CDF13 Recap

Joffrey's Victoria Jaiani and Fabrice Calmels in
Tamako Miyazaki and Brooklyn Mack in
Giordano Dance Chicago in
Chicago Human Rhythm Project in
Brooklyn Mack and Tamako Miyazaki in
Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in
Joffrey Ballet in
Joffrey Ballet in
Joffrey Ballet in
Joffrey Ballet in
Joffrey Ballet in
Philadanco in
Hubbard Street's Johnny McMillan and Alice Klock in
Brian Brooks in
Chicago Human Rhythm Project in
 
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Last week Chicagoans were treated to five free dance concerts courtesy of the 2013 Chicago Dancing Festival (CDF). For the third year, I was one of CDF’s official bloggers covering the performances. Here’s a recap of the events as well as some awesome performance photos by the lovely Cheryl Mann*.

The Harris at 10! Anniversary Special at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance.

Solitaire – A Game of Dance at the Museum of Contemporary Art/MCA Stage.

Dancing in Chicago at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University.

Celebration of Dance at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park.

Huge THANKS to Lar Lubovitch, Jay Franke, David Herro, Evin Eubanks, The Silverman Group, venues, sponsors and all the artists who shared their beauty and talent. It was another great fest packed full of amazing performances. It is one of my favorite, most exciting, exhausting and inspiring week of the year. I’m looking forward to seeing what they do to top it next year.

*Photo credits: all photos by Cheryl Mann.

1. Joffrey Ballet’s Victoria Jaiani and Fabrice Calmels in “Son of Chamber Symphony.”

2. Tamako Miyazaki and Brooklyn Mack in “Diana and Actaeon” pas.

3. Giordano Dance Chicago’s Maeghan McHale and Martin Ortiz Tapia in “Two Become Three.”

4. Chicago Human Rhythm Project in “In the Beginning…”.

5. Tamako Miyazaki and Brooklyn Mack in “Diana and Actaeon” pas.

6. Hubbard Street Dance Chicago dancers Jesse Bechard, Johnny McMillan and David Schultz in “Casi-Casa”.

7. Joffrey Ballet in “Episode 31″.

8. Joffrey Ballet in “Interplay”.

9 & 10. Joffrey Ballet in “Episode 31″.

11. Joffrey Ballet dancers John Mark Giragosian and Anastacia Holden in “Tarantella”.

12. Philadanco in “Wake Up”.

13. Hubbard Street Dance Chicago dancers Johnny McMillan and Alice Klock in “Little mortal jump”.

14. Brian Brooks in “I’m Going to Explode”.

15. Chicago Human Rhythm Project in “In the Beginning…”.

CDF13 Celebration of Dance

Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Theater in "Bolero". Photo by Cheryl Mann.

It was a celebration. A celebration of dance. A celebration of the end of an all-free, world-class dance festival. A celebration of the city we love. Last Saturday night, thousands gathered – including Mayor Emanuel – at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park to enjoy a perfect evening under the stars surrounded by the Chicago skyline for the final night of the 2013 Chicago Dancing Festival (CDF). Dancers representing 13 different companies treated lucky ticket holders to an array of dance styles over the five day festival culminating in this star-studded performance in the heart of downtown.

The celebration began with a CDF commissioned work by Chicago artists Lane Alexander and Bril Barrett for the Chicago Human Rhythm Project, which premiered earlier in the week. In the beginning… created an entire world including soundscape, conversation and relationships with rhythm and footwork. The Joffrey Ballet followed with Jerome Robbins’ 1945 work Interplay. This perky ballet that predates his acclaimed West Side Story is a fiendishly difficult, but fun romp incorporating bright colors, pony tails, big smiles, lots of pirouettes, double tours and even cartwheels. Much to the crowd’s delight, Giordano Dance Chicago‘s Maeghan McHale and Martin Ortiz Tapia brought back a 2012 CDF commission and audience favorite with Alex Ekman’s rubber-faced, romantic comedy piece Two Become Three.

Philadanco in "Wake Up". Photo by Cheryl Mann.

