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!

 

Happy Anniversary to RB!

Last week – September 24th to be exact – Rogue Ballerina turned 3! While there are ups and downs to having a one-person-pony-show dance blog (up: getting to see tons of kick-ass dance, down: burn out, making very little $ – read 0.00), and while I honestly consider scrapping the whole thing about once a week (sometimes daily), I’m still having a helluva good time doing it. I get to meet amazing artists one-on-one (even if it’s via phone) and discuss what they love passionately. I’ve been exposed to genres and styles I never would have come across in my normal “post-dancer/civilian” life and my knowledge base and tastes have evolved exponentially (I am now a full-fledged Forsythe fan!).

Going over some of the posts from the last year, my belief that Chicago is a world-class city for dance has only grown. From the big dogs like Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and Joffrey Ballet, to small start-ups like Leopold Group and Elements Contemporary Ballet and everything in between, the Windy City has myriad opportunities to see great dance and a ceaseless artistic creativity that is unmatched.

Someone recently told me they appreciated my enthusiasm. While I’m certain some find it annoying, it was greatly appreciated. I see myself more as a cheerleader for all dance in Chicago as opposed to a critic (although I sure do have my opinions).

On the writing front in the past year, I took over the monthly dance column at Windy City Times, covered the sixth annual Chicago Dancing Festival as one of the official bloggers for the second year in a row and had the pleasure of writing Hubbard Street’s Robyn Mineko Williams’ transition notice for Dance Magazine, as well as my usual gigs as a culture writer for Front Desk Chicago and CS Magazine. Other noteworthy events – and there are way too many to list here – include interviewing Twyla Tharp (terrifying!), singing “Happy Birthday” to Ann Reinking and seeing Batsheva Dance Company, Merce Cunningham Dance Company on the final leg of The Legacy Tour and the American Ballet Theatre (live) and the Paris Opera Ballet perform Giselle live (via simulcast).

Goals for the upcoming year include officially meeting fellow dance lover Mayor Rahm Emanuel (instead of just smiling and nodding in passing at events – an interview would be stellar!) and moving forward with a book project (or two) near and dear to my heart and possibly throwing some advertising up on this mug.

Thanks to everyone who reads RB!

Feeling the love,

Vicki

 

 

 

 

CDF 12: Celebration of Dance

Bolero Chicago. Photo by Cheryl Mann.

The Chicago Dancing Festival (CDF), a week-long series of free dance events, came to a close Saturday night on the Pritzker Pavilion stage in Millennium Park.  A large crowd turned out on a beautiful night to witness dance from some of the top companies in the country as well as artistry from fellow Chicagoans.  Festival co-founders Lar Lubovitch and Jay Franke addressed the audience and introduced a casually dressed Mayor Rahm Emanuel before the show began.  “Hey Chicago! Hey dance lovers!” The performance opened and closed with local talent: the After School Matters Hip Hop Culture Dance Ensemble with Nicholas Leicther’s Touch of Soul in honor of Maggie Daley and Bolero Chicago with Larry Keigwin’s homage to our sweet home city.

Nestled in between the two large local numbers was a mini tasting of the best of the best in the current dance scene.  Houston Ballet performed Mark Morris’ Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes with live piano accompaniment from Katherine Burkwall-Ciscon.  Dressed in comfy looking white blowsy tops and short leggings (can I get this in black?), the dancers skipped and skimmed across the stage in a light-footed romp that showcased Morris’ deftly musical choreography.  Two gala-esque performances by major ballet companies showed the range of classical ballet.  New York City Ballet stars Ana Sophia Scheller and Gonzalo Garcia dazzled in the show-stopping pas de deux from Marius Petipa’s  Don Quixote (1869). An early one-handed lift seemed to last forever and Scheller’s fouette run in the coda, featuring a double pirouette every second turn for the first 16 counts and one every third turn for the second half, had me jumping out of my seat.  Girl can turn.  Later, Sofiane Sylve and Vito Mazzeo from San Francisco Ballet danced Christopher Wheeldon’s pas de deux from Continuum (2002).  The couple brilliantly danced the Sleeping Beauty pas earlier in the week and proved they are just as stunning doing more contemporary work.

