ABT Entertains Chicago

Stella Abrera and Calvin Royal III in "Bach Partiita". Photo by Gene Shiavone.

The American Ballet Theatre (ABT) has one more performance left this weekend at the Auditorium Theatre. Download the Bears app to keep track of the game and head to the theater to see this All-American Celebration featuring Back Partita and Sinatra Suite by Twyla Tharp, Some Assembly Required by Clark Tippet and Fancy Free by Jerome Robbins.

At first, I was curious why they chose to bring this program considering Chicago audiences recently saw Robbins’ Fancy Free (Stars of the American Ballet) and Nine Sinatra Songs (The Joffrey Ballet) a few weeks ago at the Chicago Dancing Festival, but witnessing the audience reaction to these works left no doubt they made the right choice. Opening with the piquantly performed Bach Partita set the tone, showing off the talent and breadth of the massive company right out of the gate…or curtain. ABT smartly used the fame juggernaut that is Misty Copeland in promoting the performances, but Gillian Murphy was the star of this piece. Tharp’s brisk and difficult choreography was a breeze for Murphy who never missed a beat and was expertly partnered by the handsome Marcelo Gomes (who just danced the lead in Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake in Japan).

Tippet’s breezy duet danced by Sarah Lane (dance double for Natalie Portman in Black Swan) and Sterling Baca was a delightful, if too long interlude before the other Tharp piece stole the show. Sinatra Suite uses five of the nine duets from her Nine Sinatra Songs to blockbuster effect with the famous and formidable coupling of Copeland and Gomes. The audience gasped as the two entered from the wings to Sinatra’s crooning voice. Having seen this work many times over the past decades, I was not expecting anything new, but the charisma and obvious fun they were having was truly infectious and made the overdone piece seem fresh.

By now, the touring troupe had the audience in its grip and closing with Robbins’ Fancy Free, in hindsight, seems perfect. The fun dance theater piece about three young sailors on leave looking for action took the audience on a sweet ride. It was a real treat to see long-time friend of the blog Daniil Simkin (now a principal dancer) as one of the sassy sailors. Special mention goes to the Chicago Philharmonic Orchestra – always fantastic – and, in particular, violinist Charles Yang, who played brilliant solos for the first two pieces of the evening.

American Ballet Theatre performs today at 2:00 PM at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Pkwy. Tickets are $34-$129, call 800.982.2787. Use code: JOFFREY for 20% off tickets. 

*Disclosure: I work for The Joffrey Ballet and the Chicago Philharmonic Orchestra is our resident orchestra. 

2014 Chicago Dancing Festival Ticket Release

Chicago Dancing Festival at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

Hey y’all! It’s that time of year again. Tickets for the 8th annual Chicago Dancing Festival (CDF) will be released this week. Tickets are FREE, but must be reserved.

This year boasts a stellar line-up (as usual) featuring Chicago’s own Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and The Joffrey Ballet, plus Stars of American Ballet, Martha Graham Dance Company, Adam Barruch, The Juilliard School, Pam Tanowitz Dance, Rennie Harris Puremovement and stars of the Washington Ballet.

Tickets for the Wednesday, August 20th program (7 pm) at the Harris Theater will be released tomorrow, July 8th at noon. You can pick them up in person at 205 E. Randolph or reserve over the phone at 312.334.7777. Limit two (2). If you can’t get in-house seats, this performance will also be simulcast live on the outdoor screen at Pritzker Pavilion. Wine + cheese + dance = done.

Tickets for the two Friday, August 22nd performances – 6 and 8 pm – at the MCA Stage will be released Wednesday, July 9th at noon. You can pick them up in person at 220 E. Chicago or via phone at 312.397.4010. Limit two (2).

For the Saturday, August 23rd performance at Pritzker Pavilion (7:30 pm) , you do not need tickets. More wine + cheese + dance = date night! Do it.

 

David Herro & Jay Franke to be Honored

Philanthropists Jay Franke and David Herro.

Next Tuesday, May 20th, the Illinois Humanities Council (IHC) hosts its annual benefit luncheon at the Palmer House Hilton. This year’s Public Humanities Award will be presented to David Herro and Jay Franke for their commitment to the arts and humanities in Chicago. If you are at all familiar with dance in Chicago, their names – and this honor – should come as no surprise.

Franke is Co-Artistic Director and Co-Founder, with Lar Lubovitch, of the Chicago Dancing Festival (CDF), the biggest free dance fest in the U.S. Herro, works behind the scenes as Treasurer for CDF and both work tirelessly for numerous charitable foundations and serve on an impressive list of boards. Basically, the do-gooder couple of the year has earned this award!

