Local dancemakers channel Martha

*Practice means to perform, over and over again in the face of all obstacles, some act of vision, of faith, of desire. Practice is a means of inviting the perfection desired. ~Martha Graham

Winifred Haun and Lizzie Leopold begin the conversation by saying how different they are, but by then end, they are finishing each other’s sentences. Their friendship began over a quibble about the purpose of Twitter (Leopold won) and has developed over the years to a partnership of two dancemakers exploring their visions. “We’re a good team,” said Leopold. “We work well off of each other. Wini has a lot more experience than I do and…I’m more stubborn than I should be for my lack of years. Wini was the first person to offer me a seat at the table.” That table includes a love and respect (shared by many in the dance world) of Martha Graham and her contributions to the art. Inspired by Graham’s work, the two have put together a remarkable show with a number of artists that have been touched by her in some way or form. Kind of a six-degrees-of-separation, Martha-style.

This weekend, Winifred Haun & Dancers/Leopold Group present Vision, Faith & Desire:Dancemakers Inspired by Martha Graham, a multi-faceted show will include video of Graham’s 1930 solo work Lamentation, a dance film by Graham’s former choreographic assistant Peter Sparling and with the blessing of The Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance, the world premiere of Leopold’s Lamentation Variation, and new work by Haun, plus other works. “This is a show that I would like to see,” Haun said. “No one else is doing a show like this.”

About a year and a half ago, the two began putting together what they referred to as “The Graham Show”, asking various artists to join and calling in some favors. Haun’s friend Deb Goodman (former Graham student) agreed to teach the iconic Lamentation solo to Haun’s and Leopold’s dancers. When Haun reached out to the Graham Company, she learned that the work was not in the public domain. What could have been a disaster turned into a fantastic opportunity to create their own Lamentation-inspired work (being tackled by Leopold), permission to show the historic footage of Graham performing it and to teach part of the variation in a master class. Score!

With everything coming together – including a stellar list of guest performers like Sparling (who is also giving a guest lecture**), co-artistic director of Kanopy Dance and former Graham Company dancer, Lisa Thurrell (who is also giving a master class – SOLD OUT!) and Ayako Kato – they needed a title. Haun researched Graham reviews and quotes and found a quote (*above) about artistic process that fit perfectly. “It’s about practice,” said Leopold. She worried that people would think they were trying to compare themselves to the iconic choreographer, but eventually found a way to accept the enormity of the challenge on her own terms. “It’s just about saying, ‘We’re working on this’, just like she was working on things,” she said. Haun added, “Martha is a person just like us. Ok, she’s way better, but there’s a quote about when she was making like her 150th dance and thinking ‘I can’t do this. What am I doing?’. That’s all we’re doing. We’ll toss it out there and see what happens.”

Vision, Faith & Desire: Dancemakers Inspired by Martha Graham featuring Winifred Haun & Dancers, Leopold Group, Ayako Kato, Kanopy Dance, and Peter Sparling at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn St., Friday-Saturday, Sept. 27-28 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $30; visit www.brownpapertickets.com/event/357861.

**Peter Sparling’s lecture and video premiere at Northwestern University, Marjorie Ward Marshall Dance Center, 10 Arts Circle Dr., Evanston on Sunday, Sept. 29 at 12:00 p.m. (noon). Tickets are free.

Susan Marshall & Co open Dance Center’s 40th season

Susan Marshall & Co. in "Play/Pause".

Last weekend open the 40th season at the Dance Center of Columbia College. Mayor Emanuel declared Friday, September 20 Dance Center of Columbia College Day by Mayoral Proclamation. Susan Marshall & Company opened the season with the world premiere of Play/Pause.

With six different and distinct dancers from the two petite women (one blonde, one brunette) to the tall, blonde gentleman with neo A Flock of Seagulls haircut, the piece seemed a hodge-podge of variety pulled from the 80s. One dancers sported just one sparkly sock as perhaps a nod to the King of Pop. The live onstage band played LOUD throwback rock music intermittently, the dancers and musicians teasing each other with a start/stop format indicated by the work’s title. The sound scape, which included pounding and running the mic over figurations of duct tape or on the plexiglass or wood, adding in the dancers’ voices or the ripping of the tape as a avant garde soundtrack, proved more interesting than the movement that was steeped with commonplace gestures.