In their CDF debut, Philadelphia-based Philadanco brought a long, meandering work by Rennie Harris. The dancers clad in Soul Train-era, 70s costumes (love the afros!) blend street, jazz and hip hop in an aerobic mix of stylish funk. The dancers were strong in Wake Up (2012), but I wanted to see them do more. Tamako Miyazaki (Columbia Classical Ballet) and Brooklyn Mack (Washington Ballet) once again dazzled in the classical Diana and Actaeon pas de deux (1935). They performed this trick fest earlier in the week, but were even more solid with their dizzying turns and gravity-defying leaps (and some impressive balances en pointe, penché anyone?) than their stellar performance on Tuesday night. “Standing O” in the park. Samuel Lee Roberts of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre reprised the intense, dramatic solo In/Side (2008) he had performed on Wednesday and twice on Friday. Roberts danced his heart out on the stage on Saturday, but with a good amount of the choreography performed on the floor, I wonder if it read as well for the people on the lawn viewing the performance mainly via video feed provided by HMS Media on a huge jumbo tron screen. I hope it did, because it was fantastic. The evening ended with Ensemble Español‘s epic Bolero. This flamenco feast for the eyes looked great on the outdoor stage and was the perfect way to end the performance and the festival.

CDF13: Solitaire – A Game of Dance (gala)

Alvin Ailey dancer Samuel Lee Roberts in "IN/SIDE". Photo by Paul Kolnik.

Last night the Chicago Dancing Festival (CDF) hosted a benefit gala at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) and premiered the Solitaire – A Game of Dance performance that will be repeated this Friday at 6 and 8 pm. Guests mingled in the lobby with wine and passed hors d’oeuvres while perusing silent auction items. MCA Director of Performance Programs Peter Taub introduced CDF co-founders Jay Franke (in the cutest shorts suit!) and Lar Lubovitch, who in turn introduced our favorite local dance fan, Mayor Rahm Emanuel. After telling the dancers backstage to “break a leg” (Eek!), he proceeded to boast about “the largest free dance fest anywhere in the country”. He brought his family along including his parents who were celebrating their 58th wedding anniversary (aww). He talked about the 750 free events that have taken place in Chicago this summer and said that next year the hope is to take CDF around the city and “break out to all the neighborhoods”.

Franke graciously thanked everyone that helped to make CDF13 possible and Lubovitch, a man as eloquent with words as he is with choreography, gave us a history of the game solitaire (“the game of patience”) and a brief essay on how hard it is dancing and creating a solo. But he promised the performance would show just “how vast and varied the art of dancing alone is”. The show indeed did just that. A hand of cards projected on the back wall served as program notes and transitions. Before each solo a card was flipped with the picture and name of the artist about to perform.

First, the exquisite Victoria Jaiani of the Joffrey Ballet danced a breathtaking and heart-wrenching (yes, I cried) Dying Swan variation from 1905. She seemed to float across the stage in her entrance. From her delicate death, we jump to the dramatic, super strong solo In/Side (2008) performed by Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre‘s Samuel Lee Roberts. His sheer physicality was expertly matched by Robert Battle’s intense choreography. Ensemble Español‘s Julia Hinojosa danced a beautiful ode to Cuba in this flirtatious, percussive solo complete with a gorgeous long ruffled skirt and a large white fan. Ensueños de mi Caribe (2012), inspired by the city of Havana, showcases the traditions of flamenco. The petite Camille A. Brown commanded the stage in a powerful, puppet-like excerpt from her 2012 work Mr. Tol E. RAncE celebrating black performers and challenging stereotypes.

Natya Dance Theatre dancer Krithika Rajagopalan. Photo by Amitava Sarkar.

Things lightened up as Hubbard Street Dance Chicago dancers Johnny McMillan, David Schultz and Jonathan Fredrickson took the stage in Alejandro Cerrudo’s charming PACOPEPEPLUTO (2011), a fun, technically challenging and “cheeky” trio of solos set to Dean Martin songs. Krithika Rajagopalan of Natya Dance Theatre, wearing a stunning orange and red sari, was a study of intricate detail and expression in Sthithihi – In the Stillness (2013). The placement of each finger or the raising of an eyebrow telling an entire story. The performance went from stillness to the extreme with Brian Brooks’ frenetic 2007 solo I’m Going to Explode. Towards the end of the solo, he spirals down onto his knees leaving one arm extended up to the ceiling reminding me of the swan dying at the beginning of the show.

