Local dancemakers channel Martha

*Practice means to perform, over and over again in the face of all obstacles, some act of vision, of faith, of desire. Practice is a means of inviting the perfection desired. ~Martha Graham

Winifred Haun and Lizzie Leopold begin the conversation by saying how different they are, but by then end, they are finishing each other’s sentences. Their friendship began over a quibble about the purpose of Twitter (Leopold won) and has developed over the years to a partnership of two dancemakers exploring their visions. “We’re a good team,” said Leopold. “We work well off of each other. Wini has a lot more experience than I do and…I’m more stubborn than I should be for my lack of years. Wini was the first person to offer me a seat at the table.” That table includes a love and respect (shared by many in the dance world) of Martha Graham and her contributions to the art. Inspired by Graham’s work, the two have put together a remarkable show with a number of artists that have been touched by her in some way or form. Kind of a six-degrees-of-separation, Martha-style.

This weekend, Winifred Haun & Dancers/Leopold Group present Vision, Faith & Desire:Dancemakers Inspired by Martha Graham, a multi-faceted show will include video of Graham’s 1930 solo work Lamentation, a dance film by Graham’s former choreographic assistant Peter Sparling and with the blessing of The Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance, the world premiere of Leopold’s Lamentation Variation, and new work by Haun, plus other works. “This is a show that I would like to see,” Haun said. “No one else is doing a show like this.”

About a year and a half ago, the two began putting together what they referred to as “The Graham Show”, asking various artists to join and calling in some favors. Haun’s friend Deb Goodman (former Graham student) agreed to teach the iconic Lamentation solo to Haun’s and Leopold’s dancers. When Haun reached out to the Graham Company, she learned that the work was not in the public domain. What could have been a disaster turned into a fantastic opportunity to create their own Lamentation-inspired work (being tackled by Leopold), permission to show the historic footage of Graham performing it and to teach part of the variation in a master class. Score!

With everything coming together – including a stellar list of guest performers like Sparling (who is also giving a guest lecture**), co-artistic director of Kanopy Dance and former Graham Company dancer, Lisa Thurrell (who is also giving a master class – SOLD OUT!) and Ayako Kato – they needed a title. Haun researched Graham reviews and quotes and found a quote (*above) about artistic process that fit perfectly. “It’s about practice,” said Leopold. She worried that people would think they were trying to compare themselves to the iconic choreographer, but eventually found a way to accept the enormity of the challenge on her own terms. “It’s just about saying, ‘We’re working on this’, just like she was working on things,” she said. Haun added, “Martha is a person just like us. Ok, she’s way better, but there’s a quote about when she was making like her 150th dance and thinking ‘I can’t do this. What am I doing?’. That’s all we’re doing. We’ll toss it out there and see what happens.”

Vision, Faith & Desire: Dancemakers Inspired by Martha Graham featuring Winifred Haun & Dancers, Leopold Group, Ayako Kato, Kanopy Dance, and Peter Sparling at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn St., Friday-Saturday, Sept. 27-28 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $30; visit www.brownpapertickets.com/event/357861.

**Peter Sparling’s lecture and video premiere at Northwestern University, Marjorie Ward Marshall Dance Center, 10 Arts Circle Dr., Evanston on Sunday, Sept. 29 at 12:00 p.m. (noon). Tickets are free.

SHINE: Dance Doc to premiere on WTTW

Photo by Kai Harding.

This Sunday September 8, go from behind the scenes to on stage with Thodos Dance Chicago (TDC). Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Christopher Kai Olsen of Kai/Harding followed the company as they prepared for the world premiere of a new story ballet earlier this year. Partners in crime TDC artistic director Melissa Thodos and Broadway legend Ann Reinking teamed up once again to create an original work set in historical fact. This time, the two decided to tell the story of Anne Sullivan and Helen Keller’s unique relationship through dance.

When A Light in the Dark* premiered in March 2013 at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie, Olsen was there to document the premiere in delicious HD detail. With his keen editing eye, he also filmed the creative process and put together an impressive dance documentary with behind-the-scenes rehearsal footage as well as one-on-one interviews with Reinking, Thodos and TDC lead dancers. The prelude of Shine – Making “A Light in the Dark debuts on Chicago’s PBS station WTTW this Sunday at 1:30 pm with A Light in the Dark showcasing the final production and performance immediately following at 2:00 pm.