Two powerhouse companies represented the same kind of choreographic range in the modern/contemporary realm.  Martha Graham Dance Company performed an excerpt form Chronicle (1936), which they performed earlier in the week in its entirety.  Steps in the Street physically showed just how powerful women can be.   Local favorite Hubbard Street Dance Chicago danced an excerpt of Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin’s Tabula Rasa (1986), giving an equally powerful performance in a more relaxed, freer style.

The Pritzker Pavilion is a wonderful outdoor venue that normally houses musical acts including the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.  With that said, the seating isn’t ideally designed for viewing dance.  The seats are directly behind one another and on a very shallow raking. My apologies to the woman seated behind me for “driving her crazy” by moving my head from side to side to see.  Unless you’d like a detailed account of the woman’s hair cut and color in front of me, it was a necessary evil.

Congratulations to everyone that worked, volunteered or performed at CDF 12.  It was a wonderful week full of terrific dance that won’t soon be forgotten.  All free.  We are lucky Chicago.

 

CDF 12: Chicago Now

The Seldoms. Photo by Brian Kuhlmann.

Two men one-up each other while riding cherry pickers, oblivious to the audience that’s entering the theater.  One laments he should have been Spiderman, then declares, “I’m sticky” and proceeds to crawl, spider-like off the apparatus and onto the stage.  One aids the other in walking perpendicularly across the back wall.  A costume rack with hangers offers another challenge of manship that ends with one becoming a hanger with the other hanging off of him, upside down like a dress.  This behind-the-scenes show is an excerpt from This is Not a Dance Concert performed by two members of The Seldoms.  The funny, inventive piece opened the fifth night of the Chicago Dancing Festival (CDF).  Chicago Now included three mini performances showing a range of dance styles and a panel discussion about the Chicago dance scene moderated by dance journalist (and all around swell guy) Zac Whittenburg on the MCA Stage.  The stellar panel featured local artistic directors:  Carrie Hanson, The Seldoms; Ron De Jesús, Ron de Jesús Dance; Julie Nakagawa, DanceWorks Chicago and Lane Alexander, Chicago Human Rhythm Project.

Whittenburg lead the discussion, first breaking the ice by letting each guest give a little background.   “What were you doing in August 2007 (the inaugural year of CDF) and what are you doing now?”  The audience quickly found out these artists have lived, learned and loved dance for a long time and were going to bring a breadth of knowledge from different perspectives to the discussion.  Provacative questions regarding operational structures, time, space and funding challenges, the “ecology of interest, the line between cooperation and competition” kept the talk lively.  A half-time dance break featured two dancers from Ron De Jesús Dance in a breathtaking pas de deux about the Myth of Isis and Osiris.  The talk wrapped up with another question of time.  ”What do you hope to be doing in five years?”  Alexander: dancing more, composing more.  Nakagawa: creating an environment that feels open to experiment and opportunity and that includes the audience. De Jesus: wants a mature company and adds that “we (the community) have to be more creative in finding resources”. Hanson: to have a denser performance schedule.

What I feared could be a heady, intellectual (can dancers be wonky?) conversation was an intelligent, humorous, honest talk about the good and bad challenges facing the Chicago dance community.  It turns out that no matter what genre you’re working in or how long you’ve been around, these artists and companies all face the same battles.  The evening ended with the audience being “danced out” by the Footworkingz, a local troupe that Whittenburg saw at an exhibition a few years ago. He’s a big fan.  Now, we are too.

CDF 12: Dancing East & West of Chicago

CDF 12 Giordano Dance Chicago in Alexander Ekman's "Two Become Three". Photo by Cheryl Mann.