The evening ended with guests gathering in the upstairs galleries for drinks, dinner, dancing and a live auction. Once again, CDF did what it does best, which is bring a wide range of dance forms together on one stage performed by some of the best dancers around. You may not enjoy every style of dance you see here, but you can’t deny the talent, commitment and artistry involved.

2013 Chicago Dancing Festival

Chicago Dancing Festival at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

It’s almost that time of year again. In late August (20th-24th), the seventh annual Chicago Dancing Festival (CDF) hits Chicago stages for another year of fantastic FREE dance concerts. Once again, for the third year, I will be part of CDF’s blogger initiative covering the performances and providing dancer/choreographer interviews and behind-the-scenes rehearsal sneak peeks. Woot!

This year’s line up of performers is fantastic. Local companies Chicago Human Rhythm Project, Giordano Dance Chicago, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and The Joffrey Ballet as well as NY-based companies Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Brian Brooks Moving Company, Camille A. Brown & Dancers and Lar Lubovitch Dance Company all return to the fest. CDF newcomers include Chicago’s Ensemble Español and Natya Dance Theatre and Philadelphia’s Philadanco, plus artists Brooklyn Mack of Washington Ballet and Tamako Miyazaki of Columbia Classical Ballet and Dortmund Ballet.

2013 Chicago Dancing Festival will also have two commissions: a new piece by Chi-town tappers Lane Alexander and Bril Barrett and the Chicago premiere of Alexander Ekman’s Episode 31 by Joffrey (this work will also appear on their Winter program in Feb 2014). Live music will accompany the Lubovitch company and Ensemble Español. Tuesday (Aug. 20) opens the festival with a celebration for the Harris Theater‘s 10th anniversary. Wednesday (Aug. 21) is the CDF gala performance and benefit at the Museum of Contemporary Art/MCA Stage. It’s the only event in which you need to purchase a ticket ($250). Thursday (Aug. 22) showcases Dancing in Chicago with an all-local show at the Auditorium Theatre. Friday is a free repeat of the gala performance, Solitaire – A Game of Dance, featuring all solo works. And, Saturday is the much-loved, highly-attended Celebration of Dance at the outdoor Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park.

All performances – except the gala – are free. Tickets for indoor events need to be reserved, but the outdoor Pritzker show is open to the public. The ticket release for the performances is staggered and there is a limit of two (2) tickets per order. Stay tuned for a post with the ticket release dates and performance times.

Top 5 Reasons to go see Alvin Ailey this weekend

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in "Revelations". Photo by Christopher Duggan.

Ailey American Dance Theater continues its 10-performance run at the Auditorium Theatre this weekend. Here are 5 reasons you should go see them:

1. Two new programs that include contemporary European works (you may know for local Hubbard Street Dance Chicago‘s rep) Jirí Kylían’s Petite Mort and Ohad Naharin’s Minus 16. Even if you’ve seen these pieces before, watching the tautly muscled Ailey dancers perform them is something entirely new.

2. My non-dancer friend that I took with my to opening night said, “This is the best dance show I’ve seen!”

3. It’s at the Auditorium Theatre. Beautiful and historic, it is the perfect place to see this great American company.

4. The audience. Ailey audiences are the best! There will be whooping, hollering, clapping, yelling and, if my experiences serve me correctly, a standing ovation. I guarantee you will leave the theater feeling joyful.

5. Revelations! Revelations! Revelations! This iconic work created by Alvin Ailey in 1960 still stands the test of time. Set to traditional gospel music, like Wade in the Water and Sinner Man (my favorite!), this piece will have you jumping out of your seat and dancing out of the theater. I dare you to now leave with the high energy finale stuck in your head. I’ve seen this work at least 20 times (yes, I’m that old) and, truth be told, there was a time when I didn’t want to see it again, but now, I would go if it was the only thing on the program. This one dance is worth the price of your ticket.  

