Susan Marshall & Co open Dance Center’s 40th season

Susan Marshall & Co. in "Play/Pause".

Last weekend open the 40th season at the Dance Center of Columbia College. Mayor Emanuel declared Friday, September 20 Dance Center of Columbia College Day by Mayoral Proclamation. Susan Marshall & Company opened the season with the world premiere of Play/Pause.

With six different and distinct dancers from the two petite women (one blonde, one brunette) to the tall, blonde gentleman with neo A Flock of Seagulls haircut, the piece seemed a hodge-podge of variety pulled from the 80s. One dancers sported just one sparkly sock as perhaps a nod to the King of Pop. The live onstage band played LOUD throwback rock music intermittently, the dancers and musicians teasing each other with a start/stop format indicated by the work’s title. The sound scape, which included pounding and running the mic over figurations of duct tape or on the plexiglass or wood, adding in the dancers’ voices or the ripping of the tape as a avant garde soundtrack, proved more interesting than the movement that was steeped with commonplace gestures.

There were some really interesting images created throughout the hour-long work like a man trying to keep his face lit in the plexiglass frame as a woman lowers it to the floor and back up again. A female duet of one count gestures, while intriguing at the start, went on too long.  A recurring step-touch, step-touch baseline for the dancers seemed to by pulled from a junior high dance or bar mitzvah, but would then turn into a lovely break-out solo or touching duet. Basically, it was uneven and I thought the props warranted more of my attention than the dancing, which is too bad. Interesting concepts, but perhaps fleshing out the movement sections more will make it more cohesive.

I felt like I was trapped in an Talking Heads video directed by David Lynch. It was at times cheesy, bizarre, beautiful, bright, funny and sad. The cast lined up at the front of the stage breathing heavily onto the plexiglass frames was a wonderful way to end, but by then, aided with a raging headache, I was ready for it to be over.

 

 

The Seldoms Rebuild Monument

The Seldoms in "Monument". Photo by William Frederking.

Carrie Hanson, one of Dance Magazine‘s 2012 25 To Watch and the artistic director of Chicago-based troupe The Seldoms has made quirky, intriguing works in odd places like an Olympic-sized empty outdoor swimming pool, a gigantic vacant garage and in an antique salvage house. Now, Hanson finds her inspiration in more issue-based work. This weekend, the company revisits her first issue-based work, Monument, a piece that tackles consumption, disposal and our impact on the environment.

While Hanson does research and begins working on a larger, new work based on Lyndon Baines Johnson, the company set to restaging Monument. Why? ”I really like the work,” Hanson said. “It hasn’t been on the stage since 2008. Our audience has really changed and grown since then, so I feel confident that this will be a new piece for a lot of people. I’m still interested in the topic. I think it’s still relevant and it’s voice, it’s style and the material still match our identity.”

Hanson sees this “monumental” work was a turning point in the trajectory of her company and in the way she and her dancers, most of whom have been with her for years now, create material. “Monument sort of opened the door for this new method of working and new type of piece,” said Hanson. “I would call it more dance/theater, rather than abstract, although some of the vocabulary is still abstract in language. And there is text content.  It was the first piece where I felt like I needed to use language to deliver some very specific facts or data to the audience.” Some of that information – which will be heard in a voice-over by dancer/actor Liz Burritt – includes stats about the Statue of Liberty and the no-longer-in-operation Fresh Kills Landfill on Staten Island. Dry subject matter indeed, but trust me, Hanson makes her poignant points entertaining too. Original sets and video are no longer around, but an updated sound score by Richard Woodbury incorporating grinding machines, dripping goop mixed with songs like “I Love Garbage” and low level foreign language tapes perk up the piece and help give it new energy.

So, what’s the take-away? “I’m just interested in sparking some thought,” Hanson said. “I want to avoid being too heavy-handed or preachy in any of these environmental subject matter-driven pieces. Just a check. What are the last five things I threw away? Thinking about the things we take for granted and thinking about the long-term consequences of that.”

The Seldoms present Monument at Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont Ave., Thursday-Saturday, Sept. 26-28 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Sept. 29 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $20; call 773.327.5252 or visit http://www.stage773.com/Show?id=138.

Where Are They Now? Luna Negra’s Nigel Campbell

Dancer Nigel Campbell. Photo by Cheryl Mann.

When Luna Negra Dance Theater put its dancers on an extended hiatus last spring, Nigel Campbell was the first one to secure a new gig. RB spoke with him after he settled at his new job/home. Here’s an update on what he’s up to.

Where are you?

I live in Gothenburg, Sweden.

What are you doing now?

I am dancing at the Gothenburg Opera DansKompani. I began here about two weeks after Luna announced its extended hiatus. I was very fortunate to be able to move to another job so quickly. I feel very blessed.

What do you miss about LNDT?

The PEOPLE. What a great group we had. [It was] a wonderful collection of individuals…and we were always encouraged to bring our individuality out so we could constantly learn from each other. I miss Gustavo (Ramirez Sansano) terribly, although we are still in contact. I miss being in the studio with him vibe-ing and creating.

What were some of your favorite works?

“Not Everything”…a group piece. It was visually, musically, and architecturally gorgeous! The process flowed very smoothly. It just came together, really relaxed, really unforced. It also contained some of the fastest dancing I’ve ever had to do in my life.

“Toda una Vida” was Gustavo’s first creation as director of Luna. [It was] a tour de force 20-minute duet with some of the most complex partnering I’ve ever done or seen. It remains the most challenging piece I’ve ever had to dance. It also has the most sophisticated and deep understanding of musicality I’ve ever seen to that piece of music (Ravel’s “Bolero”).

