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
 
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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: The Harris at 10! Anniversary Special

Tamako Miyazaki and Brooklyn Mack in "Diana and Actaeon pas". Photo by Sarah Weymar.

Opening night of the 7th annual Chicago Dancing Festival (CDF13) was in honor of the Harris Theatre‘s 10th anniversary – and what a celebration it was. A packed house was treated to a star-studded, eclectic evening of beautiful dancing. It is an amazing thing watching local audiences witness for FREE what I am humbly privileged to see all the time as a dance writer and from the reaction (thunderous applause, mini standing ovations and, what I can only call, whooping), they enjoyed it as much as I did.

Pieces are announced by a Let’s-get-ready-to-ruuuuuuuumble! voice over giving pertinent details of the upcoming work. The show started off with a bang – or stomp – with a CDF13 commissioned work by local artists Lane Alexander and Bril Barrett. Chicago Human Rhythm Project busted out some crazy mad beats in a showcase of a groovy, partially improvised master tap class. Shout out to the ladies Donnetta Jackson and Starinah (“Star”, yes she is) Dixon. The flaptastic opening was followed by Hubbard Street Dance Chicago performing Little Mortal Jump (2012) by their resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo. (If you’ve ever read my blog, you know I’m a huge fan of AC.) This fun, theatrical work never ceases to impress. Retirements and injuries updated the original casting and added new, interesting timing and phrasing choices. The slow-motion duet near the end by Ana Lopez and Jesse Bechard always gives me goosebumps. A woman sitting near me started a chorus of “Bravos”, while a number of people jumped to their feet with enthusiasm.

Washington Ballet dancer Brooklyn Mack and Tamako Miyazaki of the Columbia Classical Ballet and Dortmund Ballet stunned in the Diana and Actaeon pas de deux. I wasn’t familiar with this pas based on a greek myth where a goddess turns a man into a deer like a 1935 balletic version of Beauty and the Beast. The casting of Miyazaki (tiny, pale and petite) and Mack (tall, dark and massive) was perfect. Both were exceptional dancers showing off technical tricks in a classic forum. While Miyazaki breezed across the floor with fleet footwork, Mack defied gravity with amazing jumps. Those jumps!** A friend said it was a switch leap, jete coupe with a 520…huh? I still can’t quite figure out what that is, but WOW! And he did it more than once. Not to be outdone, Miyazaki more than held her own with beautiful extensions, pristine pointe work and top-like turns. Her fouette run in the coda with a double every other turn and a lightly landed triple to finish was only topped by the supported turns with Mack that were so fast, furious and frequent that I lost count. (Yes, I do count them). Get thee to the Pritzker Pavillion in Millennium Park to see this for yourself on Saturday at 7:30 pm. What a way to end Act I.

The only work that seemed to leave the audience perplexed was festival co-founder Lar Lubovitch‘s Crisis Variations (2011), which was likely from a lack of exposure to this style. Set to a musical suite of the same title, and played by the amazing Le Train Bleu, Crisis was difficult and dischordant from the start. The swooping, circular flow that I love about his choreography was absent here, likely on purpose, but I missed it. The dancers of his company began in formations on the floor and for most of the dance, the majority stayed on the floor as if grounded by a magnet or unbearable burden. A couple performed a dependent and (again) difficult duet, climbing and resting on top of one another as if struggling and helping each other at the same time. Perhaps that was the point. Something can come out of a crisis that is unique, strong and loving, but not necessarily pretty.

Brian Brooks in "I'm Going to Explode". Photo by Christopher Duggan.

New York-based artist Brian Brooks followed with a quirky solo I’m Going to Explode (2007). Beginning in a chair on stage left, the suited and ready for work Brooks took off his shoes and jacket, walked to the other side of the stage and started swishing his arms from front to back, then side to side. The movement became more frenetic as if he indeed was going to explode. He looked like a human washing room, but with the cycle going backwards. He started off crisp and dry and ended soaked and disheveled. As he made his way back to the chair, the audience couldn’t wait for him to put his shoes back on before starting to clap. Rounding out the show was a balls-to-the-walls performance of Stanton Welch’s Son of Chamber Symphony by the Joffrey Ballet. This work, created for them last season, demonstrated the opposite end of the classical ballet spectrum. With inside-out tutus, impeccable, off-kilter technique to a contemporary score, Son is almost a ballet inverted. My notes are basically a list of the cast as every dancer brought their ‘A’ game and then some.

