Transition Notice

Instead of a Throwback Thursday this week, I’m writing a little update on what I’ve been doing. Hint: a lot! After my birthday vaca to NYC to see and all-Balanchine program at New York City Ballet (review still to come!), I immediately started my new gig as editor at SeeChicagoDance.com. The next week I accepted a new job as Marketing Associate at The Joffrey Ballet – seriously, it kind of just fell in my lap and I couldn’t say no. Everything can change in a minute. For me, it really did.

After six years at Modern Luxury, I’m now officially at Joffrey, learning the ropes, and looking forward to The Nutcracker season. I hear it’s busy! And after nearly two years writing the dance column for Windy City Times, I will be leaving. November will be my last column, but it is going to the very capable hands of Miss Lauren Warnecke of Art Intercepts.

What does this mean for RB? Well, I’m still hoping to post dancer interviews/profiles, Where Are They Now segments and the occasional preview, time willing. Reviews will be minimal. I will still have a sassy presence on social media. As always, it will be a work in progress.

CDF13: The Harris at 10! Anniversary Special

Tamako Miyazaki and Brooklyn Mack in "Diana and Actaeon pas". Photo by Sarah Weymar.

Opening night of the 7th annual Chicago Dancing Festival (CDF13) was in honor of the Harris Theatre‘s 10th anniversary – and what a celebration it was. A packed house was treated to a star-studded, eclectic evening of beautiful dancing. It is an amazing thing watching local audiences witness for FREE what I am humbly privileged to see all the time as a dance writer and from the reaction (thunderous applause, mini standing ovations and, what I can only call, whooping), they enjoyed it as much as I did.

Pieces are announced by a Let’s-get-ready-to-ruuuuuuuumble! voice over giving pertinent details of the upcoming work. The show started off with a bang – or stomp – with a CDF13 commissioned work by local artists Lane Alexander and Bril Barrett. Chicago Human Rhythm Project busted out some crazy mad beats in a showcase of a groovy, partially improvised master tap class. Shout out to the ladies Donnetta Jackson and Starinah (“Star”, yes she is) Dixon. The flaptastic opening was followed by Hubbard Street Dance Chicago performing Little Mortal Jump (2012) by their resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo. (If you’ve ever read my blog, you know I’m a huge fan of AC.) This fun, theatrical work never ceases to impress. Retirements and injuries updated the original casting and added new, interesting timing and phrasing choices. The slow-motion duet near the end by Ana Lopez and Jesse Bechard always gives me goosebumps. A woman sitting near me started a chorus of “Bravos”, while a number of people jumped to their feet with enthusiasm.

Washington Ballet dancer Brooklyn Mack and Tamako Miyazaki of the Columbia Classical Ballet and Dortmund Ballet stunned in the Diana and Actaeon pas de deux. I wasn’t familiar with this pas based on a greek myth where a goddess turns a man into a deer like a 1935 balletic version of Beauty and the Beast. The casting of Miyazaki (tiny, pale and petite) and Mack (tall, dark and massive) was perfect. Both were exceptional dancers showing off technical tricks in a classic forum. While Miyazaki breezed across the floor with fleet footwork, Mack defied gravity with amazing jumps. Those jumps!** A friend said it was a switch leap, jete coupe with a 520…huh? I still can’t quite figure out what that is, but WOW! And he did it more than once. Not to be outdone, Miyazaki more than held her own with beautiful extensions, pristine pointe work and top-like turns. Her fouette run in the coda with a double every other turn and a lightly landed triple to finish was only topped by the supported turns with Mack that were so fast, furious and frequent that I lost count. (Yes, I do count them). Get thee to the Pritzker Pavillion in Millennium Park to see this for yourself on Saturday at 7:30 pm. What a way to end Act I.

The only work that seemed to leave the audience perplexed was festival co-founder Lar Lubovitch‘s Crisis Variations (2011), which was likely from a lack of exposure to this style. Set to a musical suite of the same title, and played by the amazing Le Train Bleu, Crisis was difficult and dischordant from the start. The swooping, circular flow that I love about his choreography was absent here, likely on purpose, but I missed it. The dancers of his company began in formations on the floor and for most of the dance, the majority stayed on the floor as if grounded by a magnet or unbearable burden. A couple performed a dependent and (again) difficult duet, climbing and resting on top of one another as if struggling and helping each other at the same time. Perhaps that was the point. Something can come out of a crisis that is unique, strong and loving, but not necessarily pretty.

Brian Brooks in "I'm Going to Explode". Photo by Christopher Duggan.

New York-based artist Brian Brooks followed with a quirky solo I’m Going to Explode (2007). Beginning in a chair on stage left, the suited and ready for work Brooks took off his shoes and jacket, walked to the other side of the stage and started swishing his arms from front to back, then side to side. The movement became more frenetic as if he indeed was going to explode. He looked like a human washing room, but with the cycle going backwards. He started off crisp and dry and ended soaked and disheveled. As he made his way back to the chair, the audience couldn’t wait for him to put his shoes back on before starting to clap. Rounding out the show was a balls-to-the-walls performance of Stanton Welch’s Son of Chamber Symphony by the Joffrey Ballet. This work, created for them last season, demonstrated the opposite end of the classical ballet spectrum. With inside-out tutus, impeccable, off-kilter technique to a contemporary score, Son is almost a ballet inverted. My notes are basically a list of the cast as every dancer brought their ‘A’ game and then some.