I got to preview both films (so I can not feel guilty if I flip back and forth between the Bears game – Go Bears!) and the footage and editing is quite remarkable. I sat in on the interviews and rehearsals, but the way they come together in the film, incorporating Bruce Wolosoff’s original score and perfectly dropped quotes, takes it to another level. Watching what the dancers are creators go through to make the show and then to watch the entire performance makes it more believable and will make for a very entertaining afternoon of television.

“Shine” debuts Sunday, September 8 at 1:30 pm on WTTW followed by “A Light in the Dark” at 2:00 pm CST. 

*You can see A Light in the Dark live in Thodos Dance Chicago’s 2014 Winter Concert February 22, 2014 at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts and on March 8 and 9 at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance. Visit thodosdancechicago.org for more information.

Movie review: Fame High

“If you’re early, you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re late. If you’re late, you’re dead,” the teacher says. The kids in class giggle in response. With a deadly serious face, he says, “Not a joke.”

This interaction sets the tone for a behind-the-scenes year at the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts (LACHSA) or FAME HIGH, the subject of a new docu-drama by Oscar nominated director Scott Hamilton Kennedy. The film follows select freshman and seniors through a year at the intense arts school training in their respective fields of music, theater and dance.

The opening scene shows Brittany, a music major, as a 6-year-old playing Mary Had a Little Lamb on the harp at her home in Wisconsin. Now a senior, we follow her through the struggle to balance academics with her desire to begin her singing career immediately. Zak, a freshman music major, learns a big lesson while dealing with a sometimes overbearing and overprotective father. A freshman theater major from a theatrical family, Ruby, finally finds acceptance and sees that professional gigs aren’t always what you think they’ll be. And finally, Grace, a senior dance major, works to break out of her shy ballerina mold within a strict, traditional Korean family.

The film follows these four and their various interactions with teachers, parents, and professionals through a year of ups and downs, laughter and tears, budding romances, broken hearts, and auditions to their final performances/graduations and then resolves the lessons learned. You grow to root for them and love them for their passion, fears, strengths and naiveté. Oh, and their talent. These are some talented youngins.

Of course the shy ballerina pulled at me the most as she danced around en pointe in her Converse sneaks (who didn’t do that?) and pines over a cute boy that her parents won’t let her date (Romeo and Juliet anyone?). In ballet class, her teacher says, “I want to see your soul. I don’t care if your feet aren’t pointed. I don’t care if you can’t get your leg way up to here. I want to see you dance from inside of your heart.” While I’m pretty sure I’ve never heard that in a ballet class, the challenge and struggle to break out of yourself to give more resonates with any dancer.

There are no dancing in the lunch room or on top of a taxi in the middle of the street scenes here. Just raw footage and honest confessions overlapping a plethora of performances in class and on stage. Kennedy goes for the heart and hits it with a bulls eye.

The movie is available digitally now and will be in select theaters/cities in June. For more information, visit FAME HIGH.

 

Wednesday in the Park with Giselle

Crowd at Pritzker Pavillion for Paris Opéra Ballet's live simulcast of "Giselle". Photo by Robert Carl.

An estimated 14,000 people showed up at Millennium Park Wednesday evening to watch the live simulcast of the Paris Opéra Ballet‘s performance of Giselle.  After a greeting from Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) Commissioner, Michelle T. Boone and a few words from Brigitte Lefèvre, Paris Opéra Ballet’s Director, the audience fixed its collective gaze at a giant screen  set up on the Pritzker Pavilion stage.  The LED screen set up by Staging Solutions was 18′ x 32′ according to the City’s press release or 16.5′ x 32.5′ according to Hedy Weiss in the Chicago Sun Times – it was big!  Hi-tech, LED, surround sound and arguably the most famous ballet company in the world performing my favorite ballet…for free.  I love my city!