It was a spectacular night of dance to open the festival. It makes me proud to be a Chicagoan. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

**UPDATE: I sat next to Brooklyn Mack at CDF’s Dancing in Chicago show last night (08/22/13). He told me the jumps are a twist on a 540, not 520 as I originally reported. Here is a video of a Le Corsaire pas. The male dancer does two 540s at the beginning, so you can see the base of Mack’s incredible jump.

2013 Chicago Dancing Festival

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

It’s almost that time of year again. In late August (20th-24th), the seventh annual Chicago Dancing Festival (CDF) hits Chicago stages for another year of fantastic FREE dance concerts. Once again, for the third year, I will be part of CDF’s blogger initiative covering the performances and providing dancer/choreographer interviews and behind-the-scenes rehearsal sneak peeks. Woot!

This year’s line up of performers is fantastic. Local companies Chicago Human Rhythm Project, Giordano Dance Chicago, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and The Joffrey Ballet as well as NY-based companies Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Brian Brooks Moving Company, Camille A. Brown & Dancers and Lar Lubovitch Dance Company all return to the fest. CDF newcomers include Chicago’s Ensemble Español and Natya Dance Theatre and Philadelphia’s Philadanco, plus artists Brooklyn Mack of Washington Ballet and Tamako Miyazaki of Columbia Classical Ballet and Dortmund Ballet.

2013 Chicago Dancing Festival will also have two commissions: a new piece by Chi-town tappers Lane Alexander and Bril Barrett and the Chicago premiere of Alexander Ekman’s Episode 31 by Joffrey (this work will also appear on their Winter program in Feb 2014). Live music will accompany the Lubovitch company and Ensemble Español. Tuesday (Aug. 20) opens the festival with a celebration for the Harris Theater‘s 10th anniversary. Wednesday (Aug. 21) is the CDF gala performance and benefit at the Museum of Contemporary Art/MCA Stage. It’s the only event in which you need to purchase a ticket ($250). Thursday (Aug. 22) showcases Dancing in Chicago with an all-local show at the Auditorium Theatre. Friday is a free repeat of the gala performance, Solitaire – A Game of Dance, featuring all solo works. And, Saturday is the much-loved, highly-attended Celebration of Dance at the outdoor Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park.

All performances – except the gala – are free. Tickets for indoor events need to be reserved, but the outdoor Pritzker show is open to the public. The ticket release for the performances is staggered and there is a limit of two (2) tickets per order. Stay tuned for a post with the ticket release dates and performance times.

Tapping Away the Winter Blues

Tapper/Choreographer Michelle Dorrance. Photo by Matthew Murphy & Kenn Tam.

This weekend, Feb. 8-10, shake, hop and shuffle off your winter blues by attending the Winter Tap JAMboree! presented by the Chicago Human Rhythm Project (CHRP). Located at the American Rhythm Center (ARC) in the historic Fine Arts Building on Michigan Ave., the three-day fest features some of the best tappers around including CHRP Director Lane Alexander, Nico Rubio, Bril Barrett, STOMP performer Lisa La Touche and Michelle Dorrance, winner of a 2012 Princess Grace Award (the first tap choreographer to ever win!). Master classes in tap will be offered, plus classes in hip hop, break dancing, fitness and tai chi, plus an open forum discussion about the future of American tap dance. General registration $15. Master classes $17.50/per class. Also, on Saturday, Feb. 9 from 7-9 pm, there will be auditions for tap scholarships for dancers ages 12 – 18 to CHRP’s Rhythm World tap festival this summer, July 22 – Aug. 4. Ten $1000 scholarships will be awarded. Registration fee is $15. For more information, visit chicagotap.org.

While Dorrance is in town for the JAMboree!, she’s also working with CHRP group BAM! setting a new work to be premiered on April 4th at the Auditorium Theatre‘s Music + Movement Festival. The new five-month-long festival – just announced yesterday – features Chicago dance companies paired with live musicians for original performances commission by the theater. BAM! will perform in the Katten/Landau Studio (435 S. Wabash, 4th floor). Tickets are $10.