There were some really interesting images created throughout the hour-long work like a man trying to keep his face lit in the plexiglass frame as a woman lowers it to the floor and back up again. A female duet of one count gestures, while intriguing at the start, went on too long.  A recurring step-touch, step-touch baseline for the dancers seemed to by pulled from a junior high dance or bar mitzvah, but would then turn into a lovely break-out solo or touching duet. Basically, it was uneven and I thought the props warranted more of my attention than the dancing, which is too bad. Interesting concepts, but perhaps fleshing out the movement sections more will make it more cohesive.

I felt like I was trapped in an Talking Heads video directed by David Lynch. It was at times cheesy, bizarre, beautiful, bright, funny and sad. The cast lined up at the front of the stage breathing heavily onto the plexiglass frames was a wonderful way to end, but by then, aided with a raging headache, I was ready for it to be over.

 

 

Joffrey’s Russian Masters: Review

Joffrey's Joanna Wozniak in "Le Sacre du Printemps". Photo by Roger Mastroianni.

Russian choreographers don’t do light and fluffy. At least the ones presented in The Joffrey Ballet‘s Russian Masters program don’t. The four works on the bill, which opened last night and runs through Sunday, span nearly a century of dancemaking and represent pure aesthetic dancing to literally dancing oneself to death. Great “Russian masters” Balanchine, Nijinski, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky and Khachaturian were joined by the only living artist represented, San Francisco Ballet’s choreographer in residence, Yuri Possokhov, for an evening of daring, dramatic dancing accompanied by the phenomenal Chicago Philharmonic.

Balanchine’s 1956 Allegro Brilliante opened the program with a dazzling display of pure dance. No story to follow here, just fast feet and sparkling technique. Not surprising, the perky cast, lead by the lovely April Daly and Dylan Gutierriez, studied or danced at places that have a heavy Balanchine/neoclassical influence in their rep: Washington Ballet, San Francisco Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet and, of course, School of American Ballet. Their solid grasp and love for the style/technique (speedy petite allegro, elongated lines, open arabesque, etc.) really shined. I guess it could be considered light in comparison to the rest of the evening, but definitely not fluffy. Any Balanchine work is hard – understatement – but these dancers were more than up to the task.

A 2012 duet by Possokhov created on Victoria Jaiani and Temur Suluashvili (look, more Russians!) set to an adagio from Spartacus proved a dramatic display obviously focused on Jaiani’s incredibly flexible technical facility. Adagio incorporated interesting inside/out partnering with tricky, twisted grips (some more solid than others) and some trust-inspiring inverted lifts in the couple’s first pas de deux of the night. Possokhov’s Bells, created for Joffrey in 2011, provides another “pure dance” piece, in that there is no story, just his interpretation of the music and some clever creative tweaks on classical technique and traditional Russian folk dance. Slides en pointe, snapping fingers, kisses on each cheek add a fun element to the devilishly difficult choreography. Pas de deuxs by Anastacia Holden and Matthew Adamczyk (flirty), Daly and Fabrice Calmels (sultry), and Jaiani and Suluashvili (passionate) did not disappoint.

The highlight of the evening was the 1987 reconstruction by Millicent Hodson of Vaslav Nijinsky’s Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring) celebrating its 100th anniversary this year. In an introductory video of the work, Hodson called it “the ballet that changed the course of history”. Its premiere in 1913 famously invoked a riot in Paris due to the discordant music, non-traditional choreography and shocking ending. The dancers stomp, flat-footed with turned in feet, fall to the ground repeatedly wearing pagan villagers costumes complete with painted faces, braids and animal skins. The “Rite” is a virgin sacrifice of “The Chosen One” (danced with haunting brilliance by Joanna Wozniak) where she must dance until she dies. The women of the clan offer her up as the weakest link and leave her alone to be encircled by the men, who oversee her fate. (Thanks ladies!) Wozniak stands center stage with her head tilted, palms out, feet turned in, still and staring at the audience for what seems like forever only to suddenly burst into rapid, consecutive jumps…a LOT of them. She eventually drops to the ground and the men lift her dead body to the sky. The End. What an image to finish the night on.

An enormous BRAVO to the Chicago Philharmonic and director Scott Speck for a fantastic evening of music. From the beautiful Khachaturian adagio (which sounded so perfect and like a recorded soundtrack that I had to check to make sure it was live) to the notoriously difficult to play – and to listen to – Stravinsky score, they played everything to perfection.

