Artist Nejla Yatkin in her Firebird costume
Artist Nejla Yatkin in her Firebird costume as part of her park series. Credit: Enki Andrews

BURNHAM PARK — Dancemaker and choreographer Nejla Yatkin will conclude her summer dance series this weekend in a South Side show.

The musical Firebird parade procession will take place 5 p.m. Saturday at the Caracol Gathering Space, 47th Street and Cornell Drive.

The 16-part series was part of the Chicago Park District’s Night Out in the Parks. The free event series has included weekly dance and meditation workshops in parks across the city over four weeks. Each workshop concludes with a “bird movement meditation,” all leading up to this weekend’s finale event. 

The inspiration for the series is rooted in the symbolism of the Firebird — also known as a Phoenix in Egyptian mythology — a bird that regenerates out of fire, often representing new life and “the union between Earth and the sky,” according to a press release about the event. 

Yatkin, who is based in Chicago and comes from a Turkish-German background, was inspired by the mythology of the Firebird. Coming out of the pandemic, she was reflecting on the ways in which people had become isolated from one another, and wanted to create an event focused on joy and connection.

“I was thinking about doing a surprise or pop-up performance in different places in the city,” she said. “I wanted to bring people together — even for just a short amount of time — to just enjoy moments in nature.” 

Transformation has also been a major theme of the event series, honoring both the change of seasons and the ability of people to transform their communities and environments. 

“I realized that some of the parks, [like] ones further south, are not as well visited as parks like Maggie Daley or Lincoln Park,” Yatkin said. “To be there, surprising these kids with a big red bird was very moving.” 

Nejla Yatkin entertains park crowds in her Firebird costume. Credit: Enki Andrews.

Yatkin said that on multiple occasions, people would initially be skeptical of the show, assuming she was looking for some sort of tip or donation for the workshop. 

“People are curious, but they’re also like ‘Should I come in? Is this free? Is this something I can enter?’” she said. “It’s about re-teaching people to just enjoy and embrace a moment.”

After moving past initial skepticism, the workshops brought together people across ages and backgrounds in dance, meditation and expression, Yatkin said. 

“The last one in Humboldt Park was nice. There were kids, teenagers, adults, all from different cultures, in the park,” she said. “It was beautiful to see all generations moving and flocking together in this playful way, being a bird for an afternoon.” 

Saturday’s closing event — the Firebird Parade — at the Caracol Gathering Space starts at 5 p.m with a relaxed gathering, music and dancing together. Yatkin has also been collecting notes that she gave to participants throughout the event series to reflect on what transformation means to them.

“I’m hoping to hang them on one of the trees there as a ‘wish tree’ and then maybe have people add more to them that are there at the parade,” she said. The intention will be to reflect on what folks want to transform in their lives or in the communities. 

The initial gathering will be followed by a walk along the lake through the Wildlife Corridor. Yatkin hopes that participants from her workshops across the city will attend, representing the numerous communities and backgrounds that exist within Chicago. 

“It’s been a difficult summer,” Yatkin said, noting the recent air quality issues in the city from wildfires. She hopes that the event can serve as a reflection for how we can approach climate change and other issues facing the city going forward.

“But in a joyous way, not like … dread and fear, but how can we support each other?” she said. “How can we be together? How can we create better futures for ourselves, our children, and our communities?”

Yatkin encouraged participants to come dressed in bright colors and ready to dance. 

“Use a cape, use feathers if you want,” she said. “Express yourself.”

In case of inclement weather, the parade will be rescheduled to 5 p.m. Sunday. More information about the series (including updates on weather) can be found here

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