For jorsTap Chicago, a company that describes itself as “females disrupting the tap world,” dance functions not only as a storytelling medium but as a way to create safe spaces. The company’s latest project is a gender-inclusive re-telling of Hansel and Gretel created in collaboration with multimedia artist David Lee Csicsko.
The original tale of a brother and sister who encounter a witch in the woods was made famous by the Grimm brothers in the 19th century. To adapt the story for 21st-century audiences, jorsTap and Csicsko’s version – subtitled “How Hansel became Hansel” – starts with two children, Gretel and Gretel, born to a single mother. As one of the two children begins to explore gender identity, tolerance and understanding become central to the story.
“These great fairytales explore human issues,” Csicsko said. He came up with the show’s concept around a year ago, inspired both by his previous collaborations with jorsTap Chicago and by news stories about transgender youth.
Kendra Jorstad, founder and artistic director of jorsTap Chicago, had commissioned Csicsko in 2013 to paint onstage as her company danced, and they’ve maintained a close working relationship since.
“David and I both believe strongly in combining art with dance,” Jorstad said, “With this being our fifth collaboration, we wanted to try putting on an evening-length work.” For this production, Jorstad created original choreography while Csicsko designed the production, including costumes, props, and sets.
Both Jorstad and Csicsko wanted to approach the issue of gender identity sensitively. Csicsko said, “I just started thinking: How can we start talking about this in a way that has this sense of innocence, without hitting you over the head with it?”
Jorstad added, “For us, the gender part of it was a way to utilize a hot topic to open up a bigger conversation about acceptance, compassion, and love. Becoming a parent has made me so aware of how healing art can be,” Kendra Jorstad said. “Be love – the world needs a sprinkling of it everywhere.”
After opening on April 28 at Fulton Street Collective, jorsTap presents additional performances May 5 and 6 at 8:00 pm, and on May 7 at 3:00 pm. Learn more about jorsTap Chicago and Hansel and Gretel on the company’s website.