If congratulating and thanking them for their efforts isn’t enough, the luncheon also features guest chefs Michael Kornick (MK Restaurant), Christine Cikowski and Josh Kulp (Sunday Dinner Club, Honey Butter Fried Chicken) and Vosges Haut-Chocolate.

RB will be tweeting from the luncheon and providing a post-event wrap-up.

Here are a few words on Franke and Herro’s contributions to Chicago’s arts and culture scene from IHC Executive Director Angel Ysaguirre:

The Public Humanities Award Luncheon, Tuesday, My 20 at 11:30 am at the Palmer House Hilton, 17 E. Monroe. Single tickets are $175; call 312.422.5584 or visit www.prairie.org/pha.

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. 

 

Ballet West Comes To Chicago (preview)

Ballet West in "Sleeping Beauty". Photo by Luke Isley.

You may have heard of Ballet West. Their artistic director Adam Sklute danced and was on the artistic staff of the Joffrey Ballet. In fact, you likely saw him dance “Herr Drosselmeyer” in The Nutcracker with flair and finesse a time or two. You may have seen them perform at the Chicago Dancing Festival once or twice, but aside from the fest, they haven’t toured in Chicago for over 20 years. Oh, the company also stars on the CW series Breaking Pointe, a reality show that follows the inner workings and lives of professional ballet dancers. If you’ve seen it, you’re obsessed. If you haven’t, you should. Aside from the glitz and glam of t.v. stardom, Ballet West begins their 50th anniversary season – a big deal – on tour. First stop: Chicago.

This weekend at the Auditorium Theatre, Ballet West brings two shows to town and they couldn’t be more different. Friday and Saturday, Oct. 4-5 they perform Sklute’s “reconceived” Sleeping Beauty and on Sunday, Oct. 6, they perform a repertory program that includes Val Caniparoli’s The Lottery based on the short story by Shirley Jackson. “Both programs show off the versatility of my dancers and the diversity of our repertoire,” Sklute said. “I hope that Chicago enjoys it. It’s an important engagement for us. We’re very honored and proud to come.”

Sklute, who recently married his partner of 20 years (yay!), spoke candidly over the phone about the tour, the anniversary, coming back to Chicago and, of course, Breaking Pointe. (Disclosure: Adam and I have known each other since we both worked on staff at Joffrey “x” number of years ago.)

What does it mean to you to come back to Chicago with your own company and perform on your former home stage at the Auditorium?

This is a very, very personal experience for me. For so many years I was at the Joffrey and the Auditorium was my home theater. To be going to Chicago and performing with my company for so many people that I’ve known and loved for so many years is an intense experience. I started thinking at Dance For Life…Oh my God, we’re going to be here. Ballet West is going to be here. I won’t deny that’s it’s a little overwhelming. The feelings are so big. I’m really proud of Ballet West right now. I’m really excited for my company to be seen now, because we’re very different from the great Chicago companies and a lot of the companies that have toured to Chicago, so we’re ready to bring something unique, which is exciting for me.

I can’t remember the last time anybody did Sleeping Beauty here.

That was totally a request of Brett Batterson [Executive Director of the Auditorium Theatre]. When we first started talking, he thought that was perfect. I won’t deny that ‘Sleeping Beauty’ is a little nervewracking for me. Almost more than the rep show, ‘Sleeping Beauty’ is the one that’s freaking me out. There’s such a standard to it. It requires absolute classical purity. While I’m proud of our dancers, there’s the weight of history on our shoulders. Chicago saw Margot Fonteyn dance the role of Aurora, for gosh sakes. This is my production of ‘Sleeping Beauty’. I’ve reconceived it and restaged it with the choreography of the late Mark Goldweber. In a way, it’s also my tribute to Mark, because Mark was such a part of our team that worked under Jerry Arpino when Joffrey was redefining itself in Chicago, so I love that I can bring something that shows Mark’s work. He did a lot with the children in this production and I love that we’re using so many local children to show off the ensemble. All in all, it’s pretty intense and wonderful.

What did you change in Sleeping Beauty?

I edited it down. We’re in a different era now, a different age and people have different attention spans. I tried to honor the story, honor the choreography of Petipa, the concept and Tchaikovsky’s music, but make it more palatable for a 21st century audience. I did a lot to bring out the drama in different ways, to make it an allegory. It’s not something unique, but the way I did it, I think, is unique. The fairies are now the fairy of joy, happiness, beauty, temperament and kindness, wisdom and ‘Carabosse’, the evil fairy, becomes the fairy of jealousy. The princes, the suitors in the Rose Adage are the Princes of the North, South, East and West. The Prince that’s known as ‘Florimund’ is now ‘Prince Desire’. She’s awakened by the kiss of desire at the age of 16, or 116 as the case may be. We tightened up the action. Things to sort of make it move along.

