Nejla Yatkin dances down the Burnham Wildlife Corridor in "Conference of the Birds" | Dance | Chicago Reader

Nejla Yatkin dances down the Burnham Wildlife Corridor in "Conference of the Birds" 

The choreographer returns to Chicago to celebrate the beauty of the lakefront.

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Enki Andrews

Choreographer Nejla Yatkin wants Chicagoans to recognize the splendor of their city. With her site-specific pieces, Yatkin takes inspiration from natural spaces to create works that invite viewers to look at their surroundings from new perspectives.

Last year, Yatkin showcased the serenity of Jackson Park's Garden of the Phoenix with the help of South Chicago Dance Theatre. It was such a success that the Chicago Park District asked Yatkin if she would like to choreograph a new work, and she was quickly enchanted by the Burnham Wildlife Corridor, the largest stretch of natural land along the Chicago lakefront.

"I wanted to showcase different beautiful sites in Chicago," says Yatkin. "This one spoke to me because of the Caracol sculpture, and when I was visiting it the first day, there was this white owl sitting there and it was amazing to see this gorgeous creature on the lake."

Taking audience members through the north end of the corridor—Yatkin recommends wearing comfortable shoes—"Conference of the Birds" features flocking patterns inspired by birds and movement dictated by nature.

"When you look at a tree, it's not organized line after line straight," says Yatkin. "There are lines combined with waves combined with spirals. That becomes a basis for the structural improvisation of the dance."

The unpredictability of nature is a major part of its appeal for Yatkin. "On stage, you can set everything the way you want it, but in life it's not the same," says Yatkin. "The sun could be bright one day, cloudy the next day. But that's the beauty of site-specific work. You feel so interdependent and interconnected with everything around you, and you really feel it when you're out there dancing."   v

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