I sat in on rehearsals this morning while Dorrance finished piecing together the first section set to a remixed version of Etta James’ St. Louis Blues for five dancers. Fast is an understatement for the rapid-fire rhythms coming off their feet. Dorrance, 33, tosses out commentary with a humorous tone (this really mattered to me last night; did I lie to you?; this shit…let’s clean it up while we’re here) and advice (trust it and try it; stay in plié, it will save your life; surprise yourself with the first over-the-top) while going over choreographic notes and layering in bits of character to the complicated syncopated steps. Familiar names like wings and Charleston are interspersed with audible rhythmic cues like shig-a-dig-a and go-go-go-go GA-GA! The first section is short, but jam-packed with steps, which leads Dorrance to apologize, sort of, for adding in old-school trenches (switching legs back in a flat back, reaching to the floor with the opposite hands, while sliding back on the outside of one foot) at the very end. “Sorry to end this so tiring…hmph!” But, she doesn’t change it.

 

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.

CDF12 Programming Update

Dance writer/lecturer Zachary Whittenburg. Photo by Benjamin Wardell.

Today, the Chicago Dancing Festival (CDF) announced the programming for the Chicago Now lecture/demonstration at the Museum of Contemporary Art on Friday, August 24 at 6 pm.  A discussion on the current state of dance in Chicago will be moderated by journalist and former dancer Zac Whittenburg (go Zac!), featuring a panel of distinguished Chicago dance leaders, including Lane Alexander (Chicago Human Rhythm Project), Ron De Jesús (Ron De Jesús Dance), Carrie Hanson (The Seldoms) and Julie Nakagawa (DanceWorks Chicago). The program will include brief performances by The Seldoms, Ron De Jesús Dance and FootworKINGz.

Tickets for the Chicago Now program become available Thursday, July 18 at 12 pm in person at the MCA Stage Box Office, 220 E. Chicago Avenue, or by calling 312-397-4010.  Tickets will go fast!  Good luck – this is sure to be a great conversation.

American Rhythm Center to Open Doors Soon

Rendering of the American Rhythm Center's reception area.

Lane Alexander’s dream of a shared-space, communal arts building is finally coming true.  The American Rhythm Center (ARC), located in Chicago’s Fine Arts Building at 410 S. Michigan Avenue – former space of the Boitsov Ballet – will launch its first stage in a few weeks.  On the third floor of this cultural institution will be three new multi-use studios to be shared by nine local mid-sized arts organizations.  Alexander’s Chicago Human Rhythm Project (CHRP) will be the first to use the space for the upcoming Rhythm World Festival 2012 later this month with a grand opening with the resident partners coming this fall in September.

The collaborative space will be shared by community partners Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre, Chicago Chinese Cultural Institute, Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra, Giordano Dance Chicago, Kalapriya, Luna Negra Dance Theater, Ping Pong Productions and River North Dance Chicago.  “One of the things that’s appealing about ARC is that we’re helping to build cultural infrastructure,” said CHRP’s new Executive Director Frank Sonntag.  “To have a healthy ecosystem, you can’t just pay attention to the top, you have to pay attention to the middle and create entry points for artists.  That’s what we’re doing and I think it’s important.”  Sonntag, 50, boasts a long career in arts administration with stints at the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts, Dance St. Louis, David Parsons Project, New York Foundation for the Arts, Broadway Cares, Brooklyn Center for the Performing Arts as well as helping open the Cowles Center for Dance and the Performing Arts in Minneapolis last fall.  He’s only been in town a month and is already in love with the city and excited about this new venture. “It’s very much born out of the idea of collaboration,” Sonntag said.  “What is going to make it work is that collectively the offerings we’ll have are much greater than any one of us are and that will give us market penetration that all of us will have.”

The plan for ARC came out of CHRP’s strategic planning process and with Alexander on board it was only a matter of time before it became a reality.  Approximately $1 million has already been raised and a capital campaign is in the works to raise the estimated $2.5 million needed to complete the other two phases of the project which include administrative facilities, additional space for programming and a black box theater.  Shared performances have gained ground in recent years with many smaller experimental companies presenting together at independent venues and with Audience Architects’ MetLife Fund New Stages for Dance Initiative pairing mid-sized companies at larger venues.  This shared-space facility takes sharing to a whole new level.  “It’s a new model based on the strength of collaboration,” said Sonntag.  “Medium-sized dance companies in particular are under-capitalized, not just here, but all over the country.  What happens when resources are tight is organizations cut programs, the cut marketing budgets, they cut educational outreach and the audiences dwindle.  It’s a downward spiral that can be debilitating.  What ARC will do is to enable these companies to expand their community outreach, be more financially stable through earned income sources and potentially grow their audience.”

