Tapping Away the Winter Blues

Tapper/Choreographer Michelle Dorrance. Photo by Matthew Murphy & Kenn Tam.

This weekend, Feb. 8-10, shake, hop and shuffle off your winter blues by attending the Winter Tap JAMboree! presented by the Chicago Human Rhythm Project (CHRP). Located at the American Rhythm Center (ARC) in the historic Fine Arts Building on Michigan Ave., the three-day fest features some of the best tappers around including CHRP Director Lane Alexander, Nico Rubio, Bril Barrett, STOMP performer Lisa La Touche and Michelle Dorrance, winner of a 2012 Princess Grace Award (the first tap choreographer to ever win!). Master classes in tap will be offered, plus classes in hip hop, break dancing, fitness and tai chi, plus an open forum discussion about the future of American tap dance. General registration $15. Master classes $17.50/per class. Also, on Saturday, Feb. 9 from 7-9 pm, there will be auditions for tap scholarships for dancers ages 12 – 18 to CHRP’s Rhythm World tap festival this summer, July 22 – Aug. 4. Ten $1000 scholarships will be awarded. Registration fee is $15. For more information, visit chicagotap.org.

While Dorrance is in town for the JAMboree!, she’s also working with CHRP group BAM! setting a new work to be premiered on April 4th at the Auditorium Theatre‘s Music + Movement Festival. The new five-month-long festival – just announced yesterday – features Chicago dance companies paired with live musicians for original performances commission by the theater. BAM! will perform in the Katten/Landau Studio (435 S. Wabash, 4th floor). Tickets are $10.

I sat in on rehearsals this morning while Dorrance finished piecing together the first section set to a remixed version of Etta James’ St. Louis Blues for five dancers. Fast is an understatement for the rapid-fire rhythms coming off their feet. Dorrance, 33, tosses out commentary with a humorous tone (this really mattered to me last night; did I lie to you?; this shit…let’s clean it up while we’re here) and advice (trust it and try it; stay in plié, it will save your life; surprise yourself with the first over-the-top) while going over choreographic notes and layering in bits of character to the complicated syncopated steps. Familiar names like wings and Charleston are interspersed with audible rhythmic cues like shig-a-dig-a and go-go-go-go GA-GA! The first section is short, but jam-packed with steps, which leads Dorrance to apologize, sort of, for adding in old-school trenches (switching legs back in a flat back, reaching to the floor with the opposite hands, while sliding back on the outside of one foot) at the very end. “Sorry to end this so tiring…hmph!” But, she doesn’t change it.


CDF12 Sneak Peek: Giordano Dance Chicago

Giordano dancers Martin Ortiz & Maeghan McHale work with choreographer Alexander Ekman. Photo by Joel Solari.

A whimsically humorous contemporary duet by Swedish phenom choreographer Alexander Ekman will mark Giordano Dance Chicago‘s (GDC) debut performance at the Chicago Dancing Festival (CDF) this August.  A small group was given a preview yesterday afternoon at Columbia College’s studios on South Wabash.  Ekman, 28, danced with the Royal Swedish Ballet, Nederlands Dans Theater (NDT), Cullberg Ballet and Ballet du Rhin before embarking on his choreographic career, which started in 2006 with a piece created for NDT II.  Since then, he has made new works for companies around the world.  His work, Two Become Three, was originally created last year on dancers at Julliard where CDF co-founder Lar Lubovitch saw the piece and commissioned it for the opening night of this year’s festival.

Ekman has been in town since Monday and set the piece on GDC dancers Maeghan McHale and Martin Ortiz Tapia in about three days.  Ekman recorded a voice over that plays on top of the score providing an audible inner monologue of the characters on stage.  A “surprise” prop at the end of the piece provides another layer of humor to the tongue-in-cheek piece that garnered laughter from the viewers at rehearsal.  The piece is lighthearted and fun, but the dancing is anything but simple.  These two seasoned dancers take the physical and theatrical demands in stride.  An obvious respect and rapport grew out of the intense few days in the studio and the result will delight the audience at Chicago Dancing on Monday, August 20 at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance.