Alvin Ailey’s Ghrai DeVore

Alvin Ailey dancer Ghrai DeVore (front) in Jiri Kylian's "Petite Mort". Photo by Paul Kolnick.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is making headlines this week with great reviews for their run at the Auditorium Theatre. This year marks the first time the company performs ten shows over two weeks to the delight of Chicago audiences. The main staple, Ailey’s 1960 Revelations never fails to get the audience on its feet and is looking as strong and fresh as ever. Newer works, such as Kyle Abraham’s 2012 Another Night and European contemporary works fill out the repertory showcasing the dancers formidable technique and physical talents.

One of the dancers with Chicago ties is the lovely Ghrai DeVore. Ghrai – pronounced “gray” – started dancing in Washington, D.C., but moved to Chicago when her mother joined Deeply Rooted Dance Theater. Miss DeVore  trained at the Chicago Multicultural Dance Center, then danced with Deeply Rooted 2, Hubbard Street 2 and DanceWorks Chicago before heading to New York where she was in the fellowship program at The Ailey School. She quickly obtained a position in Ailey II and after two years, she was picked by Judith Jameson to join the main company. She’s now in her third season.

RB had a quick phone chat with DeVore, who was getting over a bout of food poisoning and preparing for the second week of performances.  Here are her thoughts…

On her unique first name: My Mom told me it means “happy medium”, so when she was pregnant, she would be happy if the baby was a boy or a girl.

On working with Julie Nakagawa at HS2 and DWC: I wanted to be a part of whatever she was doing.

On a typical performance day on tour: We have rehearsals starting at 2:00 pm; an hour class at 5:30 pm, followed by an hour break; at 7:00 pm we are in the theater, putting on make-up and ready to go; show at 7:30 pm. If it is a matinee day, we have to be there at 10:00 am.

On dancing Jirí Kylían’s Petite Mort and Ohad Naharin’s Minus 16: I’m really interested in what’s going on overseas. With these works, I’m getting a taste of that.

On Ronald Brown’s Grace: It’s about your particular connection with God or whatever higher being you believe in and dancing for that higher being, because you were created for a purpose. It’s very spiritual, but I wouldn’t say it’s religious.

On dancing Kyle Abraham’s Another Night: It’s nice to have pieces you can really connect with. We can look at each other on stage and really express our love.

On performing the iconic work Revelations: Humbling. It’s amazing to do what so many people before me have done. We have to keep up the integrity. Every time I do it, it feels new.

On dancing the super-controlled “Fix Me, Jesus” duet in Revelations: Actually, it’s one of the easier roles, for me. I feel like I have more control when I move slower. I can give more value to each movement. It’s nice to come off stage and think, ‘Yeah, that’s what I trained for’.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performs at the Auditorium Theatre (50 E. Congress Pkwy.) through Sunday, March 17. Tickets are $32-$92; call 800.982.2787.

Moving Dialogs Series

Moving Dialogs curator Baracka de Soleil. Photo by Jacob Bell.

Diversity seems to be the word on everyone’s lips these days. Shirley Mordine, director of Mordine & Co., spoke about the need to diversify by asking other companies to perform with her company at last week’s performances. Numerous small companies across Chicago are sharing shows with other artists in alternative spaces in increasing frequency. Rumors have the Dance Center of Columbia College looking to diversify their academic programming to include a broader spectrum of styles including African and hip hop. Local dance service organization Audience Architects held several convenings gathering artists opinions and data on diversity of dance in Chicago. And then there is the Chicago Cultural Plan – the big daddy study on arts and diversity in the Windy City.