The Chicago Dancing Festival continued last night with the Dancing East and West of Chicago program at the Auditorium Theatre at Roosevelt University.  Where Monday night’s Chicago Dancing show focused on local talent, Wednesday’s show featured companies from around the country.  The East was represented by Brian Brooks Moving Company and Martha Graham Dance Company, both from New York, and the West by Ballet Arizona, San Francisco Ballet (SFB) and Pacific Northwest Ballet (PNB) from Seattle.  Not only did the program represent dance companies from coast-to-coast, but the works presented spanned centuries from the 1890 classical ballet (Sleeping Beauty pas de deux) to 2011 postmodern (Brooks’ Descent).

Brook’s piece began with dancers carrying one another across the stage across their backs in a 45-degree plank.  The patterns were a meditation in strength and balance, but the most intriguing moments happened with props.  Dancers waving flat boards created wind gusts that animated pieces of tulle.  The effect was like the movie American Beauty, where the paper bag danced in the wind. Here, the fabric was doing the dancing, while the dancers did the grunt work. It was beautiful.  The other New York contingent presented an all-female work about reactions to war.  Chronicle (1936) highlights the strength of women with Graham’s signature contractions, pitches, cupped hands and severe drama.  The Red Shroud solo performed by Blakeley White-McGuire was particularly intense.  Ladies – fierceness be thy name.

A last-minute Midwest addition to the program was Alexander Ekman’s Two Becomes Three performed by two dancers from Giordano Dance Chicago (GDC).  Maeghan McHale and Martin Ortiz Tapia danced this quirky duet on Monday night at the Harris Theater.  They were delightful then and even better last night.  The audience loved them.

Although only one of the three ballet companies performed a work by George Balanchine, they all have ties to the famous Russian choreographer.  The artistic directors of Ballet Arizona (Ib Andersen), SFB (Helgi Tomasson) and PNB (Peter Boal) all danced for the company Balanchine founded, the New York City Ballet (NYCB).  All three have Balanchine works in their rep and employ dancers that fit in the quintessential Balanchine ballerina mold (read: short waists, long legs, gorgeous feet).  His trademark fast footwork and neo-classical style were on full display in the opening number by Ballet Arizona.  Rubies, an excerpt from his three-part ballet Jewels (1967) was pertly performed by the petite cast – except for soloist Kenna Draxton, who towered above the rest.  The tableau of 15 dancers in a semi circle, dressed in ruby red costumes, hands joined above their heads as the curtain opened was stunning.  What followed was a whirlwind of delight.  Shout out to Jillian Barrel and Nayon Iovino, quite the dynamic duo.

PNB dancers Lesley Rausch and Seth Orza beautifully performed Jerome Robbins’ Afternoon of a Faun (1953), which is set in an abstract dance studio with the audience serves as the mirror.  The haunting score by Claude Debussy lends a melancholic tone to the duet where the dancers seem more interested in their reflections than each other.  While this pas was more casual in tone and in dress (leotard and tights with hair down for her, tights and bare-chested for him), the Sleeping Beauty pas de deux, performed by SFB’s Sofiane Sylve and Vito Mazzeo, was full-out formal.  Normally danced at the end of the nearly three-hour ballet, this duet represents the marriage of the princess to her prince.  The sparkling tiara, tutu and tunic couldn’t out-dazzle this couple.  They were spectacular.

There was one slip up – literally – in last night’s show that I must mention, because I think it was the turning point -wow, no more puns I promise – of the show.  During the Beauty pas, Sylve slipped and fell.  Not just a “whoops!”, but a crash-and-burn on her…um, tutu.  The shock of it had made the audience gasp loudly, but Sylve got right up and finished with the grace and talent of the true professional she is.  I’m (almost) glad this happened for three reasons.  1. Shit happens -  when it does, you get back up and continue on.  2. It proves she’s human.  3.  It not only shows the audience, which more than likely had some ballet newcomers in it, that the stage was slick, but if a ballerina of this caliber can fall just walking to the upstage corner of the stage, it shows just how difficult it is be to dance a difficult pas in pointe shoes.  The slip upped the respect of the audience tenfold, because she made the rest of it look utterly effortless.

