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.