PORTAGE PARK — Kitara Bradley will grace the stage with a live audience for the first time in two years this weekend.
Bradley is the lead dancer in The Chicago Ballet Center’s first production of the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale “The Snow Queen,” which opens Saturday at the Irish-American Heritage Center, 4626 N. Knox Ave. It will be the company’s first show since late 2019.
Bradley, 17, invited all of her family and friends to watch her perform for the first time since the pandemic began.
“We have not done a show in forever and that’s my favorite part,” she said. “The type of dance we do, it’s not like a soccer game where you can come watch at practice. We don’t have games over the weekend. … My mom has not seen me dance in forever, so it means a lot to me, and I am graduating this year.”
After the pandemic largely halted live performances and heavily hit the arts, Far Northwest Side companies are reviving in-person, family-friendly shows to highlight the hope, beauty and inspiration that creativity can instill, especially in times of distress.
Bradley is hard at work with her peers at The Chicago Ballet Center, housed in the Portage Lofts at 4041 N. Milwaukee Ave., which has been in Six Corners for almost 10 years. It never closed during the pandemic but switched to virtual classes that were difficult for its young students to adapt to, said Tracy Baldwin, the school’s director of communications and a longtime volunteer.
The show also marks another first for the company: its first full-length production, featuring dancers 10-17 performing ballet and tap.
“This performance is great for younger kids to come and see what dance is and what it can be for them,” Baldwin said. “To see the next generation still pursuing art is really hopeful, especially in a world where there are a lot of dark things going on. It’s their gift to us.”
Paul Abrahamson, founder and director of The Chicago Ballet Center, said the show represents the resiliency of creative expression and its road to strengthening local art companies after the pandemic.
“I hope more people really understand that it was the creative arts that got everybody through COVID and quarantine,” Abrahamson said. “It was entire towns coming out on their balconies and singing in the street. … All of those things reflect the base need and desire for the performing arts.”
Abrahamson hopes “The Snow Queen” and other artwork returning to the community can demonstrate “the beauty and strength that is within all of us” in a way that politics and technology can’t.
“In all of this chaos, [we can] bring some order and calm, whether that’s in the structure of a ballet class or a performance narrative that now focuses on the goodness and the strength that each one of us has inside,” he said.
“The Snow Queen” will play at the Irish-American Heritage Center 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. Saturday. Tickets bought in advance are $15, and tickets bought at the door are $20. All attendees 5 and older are required to show proof of vaccination and wear a mask.
Filament recently began rehearsals for “Gather,” which explores what it’s like to see one another in person again after a long hibernation, said Managing Director Krissi Ann McEachern.
The show runs Feb. 26-March 27, uses physical distancing to an artistic advantage and meets audience members where they are at, McEachern said. The show will have a limited capacity and the audience will be situated in small pods dubbed “cottages” that are part of the scenery to the production.
The hour-long play breaks down 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 pandemic’s effects on virtual learning, socialization and art access.
“You come with your family unit, and you will have a house in the theater that is your cottage,” McEachern said. “The show tells the story of a town and your cottage exists within that town.”
For Filament — which works with children and young students, who haven’t been able to get vaccinated as quickly — reopening has been a slow, difficult process.
The nonprofit 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 on how best to move forward, attract audiences and keep creating.
“A big part of reopening feels very vulnerable — we are coming out of two years of a vacuum of not being able to temperature check against other people to watch what patrons are interested in,” she said. “Not only is the energy of arts picking up speed again, which is really exciting, but it also sets all of us up for more success when we can experience what each other are making.”
“Gather” will show at 11 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. weekends at the theater. Everyone 5 and older must show proof of vaccination and wear a mask. Tickets are $25 per cottage, which holds two to five people, for previews and will be $45 starting March 5.
Other Northwest Side theaters also are getting back to the stage.
In Norwood Park, the Chicago Kids Company began in-person shows at the end of 2021. The nonprofit theater company, which is celebrating its 29th year, is performing “Alice in Wonderland” at the Stahl Family Theater, 5900 W. Belmont Ave. in Belmont Cragin.
The show runs 10:30 a.m. Fridays and 1 p.m. Saturdays until Feb. 25. Tickets are $14. Masks are required but proof of vaccination is not.
The company will also perform “The Ugly Duckling,” intended for young children, March 23-May 6 at the Stahl Family Theater and May 12-Aug. 5. at the Beverly Arts Center, 2407 W. 111th St.
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