
Once she has her Eco-Mobile, she will set up a home base in Seattle and then tour through the Rocky Mountains, starting in Boulder, Colo.
“One aspect of this is that I´ll be able to connect to nature. It´s a really important part of my artistic work,” she said. “And the first place I want to go is my favorite place, which is the mountains.”
Along the way, she will connect with local dance artists to perform contact improv, her specialty, and other forms of dance.
Both women are paying for their Eco-Mobiles, with Haas putting the charges on her credit card. She bought a 1999 Dodge Ram to pull her
Eco-Mobile; UI dance alum Will Schneider gave Aldrich a ´92 Dodge Ram that will accommodate group tours.
The two seek donations for their nonprofit project and had two fundraising events earlier this summer. But the first made only $20 and the second, $80. (Please see sidebar.)
Erkert is particularly delighted about the Eco-Mobile project because Haas was among UI students who helped transform the old Art Annex into two graduate student dance studios, using recycled materials.
“She was part of the student group that designed and built the first space,” Erkert said. “It´s exciting to see that interaction with architects be carried into a whole other project now.”
Dancers seeking contributions for projects
URBANA — Dancers Sarah Haas and Hallie Aldrich would certainly like financial contributions to build their Eco-Mobiles, which will combine dwelling and performance spaces. Donations are tax-deductible, via their fiscal sponsor, the Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center. They also seek sponsorships from businesses that would like to contribute materials, like solar panels. But perhaps more importantly, they would love to have help building their Eco-Mobiles, especially from people who are experienced in construction and have the appropriate tools. The two, plus friends, are working from 8 a.m. to noon and 5 p.m. to dusk seven days a week in a grassy area on South Goodwin Avenue, near the
2011 Solar Decathlon house construction site and the University of Illinois greenhouses. Donating their time so far to the Eco-Mobile cause are Jonathan Ustin, a doctor of musical arts degree candidate in jazz studies; Chantelle Hoagland, a dancer and CEO of a startup company; and Jessica
Cornish, who will be a senior in dance this fall at the UI. Also helping is Aldrich´s friend, Dave Singer, a Seattle resident with building experience. Like the others, he is volunteering his time and expertise. “It´s fantastic. I love it,” Singer said of the project. Added Aldrich: “He said it could go one of 1,000 directions.” People willing to help may contact Haas or Aldrich through firstname.lastname@example.org or eco-dance.weebly.com/.
MELISSA MERLI, Category: Entertainment