CDF13: Dancing in Chicago

Lar Lubovitch Dance Company in "Transparent Things". Photo by Rose Eichenbaum.

A crowd of 2,200 people came to the Auditorium Theatre Thursday night for another free performance in the Chicago Dancing Festival (CDF). If you were not one of those people, I’m truly sorry. Dancing in Chicago, featuring all-Chicago companies plus CDF co-founder and Chicago native Lar Lubonitch’s New York-based troupe, was one of the best nights of dance I’ve seen – and I’ve seen A LOT of really good dance. From flamenco to a flirty pas de deux, Picasso to vacuum cleaners, the evening had it all.

I’ve never heard or said the word amazing so much in one night. In fact, that word is still swirling in my head as I think about the performance, but is it accurate? Let’s see. Dictionary.com defines the word amazing as “causing great surprise or sudden wonder” -yep. Or “to astonish greatly” – check. Synonyms include: “astound, dumfound, stun, flabbergast” – ditto.

Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Theater started the show with their stunning full-company Bolero (1993). Set to Ravel’s 17-minute masterpiece of the same title, this epic work by artistic director Dame Libby Komaiko gradually fills the stage with red dresses, shawls, fans, tradition and passion. I’ve taken class from Dame Libby and while the flamenco movements seem simple, I assure you they are more difficult than they look. I could’ve done without the large Picasso projections across the backdrop. They were distracting and took attention away from the dancing. Bolero also closes the Celebration of Dance performance tonight at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park.

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago astounded in two excerpts from Master Choreographer Mats Ek’s Casi Casa (2009). A brief cameo by the “hat man” (Quinn Wharton) lead to a moving male trio danced by Jesse Bechard, Johnny McMillan and David Schultz. Next the ladies danced a demented jig with vacuum cleaners and delighted the audience with their despair for the household chore. (You can see Casi this October in their Fall Series at the Harris Theatre.) Act One ended with Balanchine’s perky Tarantella pas (1964) danced by Joffrey Ballet dancers Anastacia Holden and John Mark Giragosian. This dynamic duo had the audience dumbfounded with their speedy turns and grand jumps. Holden lights up the theater with her smile, while Giragosian played the sassy pirate.

Lar Lubovitch Dance Company opened Act Two with Transparent Things accompanied on stage by the lovely Bryant Park Quartet.  Lead by the joyful, jester-like Attila Joey Csiki, this wondrous work by Lubovitch was inspired by Picasso’s Saltimbanques painting depicting a group of street performers. The ebb and flow and circular structure of Lubovitch’s movement that I love was on full display here. The four-section piece, although based in modern technique, read like a story ballet. The third section ended with the performers “falling asleep” amid the musicians creating a terrific tableau with Csiki’s head resting on the cello.

Closing the show was a truly inspired pairing of the Joffrey Ballet with contemporary Swedish choreographer Alex Ekman. Thanks Lar! (This CDF commission will also appear in Joffrey’s Contemporary Choreographers program at the Auditorium next February.) Joffrey went way outside their comfort zone in Episode 31 and to say it paid off is a huge understatement. The dancers really went for it and they blew the roof off (or, at least, the walls). This astonishing undertaking had dancers decked out in rad Eurpoean-style school uniforms and incorporated ballet, tap, modern, yelling, coughing, flopping, a video intro and a hodgepodge of props thrown in for good measure. At one point, the side walls or “Reducing Panels” of the proscenium flew out (Flabbergasted!), creating an even larger deconstructed set for the dancers to play on. And they had a blast. A strong, if long, duet by Derrick Agnoletti and Aaron Rogers held focus in the middle as white-faced dancers looked on. A lone dancer (Dylan Gutierrez) opens and closes the piece by turning on and then off a light bulb set downstage left.  Throughout the work, he slowly walks one loop around the stage watching the events unfold. I’m sure it was tough to not participate in the craziness happening on stage, but the work wouldn’t have been the same without that character. The reaction from the audience was incredible with the ovation overflowing into the lobby. It was an incredible way to finish off another great night of dance. Bravo!

The entire evening was, in a word, amazing.

Auditorium Theatre 2013-2014 Highlights

Cloud Gate Dance Theatre in "Songs of the Wanderer". Photo by YU ui-hung.

The Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University (ATRU) just announced its 2013-2014 season. Here are a few things I’m excited about:

Ballet West – former Joffrey Ballet dancer Adam Sklute’s company will be presenting Sleeping Beauty (classic, long, but beautiful w/ gorgeous music) and Val Caniparoli’s The Lottery. Caniparoli created Incantations for Joffrey in 2012 and has received great reviews for the premiere of The Lottery which has a unique twist where the audience finds out the “secret” before the dancers (who don’t know who will perform the final solo until it happens live!). Cool beans.

Houston Ballet – In another local connection, Joffrey premiered Artistic Director Stanton Welch’s Son of Chamber Symphony in 2012. His company brings the storybook ballet Aladdin to town in March of 2014.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre – The New York-based company returns for another two-week run featuring a mixed rep and the showstopper Revelations. Yay.

River North Dance Chicago – Local favorite Rivno takes the stage in April 2014 will a new world premiere. Always a good show – expect lots of abs and speedy turns.

Paul Taylor Dance Company – I’m reading Paul Taylor’s new book Facts and Fancies right now, so the timing is perfect! My only regret is never getting to see my friend Julie Tice perform with the company live during her ten years there :(

Cloud Gate Dance Theatre – Co-presented with the Dance Center of Columbia College and the Joffrey Ballet, this troupe from Taiwan always amazes with their imagery and Butoh-esque stamina/control.

Chick Corea and Béla Fleck – Non-dancy, but my brother (a musician) listened to Corea ALL the time when we were growing up and a bazillion years ago I performed a piece with the above mentioned Tice to a Beatles cover by Fleck (and the Flecktones). Good times.

So there you have it. Oh plus, the yearly tradition of the Joffrey’s The Nutcracker and any chance to see ATRU E.D. Brett Batterson and you can see why I’m stoked.

For more information, visit auditoriumtheatre.org.

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.