Where Are They Now? Luna Negra’s Nigel Campbell

Dancer Nigel Campbell. Photo by Cheryl Mann.

When Luna Negra Dance Theater put its dancers on an extended hiatus last spring, Nigel Campbell was the first one to secure a new gig. RB spoke with him after he settled at his new job/home. Here’s an update on what he’s up to.

Where are you?

I live in Gothenburg, Sweden.

What are you doing now?

I am dancing at the Gothenburg Opera DansKompani. I began here about two weeks after Luna announced its extended hiatus. I was very fortunate to be able to move to another job so quickly. I feel very blessed.

What do you miss about LNDT?

The PEOPLE. What a great group we had. [It was] a wonderful collection of individuals…and we were always encouraged to bring our individuality out so we could constantly learn from each other. I miss Gustavo (Ramirez Sansano) terribly, although we are still in contact. I miss being in the studio with him vibe-ing and creating.

What were some of your favorite works?

“Not Everything”…a group piece. It was visually, musically, and architecturally gorgeous! The process flowed very smoothly. It just came together, really relaxed, really unforced. It also contained some of the fastest dancing I’ve ever had to do in my life.

“Toda una Vida” was Gustavo’s first creation as director of Luna. [It was] a tour de force 20-minute duet with some of the most complex partnering I’ve ever done or seen. It remains the most challenging piece I’ve ever had to dance. It also has the most sophisticated and deep understanding of musicality I’ve ever seen to that piece of music (Ravel’s “Bolero”).

“Carmen.maquia” was Gustavo’s evening-length abstract take on “Carmen”. It was quite simply a masterpiece.

“Walk-in” by Fernando Melo, who is my rehearsal director here in Gothenburg. I think he made an exquisite piece of contemporary dance on us and my only regret is that we only got to dance it once. My fear is that it will be lost and no one else will ever get to see this absolutely gorgeous piece.

What was special about LNDT? What did it mean to be a “Lunatic”?

Again, what was most special about Luna was the artists who gave their hearts and souls to it. To be a Lunatic meant you knew you were at the ground of something, that you were a part of building something that could have a legacy. We were always very aware of that. We made so many sacrifices because we believed in the potential of the company under Gustavo’s leadership. We were willing to go above and beyond, because we could feel how truly special what we were doing was. We were a company that didn’t focus on the great master works of the past, but went boldly into the unknown and tried to discover what the next step for contemporary dance was. We were risk takers and hard workers, collaborators, not just receivers. We were active participants in what was being created. We were all part of the legacy we were trying to build. What an incredible journey we were able to go on together.

It’s hard for me to comprehend that all the work we put so much of ourselves into, all of the sacrifices we made, are now just memories. Life goes on and we will all continue to make great and relevant art. Life is crazy and I’ve learned from this that truly, in a moment, EVERYTHING can change and that you always have to be ready. I’m thankful that I had the opportunity to be a Lunatic. It has shaped me in so many ways. I am so incredibly and remarkably blessed that I was in the right place at the right time.

Mayoral Proclamation: Dance Center of Columbia College

Congrats to the Dance Center! Mayor Rahm Emanuel has officially declared Friday, Sept. 20 Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago Day in honor of the start of their 40th anniversary season. Text from the proclamation below:

PROCLAMATION

WHEREAS, dance is both a personal and public form of art and expression that has always been an integral part of many cultures the world over; and

WHEREAS, the interpretation of dance has continued to transcend social, political and economic barriers while acting as a major unifying force among citizens of the world; and

WHEREAS, it is through the gift of dance that we can combine music and movement along with the physical, spiritual and social qualities of our lives; and

WHEREAS, for decades, the Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago has taught generations of inspired dancers and presented passionate, provocative pieces of choreography; and

WHEREAS, the Dance Center’s faculty, staff and students work tirelessly to showcase the art and power of dance; and

WHEREAS, the Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago will host acclaimed choreographer Susan Marshall as she presents the world premiere of Play/Pause as the main event of its 40th Season Opening Celebration; and

WHEREAS, on September 20, 2013, the Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago will mark the 2013-2014 season, its milestone 40th Season, with a number of thoughtful events and performances:

NOW, THEREFORE, I, RAHM EMANUEL, MAYOR OF THE CITY OF CHICAGO, do hereby proclaim September 20, 2013 to be DANCE CENTER OF COLUMBIA COLLEGE CHICAGO DAY in recognition of the the official opening of the Dance Center’s 40th Season and encourage all Chicagoans to celebrate the gift of dance.

