Friday, September 16, 2016

"Trials and Trails" - U.S. Steel South Works

Updated 9/24/2016 with photos of the park, end of blog.

“Trials and Trails” Choreographed and Directed by Erica Mott

This multimedia dance theatre performance, honoring workers who have passed through the U.S. Steel’s South Works, was humbling, moving, and a great experience. The performance was only two nights, which I caught the first this Friday night. Please go Saturday for the final and take in this overwhelming performance of deep Chicago and American history. The steelworkers and their families, both past and present will be honored, for this is their personal struggle. My view, bravo to Local 65 for standing against “the Man”, and bravo to the ensemble for bringing those feelings back which make us whole.

“Trials and Trails” is the name of the performance. The location was at the ruins of the U.S. Steel’s South Works, once regarded as the nation’s largest mill. What is left of the empty iron ore walls can be found at Steelworkers Park at 87th street, the Southeast side of Chicago. What made this very enjoyable was the dance taking place after dusk. The park closes then, however the Chicago Park District “Night Out in the Parks” series enables you to enjoy the park after dusk. The darkness of the evening helped too, to enclose you in the feeling of the time.

Erica Mott Productions put this together. “Erica choreographed, directed, and combined media” to create this very visual performance from existing space. I watched Erica this evening as she worked with the ensemble to bring the dance to a reality for us. I instantly saw the talent in her, pushing the envelope, yet staying very supportive to the ensemble. To put it simply, she stood out as the person in charge, led the ensemble to her vision, and her own example of dance was very intentful and beautiful to observe, as she led them to their finish.

This integrated steel mill opened around 1882. The location near the Calumet River made transportation of needed materials accessible to the mill. Like most major places of employment, a neighborhood of immigrants developed around the mill. Their strife continued through decades as American industry grew, along with bold and defensive union politics to protect the workers. The mill, most likely in conjunction with the Pullman District just further west, probably is what made Chicago the cultural melting pot it is today.

Steel making is hard and dangerous, killing many who were depending on their job to provide for their family. You need to be skilled, and to be on your toes should anything happen. The Union was there to help protect you, making work safer and rewarding. There was always the chance that “The Man” would interfere with that. Memorial Day 1937 was just that, where police killed ten workers.

The mill downsized through the 70’s, which is the time I became involved with steel melting and transporting equipment. The company I work for too began just a couple years after the mill, and also downsized through the 70’s. This is how I was hired. (They downsized too much.) The difference being, the company I work for is still in business today.

The mill closed in 1992. This encapsulated the history of the mill. Jobs were lost. The mighty steel worker, who prospered during the evolution of the industry, found themselves and their history working for the mill at a close.

“Trials and Trials” offers tribute to the many that have passed through the mill. The struggle that made the workers and unions strong, included a happy time where workers in the community performed music. To honor their music, Erica Mott included the Horace Mann Marching Mustangs from the east side of Chicago. Their music opened the evening, along with my photos for this event. Enjoy!

Good stuff Maynard . . .

Here are some photos taken after the show of Lake Michigan facing Indiana. This first photo is of the sculpture created for the park and dedicated on May 9th,  2015. I will have to go back during the day to take a better photo. This sculpture, "Tribute To The Past", was sculpted by local artist Roman Villarreal, who also worked at U.S. Steel South Works. Roman was also present at this event, with his other art on display.

Here are some photos prior to the dance . . .

Additional photos of the park, taken September 24th, 2016.

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