But it was a conversation with Audience Architects Executive Director Heather Hartley and artist/teacher/consultant Baraka de Soleil that sparked the idea for a new, six-part series called Moving Dialogs: Diversity + Dance. de Soleil said the community convenings came out of the fact that local artists who attended the 2012 Dance/USA conference weren’t satisfied with the conversation about diversity. “We were either trying to be too nice or it was being diluted,” he said. “There are things we didn’t want to talk about. It’s very challenging. Through the genius of Audience Architects, bridging the conversations between audiences and those who construct the work is a wonderful way to begin to make the conversation larger.” The free series opens this Sunday, March 10 with Diversity: Then/Now at the Old Town School of Folk Music.

de Soleil, who grew up on the South Side and has performed as an interdisciplinary artist in Minnesota, San Francisco and New York, will be the curator for the entire series. The inaugural Spring Series will focus on Chicago’s history and the current cultural climate of the local and national dance scene. A panel of artists – Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre‘s artistic director Robert Battle, Columbia College chair Onye Ozuzu, dance critic Lucia Mauro, dance education director for Old Town School Sarah Dandelles, Cerqua Rivera artistic director Wilfredo Rivera, DanceWorks Chicago artistic director Julie Nakagawa and emerging artists NIC K and Dorian Rhea -  will participate in the discussion, bringing their expertise to the table.

I spoke with de Soleil over the phone last week about Moving Dialogs and the opening series.

How did you decide who would be on the panel?

Timelines, relevance and cultivating relationships. The people who are a part of this opening forum are people I’ve had time to get to know and have conversations and hear where they’re at. This came out of conversations, not necessarily about diversity, but what are the ways we can come together and strategize. The representation of emerging artists is important. They’re beginning to think about ways of diverstiy that are multi-layered. They’re just doing it. They aren’t talking about it. We need to hear these voices and they’ll teach us something. It’s important that the experience is somewhat multi-generational, but that it’s a coalition of the multiple voices, multiple ages and multiple experiences all looking towards discovering this language about how we can think and break open the notion of diversity. It was synergy. It was timing. It was relevance.

What kind of information are you hoping to get and what will you do with that information?

We want to begin to discover, as a community, the best language that supports moving this conversation about diversity along and that it moves us beyond the notion of diversity as a deficit, as something marginalized, as something now that has been relegated to our legacies. We need something to move us out of that place and that there is a co-existence of these diverse thoughts. It’s a big challenge. Above and beyond just representation of having different people in the room is the line their diverse and distinctive bodies to co-exist and to speak from that place of co-existence. You can be there and I can be there. We can both have our opinions, but a new language that allows us to both be there. This first one is an inroads of how we can begin to talk about diversity. It’s not attainable; it’s already there. We’re just beginning to name it and allow it to co-exist and to allow the diverse voices to co-exist in a new way that everyone can share and be their true selves, adding to the conversation. Who is in the room will inform the conversation. I have a legacy and a past that reflects who I am culturally. I’m going to allow myself to be deeply present in this moment and ask others to be deeply present in themselves and that is what is going to inform it. There is this conversation, but there will be iterations that move it and propel it forward, so we won’t be stuck in this conversation.

Read more about Moving Dialogs with a Moving Reflections blog entry by Hubbard Street Communications Manager Zac Whittenburg.

Moving Dialogs Diversity: Then/Now, Sunday, March 10 from 6:30-8 pm at the Old Town School of Folk Music, 4545 N. Lincoln Ave in the Myron R. Szold Music and Dance Hall. Admission is free. RSVP IS REQUIRED.

Chicago Dance 2012 Highlights

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre dancers in "Revelations". Photo by Christopher Duggan.

Nothing says end-of-the-year-review time quite like the last day of the year…am I right? My proficiency in procrastination aside, now is the time to reflect on the past year and look forward to new, exiting surprises in the next. Here’s my Dancin’ Feats year-end review for Windy City Times that came out last week noting 12 memorable performances/performers of 2012, but I wanted to add a few more things.

Looking back at my notes and programs from the year (yes, they are all in a pile, I mean filing system, in the corner of my bedroom) I am so thankful for all the wonderful dance I get to see. Narrowing it down to 12 “top whatevers” was not an easy task for there were too many people and performances to name. Here are some other performances that are still in my thoughts:

Alvin Ailey Dance Theater in Ohad Naharin’s Minus 16. Although Revelations is still amazing, seeing this company in more contemporary work was refreshing. And the audiences at Ailey performances are a show unto themselves.

Paris Opera Ballet and American Ballet Theatre‘s performances of Giselle were stellar for their star-studded casts on opening night, but ABT’s Sunday matinee with real-life couple Yuriko Kajiya and Jared Matthews stole my heart.