As contractors race to make sure the three studios are ready for class by the end of the month, Sonntag feels they are in a good place and is ready for the challenges ahead.  “We’re going to take baby steps.  We’re going to share a copier,” he said.  “The real goal is taking advantage of the synergy that you create when you put that many arts organizations in such close proximity.  That will cut down on some of the barriers that exist.  It’s the wave of the future.”

Windy City Rhythms 2012

FootworKINGz dancers Prince Jron and King Charles. Photo by Baramesi.

As usual, Lane Alexander has a lot on his plate.  The artistic director of the Chicago Human Rhythm Project (CHRP) is overseeing the company’s long-awaited move out of the Athenauem Theatre building into a shared artistic space in the Fine Arts Building at 410 S. Michigan Ave (a previous plan for a new construction building ultimately fell through).  The Collaborative Space for Sustainable Development (CSSD) will also house local companies Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago, Luna Negra Dance Theater, Kalapriya, Ping Pong Productions, River North Dance Chicago and the Chicago Chinese Cultural Institution and will have three studio spaces for classes and rehearsals as well as administrative offices.  “It’s a good ending of a long journey,” said a giddy Alexander.  The lease has been signed and the company will do a partial move in July and expect to be fully functional by this fall.  In associate with the China Performing Arts Agency, CHRP is presenting The Nanning Art Theatre in Legend of the Sun at the Auditorium Theatre on June 12 and 13.  Then CHRP will perform its first-ever full-length evening at the Kennedy Center this December.  Alexander boasts, “We’re a 25-year, overnight success!”

But first, in celebration of National Tap Dance Day (May 25th), which coincides with tap legend Bill “Bojangles” Robinson’s birthday, CHRP presents the annual Windy City Rhythms concert at the DuSable Museum of African American History.  The morning show on Thursday, May 10th at 10:30 a.m. is already sold out, but tickets are still available for the Friday, May 11th performance at 7:30 p.m.  (Ticket information below.)  This year’s show sponsored by The Chicago Community Trust features some new faces including Boom Crack Dance Company, a hip hop troupe, and FootworKINGz, a local footworking group credited with starting the dance style that has been featured on America’s Got Talent and America’s Best Dance Crew.  So, what’s the difference between tapping and footworking?  Alexander said, “Footworking was done in the street, because of hip hop.  The music came first and at up to 160 beats per minute, the movement is very fast and precise with the upper body doing more of a hip hop or breakdancing style.  We embrace all of our rhythmic brothers and sisters and always have our eyes and ears open to expand and bring in artists that are new to the audiences.”  Also performing in the show, footdrummer Tre Dumas (“one of the finest composers anywhere”), Mr. Taps (Ayrie King III), M.A.D.D. Rhythms, BAM! and youth groups from Bronzeville Lighthouse Charter School and Paul Revere Elementary.  “This is a community-based event,” Alexander said.  “We hope to inspire the kids.  This is a great way for them to see what the end point might be if they stick with it.”

Chicago Human Rhythm Project presents Windy City Rhythms, Thursday, May 10 at 10:30 am and Friday, May 11th at 7:30 pm at the DuSable Museum, 740 E. 56th Pl. Tickets are $15-$25. Call 773.281.1825 or visit chicagotap.org.

Giving Thanks

It’s that time of year again (already!), time for turkey and PIE!!!  Oh, and also giving thanks.  Chicago Human Rhythm Project (CHRP) taps into the spirit of giving this weekend (November 26 & 27) presenting Global Rhythms at the Harris TheaterGlobal Rhythms is a shared-revenue performance and this year features Ensemble Español, Step Afrika! and The Mexican Folkloric Dance Company along with CHRP dancers.  CHRP’s Thanks 4 Giving program let’s audience members feel good while entertaining them.  You can receive a 10% discount on your performance ticket by choosing one of the participating local non-profits affiliated with this year’s show (listed here).  The organization of your choice will receive 50% of the ticket price in return.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Global Rhythms, Nov 26 at 8pm, Nov 27 at 7pm, $15-$55

Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph, 312.334.7777