On Philip Elson’s Terms

“Technology is challenging the way we experience life,” he said. “As a society, we are fascinated by its nonhuman capabilities while abusing it to learn more about how people live their lives.” In his first evening-length work, emerging choreographer Philip Elson explores life in the digital age using multiple disciplines to create a new dance-theater work. You may have seen him on stage performing with The Seldoms, Same Planet Different World, and Khecari, among others, but this weekend, he’s in charge and he’s taking the stage on his own terms.

One of his many jobs aside from dancer, choreographer, sound designer, Technology and Media Coordinator is Apple Genius, so aside from perhaps taking inspiration from his Seldoms’ director Carrie Hanson by creating an issue-based work, he’s an expert in tech and diving into how our digital lives have changed us seems like an inevitable subject for him. “We have become so accustomed to a certain type of living and relating to others,” Elson said. “These ways of life are being disrupted by concerns of privacy and it changes how we interact with each other.” (In fact, we even conducted this interview via email.)

For all the upsides of being “connected”, Elson is well aware of the down including identity theft, annoying pop-up ads or “blindly agreeing to something without understanding the consequences”. He uses spoken text, video projection and, of course, dance to investigate the balance of digital consumption. Are we consuming it or is it consuming us? The forward-thinking Elson is already toying with idea of taking this show viral. “I’m thinking about reworking it to fit on a digital platform, meaning the entire work would be consumed either through a computer, tablet, or smartphone and somehow be interactive.” That sounds super cool, but first go see it live.

Philip Elson presents Terms and Conditions, Friday-Sunday, March 14-16 at 7 pm at Links Hall at Constellation, 3111 N. Western Ave. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased here

Hubbard Street Does Kylian (x 4)

Jiří Kylián repetiteur Roslyn Anderson, former dancer and rehearsal director at Nederlands Dans Theater, rehearses Petite Mort with Hubbard Street Dancers Andrew Murdock, foreground, and Jason Hortin. Photo by Quinn B Wharton.

This weekend my favorite contemporary company takes on the Czech master choreographer Jiří Kylián. In their first-ever program dedicated to one artist’s work, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago presents four of Kylián’s works in their Spring Series at the Harris Theater.  Two of the works – 27″52′ and Petite Mort – will be familiar to local audiences and two are Hubbard Street premieres.

Répétiteur Roslyn Anderson, former dancer and rehearsal director at Nederlands Dans Theater (NDT), is no stranger to Chicago. She’s been coming here to set Kylián’s work on Hubbard St. – his work has been in their rep since 1998 – and The Joffrey Ballet for many years. In all, she sets about 16 of his works around the world and has worked with him, in one capacity or another, since the mid 70′s. “I told him I was interested to rehearse,” Anderson said from Hubbard Street’s West Loop studios. “I knew that from a young age that I wanted to rehearse.” Her first staging was Forgotten Land for San Francisco Ballet in the mid 80′s.

Joining Anderson to recreate these contemporary masterpieces are fellow “Kylián authorities” Urtzi Aranburu (staging), Dick Schuttel (sound design and effects), Joost Biegelaar (lighting) and Hubbard Street artistic director Glenn Edgerton, a former director of NDT. Stopping by the studios to catch Edgerton rehearsing the company’s men in Sarabande proved enlightening. As the artistic head of the company, you know he’s the brain behind the rep, but you don’t normally see him in action in the studio. He danced two roles in the work and gave insights to the dancers from a performer’s perspective.

Sarabande, a piece for 6 men, is about “exploring all aspects of masculinity”, said dancer Jesse Bechard. Grunting, shouting and crawling take a beautiful, human edge when set to Bach music. The all-female piece, Falling Angels, a throbbing, tight ensemble piece performed to live music by Third Coast Percussion, immediately follows providing the perfect compliment. The beautiful Petite Mort, set to Mozart, and the abstract, improv-driven 27’52″ round out the program although the works are presented chronologically backwards, a choreographic timeline in retrograde. “His work is so unique,” said Anderson. “The structure of this program, starting with the more recent and going backwards in time is just such a beautiful arc that people are going to see.”

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago presents their Spring Series, an All-Kylián program, at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, Thursday, March 13 through Sunday, March16. Tickets are $25-$99; call 312.850.9744 or visit hubbardstreetdance.com/spring.