Luna Negra Dance Theater founder Eduardo Vilaro brought Ballet Hispanico to town with former Chicago dancers (Jamal Callender, Jessica  Wyatt and Vanessa Valecillos) back for a rep show at the Dance Center to much acclaim, while current director Gustavo Ramirez Sansano continues to take the company in new and fascinating directions.

The Seldoms, in their tenth year, deconstructed the Harris Theater and traipsed around the world to collaborate with WC Dance in Tapei, while tackling the ongoing arguments around climate change with artistic director Carrie Hanson’s trademark wit and intelligence.

Before Hubbard Street Dance Chicago turned 35 this fall, it said goodbye to retiring, beloved dancer Robyn Mineko Williams. Artistic Director Glenn Edgerton completed his goal of presenting all five master European choreographers in the rep with the acquisition of Mats Ek’s Casi-Casa. Ek’s work took the company to a new level, but I’m still haunted by their dancing in William Forsythe’s Quintett from the summer series.

The Joffrey Ballet performed Forsythe’s In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated in their regular season and at the Chicago Dancing Festival. I was proud to be an official CDF blogger for the second year in a row. New to the fest this year was Giordano Dance Chicago, now celebrating 50 years. And Muntu Dance Theatre of Chicago hit 40!

River North Dance Chicago dancer Ahmad Simmons deserves a mention for his work in Ashley Roland’s Beat, particularly his performance on the Pritzker Pavillion stage in Millenium Park.

Special thanks to Catherine Tully of 4dancers.org for her continuous and generous encouragement and insight. Thanks lady!

Dance writing-wise, I’m thankful for the opportunity to write for Front Desk Chicago, Windy City Times, 4dancers and Dance Magazine.

I could go on (and on…), but tomorrow is a new year and I look forward to seeing more incredible dancing and dancers in our most awesome city. Happy New Year!

 

Another Daley in Chicago

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre dancers in "Revelations". Photo by Christopher Duggan.

In middle school, Sarah Daley came to Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre (ATRU) to see Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (AAADT) perform.  She left inspired, but never anticipating that a few years later, at 25, she would be getting ready to perform on that very stage as part of the acclaimed company.  “It’s so crazy.  It’s very surreal the closer I get to it,” she said.  “Especially dancing at the Auditorium, because that’s where growing up I got to see all these amazing companies.  To be on that stage is going to be great.”  Tomorrow night, Daley will take the stage with her fellow AAADT dancers for opening night of a six performance run.  Dreams – with a lot of hard work – really do come true.

Daley grew up in up in South Elgin and started dancing at the Faubourg School of Ballet in Hanover Park.  When looking for colleges (her Mom said not going to college was not an option), a dance program was paramount.  She ended up at Fordham University which has a partnership with AAADT.  After two years dancing with Ailey II,  she’s now in her first season with the main company.  This is also the first season under new artistic director Robert Battle.   While traditional Ailey pieces like Revelations are still in the rep, Battle includes his choreography but is also bringing in different styles of work to challenge the dancers and the audience.  On the Chicago programs are works from Ailey, Battle, Rennie Harris, Paul Taylor and Ohad Naharin.

I spoke with Daley over the phone earlier this week.  The company arrives in Chicago today.

Did you always want to be in Ailey? Was this your goal?

It was definitely a goal.  I wasn’t sure how realistic it was…it seemed like a long shot, but it was always something that I really wanted to do.  I was going to do everything I could do to make that happen.  

It’s an exciting time with the company going in a new direction.  What’s it been like for you?

Like you said, it’s really exciting.  There’s this air around Ailey everywhere we tour, everybody knows it’s the beginning of a new chapter.  Everyone is excited to see what Mr. Battle is bringing.  He’s a great person to be around. He has a really great energy that’s trickled down into the company and how we work with each other.  It’s good to be a part of it.

Has it been challenging changing the rep to include a Paul Taylor or Ohad Naharin piece?  For instance, Ohad’s work is so particular. Was it hard for your body, since you aren’t used to his technique?

