From the ARCADE Issue 35.3 feature "Rethinking Efficiency." Articles from the issue will release online over the following weeks. Subscribe to receive ARCADE in print.

CabinFever dancer Emily Craver and musician Lia Kohl perform “Lillian” at the Florsheim Mansion (Chicago, Illinois). Space designed by Andrew Rebori with additions by Bertrand Goldberg. Photo by Joy Jacobs

Sawhorse Revolution: Can you tell us a little bit about CabinFever?

Elana Jacobs: I cofounded CabinFever in 2011 with the main purpose of reaching new audiences for contemporary dance and performance art. We distinguish our company using homes as our primary venue, creating original music and dance inspired by the homes, the architecture, and the families who live there. For a typical CabinFever show, the rooms of the homes are transformed into living art spaces, showcasing performances inspired by memories, history, and space.

SR: Could you tell us about your process? To make an evening-length work, the creative process can take a maximum of two weeks or be as quick as two days. It’s a short, high intensity, very honest process.

EJ: Before I create a work that is based in a home, I prepare by interviewing the family—sometimes three to four days in a row. Then I contemplate a seed of an idea from the talk that feels compelling, whether it’s a comment from a family member or an entryway of a room that feels really beautiful. Next, I start to create movement that has nothing to do with that seed: just movement that I find compelling. Independently, the musicians create something that they find interesting.

After those three things are created—raw movement, raw music, and the seed of something interesting—we start to play around, matching things together. And then I’ll just yell out something that I find true: “That’s really funny!” or “There’s something really tender about the way you did that.” And then we try as a team to expand that truth and that honesty.

SR: Your process sounds very in the moment, with the location, the participants, and each other. How are you able to keep the pieces fresh when the performance comes around? I try to build a couple of moments of unknown into the piece. That’s really hard—I like control, and I like planning. But I know that things are going to go wrong, and things are going to actually bloom out of that space.

Performance view, CabinFever: Respire, MCA Chicago. April 29, 2017. Photo: Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago

EJ: We recently did a show at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago titled Respire. A collaboration between MCA, CabinFever, and electronic improvisor Stephan Moore, it took place in the museum alongside the exhibition Common Time, which celebrated the life of Merce Cunningham. During Respire the dancers performed in many different locations in the museum.

At one point two dancers, Aaron R. White and Emily Pacilio, needed to walk downstairs to get to another location, and I didn’t have anything choreographed for that transition. So, I said to the pair, “Go ahead and be inspired by the audience, and look at the space, and be with the space,” and that’s it. I walked away thinking that I hadn’t given them enough information and how that part might be less interesting.

Yet, I was able to catch that moment during the performance, and it became my favorite part of the whole show. They created an entire duet on the spot, just walking down the stairs. It was so moving, and the audience—hundreds of people—was watching them from the bottom of the stairs, watching them have this spontaneous, inspired duet.

A woman came walking down the stairs, and the second she turned to go back upstairs because she noticed the performance, one of the dancers, Aaron, said, “No, come!” And he kind of led her arm in arm down the stairs. Later, the program curator, Erin Toale, earnest eyed, showed us a photo of the moment, saying, “This is what that day was about.”

That was a learning experience for me about not overplanning. If I had created specific choreography, the dance would have stood still in that shape. But this was alive, as if not planning let something in that I could never have imagined.