 

CDF 12: Opening Night slideshow

After School Matters #CDF12
After School Matters CDF 2012
Bolero Chicago CDF 2012
Bolero Chicago CDF 2012
Bolero Chicago CDF 2012
Bolero Chicago CDF 2012
GDC CDF 2012
GDC CDF 2012
HSDC CDF 2012
HSDC CDF 2012
HSDC CDF 2012
Joffrey CDF 2012
Joffrey CDF 2012
Joffrey CDF 2012
 
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View some great photos taken of the Chicago Dancing Festival‘s opening night program Chicago Dancing taken by the ever-lovely Cheryl Mann.

1 & 2: After School Matters in Touch of Soul by Nicholas Leichter

3 – 6: Bolero Chicago by Larry Keigwin

7 & 8: Giordano Dance Chicago dancers Maeghan McHale & Martin Ortiz Tapia in Two Become Three by Alexander Ekman

9-11: Hubbard Street Dance Chicago dancers Kellie Epperheimer, Johnny McMillan, Garrett Anderson & Pablo Piantino in Scarlatti by Twyla Tharp

12-14: Joffrey Ballet dancers Victoria Jaiani & Rory Hohenstein in In The Middle, Somewhat Elevated by William Forsythe

CDF12: Chicago Dancing

The Chicago Dancing Festival (CDF) kicked off its sixth year with a performance showcasing local talent.  CDF Board Chair David Herro welcomed the audience and took a few minutes to talk about the origins of the fest and its mission.  He said it’s threefold: 1) to make Chicago a national and international dance destination, 2) to keep elevating the dance form and building an audience by providing the best dance at the lowest possible cost – free!, and 3) to provide a forum, a place where these dancers can come together and watch each other perform.  Mission accomplished.

Our dance-loving Mayor was up next, introduced by Herro as “probably the only Mayor in the United States that can do a proper plié”.  (True and something I’m not ashamed to say I’m particularly proud of.)  Rahm Emanuel took the mic, quipping that his plié talent came in handy in the City budget meetings.  While introducing the opener of the show – a performance by After School Matters Hip Hop Culture Dance Ensemble, a program started by the late First Lady Maggie Daley – the current Mayor acknowledged the Daley family in the audience and said the work’s title Touch of Soul was perfect because “dance is the hidden language of the soul.  I can’t think of a better tribute to the soul of our city, Maggie Daley”.  Mayor Emanuel finished by thanking the family – “from the entire city, thank you for sharing her with us”. (Tear.)  That beautiful, but melancholy moment was short lived, because seconds later, 31 young dancers dressed in white took the stage in a world premiere by choreographer Nicholas Leichter with such energy and enthusiasm that the audience was whooping with joy.

Hometown heavy-hitters Hubbard Street Dance Chicago (HSDC) technically tantalized in the epic, exhaustive Scarlatti.  Choreographed for HSDC by Twyla Tharp in 2011, this work for twelve dancers is a testament to speed and stamina.  In their CDF debut, Giordano Dance Chicago (GDC) paired up with Swedish choreographer Alexander Ekman for a humorous duet featuring lead dancers Maeghan McHale and Martin Ortiz Tapia about life and love, but not necessarily a happy ending.  (Great job Maeghan and Martin!)  Intermission was abuzz with conversation, the packed theater a mass of movement, hand shakes and hugs.