 

Vision, Faith & Desire II at Pritzker Pavilion

Winifred Haun and Lizzie Leopold come together again to present Vision, Faith & Desire II: Dancemakers Inspired by Martha Graham inside on the stage at the Pritzker Pavilon this weekend.

Starting tonight, Haun and Leopold revisit works from the original Vision program that had enormous success in September 2013 (preview here). This time around, they are joined by Randy Duncan, who will present his award-winning solo Love Not Me and Jeff Hancock, who will dance a solo he choreographed titled Quilting Martha.

Vision, Faith & Desire II, Thursday – Sunday, Feb. 6 – 8 at 7:00 pm. at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park. Tickets are $15, purchase here.

Throwback Thursday: Nut edition #tbt

RB living the part as Snow Queen.

I know The Nutcracker is over, but since it’s been snowing for the past few days, I’m putting up one more pic of me as Snow Queen. Yes, those are snowflakes on my warm up sweater. I lived in that thing for the entire rehearsal periods and performances each time I was SQ. Gotta get in the mood! And there are snowflakes in my crown and my earrings are big snowflakes too. (Shoes by Freed.)

Let it snow!

Throwback Thursday: Nut edition #tbt

RB as Snow Queen w/ Alexei Khimenko.

…where I was the “Snow Queen” for the umpteenth time.  Don’t get me wrong, it was my favorite part and a bit of type casting since I can be…well, icy.

That year my partner was Alexei Khimenko, orginally from Leningrad, but had been dancing for a while in Nashville, TN. Everyone loved Alexei. He was fun, charming and an intuitive and helpful partner. He was SBC’s own Baryshnikov!

He taught us a lot, even some Russian. Most wanted to learn how to count to ten, but I wanted to learn something I could use, so I politely asked him to teach me how to say “F*$# off!”. After laughing, he obliged. Before we went on stage each show for our pas, instead of wishing him “Merde”, I would tell him – lovingly – to “F*$# off”.

In the picture above, I not only certainly have a cramp in my hamstring and back, but I’m pretty sure I’m telling him (through clenched teeth) that my boob was falling out. Photo shoots are a bitch.

Throwback Thursday: Nut edition #tbt

RB in Arabian and my bestie as the Sugar Plum Fairy.

NUTCRACKER!

And so it starts…

Tomorrow is opening night of The Joffrey Ballet‘s run of The Nutcracker. Since I now work for them, if you need me, I’ll be at the Auditorium Theatre for the next month. :)

Over Thanksgiving weekend I was lucky – and thankful – to have dinner (which consisted of lots of fried things!) with two of my BFFs from back home. While catching up, we brought up one particular Nutcracker that was memorable for all the wrong reasons.

While breaking in a new brand of pointe shoes, my friend developed blisters on the back of her heels. Tech week is hard core, so those blisters soon ripped and she found herself with large, deep holes that were bleeding and raw. Obviously there was no time to heal, so she powered through – I’m not sure how – by having Lidocaine shot directly into the wounds before the perfomance. It was painful to watch. I can’t imagine how it felt. However, she danced a beautiful pas and Sugar Plum variation complete with a dazzling array of turns and a big goofy smile. She insists she has no recollection of even dancing. Good drugs, I guess, but that was her final Nutcracker. Hmm…I wonder why?

 

Happy Birthday Savion!

Photo courtesy of Savion Glover Productions.

Tapper extraordinaire Savion Glover turns 40 today. Happy birthday!!

Don’t miss his Tony Award-winning fierceness when he’s in Chicago for a one-night-only performance of his show STePz at the Harris Theater (205 E. Randolph Dr.) on Friday, January 24 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $30-$55; call 312.334.7777 or visit harristheaterchicago.org.

Watch him workin’ it out below:

P/Review: River North’s Autumn Passions

River North dancers in Frank Chaves' "Eva". Photo by Cheryl Mann.

This weekend River North Dance Chicago (RNDC) takes the stage of the Harris Theater with their Autumn Passions program. RNDC opened the 2013-2014 season with a shortened gala program on Thursday, Nov. 14 featuring two world premieres, a company premiere and the Harris debut of a 2013 work by Artistic Director Frank Chaves and will perform a full program Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 16-17.