It was difficult in the rehearsal process.  Some things came easier for some people.  “Arden Court” was a bit more natural for me.  It seemed more familiar than “Home”.  I’ve never been a hop hop dancer.  I love that whole genre of dance, but I’d never done it.  “Minus 16″ was just totally new for everybody.  It was research – a total investigation, pare down of everything you know and start from the beginning with a new language.  It was definitely something to get used to, but it was a lot of fun.  It made “Minus 16″ a lot easier to transition into once we’d started learning his way of moving.

Tell me about the Rennie Harris piece, Home.

We had a three-week workshop when he came in to set the piece.  A lot of people weren’t hip hop/house dancers and he wanted it to be authentic and not us just mimicking the moves he would teach us.  We learned the basic house language for the whole time he was there.  It was inspired by people living with or affected by HIV/AIDS.  I think it’s more of a celebration of life and music and dance than it is anything else.  When you’re inspired by a topic like that, it can get really dark and heavy, but he wanted it to be about the music and the dance.  It’s a club setting, so we’re almost in a trance at times.  I really enjoy doing it.  It’s so much fun and you get to relax on stage.  The audiences everywhere we’ve gone really love it.  

Can you describe to me what it feels like to do Revelations.  It’s such an iconic work.  What’s it like to actually be doing it?

It’s definitely an experience, especially the first few times you do it.  You’re excited and thinking about the history of the piece and how many people have done it before.  I pretty much do it every night, so there’s always another chance to investigate and get deeper into it.  Sometimes it’s good to take a break and watch it from the audience, so you remember why everyone loves it so much.  You get the full effect of it, so when you go back, you have something to work with.  It’s really an experience to do such an historical work. 

Recently on the Ailey Facebook page, they asked the question: what is your favorite section of Revelations?  What’s yours?

My favorite section to do is “Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel”.  It’s short and gets right to the point.  It’s high energy.  I don’t know why – out of all the sections – when I do it, I really feel like I’ve made an impact on the audience when I do it.  I really enjoy doing it. My favorite to watch is “I Wanna Be Ready”.  It has a lot to do with the people I get to watch do it.  Being able to watch Matthew Rushing from off stage do this piece is ridiculous. 

Your bio includes this quote:  “Dance for me is becoming more and more about discovery and imagination.”  Can you explain that?

I started to think about this in Ailey II when we started to tour and perform a lot…to think of ways to keep what I’m doing fresh, not just for me but for the audience. If a dancer is over what they’re doing, the audience totally feels that.  I’ve been trying to go a little deeper with everything I do.  I can focus on something different in “Minus 16″, every time I do it.  That’s been my discovery and revelation in a way.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre – April 11 – 15 at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Pkwy

Tickets are $30-$90. Call 800.982.2787 or visit ticketmaster.com/auditorium.

 

 

 

 

Artist Profile: River North’s Lauren Kias

RNDC's Lauren Kias. Photo by Bob Gallagher.

This weekend River North Dance Chicago (RNDC) takes the Harris Theater stage for its annual Valentine’s weekend engagement. Love is… features six pieces including two world premieres, Contact-Me by Italian choreographer and director of Spellbound Dance Company Mauro Astolfi and The Good Goodbyes by RNDC director Frank Chavez.  Revivals of audience favorites Ella, Risoluta, Sentir em Nós and Al Sur Del Sur round out the program.

The company returned from an extended tour of Virginia last week and went right into rehearsals for the Valentine show.  After a few failed attempts at scheduling an interview with veteran dancer Lauren Kias, we ended up doing a quick Q&A via email.  Here is an edited version of our “chat”.

How was the tour?

One of the many things I love about this job is the national and international traveling we are asked to do. Touring with the company is much like traveling with the circus.  You have a group of dancers very diverse with big personalities performing on the road together for up to a month at a time.  You can be on the road so long and travel to so many places you often will wake up and not know what city you are in.  We were just in Virginia for about 10 days. We had performances in Lexington, Fairfax and Richmond.  On this particular tour I was responsible for warming up the company before the shows.  This usually entails teaching a ballet class that will get the dancers on their leg and help set them up for a long day in the theater.  This responsibility comes with a fair amount of stress because dancers are very particular on what they like to do before a show. I was up for the challenge and did the best I could.