Chicagoans have been privy to this ballet before.  Local fave Joffrey Ballet presented Giselle in October 2007 and American Ballet Theatre has performed it here numerous times, most recently in March.  The ballet was created for the Paris Opéra Ballet in 1841, however, the current version was staged by Patrice Bart and Eugene Polyakov in 1991.  The french version is pretty much the same as what we’ve seen before with one notable exception.  The Americanized adaptations throw in more grandiose choreography.   For instance, ABT’s version has Albrecht’s brisé diagonals and grand jumps in Act II, where Paris Opéra has him doing slow changements that grow into a crescendo of entrechat quatré and six (performed with great ballon by Nicolas Le Riche).  Where ABT’s Myrta breezes back and forth across the stage and in and out of the wings in a bourré flurry, Paris Opéra’s Myrta’s doesn’t leave the stage, stopping and balancing in sous-sus before taking off again, an exercise in complete control (danced brilliantly by Nolwenn Daniel – she was scary!).    Clairemarie Osta’s Giselle was a sweet, innocent take on young love, but her mad scene lacked the dramatic prowess of a Julie Kent.  Rounding out Wednesday’s cast was hottie Vincent Chaillet as Hilarion and a stellar corps de ballet.  Those Wilis were on!

Being outside had the effect of enhancing, yet separating you from the performance.  The breeze made you feel like you were in the glen celebrating the wine festival and as the sun set and the sky became darker, you could imagine yourself in a wooded graveyard.  The minimal downside was random fire engine sirens and the weekly fireworks exploding at nearby Navy Pier, but that made the experience uniquely Chicago.  There was a disconnect not being in the theater.  A twice-removed feeling: one, you’re not in the theater and two, you’re watching live dance being filmed on a screen.  Nothing beats a live performance experience, but knowing it was being performed live a few hundred feet away (and below) was pretty cool.  The actual filming was fantastic with close-up shots of the lead dancers, a peak into the orchestra pit, an angled shot that showed a hint of the entrances from one wing.  It gave those of us in the cheap (free) seats a VIP feel.

 

Chicago Dancing Festival 2012

Martha Graham Dance Co dancer Xiaochuan Xie on the Pritzker stage.

The Chicago Dancing Festival (CDF) hits Chicago stages for a week of free dance performances again this August.  Now in its sixth year, CDF – the brainchild of Lar Lubovitch and Jay Franke – is expanding (again) to six days of events with new programs and a couple of commissioned world premieres to boot!  RB will be part of CDF’s blogger initiative for the second year, bringing you sneak peeks, dancer/choreographer interviews, event coverage, reviews and wrap ups.  I’ll also be live-Tweeting pre- and post-event coverage for the Fest complete with photos, behind-the-scenes happenings and audience quotes.

New to the fest this year is an all-Chicago program, Chicago Dancing, featuring local faves Hubbard Street Dance Chicago (HSDC) and Joffrey Ballet and three CDF commissioned works.  Giordano Dance Chicago (note the new name!) makes its CDF debut in a work by Swedish choreographer Alexander Ekman.  New York-based choreographer Nicholas Leichter will work with the After School Matters students to create a world premiere honoring the memory of Maggie Daley, former first lady of Chicago, who started the program in 1991.  A two-week residency led by Larry Keigwin blends dancers and non-dancers from Chicago into a world premiere, Bolero Chicago.  Keigwin’s new work, set to Ravel’s most famous score, will incorporate local movement traits for a uniquely Chicago piece.  New groups performing at the fest this year include Pacific Northwest Ballet and Ballet Arizona, along with returning companies San Francisco Ballet, Houston Ballet, New York City Ballet, Martha Graham Dance Company and Brian Brooks Moving Company.

A partnership with Chicago SummerDance, the city’s outdoor dancing series, for Dancing Under the Stars and prolific local dance writer Zac Whittenburg leads a lecture demonstration, Chicago Now, with local companies at the MCA Stage.  Programming for both of these event to be announced at a later date.   A day of Dancing Movies also takes place at the MCA with films including PINA, All Is Not Lost, Two Seconds After the Laughter and Fanfare for Marching Band curated by local artist Sarah Best.  The fest always ends with a Celebration of Dance at the outdoor Pritzker Pavilion stage in Millennium Park showcasing a number of artists that have performed throughout the week.

Tickets for all of the events are free, however, you do need to reserve seating for the indoor theaters in advance.  These will “sell out” very fast!  More information on tickets will be available the week of July 16th.

Dances Made To Order: Chicago Edition Premieres TODAY!