Debuting at CDF12 isn’t the only exciting things happening for GDC.  Kicking off their 50th anniversary season, the company changed its name (notice the “Jazz” is gone), has a brand new website and logo, as well as new administrative offices (1509 S Michigan Ave, 2nd floor) and is a resident company at the new American Rhythm Center* (ARC) which will open new studio space later this month. If good things come in three’s, they’ve overshot by a few and I see only more good things in the future for GDC.

Chicago Dancing Festival presents Chicago Dancing at the Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph, Monday, August 20 at 7 pm.  Tickets will be released Tuesday, July 17 at noon.  For more information, visit www.chicagodancingfestival.com

*More information on ARC here.


American Rhythm Center to Open Doors Soon

Rendering of the American Rhythm Center's reception area.

Lane Alexander’s dream of a shared-space, communal arts building is finally coming true.  The American Rhythm Center (ARC), located in Chicago’s Fine Arts Building at 410 S. Michigan Avenue – former space of the Boitsov Ballet – will launch its first stage in a few weeks.  On the third floor of this cultural institution will be three new multi-use studios to be shared by nine local mid-sized arts organizations.  Alexander’s Chicago Human Rhythm Project (CHRP) will be the first to use the space for the upcoming Rhythm World Festival 2012 later this month with a grand opening with the resident partners coming this fall in September.

The collaborative space will be shared by community partners Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre, Chicago Chinese Cultural Institute, Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra, Giordano Dance Chicago, Kalapriya, Luna Negra Dance Theater, Ping Pong Productions and River North Dance Chicago.  “One of the things that’s appealing about ARC is that we’re helping to build cultural infrastructure,” said CHRP’s new Executive Director Frank Sonntag.  “To have a healthy ecosystem, you can’t just pay attention to the top, you have to pay attention to the middle and create entry points for artists.  That’s what we’re doing and I think it’s important.”  Sonntag, 50, boasts a long career in arts administration with stints at the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts, Dance St. Louis, David Parsons Project, New York Foundation for the Arts, Broadway Cares, Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts as well as helping open the Cowles Center for Dance and the Performing Arts in Minneapolis last fall.  He’s only been in town a month and is already in love with the city and excited about this new venture. “It’s very much born out of the idea of collaboration,” Sonntag said.  “What is going to make it work is that collectively the offerings we’ll have are much greater than any one of us are and that will give us market penetration that all of us will have.”

The plan for ARC came out of CHRP’s strategic planning process and with Alexander on board it was only a matter of time before it became a reality.  Approximately $1 million has already been raised and a capital campaign is in the works to raise the estimated $2.5 million needed to complete the other two phases of the project which include administrative facilities, additional space for programming and a black box theater.  Shared performances have gained ground in recent years with many smaller experimental companies presenting together at independent venues and with Audience Architects’ MetLife Fund New Stages for Dance Initiative pairing mid-sized companies at larger venues.  This shared-space facility takes sharing to a whole new level.  “It’s a new model based on the strength of collaboration,” said Sonntag.  “Medium-sized dance companies in particular are under-capitalized, not just here, but all over the country.  What happens when resources are tight is organizations cut programs, the cut marketing budgets, they cut educational outreach and the audiences dwindle.  It’s a downward spiral that can be debilitating.  What ARC will do is to enable these companies to expand their community outreach, be more financially stable through earned income sources and potentially grow their audience.”

As contractors race to make sure the three studios are ready for class by the end of the month, Sonntag feels they are in a good place and is ready for the challenges ahead.  “We’re going to take baby steps.  We’re going to share a copier,” he said.  “The real goal is taking advantage of the synergy that you create when you put that many arts organizations in such close proximity.  That will cut down on some of the barriers that exist.  It’s the wave of the future.”