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Five Questions with Mary Ellen Messner

Architectural mecca. Third most populous city in the US. Musical hub for jazz and blues. Chicago looms large in the American imagination for its outsized cultural contribution to the American story. It therefore comes as no surprise that The Second City is one of the six selected locations for Denmark’s Danish Arts in the USA initiative — a four-year campaign bringing Danish music, design, and performing arts to cultural institutions throughout the country.

Enter Kompagni B: a Danish dance company made up of 23 young dancers from Copenhagen’s Royal Danish Ballet School and the world’s first ballet company “for, with and by children.”

From June 11th to June 20th, Kompagni B unveiled a series of cultural exchanges and workshops across Chicago with partners ranging from the Chicago Public Library to the Joel Hall Dance Youth Company. The purpose? Building up a powerful legacy of youth empowerment by putting children and young adults “front and center.”

Denmark In New York spoke with Mary Ellen Messner, the Deputy Commissioner at the Chicago Public Library about her expectations for the collaboration with the Danish ballet company.

The Chicago Public Library and the Danish ballet company Kompagni B have teamed up for a unique collaboration that will connect the Danish dancers with Chicago youths and workshop the basics of ballet. Tell us a little bit about why the Chicago Public Library has launched this collaboration?

Chicago Public Library launched this collaboration with Kompagni B to further the rich dialogue between cultures, help break down barriers, increase global understanding and appreciation through the arts. In CPL’s mission to read, learn and discover, we continually strive to find entry points for youth to learn about the world and discover new horizons both through the arts and through understanding people.

Youth empowerment is an overarching theme behind much of Kompagni B’s work. What are some of the challenges that children and young adults in Chicago face? And how do you think this collaboration might speak to addressing those challenges?

Chicago’s youth are like many youth around the world. Being part of a community, attending school, enjoying friendships and family, these are all part of the fabric of young people’s lives. Being a teen is a time of transition moving closer to adulthood and many young people face challenges of identity, belonging, loss, and planning for the future. Chicago is a segregated city with many communities facing economic challenges and many youth may not have opportunities available to them that those in better resourced neighborhoods have. Together with Kompagni B, CPL is excited to expose young people to the arts and another culture, in addition using the arts to open a dialogue about community and place.

We are particularly proud of the work we are doing with the Ship of Tolerance project with world-renowned artist, Emilia Kabakov. The dancers along with children from various communities will paint sails and interpret their art through the dance of the Kompagni B dancers. It is sure to be a very meaningful and touching event.

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Kompagni B is the only ballet company in the world that takes pride in performing ballet for children and teens with choreography created by the teen dancers themselves. What do you think the benefits of bringing ballet to Chicago’s youths are and what do you hope will come out of the collaboration?

Youth in Chicago will find value in seeing how teens from another culture use their artistic passion to create work out of their own experience. We look forward to them experiencing a deeper awareness and appreciation of understanding one another, increased belief of the commonality of values across the world and the benefits that comes from cross-cultural dialogue. Chicago teens have a great appreciation for creative endeavours and this cultural exchange provides the perfect opportunity to help youth from both Copenhagen and Chicago experience something wonderful and unique.

With the world famous Joffrey and Ballet Chicago, Chicago is certainly a dance mecca in the US. Beyond this dance connection, however, why is Chicago a great city for Kompagni B to exhibit itself in?

Chicagoans love the arts and are proud of the diverse traditions that arise from the many different cultural groups who call Chicago home. Chicago welcomes creative expression in all forms and is a hub for numerous dance and performing arts companies, ranging in size. Creating a connection between dance and basketball is an amazing way to embrace the passion that Chicagoans bring to their love of sports and friendly competition. Because of our commitment to partnership and service to youth, we are the perfect destination.

The engagement with Kompagni B is part of a wider Danish Arts in Chicago initiative that seeks to connect the world of Danish art and architecture with on-the-ground activities throughout the city of Chicago. What are some other interesting collaborations between the Chicago Public Library and Danish Arts in Chicago that we can look forward to?

In collaboration with Danish Arts in Chicago, the Chicago Public Library is planning a film series project to highlight achievement in Danish film. Collaborative efforts are also in development surrounding exploration of architecture and sustainability initiatives that can help start new conversations and new projects that empower individuals and groups to connect with the environment, and to find ways to engage in the built environment.

Ema Seferovic is the Press and Communications Intern at DenmarkInNY.

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The Official Medium Blog for the Consulate General of Denmark in New York. For all things Danish, #DenmarkInNY.

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