CRB Takes On the Seasons

Schaaf in rehearsal with dancer Lizzie MacKenzie.

“I feel like I’ve been painting with all the colors in my palette,” said Wade Schaaf, founder and artistic director of Chicago Repertory Ballet (CRB). “As I’ve been creating more and more, I feel like my movement vocabulary is pretty expansive, so I felt really free with this piece to use everything I know.” Schaaf presents the premiere of his one-act, 30-minute The Four Seasons this weekend alongside CRB favorites including his Peoplescape: Juxtaposition; Manuel Vignoulle’s duet In a Box; Jacqueline Stewart’s cheeky One Way; and a tender, personal trio, Of Alice, by Autumn Eckman. “The audience is really going to get a ride.”

For The Four Seasons, Schaaf found his inspiration in the music, using composer Max Richter‘s modern take on Vivaldi. “The Richter version is a little more contemporary and a little more streamlined, applicable to now,” said Schaaf on a quick break before teaching class at Joffrey Tower (#convenient). “I wanted to hone in on the humanity of the piece. To me, the whole thing is about people, which always intrigues me as a choreographer.” He also cites the Thorne Miniature Rooms at the Art Institute as an abstract inspiration. “I feel like we’re watching these little vignettes. The music is set up with three sections per season. I treated each of those sections like the miniatures. It didn’t make sense to look at the picture as a whole, but to look at each individual part.”

CRB’s motto may be “Everyone has a story to tell”, but this new The Four Seasons let’s the audience fill in the blanks. “We’re just watching these scenes from life and together they make the four seasons or life, the four seasons of a person’s life, or even the seasons of a relationship,” Schaaf said. “There’s no set plot. I’m not translating a particular feeling, but you get little elements of a story. I wanted it to look like little moments in people’s lives.”

Chicago Repertory Ballet presents THE FOUR SEASONS: and contemporary works Friday-Sunday, May 9 – 11 at The Biograph Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave. Tickets are $25 ($20 for Saturday matinee); visit: victorygardens.org or call 773.871.3000.

Chicago Repertory Ballet’s The Rite of Spring” Preview

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the controversial performance in Paris of composer Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring with choreography by Ballet Russes’ Vaslav Nijinski. The dissonant musical chords combined with turned in, abstract, decidedly non-balletic movement famously  incited a riot at the theater. The desire to tackle this musical monster of a work choreographically is apparently irresistible as a number of companies across the world will be presenting myriad versions during 2013 in honor of the anniversary (including a recreation of Nijinsky’s original by The Joffrey Ballet in September). Add to the list of risk-takers, Wade Schaaf, Artistic Director of Chicago Repertory Ballet (CRB), now in its second season. His futuristic version blending ballet and contemporary vocabulary with sets and costumes by Nathan Rohrer uses 15 dancers and will serve as the second act of this weekend’s CRB performances. This is quite an undertaking for a small, young company, but when I talked with Schaaf last week, he seemed calm, cool and ready for the show.

I asked the obvious question first. Why? “I’ve had a few story ballets that I’ve been sitting on for the past four or five years that I just want to get to and ‘The Rite of Spring is at the top of the list,” he said. “I first saw The Rite of Spring about 15 years ago and it was the best thing I’d ever seen. It was so captivating I was in love with it. I’ve always wanted to do my own version of it. I did see the Nijinski version by the Joffrey first. Then I saw Salvatore Aiello’s version at Ohio Ballet. They did a version that was pretty darn awesome. To me, at the end of the day, I find [the story] to be about people…the sociology of the situation. I feel like I’m always hearing about how the world is going to end. I’ve been hearing that message and kind of inspired by that idea. This group of people we’re looking at is some time in the future, some time after the civilization we’re living in has passed away. Humanity has started over again and we’re looking at this group of people that all the rules and ideas and concepts we have as a society don’t apply to.” And that notoriously difficult music? He laughs, answering, “It is impossible to count. It’s really difficult. I just figured I’d do my best with it. I really listened to the score and it helped me build the story. I looked at the markings that Stravinsky put in the score and the titles he gave and that really helped me understand where he was and helped me build my story from that.”

The first half of the show is a mixed rep including world and company premieres. “All the work is new to the dancers,” Schaaf said. “It’s so awesome!” Along with Rite as a world premiere is a work from Chicago artist Monique Haley ( River North Dance Chicago, currently in The Jungle Book at the Goodman Theatre).  Company premieres include a duet from New York-based choreographer Manuel Vignoulle, a re-worked piece by Jacqueline Stewart as well as a work by Jessica Miller Tomlinson (Schaaf previously danced with both Stewart and Tomlinson at Thodos Dance Chicago).

Chicago Repertory Ballet presents The Rite of Spring and Contemporary Works Friday-Saturday, June 21-22 at 8 pm and Sunday, June 23 at 2 pm at the Vittum Theater, 1012 N. Noble St. Tickets are $25. Click here to purchase.