It was a spectacular night of dance to open the festival. It makes me proud to be a Chicagoan. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

**UPDATE: I sat next to Brooklyn Mack at CDF’s Dancing in Chicago show last night (08/22/13). He told me the jumps are a twist on a 540, not 520 as I originally reported. Here is a video of a Le Corsaire pas. The male dancer does two 540s at the beginning, so you can see the base of Mack’s incredible jump.

Cloud Gate Presser with Lin Hwai-min

Cloud Gate dancer WU Chun-hsien in "Songs of the Wanderers". Photo by YU Hui-hung.

Tuesday I attended a Press/VIP launch for the upcoming 2014 Chicago performances of Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan, their sixth appearance in Chicago. The event was held on stage at the iconic Auditorium Theatre (fantastic views!) mostly for members of the Chicago Asian Pacific American Press, but RB and fellow dance writer Lauren Warnecke* (artintercepts.org) claimed seats in the back row and listened in. Many thanks to Jill Chukerman for the invite.

Actor Marc Rita served as Emcee and introduced an array of presenter/speakers before getting to the main purpose of the presser – hearing Founder and Artistic Director of Cloud Gate Lin Hwai-min speak. Lin, a small and quiet man, began by saying he sometimes thinks being a dancer/choreographer is a wrong choice and that, as the creator of work, if people like it, you are “punished” by having to watch it over and over. He went on to say that Songs of the Wanderers (the work being presented next March) is the exception – even after 19 years. “I’ve seen it thousands of times,” said Lin. “I love to see it, not every night, but it’s special.”

The work has a global flavor being inspired by Asian religions, German writing, set to Georgian folk music and performed in/with 3.5 tons of golden Taiwanese rice. “These performing rice are very seasoned,” quipped Lin. He also told of a trip he took where he saw people drinking water downstream from where cremated bodies were being thrown in – “Isn’t that life itself?” – and finding peace in a sunbeam under a tree. The trip changed his life and inspired the work, which is about meditation. “The work, it came out of me like a river.”

Lin said his dancers were mad when he told them the new work was about meditation. “I forced them to sit with their eyes closed,” he said. “The want to jump and turn.” He says if you look close when they are performing Songs, you can see that most of the time, their eyes are closed “drawing the audience onto the stage instead of projecting out”. The dancers must meditate before going on stage. “Meditation is the key. You have to be there.”

I had to run to work, so missed the lunch catered by Vora. I heard it was delicious.

*Read Warnecke’s take on the event here.

Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan performs Songs of the Wanderers presented by The Dance Center of Columbia College, The Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University and The Joffrey Ballet, Friday, March 14, 2014 at 7:30 pm and Sunday, March 16, 2014 at 3 pm. Tickets are $25-$68; call 800-982-2787 or visit www.auditoriumtheatre.org.

PRODUCE: What is it?

McCurdy and Zerang.

So, what is PRODUCE? “It’s hard to explain,” said Lauren Warnecke of Art Intercepts. She’s the creator and co-host of the annual artistic mash-up program called PRODUCE.  “I’ve yet to come up with a catchphrase. I usually call it a dance/music experiment or a choose-your-own-adventure novel for experimental dance and music.”

This is the third year for this funky collab show which mixes and matches local artists/groups so that every performance out of the four is unique. ”I’m looking for a reality t.v. show in a live performance,” Warnecke said. “I want conflicting aesthetics, conflicting creative processes, conflicting ideas, conflicting personalities. It’s super trad dancing all the way to playing a drum with a dildo. It’s putting people together who wouldn’t normally be.” Past performers have teamed up for subsequent projects after meeting here.

The Ensemble Project and Signal Ensemble Theatre‘s Julie Ballard (lighting) and Anthony Ingram (sound) are presenting this season of PRODUCE. Ingram also serves as co-host with Warnecke. The performance is broken down into sections. After each section, the audience gives feedback and the co-hosts, acting as “producers”, decide what changes to make with the music, sound, arrangement, pairings, etc. before the next session begins.  “We’re pulling as many manipulations out of these set works as possible. That helps the artists grow and let’s the audience into the process,” said Warnecke. “It’s about wanting to let the audience have a little bit better point of entry in this type of performance (experimental), so they can feel more comfortable with it.”

Performers this year include Country Death Trip, Mark Hardy/Celestial Architecture, Carol McCurdy and Michael Zerang, Philip Elson, The Nexus Project, crawlspace, Newman and Newman and hey girl hey omg girl real life.

Let me get this straight. A mash-up, choose-your-own-adventure, interactive, inclusive, evolving, unique, hosted mix-and-match performance with dancers, musicians, performance artists, a psycho-billy/goth country band, constellation projections, sisters and a drag queen? And you get a drink! All for $8?

Count me in!

The Ensemble Project & Signal Ensemble Theatre’s Julie Ballard and Anthony Ingram present PRODUCE, Friday-Saturday, July 26-27 and Friday-Saturday, Aug. 9-10 at 7:30 pm at Signal Ensemble Theatre, 1802 W. Berenice. Tickets are $7; call 773.341.8940 or visit www.artintercepts.org/upcoming/.