Thursday’s gala performance began with Chaves’ Eva, a suite of dances to jazzed up songs sung by Eva Cassidy. Gorgeous vocal mixed with Chaves’ talent for partnering and duets. Three couples swirled to Cassidy’s rendition of Sting’s Fields of Gold (one of my favorite songs) and although timing was off, it offered  a perfect opening for the evening. A hot, hot, hot quintessentially RNDC, Vent-like duet with Jessica Wolfrum and Ahnad Simmons and a lovely side-by-side duet for Lauren Kias (sassy haircut, btw) and Hank Hunter. Eva closed with a feel good, full company section to Wade in the Water – a jazz-meets-Ailey’s Revelations.

It was a gala, so speeches and donation pitches came before the world premiere of Ashley Roland’s Get Out the Ghost. Roland, co-artistic director of BodyVox came to Chicago in July to set the new work. When I popped in to rehearsals, it wasn’t complete, but after seven days was quickly taking shape. “I need to choreograph faster, otherwise my head gets in the way,” she said. Chaves had asked her to create something “ethereal”. The final section of the Americana work dealing with getting rid of personal baggage or “cleaning your own personal house” is ethereal, but as Roland said, you have to get there first. The work began with the movement, although that’s not always how she works. “It comes through me. It’s not manufactured,” said Roland. “It’s definitely a gift.”

Dancers twitch and twist in angsty spurts while pulling shiny gold mylar pieces from their costumes throughout the first two sections. I get the idea, but it was too literal and while the dancers gave it their all, it seemed over-danced. A little less attack, a little more softness would have served the work better. Daring running dives and catches wowed, but overall, the work needed more subtly.

Dancer Drew Fountain is the first dancer other than choreographer Adam Barruch to perform his theatrical solo work The Worst Pies in London set to the song of the same title from the Broadway musical Sweeney Todd. Barruch himself performed it here at the Chicago Dancing Festival in 2011. Fountain was hilarious and charming in this quirky duet with a table. It’s a definite crowd-pleaser.

The world premiere of  Dawn by Deeply Rooted Dance Theater‘s Kevin Iega Jeff closed the hour-long show and proved to be a stellar showcase of the dancers’ talents. Set to the driving beat of a version of Carmina Burana, Dawn depicts an intense, physical, ritualistic society with goddess overtones, or as Iega Jeff states in the program notes – “a new Age of Enlightenment”. All gold tones and biceps – and I’m talking about the ladies! – Iega Jeff makes these dancers WORK! It really is non-stop, balls-to-the-walls dancing – just what we’ve come to expect from RNDC. Wolfrum was fierce as a the head of the hierarchy, boldly commanding the stage.

My only regret not going to see the performances this weekend is I will miss the stunning Nejla Yatkin solo Renatus danced by diva Wolfrum and Daniel Ezralow’s SUPER STRAIGHT is coming down, which was originally created for Hubbard Street Dance Chicago (and one of my fave pieces EVER). RNDC’s first attempt at Ezralow’s work didn’t meet expectations (injuries, etc.), but I’m glad they are bringing it back with a different cast. My guess is they will knock it out of the theater this time around.

River North Dance Chicago’s Autumn Passions at the Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph St., Saturday, Nov. 16 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 17 at 3 p.m. Tickets are $30-$75; call 312.334.7777 or visit harristheaterchicago.org. 

 

Joffrey Dances La Bayadère (aka Snakes at the Ballet)

Joffrey Ballet goes Bollywood in "La Bayadere". Photo by Christopher Duggan.

This Wednesday the Joffrey Ballet* begins a 10-performance run of Stanton Welch’s La Bayadère: The Temple Dancer at the Auditorium Theatre. Welch’s version, originally choreographed for Houston Ballet in 2010, whittles down the three-plus hour original tale, keeping the story of love, jealousy and revenge flowing, while adding in more dancing. He’s left the famous “Kingdom of the Shades” scene, where 26 ballerinas in white tutus enter the stage performing synchronized arabesques, in tact. Oh, and there are live snakes.

You read that right. Snakes. Real ones. Live, on stage. SNAKES! (Can someone please tell me what happens while they are on stage, because my eyes will be shut as I silently shriek to myself.) Real snakes were used on a photo shoot in Houston to promote the revamp of the 19th classic. The dancers “really got into it” and ended up on the floor with 30 snakes slithering over them – ew – so Welch thought, “We have to use it!” A snake handler from The Traveling World of Reptiles (you’ll have to look up their site on your own…can’t do it) will be part of the production with four of his serpent friends.