Tell me about the rep show.

I’m really excited about. I think that the company looks smashing. We have the world premiere of ‘Pas de Quatre’ by my resident choreographer Nicolo Fonte and the pas from ‘Diamonds’. ‘The Lottery’, based on Shirley Jackson’s short story. It’s a really intense story. The person that gets killed dances a really long, complicated solo and it’s a cast of 14, so everyone in the cast has to be ready to go for any given night. They don’t know if they will have to dance the long, hard solo at the end of the night or not. It’s pretty incredible. When people are picking their “ticket”, the audience can see it. The tension is palable. It’s not just dramatic tension. They are literally wondering if they have to do it. It adds to the drama of the moment. It’s not predetermined. It happens right there on stage. The way Val has done it is so expert. Val always told us the story is kind of like “The Rite of Spring” meets “Leave it to Beaver”. In a way, it’s also our own homage to the 100th anniversary of “Rite”. [Sklute was part of Joffrey's 1987 reconstruction of Le Sacre du Printemps/The Rite of Spring.]

Let’s talk Breaking Pointe. I think it’s brilliant that you said yes to it. I’m sure people are wondering what you’re doing, but I think it brought your profile up and made fans around the world. Do you still think it was a good idea? How hard is it to cameras everywhere all the time?

 Thank you for saying that. We took a big chance. I wasn’t going to do it if the dancers said no. We all agreed to do it as a group, not only for Ballet West, but what we thought was for ballet. We’re not doing this show for the thousands of people that know and love ballet. We’re doing this show for the millions of people that know nothing about ballet. Is it necessarily about the art? No, but it is about dancers and dancers’ lives. I’ve heard so many things from positive to negative, but what I love is that we’re giving a face to what dancers’ lives are like and what they go through to people that would never know. I’m really pleased that we did it. Was it hard? It was so freakin’ hard. I can’t tell you how awful it was to have cameras in our faces practically 24/7. Dancers would have cameras coming to their houses after rehearsals. It was so hard, but we think still that it was worth it. Was everything exactly as we wanted it? No. I would’ve loved more dance. It is what it is. For all those people saying “why isn’t there more dance?” “Why are you using cheesy music over it”? People don’t realize that reality shows are done on a shoestring budget. The Prokofiev Estate, for ‘Cinderella’, is one of the most expensive to get. A lot of times the producers couldn’t afford to buy that much music. Plus on top of that, to use the actual choreography for clips more than a certain amount of seconds, they had to negotiate and pay for the Ashton choreography to be seen. I can deal with whatever the fallout is as long as the dancers look good in rehearsals and class and performances, I was fine. Even if the clips are short or of personal lives or partying or one too many body shots…whatever it is, Seriously! Really people, you had to do that on camera?

You forget that some of them are just 21-years-old.

Right? Vicki, I maintain we were worse when we were that age. We didn’t talk about it. We didn’t know what planet we were on, but by morning we were in class. If these people say you can go into their personal lives, then you can go there. I try to stay out of my dancer’s personal lives. Can I just tell ya, the real drama that was going on in our company during that time…well, the drama on t.v. pales in comparison to what was really happening. What you see on t.v. is 100% real, but there were things going on that were way more scandalous. 

Will there be a Season 3?

I have no idea. I’m not 100% sure I want to do a Season 3. This was so exhausting and intense, but on the other hand, if they came to us, we probably would.

Have you noticed an uptick in ticket sales since the show? 

We have. The biggest thing has been what we call the “institutional marketing” part of the company. Ticket sales have seen a bump, but really it’s not about that as much as it’s about our name recognition and about the face we’re giving to ballet in general. Certainly on t.v. the Nielson ratings haven’t been very good for the show. Season 1 wasn’t either. But we’re finding out that we’re the CW Channel’s top trending social media show and the top show for online rerun viewing. That matters for something. Every single night our episodes run, we’re in the top ten tv shows during that time period. Obviously something is right.

I have to mention your scarves. Everyone on Twitter is obsessed with you wearing scarves. They’ve even suggested you create your own line.

That’s hilarious. Everyone is saying “you’re totally doing the Mr. Arpino thing”. I had a terrible cold during the entire filming process. The entire ten weeks they were with us I couldn’t shake this cold. I was always cold. I always had the sniffles. I was always wearing one scarf after another. I found out later that was trending.