The Joffrey Ballet opened Act II with William Forsythe’s In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated.  This contemporary masterpiece from 1987 changed the way people thought of ballet.  The stark set, the off-center partnering, the hyper-flexibility and “I don’t care” attitude wowed audiences then and continue to now.  Dancer Rory Hohenstein’s multiple, multiple pirouettes amazed.  (He later attributed them to a slippery stage.)  The finale of the show was a collaboration with choreographer Larry Keigwin, a few of his dancers and everyday Chicagoans.  Introduced by CDF co-founders Jay Franke and Lar Lubovitch, Bolero Chicago was a tribute to our city.  Big and small, short and tall, the dancers in this piece represented everyone.  A lady reading a newspaper, a woman walking her dog, a passerby smoking a cigarette, a commuter biking to work, a cluster holding on for balance on a bumpy el ride, and a man in drag losing a battle with his umbrella and the wind.  Bears, Bulls, Cubs and Sox tees – even Benny the Bull merrily flipping around the stage.  Illuminated cell phones lit the stage before bows were replaced by the “everyday” contingent jamming out on stage.

Chicago Dancing had something for everyone and everyone liked something different. Perfect.

CDF12 is Here!

Joffrey Ballet's Victoria Jaiani & Fabrice Calmels in William Forsythe's "In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated". Photo by Herbert Migdoll.

Today kicks off the sixth annual Chicago Dancing Festival (CDF) with an all-Chicago show tonight at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance. Chicago Dancing will feature local companies Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, The Joffrey Ballet and Giordano Dance Chicago (making its festival debut).  Also on the program, a new work by Nicholas Leichter showcasing the After School Matters dance ensemble and a new work by Larry Keigwin incorporating “everyday Chicagoans” set to Ravel’s Bolero.

As a dance lover, this is my favorite week of the year.  The fest comes right after the feel-good dance event of the season, Dance For Life, and builds on the positive energy the dance community is still thriving on from this past Saturday’s show.

Here’s a round up of my preview coverage.  Check back throughout the week to read about festival events and performances.

CDF12

Bolero Chicago

Giordano sneak peek

Artist Spotlight: Amber Neumann

Artist Spotlight: Jesse Bechard

For more information on CDF12, please visit chicagodancingfestival.com

 

CDF 12 Artist Spotlight: Hubbard Street’s Jesse Bechard

HSDC dancers Jesse Bechard & Ana Lopez in  Jirí Kylían's
HSDC dancers Jesse Bechard & Penny Saunders w/ Nacho Duato.  Photo by Igor Larin.
HSDC dancer Jesse Bechard.  Photo by Cheryl Mann.
HSDC
HSDC Penny Saunders & Jesse Bechard in
HSDC Jesse Bechard & Jacqueline Burnett in
HSDC Jesse Bechard & Ana Lopez in

The studios at Hubbard Street Dance Chicago (HSDC) were eerily quiet last week.  The dancers were on a well-deserved break and the staff was holed up in their offices busily preparing for the upcoming season (rehearsals started yesterday).  Fresh off a three-week trip to Costa Rica, dancer Jesse Bechard agreed to meet with me before taking an afternoon ballet class.  After spending an hour chatting with the 31-year-old, this is what I know. He’s smart, funny, loyal, curious, an avid reader, and a self-proclaimed news junkie. He plays drums, he loves kale – and, let’s be honest – he’s pretty easy on the eyes.