Dated this 18th day of September, 2013.

Behind Barres: Special Offer

I am a dancer from the beginning. At two years old, I walk across our kitchen floor in Rock Island on my pointes. At ten, I read every ballet book I can get my hands on, and my ballet teacher is the most important person in my life besides my mom and dad. At thirteen, I spend every day after school at ballet class, picturing princesses, swans, and tutus. At sixteen, I am accepted to the School of Ballet New York, and by now I know I am going to be a professional.

That is the opening chapter of Girl In Motion, a ballet-based series by Miriam Wenger-Landis. Her book, as well as Codename: Dancer by Amanda Brice and The Queen Bee of Bridgeton by Leslie Dubois complete the new book bundle Behind Barres, a trio package of YA dance novels, now available online. All three books have been on the Amazon Best Seller list and the authors, who started up a friendship via email, were looking for ways to cross promote and thought bundling the first books in each series was a good way to do it.

I read Landis’ Girl In Motion, which follows young Anna to the School of Ballet New York (SAB anyone?) and the drama of getting her first professional job. Landis was a professional dancer and knows her stuff. The book is well-written and fun with little bits only ballerinas will truly appreciate. Brice’s book is the first in the Dani Spevak Mystery Series and follows its heroine to a performing arts boarding school where someone is trying to sabotage the reality t.v. show filming at the school. She and her friends set out to find out who and why. The novel brings together the authors love of Nancy Drew, dancing and her obsession with Dancing With the Stars. DuBois, who is also getting her PhD in Biochemistry, has written numerous books with Queen Bee focusing on interracial relationships as the first book in her Dancing Dream series.

These are a great gifts for a dance student, young dance lover or a fun fall read for a dancer, former dancer or teacher. Now through Sept. 28, you can get all three full-length novels in the bundle for $0.99. Ninety nine cents! On Sept. 29 the price goes up to $9.99. You can download for Kindle, Nook, Kobo, iTunes, Smashwords and from Amazon UK.

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Throwback Thursday: SBC edition #tbt

Photo by Richard Hendee.

This is an old shot for the marketing campaign for Springfield Ballet Company‘s (SBC) Rockballet, a Billboard-esque show of pointe, jazz and contemporary works set to rock music. And that’s my dear friend and partner-in-crime Paulie!

We were on the posters, t-shirts and billboards to promote the show that year, but I can’t seem to find anything with that shot on it, so this is what you get.

Rockballet was always my favorite show of the season. It was first. It was more artistically satisfying than The Nutcracker. Plus, I was way better at contemporary works than being the pretty, pretty princess. Winning! We used music from U2, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Elton John, Hole and whatever was hot at the time.

Merde to my friends at SBC for this weekend’s performances!

 

Where Are They Now? Luna Negra’s Kirsten Shelton

Dancer Kirsten Shelton. Photo by Jonathan Mackoff.

The Chicago dance community lost an innovative cultural gem when Luna Negra Dance Theater (LNDT) closed its doors in spring of 2013. An extended hiatus for the dancers hit in March, artistic director Gustavo Ramírez Sansano stepped down in April and the Board of Directors announced it was ceasing operations last May. The dancers and artistic staff, stunned and out of work, dispersed around the world. So, where are they now? What are they up to? RB set out to find out and we’ll here from each of them in the upcoming months.

First up, dancer Kirsten Shelton.

Where are you?

I am still in the Chicagoland area. I own a home in a northwest village where I have lived for nearly three years. I don’t have any plans to relocate at this time. I am quite content with my home and family life.

What are you doing now?

I have been working on my undergraduate degree over the past six years and am finally set to graduate with my BS in Liberal Studies from Oregon State University in December. I haven’t danced since April, and while that was largely due to lack of work and resources, it is also because it is just easier to reflect on…‘big’ questions or painful loss by putting a little distance between that thing and yourself.  Sometimes loss can also be seen as an opportunity to reevaluate what you’ve done (or not) up to now and allows a space for finding a new identity, so to speak.  It’s easy to understand how rattled one can become after unexpectedly losing a job they had been completely immersed in and completely in love with.  But a little break in the norm can also offer a better perspective much of the time, and I know I’m definitely not done dancing yet.  In what capacity, I have yet to decide/learn/find.  That’s all I know for now, which is fine with me.

