Unity Temple stands in solid, unwavering concrete form on Lake Street, but inside, there is a full calendar of events and a revolving door of visitors who enter to attend them in the multilevel sanctuary and the Unity House meeting space across the welcome hall. Besides the congregation that makes the UNESCO World Heritage Site its home, there are tours, arts experiences, architecture and author talks.
As part of the Unity Temple Restoration Foundation’s (UTRF) Performing Arts Series, a different kind of performance is being presented this weekend, Light in Winter dance and music, choreographed and composed with the Frank Lloyd Wright masterpiece as muse, the quote above the entryway in brass letters, “For the worship of God and the service of man,” its inspiration.
“Unity Temple is an exceptionally controlled design,” said Winifred Haun, choreographer and artistic director of Winifred Haun & Dancers. “And for me that kind of environment just calls for movement and for humans. It’s so beautiful and it’s so intellectually designed, I think it is a really great fit.”
Haun, who lives in Oak Park and has received a MacArthur Grant among other awards, began her creative process last summer by sitting in the Temple sanctuary and taking notes during multiple visits. By November, six dancers began working alongside her.
“There are a lot of sections in this that are improvisational,” she said. “I’ve given them direction, theme and ideas, and we’re calling it the ‘Unity Temple Phrase.’ It’s just like the Temple itself, very square and linear. Then there are some sections that are absolutely choreographed.”
The dancers will make full use of the space, appearing in the aisles on different levels, on pedestals and in the pulpit.
Like other artists and authors who have influenced future generations, Wright is no exception.
“I think Frank Lloyd Wright would approve of dance being in there,” Haun said. “Unity Temple generates other art forms, and that’s how I felt when I was in the space. It calls me to respond to it.”
“Wright’s design was heavily influenced by music — one can feel this inspiration within the sanctuary in particular,” said Heidi Ruehle, executive director, UTRF. “The lines draw the eye up and around the room, creating a sense of movement and flow. … Dancers connect with the architecture by creating movement with their bodies to complement Wright’s design, all very musical and interactive in nature.”
To accompany the work of Haun & Dancers, composer Renee Baker collaborated. Performing her music is the Chicago Modern Orchestra Project, an instrumental ensemble, with vocalist Teniya Farnandis.
“For inspiration, the use of the spare, clear lines of Unity Temple moved my composition toward minimalism and clear voices,” Baker said.
Besides Light in Winter, a five-part piece specifically made for the site, the dancers will perform Bento, an original abstract dance piece previously choreographed by Haun and arranged for the site. The Orchestra Project will also perform their original composition “Night Faeries.”
Haun invites audiences to sit back and experience 21st-century classical music and modern dance without expectations or looking for meaning behind it.
“I’ve produced works all over,” Haun said. “We did one at the (Oak Park Main) Library Plaza, we’ve done parks, Millennium Park, we’ve been all over doing site-specific work. I love seeing movement and dancers in a space where they don’t traditionally belong.”
However, Unity Temple does have a history with modern dance.
“In 1913, Doris Humphrey, a native Oak Parker and innovator of the Modern Dance movement, began teaching dance in Unity House,” Ruehle said. “This bit of history makes the Light in Winter program even more appealing and directly tied to Unity Temple’s past.”
Experience Winifred Haun & Dancers’ “Light in Winter: Dance and Music at Unity Temple” on Friday, Feb. 21, 7:30 p.m., and Saturday, Feb. 22, 5:30 p.m. $29; $24, UTRF members; $19, ages 6 to 18. Tickets: utrf.org/event/winifredhaun. 875 Lake St., Oak Park.