Ballet West performs at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Pkwy., Friday-Sunday, Oct. 4-6. Performance times vary. Tickets are $30-$90; call 800.982.2787 or visit the Auditorium Box Office or buy online at auditoriumtheatre.org.

 

 

 

 

Aspen Santa Fe Ballet Comes Back to Chitown

Aspen Santa Fe Ballet dancers in Alejandro Cerrudo's "Last". Photo by Sharen Bradford.

Aspen Santa Fe Ballet (ASFB) has been busy. Earlier this year, their touring schedule took them to Moscow, Saratoga Springs, CA. and Wolf Trap. The current season, which began on Sept. 1, has already taken them to Laguna Beach, Portland, Oregon and San Diego. The tour finishes this Saturday, Oct. 5 in Chicago at the Harris Theater. Former Joffrey Ballet dancer Tom Mossbrucker brings his company back to town with a mixed repertory program featuring three contemporary choreographers.

“We’re really excited about the program we’re doing in Chicago because it’s all commissioned work,” said Mossbrucker. “It’s become one of our hallmarks, developing relationships with the choreographers instead of just seeing them one time and then never seeing them again. You develop a trust and it shows in the work. This program really highlights that.” Over Glow, “an upbeat piece that shows off the classicism of the dancers”, is the fourth work by Jorma Elo for the company. Set to Mendelssohn and Beethoven, it features an 11-minute adagio in the middle section with intimate moments that contradict Elo’s usual quick, jerky style. “It’s one of my favorite pieces in the repertory,” Mossbrucker said. “I just love it.”

The company is also working with Spanish choreographer Aayetano Soto for the fourth time. Beautiful Mistake, inspired by “the mistakes we make in our lives that sometimes turn out to be good things”, is his second commission for ASFB. His work Uneven appeared in Chicago at the Chicago Dancing Festival in 2011. “It really shows off that hard-edged side of the dancers,” Mossbrucker said. “His super-physical partnering and the articulation of that makes the dancers look like technical athletes, but with the classical lines still there.” This new work premiered in Aspen earlier this year.

The third work on the program (and the one I’m most excited about) is by Hubbard Street Dance Chicago‘s resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo. Mossbrucker, who has seen and presented Cerrudo’s work many times over the last few years, is a big fan. Having danced with Hubbard Street director Glenn Edgerton at Joffrey, he asked his longtime friend if he could “borrow” his choreographer. “He [Cerrudo] has such an intuitive way of knowing what would strike an audience and how many times to introduce it, how to refer to it and to develop off of it,” said Mossbrucker. “There is always something…an image you remember when you leave the theater.” Having such a packed touring schedule meant that they would be traveling with bare bones, so there won’t be any elaborate sets or dramatic theatrics in this work this time – “just pure Alejandro”. This is also the first time Chicago has seen Cerrudo’s work presented on a company outside of Hubbard Street. “I was in the studio watching him create,” Mossbrucker said, “and there was one of those moments where I said, ‘There it is. That’s what I’ve been waiting for’.”

Aspen Santa Fe Ballet at the Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph St., Saturday, Oct. 5 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $25-$75; call 312.334.7777 or visit harristheaterchicago.org.

 

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…”.

CDF13 Celebration of Dance

Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Theater in "Bolero". Photo by Cheryl Mann.

It was a celebration. A celebration of dance. A celebration of the end of an all-free, world-class dance festival. A celebration of the city we love. Last Saturday night, thousands gathered – including Mayor Emanuel – at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park to enjoy a perfect evening under the stars surrounded by the Chicago skyline for the final night of the 2013 Chicago Dancing Festival (CDF). Dancers representing 13 different companies treated lucky ticket holders to an array of dance styles over the five day festival culminating in this star-studded performance in the heart of downtown.

The celebration began with a CDF commissioned work by Chicago artists Lane Alexander and Bril Barrett for the Chicago Human Rhythm Project, which premiered earlier in the week. In the beginning… created an entire world including soundscape, conversation and relationships with rhythm and footwork. The Joffrey Ballet followed with Jerome Robbins’ 1945 work Interplay. This perky ballet that predates his acclaimed West Side Story is a fiendishly difficult, but fun romp incorporating bright colors, pony tails, big smiles, lots of pirouettes, double tours and even cartwheels. Much to the crowd’s delight, Giordano Dance Chicago‘s Maeghan McHale and Martin Ortiz Tapia brought back a 2012 CDF commission and audience favorite with Alex Ekman’s rubber-faced, romantic comedy piece Two Become Three.

Philadanco in "Wake Up". Photo by Cheryl Mann.