Bechard grew up in the Northeast (Connecticut, Massachusetts) and cites seeing Baryshnikov dance on tv as his impetus to start dancing.  Here’s the Cliff Notes of his early career:  danced in various Nutcrackers and recitals; quit dancing during the middle schools years to focus on academics and play sports like soccer, basketball and lacrosse; started dancing again at 16/junior year of high school; went to Walnut Hill School for the Arts for his senior year; attended Boston Ballet summer programs; quit dancing again to go to college (one year at University of Chicago); moved to New York City to dance (and wait tables); apprenticed with Ballet Austin for a year; joined Richmond Ballet in Virginia where he danced for eight years.  Whew!  “I didn’t have that much exposure when I was growing up dancing,” he said.  “The things that were put in front of me as goals were all these white tights things.  I didn’t know what was going on in Europe.  I’d seen Hubbard Street, but I didn’t know about NDT (Nederlands Dans Theater).  In the early 2000′s I went to see NDTII and that really changed my trajectory substantially.  ‘Well, there it is!  That’s what I’d like to do.’  I remember the next day in class, my whole motivation and what I was focusing on had really shifted overnight.  I never really had that much of a desire to be the prince at all.  You always idolize Baryshnikov.  He’s beautiful. He does incredible things.  But I don’t think I was built for that.  It’s an interesting point when you come to the realization of what you want to do and what your body is aesthetically built for.”

The “third time is a charm” adage rang true to for Bechard and his bumpy adventure to reach HSDC.  He auditioned for three times before everything worked out.  The beginning of the financial crisis, other contract obligations and lack off an opening in the company all delayed his debut with HSDC until August of 2010.  In 2011, Bechard performed at the Chicago Dancing Festival (CDF) for the Moderns (Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar’s Too Beaucoup) and Masters (Jiri Kylían’s Petite Mort) programs.  This year he’s scheduled to perform Twyla Tharp’s Scarlatti in the Chicago Dancing program on Monday, August 20, and Ohad Naharin’s Tabula Rasa in the closing night’s Celebration of Dance on Saturday, August 25.  (Casting may change.)  Here are some excerpts from our chat.

The first thing I remember seeing you in was Nacho Duato’s Arcangelo.  Since then, it seems like you’ve been in everything.  Who were some of your favorite choreographers to work with or favorite pieces?

Nacho was really fun to work with. It was really fun to work with Yoshi (Fumi Inao), who came to set Ohad’s  (Naharin) work.  ”Too Beaucoup” was a really difficult process for me.  I was new.  I’d only been in the company six months at that point and certain things, like Nacho’s piece were within my comfort zone.  Then we come in and have this crazy Israeli woman dancing around asking you what you got out of that.  You get to a point in this company where you get much better at learning the way that things operate.  It’s not often in a ballet company that someone will come in and do something and ask what you got from it, so you learn a lot more how to interpret what you do.  We do a massive amount of improvisation.  If you make it up and it looks convincing, it will probably work.  It’s true.  If you’re tentative and hesitant, that reads.  But if you’re like this is what I’m going to do, that’s a choice.  It really doesn’t have to be right, it just has to be what you intend to do.  You can take risks and something can happen that you didn’t intend, but you have to make it happen.  As you get more comfortable with that it becomes more enjoyable.  In her process, I was not quite used to that and her movement style is…insane.  The process was cool, but it wasn’t my favorite process, but now it is one of my favorite pieces to perform in terms of the visceral experience as a dancer.  You’re in this unitard, you have contacts on, you have a wig on, you’re dancing to this killer music with these awesome lights and you’re just one little cog in the wheel. It’s awesome for your brain.  You’re just in there, talking to yourself.  You have to count everything.  There’s 9 of these and 14 of these and 12 of these. I think that’s the piece with the biggest difference between how much I enjoy doing it and how much I enjoyed the process. I love Sharon and Gai, they were really cool, but the process was really hard.

“Petite Mort” (Jirí Kylían) – that’s another thing you want to check off the list in your dance career.  That’s one that for most dancers, you really, really want to do. It’s almost a perfect piece.  It’s concise, it’s short.  It’s not overdone.  It is so insanely musical and so simple.  The whole men’s section…getting six guys to breathe together.

When you all turn around that first time and swipe the sword…it’s such a great moment.

That’s definitely one of the most stressful things…walking down with it balanced on your finger.  Finding that balance point is difficult.  You get good at it, but when the curtain opens up, there is a shift in air and then you’re trying to walk backwards, downstage and find your mark and look at the other person, then lower your sword down and as you lower it, trying to keep it balanced on your finger. I love dancing in silence with only the sounds of the swords.  There’s such a cool internal rhythm to it. 