Three films from Chicago dance artists premiere online today for the Chicago series of Dances Made To OrderThe Dance Center of Columbia College curated the May round of the film series created by Dances Made To Order co-founders Kingsley Irons and Bryan Koch.  Local artists Kaitlin Fox, Atalee Judy and Nadia Oussenko had about two weeks to create dance films utilizing three concepts (clocks and paint, struggle against biology, repulsion/desire) voted on by members.  Fox’s Origin features one dancer (Gretchen Soechting), covered in what looks like mud, in a black and white setting of shadows and boxes set to New Age music.  Judy’s Wasteland shows off her trademark punk style as she adorns and destroys alarm clocks (is the clock belt a reference to her biological clock?) to Barry Bennett’s frantic drums.  Oussenko’s Dance of the Queer Tide Faeries takes a fun turn with three dancers (Oussenko, Rachel Damon, Christopher Knowlton) clad in primary colored crinolines playing on the lakefront.

You can watch all three films online for $10.  For more information, visit: dancesmadetoorder.com.

Read my preview here.

Step Up Revolution – trailer

Let’s face facts. As a (former) skinny, white girl from Central Illinois, I don’t know much about hip hop and it’s really funny to watch me try to do it, but that doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy watching it.  In fact, a few weeks ago while prone on my couch with the flu, I came across Step Up 2: The Streets on tv.  Recognizing Harry Shum Jr. from Glee, I decided to watch.  They can do some cray cray moves!

Step Up Revolution – the fourth in the series – hits theaters this summer.  The newest film features Kathryn McCormick, known for her stints on So You Think You Can Dance as a season 6 contestant and season 7 all star. This one is set in Miami and has the usual suspects – some hot guys, cool girls and talented street crews in showdown mode.  My favorite is Moose (Adam G. Sevani), the little nerdy guy.

Here’s the trailer:

 

 

Girls On Film

Dancer/choreographer/filmmaker Kailtin Fox.
Dancer/choreographer/filmmake Nadia Oussenko.  Photo by Daniel Kullman.
Atalee Judy.  Photo by Carl Wiedemann.

Three local dance artists are taking their talent to the screen.  The Dance Center of Columbia College is curating this month’s edition of Dances Made To Order, an online film series created in 2011 by LA team Kingsley Irons (dance maker/producer) and Bryan Kock (filmmaker) that features a different city’s artists each month.  Columbia College peeps Colleen Halloran, Richard Woodbury and Bruce Sheridan chose Kaitlin Fox, Atalee Judy and Nadia Oussenko as the three artists to represent Chicago.

Here’s how it works:  pay a one-time membership fee, $10 for one month (if you only want to see the Chicago films) or $50 to see all the films created this season online.  Once you sign up, you can vote on the themes the filmmakers will be required to use.  Voting – which is FREE – for the Chicago series started yesterday and runs through May 10th at midnight. (I just voted and can’t wait to see what these lovely ladies come up with!) 65% of the revenue raised goes back to the artists.

Besides dance, choreography and filmmaking, Fox, Judy and Oussenko have something else in common.  All three received an email from Columbia College Dance Department Chair, Onye Ozuzu.  “Onye sent me a cryptic email,” Judy said.  “I was a little cautious, because I’d never heard of it.  They’ve got a Netflix kind of thing going on, but with a different concept.”  Fox and Oussenko had never heard of the series either, but all three warmed to the idea quickly.  These lovely ladies have dabbled in filmmaking before, so the process isn’t new, but new challenges will be thrown at them.  For one, it’s difficult to plan a shoot if you don’t know what the film will be about.  Five themes will be voted on taken from questionnaires the artists and their collaborators filled out earlier in the year.  Three of those five themes will be incorporated into each film.  “We can start to plan, but we really don’t know,” said Oussenko.   Fox said she’d been trying to make a dance that would incorporate all five themes, but that plan has been put on hold.  Since graduating from Columbia in 2010, she admits it takes a bit longer to get that “creative kick”.  “I’ve been trying to find ways to expand creatively,” she said.  “This should be a good learning experience.” And Judy said, “I’ve been thinking about it, but it’s futile.  There are certain things you can’t prepare for.  We’re going to wing it and hope to be inspired.”

While, the trio is concerned about the time limit of two weeks for filming, production and editing, some of the rules may help with the process.  “It helped simplify,” said Fox.  “It allows us to scale back.”  Oussenko worries about scheduling.  “You have no idea how hard it is to just get five people together,” she said.  Judy thinks the time frame is “doable” since she’s done a series of film shorts called Danse Skitz for her company BONEdanse, but she’s clearing her schedule for those two weeks, just in case.  The range of freak out is “kind of scary” to “half excited, half nervous” to “I’m terrified”.

For dancer bios and more information or to sign up and vote, go to DancesMadeToOrder.com.