What do you miss about LNDT?

This is the only company I have ever had a professional contract with. I joined in 2002 as a fledging 20-year-old under the founder/director, Eduardo Vilaro, and have remained ever since.  I have to say that what I miss MOST is being in a position where I am surrounded by exceptional people who are at the top of their game in the trade that we all share.  The other individuals answering this same set of questions are some of the best dancers and artists I have known either professionally or personally.  But I was with Luna for over a decade and have had the stellar opportunity to watch and know so many dancers who have passed through the company along their own journeys, and I think of all of those people sometimes, even still.  Witnessing the process of excellence is lovely, and I am sometimes convinced that dancers have the best mechanism there is to develop the depth of human compassion and connection the rest of the world sometimes lacks.  Maybe it’s just the nature of dance, but I don’t know of many other professions where (despite personal differences), I feel love for the people I work with – and I think most dancers know just what I mean.  I miss getting to watch people I care about move and grow and learn and amaze me on a daily basis.  That applies to all of those dancers and artists I have been so lucky to know throughout the years I was in the company.

What was special about LNDT? What did it mean to be a “Lunatic”?

Similarly, Luna was special to me because it was my professional and artistic home for much of my adult life.  I participated in so many different kinds of work under two very different artistic and aesthetic visions and can’t imagine what I would be now without having put all of those experiences in my pocket.  I always felt that Luna presented work with a voice that is not seen elsewhere in this city, and as the company grew and evolved, it developed an identity that was unusual and interesting on a broader level. Some of the work – especially a lot of what Gustavo created in recent years – is second to none in my mind, not just here but anywhere that professional contemporary dance exists. I am the kind of dancer that feels that doing work which is relevant is what makes my ‘job’ worthwhile. Even as an audience member, I am more interested in the quality of the work I am witnessing the performance of, because good dancers with incredible skills are everywhere and even great dancers doing irrelevant work does not necessarily make a worthwhile show/company/artform.   Luna has always cultivated work that has relevance and though I didn’t love everything in the rep, it was meaningful to me because it fit into the bigger picture which was built around the vision of the choreographer.  That is why, from its foundation, Luna was a special place and why I wanted to remain a dancer with that particular company until it ceased to be.

You can see Kirsten perform in Dance Chance Redux 5.0, Friday, October 11 at 8 p.m. at the NEIU Auditorium at Northeastern Illinois University, 5500 N St Louis Ave. Purchase tickets here.

 

SHINE: Dance Doc to premiere on WTTW

Photo by Kai Harding.

This Sunday September 8, go from behind the scenes to on stage with Thodos Dance Chicago (TDC). Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Christopher Kai Olsen of Kai/Harding followed the company as they prepared for the world premiere of a new story ballet earlier this year. Partners in crime TDC artistic director Melissa Thodos and Broadway legend Ann Reinking teamed up once again to create an original work set in historical fact. This time, the two decided to tell the story of Anne Sullivan and Helen Keller’s unique relationship through dance.

When A Light in the Dark* premiered in March 2013 at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie, Olsen was there to document the premiere in delicious HD detail. With his keen editing eye, he also filmed the creative process and put together an impressive dance documentary with behind-the-scenes rehearsal footage as well as one-on-one interviews with Reinking, Thodos and TDC lead dancers. The prelude of Shine – Making “A Light in the Dark debuts on Chicago’s PBS station WTTW this Sunday at 1:30 pm with A Light in the Dark showcasing the final production and performance immediately following at 2:00 pm.

I got to preview both films (so I can not feel guilty if I flip back and forth between the Bears game – Go Bears!) and the footage and editing is quite remarkable. I sat in on the interviews and rehearsals, but the way they come together in the film, incorporating Bruce Wolosoff’s original score and perfectly dropped quotes, takes it to another level. Watching what the dancers are creators go through to make the show and then to watch the entire performance makes it more believable and will make for a very entertaining afternoon of television.

“Shine” debuts Sunday, September 8 at 1:30 pm on WTTW followed by “A Light in the Dark” at 2:00 pm CST. 

*You can see A Light in the Dark live in Thodos Dance Chicago’s 2014 Winter Concert February 22, 2014 at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts and on March 8 and 9 at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance. Visit thodosdancechicago.org for more information.

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
 
1/15
 

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…”.