In their CDF debut, Philadelphia-based Philadanco brought a long, meandering work by Rennie Harris. The dancers clad in Soul Train-era, 70s costumes (love the afros!) blend street, jazz and hip hop in an aerobic mix of stylish funk. The dancers were strong in Wake Up (2012), but I wanted to see them do more. Tamako Miyazaki (Columbia Classical Ballet) and Brooklyn Mack (Washington Ballet) once again dazzled in the classical Diana and Actaeon pas de deux (1935). They performed this trick fest earlier in the week, but were even more solid with their dizzying turns and gravity-defying leaps (and some impressive balances en pointe, penché anyone?) than their stellar performance on Tuesday night. “Standing O” in the park. Samuel Lee Roberts of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre reprised the intense, dramatic solo In/Side (2008) he had performed on Wednesday and twice on Friday. Roberts danced his heart out on the stage on Saturday, but with a good amount of the choreography performed on the floor, I wonder if it read as well for the people on the lawn viewing the performance mainly via video feed provided by HMS Media on a huge jumbo tron screen. I hope it did, because it was fantastic. The evening ended with Ensemble Español‘s epic Bolero. This flamenco feast for the eyes looked great on the outdoor stage and was the perfect way to end the performance and the festival.

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.

CDF13: Solitaire – A Game of Dance (gala)

Alvin Ailey dancer Samuel Lee Roberts in "IN/SIDE". Photo by Paul Kolnik.

Last night the Chicago Dancing Festival (CDF) hosted a benefit gala at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) and premiered the Solitaire – A Game of Dance performance that will be repeated this Friday at 6 and 8 pm. Guests mingled in the lobby with wine and passed hors d’oeuvres while perusing silent auction items. MCA Director of Performance Programs Peter Taub introduced CDF co-founders Jay Franke (in the cutest shorts suit!) and Lar Lubovitch, who in turn introduced our favorite local dance fan, Mayor Rahm Emanuel. After telling the dancers backstage to “break a leg” (Eek!), he proceeded to boast about “the largest free dance fest anywhere in the country”. He brought his family along including his parents who were celebrating their 58th wedding anniversary (aww). He talked about the 750 free events that have taken place in Chicago this summer and said that next year the hope is to take CDF around the city and “break out to all the neighborhoods”.

Franke graciously thanked everyone that helped to make CDF13 possible and Lubovitch, a man as eloquent with words as he is with choreography, gave us a history of the game solitaire (“the game of patience”) and a brief essay on how hard it is dancing and creating a solo. But he promised the performance would show just “how vast and varied the art of dancing alone is”. The show indeed did just that. A hand of cards projected on the back wall served as program notes and transitions. Before each solo a card was flipped with the picture and name of the artist about to perform.

First, the exquisite Victoria Jaiani of the Joffrey Ballet danced a breathtaking and heart-wrenching (yes, I cried) Dying Swan variation from 1905. She seemed to float across the stage in her entrance. From her delicate death, we jump to the dramatic, super strong solo In/Side (2008) performed by Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre‘s Samuel Lee Roberts. His sheer physicality was expertly matched by Robert Battle’s intense choreography. Ensemble Español‘s Julia Hinojosa danced a beautiful ode to Cuba in this flirtatious, percussive solo complete with a gorgeous long ruffled skirt and a large white fan. Ensueños de mi Caribe (2012), inspired by the city of Havana, showcases the traditions of flamenco. The petite Camille A. Brown commanded the stage in a powerful, puppet-like excerpt from her 2012 work Mr. Tol E. RAncE celebrating black performers and challenging stereotypes.

Natya Dance Theatre dancer Krithika Rajagopalan. Photo by Amitava Sarkar.

Things lightened up as Hubbard Street Dance Chicago dancers Johnny McMillan, David Schultz and Jonathan Fredrickson took the stage in Alejandro Cerrudo’s charming PACOPEPEPLUTO (2011), a fun, technically challenging and “cheeky” trio of solos set to Dean Martin songs. Krithika Rajagopalan of Natya Dance Theatre, wearing a stunning orange and red sari, was a study of intricate detail and expression in Sthithihi – In the Stillness (2013). The placement of each finger or the raising of an eyebrow telling an entire story. The performance went from stillness to the extreme with Brian Brooks’ frenetic 2007 solo I’m Going to Explode. Towards the end of the solo, he spirals down onto his knees leaving one arm extended up to the ceiling reminding me of the swan dying at the beginning of the show.

The evening ended with guests gathering in the upstairs galleries for drinks, dinner, dancing and a live auction. Once again, CDF did what it does best, which is bring a wide range of dance forms together on one stage performed by some of the best dancers around. You may not enjoy every style of dance you see here, but you can’t deny the talent, commitment and artistry involved.