Alejandro’s (Cerrudo) stuff feels really good to do.  The movement feels really nice.

Does his work become shorthand after a while, since you’ve worked with him so much? 

It becomes much easier to know what he wants.  I think it’s like that with a lot of choreographers.  You know what they like to see.  Not even what they like to see, it’s not about ass-kissing or pleasing someone, but you kind of have an idea of what aesthetic they’re shooting for, so you can just get to it quicker.

The Forsythe piece in the Summer Series was amazing.  You were in both casts.  How did you get through that week?  

It was really difficult.  That was a hard program.  I drank a lot of Pedialyte.

What was the learning process like for Quintett?

The people that he sent – Thomas (McManus), Stephen (Galloway) and Dana (Caspersen) – they were fantastic.  None of us really knew what to expect when they came in.  That process was great.  I really enjoyed working with them. I think what Thomas was asking me to do and trying to get out of me and everybody felt massively different from the beginning to the end.  And then it felt massively different from when we did it here and at ADF. 

Did you get to meet William Forsythe at the American Dance Festival? 

Yeah, he worked with us.  He comes in wearing jean, sneakers and a tee shirt. He’s a totally quirky, awesome, incredibly laid-back guy.  I’ve heard that he can really not be that way, but anyone who is trying to create something can go a little crazy. He wasn’t like “Forsythe”.  He was joking about himself and totally mellow. He was super encouraging.  In that piece, because of the nature of the music and the movement, you really are supposed to go for it as much as you can.  And if something happens that didn’t happen before?  See where it goes.  

At the Harris, I’m pretty sure I saw you slide off the stage at one point.

I fell at one point.  I was running and sliding and hit a tape mark.  But honestly, that could be the movement. 

There was something different about that work.  Even in rehearsals, if was the first time I saw you guys laughing and having fun in rehearsal. Not that you don’t have fun, but everyone seemed really laid back and you seemed to be having such a good time, especially on stage.

It makes you smile.  We don’t have a lot of smiling pieces.  It feels like that when you’re doing it.  We weren’t putting that on.  In rehearsals, you’re kind of like – gasp! – dying, but on stage, it makes you smile. The fact that it was made right after his first wife passed away, you thought it was sort of memorial, but it’s a celebration of life and memory.  Working with them there was no stress.  There was so much respect.

So, Twyla. What was it like working with her? 

It’s another one of these “icon” people.  She was great.  She was super fun to work with.  She a little ball of energy.  She could power a city.  She 71 now. She was jumping on me and wrapping herself around me – totally off the floor.  I’m there with Twyla hanging off of me thinking ‘I can’t drop her. This is a lawsuit waiting to happen.’  She’s so professional and has such a specific style and procedure of working. She’s a workhorse.  She didn’t take lunch.  She would have lunch brought to her and stagger our lunches, so we could have lunch, but she could continue working throughout the day.  

How is dancing Scarlatti?  

It’s a fun piece to do.  It’s entirely different than “Quintett”.  In “Quintett”, you want to really throw yourself at it.  ”Scarlatti”, you throw yourself at it too, but there are parts that are much lighter on the floor.  It is super musical, so it’s fun to dance.  I think it’s exactly what she intended it to be.  It exactly fits the music. I’d like to work with her again.  

Chicago Dancing Festival 2012 runs August 20 – 25.  For more information, visit chicagodancingfestival.com.

Slideshow Photo Credits:

Bechard with Ana Lopez in Jirí Kylían’s “Petite Mort”.  Photo by Cheryl Mann.

Bechard in “Arcangelo” rehearsal with Penny Saunders and Nacho Duato.  Photo by Igor Larin.

Bechard headshot by Cheryl Mann.