The story follows Niiya, a temple dancer, and a love quartet with a secret love, a princess and a betrothed priest. The drama heightens with dancing gods and a little help from a hookah pipe. Solor, Nikiya’s love interest tends a broken heart by smoking opium and enters a dreamlike state. The is where the “Shades” come in. Welch describes them as “a stream of smoke coming down from heaven, where Nikiya appears in a cloud”. This scene has been seen as a stand-alone at galas around the world and is breathtaking.

Considering Welch himself has never performed the ballet, why La Bayadère? “It’s historic and important,” said Welch when I stopped by Joffrey Tower to chat and watch rehearsal earlier this month. “It has strong women characters. There are no victims and I love that the two women fight each other.” He’s replaced a lot of the pantomime – and there was a lot – with dancing and added more dancing for the men. “It’s all dance, less mime,” Welch said. Artistic Director Ashley Wheater agrees. “It’s real dancing people, not cardboard cut outs.” Wheater is excited to have his dancers perform such a staple. “It’s strictly classical,” he said. “It’s hard…a kind of a show-us-everything-you’ve learned.”

Joffrey Ballet presents La Bayadère: The Temple Dancer at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Pkwy., Wednesday, Oct. 16 – Sunday, Oct. 27. Performance times vary. Tickets are $31-$152; call 800.982.2787 or online at ticket master.com. 

*La Bayadère is the last time RB will be covering Joffrey for the blog. At the end of the month, I’m joining the Joffrey Marketing Team full-time. You can follow my coverage of them, in an official capacity, on their website, JPointe blog and on social media.

Hubbard Street Does It Again

Hubbard Street dancer Meredith Dincolo in "Fluence". Photo by Quinn B Wharton.

I realize it’s redundant for me to exclaim how spectacular Hubbard Street Dance Chicago is, but…well, they are. Last night’s opening night performance of the Fall Series at the Harris Theater was standard in its phenomenal performers and thoroughly entertaining choreography, but with a few surprises. Works from master choreographers Mats Ek and Ohad Naharin, plus a new work from Princess Grace Award winner (and former Hubbard Street dancer) Robyn Mineko Williams and a world premiere duet by resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo showcased the company’s talents from top to bottom.

The first surprise was the emergence of Williams as a thoughtful choreographer that can hold her own with the best of them. Not a shock since we’ve seen her work before, but Fluence was the first time she and her handpicked creative team put it all on stage in a longer, cohesive piece. Quirky chaotic moves turn into a slow duet. A group twitches alongside a lone dancer in his own world.  And then came the bubbles. Yes, bubbles. The delicate spheres came raining down creating a serene, space-like atmosphere. A sole column filled with smoke disintegrated in a puff above dancer Meredith Dincolo, whose solo ended the work with a horizontal disjointed backstroke.

Hubbard Street never lacks for stunning duets in their works, but Surprise #2 is, this time, the couples are female. Emilie Leriche and Alice Klock connect effortlessly in Fluence and Ana Lopez and Jacqueline Burnett in Cerrudo’s Cloudless proved a perfect pairing for his intimate choreography. Cerrudo’s newest work, his 12th for the company, features a dark (obviously) stage, stripped bare with two industrial chandeliers highlighting the dancers. Although we may have seen some of his deft duet designs before, they look completely different (dare I say, even more intimate) set on two women.

The rest of the performance was – no surprises here – stellar dancing of audience favorites Passomezzo (Naharin) and Casi-Casa (Ek). Naharin’s romantic, human duet was at times rough, sweet, funny and endearing with some really difficult, knee-killing dancing by Kellie Epperheimer and Johnny McMillan. The company danced Ek’s work for the first time last season and they have really settled into the piece. Comfortable and at ease, they breezed through the extreme choreography with style and aplomb. Here, the men shined. Quinn B (“Legs”) Wharton opened with a smart, sassy take on the “TV Man” solo and the trio of McMillan, David Schultz and Jesse Bechard gets better and more poignant with each viewing.

Shout out to costume designer Hogan McLaughlin for his futuristic take on leotards in Fluence and a hearty BRAVO to lighting and tech director Matt Miller.

Hubbard Street’s Fall Series runs through Sunday, Oct. 13 at the Harris Theater. Tickets are $25-$99; call 312.850.9744 or visit hubbardstreetdance.com.