You’re in your seventh year with RNDC.  Was the company always on your radar?

I first saw River North in high school when they were on tour in my home town of Indianapolis. I remember loving the company immediately and keeping them in my radar from that moment on.  While attending Butler University, I participated in their summer intensive program. I had such a positive experience that I made it a goal of mine to become a member of the company. After that summer I moved to Chicago and Frank asked me to be a company apprentice. After two years as an apprentice I was given a spot in the company.

Why is it a good fit for you?

River North is a good fit for me because the rep is so versatile. I love to dance as many different styles as I can.  We get to work with a number of different choreographers every year that create very diverse pieces.  The variety that we experience keeps our minds and body’s fresh and growing in this ever changing art form.

What is the most exciting part of dancing with RNDC and what is the most challenging?

It’s an exciting time to be in River North. There has and continues to be a lot of international touring gigs for the company. In the last couple years we have traveled to Germany and Switzerland twice for three weeks of touring.  Last summer we performed on an ocean front stage at an International dance festival in Busan, South Korea.  We are currently in the process of organizing a month long tour to Russia with as many as twenty shows. I love to travel and see the world and I am very fortunate that my job can take me on so many adventures.  The most challenging part of being in this company, or any company for that matter, is staying injury free and staying in the best shape that you can. While at home we have all of the resources to help us stay healthy and injury free.  Most of the time when we travel we don’t have access to physical therapists or a proper gym. You have to rely on yourself and the support of your fellow dancers to maintain good habits and injury prevention to stay as healthy as we can.

What will you be dancing in the upcoming show?

In this weekend’s ‘Love Is…’ Valentine’s performance I will be performing four very different pieces.  The first is a solo choreographed by Robert Battle entitled ‘Ella’. The second is the world premier of ‘Contact-Me’, choreographed by Mauro Astolfi artistic director of Spellbound Dance Company in Rome, Italy. ‘Contact-Me’ connects the dancers in intense relationships of intertwining movements to the music of Jon Hopkins and the Italian Cellist Giovanni Sollima. I will also be performing in another premiere, this one by our very own artistic director Frank Chaves entitled ‘The Good Goodbyes’. Mr. Chaves has teamed up with Josephine Lee, Artistic Director of the Chicago Children’s Choir, who has written an original composition for the new work.  Lee will be performing live with the company on the Friday and Sunday performances. Finally, we are closing the show with a sultry suite of Argentinean tangos choreographed by Sabrina and Ruben Veliz entitled ‘Al Sur Del Sur’.

Tell me about your solo Ella.  What was it like working with Robert Battle?

‘Ella’ is a high energy comical solo set to Ella Fitzgerald scatting.  This piece is by far the fastest movement I have ever done that has everything and the kitchen sink.  Complete with quick articulated movements, a little tumbling, and Battle’s legendary “falls” that make your bones ache.  A couple of us in the company have come up with the term “Battle wounds” which is something you require from doing Robert Battles movement.  I love working with Robert Battle.  He has a wonderful sense of humor and it takes center stage in this solo.  He makes you want to push yourself beyond your limits and at the end of the day you end up surprising yourself.

Ok, Charles Moulton’s ball piece: really hard, fun or a just a pain in the ass?

Hahahaha!  All three! Charles Moulton’s ball piece was about as fun as a ten car pileup on the way to a wedding where you rear ended the bridal party.  In all seriousness, I had a great time with this challenge.  We had a little less than two weeks of learning patterns different types of passes, as well as run drills for what to do when you’ve dropped your ball. If you happened to fumble a ball, you had two spare behind your back secured by a cummerbund that you would whip out in a Billy-the-Kid fashion. I am happy to say that River North was up for Charles Moulton’s challenge and answered by not dropping a single ball at our first attempt on the Harris stage under the hot lights.

River North Dance Chicago presents Love is… Feb 10 & 11 at 8pm, Feb 12 at 3pm

Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph. Tickets are $30-$75. Call 312.334.7777 or visit harristheaterchicago.org

Saturday, Feb 11 there is a post-show party with drinks and desserts, where you can mingle with the dancers.  Tickets are $25.