Bechard in Jonathan Fredrickson’s “Untitled Landscape”. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

Bechard and Penny Saunders in William Forsythe’s “Quintett”. Photo by Cheryl Mann.

Bechard and Jacqueline Burnett in Alejandro Cerrudo’s “Malditos”. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

Bechard and Ana Lopez in Alejandro Cerrudo’s “Little Mortal Jump”. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

 

 

 

CDF12 Artist Spotlight: Joffrey’s Amber Neumann

Joffrey's Amber Neumann & Graham Maverick in William Forsythe's "In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated". Photo by Herbert Migdoll.

On a sunny morning in July, a perky little ray of sunshine walks toward me clad in a yellow sundress.  ”I made this,” she says, referring to the dress, her smile lighting up the sidewalk.  Amber Neumann, 21, has a lot to smile about.  Now entering her third season with the Joffrey Ballet (after 6 weeks off, rehearsals for the 2012-2013 season started yesterday), her list of accomplishments keeps growing.

She’s worked with well-known choreographers like Julia Adam, Yuri Possokhov, Val Caniparoli and Edwaard Liang.  She danced the lead role of Kitri in Possokhov’s Don Quixote to rave reviews after an injury shook up the cast.  She learned the part in a day (“four hours of rehearsal and a dress rehearsal”).  She proved her acting chops last season in Wayne MacGregor’s Infra depicting an emotional breakdown center stage.   She showed fearlessness in William Forsythe’s “In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated”, where she explosively danced what is known as the “jeté pas” (her entrance is three ball-to-the-walls jetés across the stage partnered by Graham Maverick).  She recently purchased her first home and is enjoying nesting, gardening and making clothes.  “It’s been the summer of experimenting,” says Neumann.  “It’s been busy.  I just started taking Krav Maga (an Israeli fighting technique).  I took a trip to Canada with my Mom to the Shakespeare Festival in Stratford.  I went to a lot of weddings.”

This season, Neumann is looking forward to learning and performing Kurt Jooss’ The Green Table, Jiri Kylían’s Forgotten Land and is excited to be dancing for the first time at Dance For Life as well as participating again in the Chicago Dancing Festival (CDF).   In last year’s fest, she  performed in George Balanchine’s Stravinsky Violin Concert on the Pritzker Pavilion stage.  This year at CDF, she will be performing Forsythe’s In the Middle in the Chicago Dancing program on Monday, August 20th at the Harris TheaterRB sat down over coffee with Neumann at the end of her summer break.

 Tell me about learning the Forsythe piece.

Working with Glen (Tuggle, répétiteur) was a blast.  He was so much fun, but kept us all focused at the same time, which is not easy.  He had this way of giving us just enough free reign so we could play with the timing and the steps.  There’s a lot of improv, so you could change it up.  You could do something a little different every time.  There’s a certain amount of “ooh, what’s going to happen now?” and that’s always exciting.

And the jeté pas?

There are a lot of arms and things that are really intricate and you have to be really together with your partner.  This is not on your leg.  This is get off of your leg and twist your arms around your head and try not to choke each other.  We had a really good time.  It was hard, but once you get into it, it starts to flow.

Is it difficult to count?

It was at first.  It was really difficult.  There are some parts you absolutely have to count.  If you don’t count, you’re screwed.  It is hard to count unless you really listen and understand the music.  Once you do that, its a solid meter.  If you can find the meter, you’re fine.  There’s the second pirouette section in the back, where everyone is going at a different time…that took us longer than I care to admit for us to get that.  And the sets are minimalist, there aren’t really wings, so you really have to know your counts.  It’s a little bit of flying without a net.

Have you started putting it back together yet?

No. Right when we start back we’ll start putting it back together.  There’s not a lot of time.  Stamina-wise, it’s so incredibly difficult.  It really doesn’t matter if you run and exercise; it’s a different kind of stamina. 

For more information on the Chicago Dancing Festival 2012, click here.

Read more about Amber here.