“Carmen.maquia” was Gustavo’s evening-length abstract take on “Carmen”. It was quite simply a masterpiece.

“Walk-in” by Fernando Melo, who is my rehearsal director here in Gothenburg. I think he made an exquisite piece of contemporary dance on us and my only regret is that we only got to dance it once. My fear is that it will be lost and no one else will ever get to see this absolutely gorgeous piece.

What was special about LNDT? What did it mean to be a “Lunatic”?

Again, what was most special about Luna was the artists who gave their hearts and souls to it. To be a Lunatic meant you knew you were at the ground of something, that you were a part of building something that could have a legacy. We were always very aware of that. We made so many sacrifices because we believed in the potential of the company under Gustavo’s leadership. We were willing to go above and beyond, because we could feel how truly special what we were doing was. We were a company that didn’t focus on the great master works of the past, but went boldly into the unknown and tried to discover what the next step for contemporary dance was. We were risk takers and hard workers, collaborators, not just receivers. We were active participants in what was being created. We were all part of the legacy we were trying to build. What an incredible journey we were able to go on together.

It’s hard for me to comprehend that all the work we put so much of ourselves into, all of the sacrifices we made, are now just memories. Life goes on and we will all continue to make great and relevant art. Life is crazy and I’ve learned from this that truly, in a moment, EVERYTHING can change and that you always have to be ready. I’m thankful that I had the opportunity to be a Lunatic. It has shaped me in so many ways. I am so incredibly and remarkably blessed that I was in the right place at the right time.

Where Are They Now? Luna Negra’s Kirsten Shelton

Dancer Kirsten Shelton. Photo by Jonathan Mackoff.

The Chicago dance community lost an innovative cultural gem when Luna Negra Dance Theater (LNDT) closed its doors in spring of 2013. An extended hiatus for the dancers hit in March, artistic director Gustavo Ramírez Sansano stepped down in April and the Board of Directors announced it was ceasing operations last May. The dancers and artistic staff, stunned and out of work, dispersed around the world. So, where are they now? What are they up to? RB set out to find out and we’ll here from each of them in the upcoming months.

First up, dancer Kirsten Shelton.

Where are you?

I am still in the Chicagoland area. I own a home in a northwest village where I have lived for nearly three years. I don’t have any plans to relocate at this time. I am quite content with my home and family life.

What are you doing now?

I have been working on my undergraduate degree over the past six years and am finally set to graduate with my BS in Liberal Studies from Oregon State University in December. I haven’t danced since April, and while that was largely due to lack of work and resources, it is also because it is just easier to reflect on…‘big’ questions or painful loss by putting a little distance between that thing and yourself.  Sometimes loss can also be seen as an opportunity to reevaluate what you’ve done (or not) up to now and allows a space for finding a new identity, so to speak.  It’s easy to understand how rattled one can become after unexpectedly losing a job they had been completely immersed in and completely in love with.  But a little break in the norm can also offer a better perspective much of the time, and I know I’m definitely not done dancing yet.  In what capacity, I have yet to decide/learn/find.  That’s all I know for now, which is fine with me.

What do you miss about LNDT?

This is the only company I have ever had a professional contract with. I joined in 2002 as a fledging 20-year-old under the founder/director, Eduardo Vilaro, and have remained ever since.  I have to say that what I miss MOST is being in a position where I am surrounded by exceptional people who are at the top of their game in the trade that we all share.  The other individuals answering this same set of questions are some of the best dancers and artists I have known either professionally or personally.  But I was with Luna for over a decade and have had the stellar opportunity to watch and know so many dancers who have passed through the company along their own journeys, and I think of all of those people sometimes, even still.  Witnessing the process of excellence is lovely, and I am sometimes convinced that dancers have the best mechanism there is to develop the depth of human compassion and connection the rest of the world sometimes lacks.  Maybe it’s just the nature of dance, but I don’t know of many other professions where (despite personal differences), I feel love for the people I work with – and I think most dancers know just what I mean.  I miss getting to watch people I care about move and grow and learn and amaze me on a daily basis.  That applies to all of those dancers and artists I have been so lucky to know throughout the years I was in the company.

What was special about LNDT? What did it mean to be a “Lunatic”?

Similarly, Luna was special to me because it was my professional and artistic home for much of my adult life.  I participated in so many different kinds of work under two very different artistic and aesthetic visions and can’t imagine what I would be now without having put all of those experiences in my pocket.  I always felt that Luna presented work with a voice that is not seen elsewhere in this city, and as the company grew and evolved, it developed an identity that was unusual and interesting on a broader level. Some of the work – especially a lot of what Gustavo created in recent years – is second to none in my mind, not just here but anywhere that professional contemporary dance exists. I am the kind of dancer that feels that doing work which is relevant is what makes my ‘job’ worthwhile. Even as an audience member, I am more interested in the quality of the work I am witnessing the performance of, because good dancers with incredible skills are everywhere and even great dancers doing irrelevant work does not necessarily make a worthwhile show/company/artform.   Luna has always cultivated work that has relevance and though I didn’t love everything in the rep, it was meaningful to me because it fit into the bigger picture which was built around the vision of the choreographer.  That is why, from its foundation, Luna was a special place and why I wanted to remain a dancer with that particular company until it ceased to be.

You can see Kirsten perform in Dance Chance Redux 5.0, Friday, October 11 at 8 p.m. at the NEIU Auditorium at Northeastern Illinois University, 5500 N St Louis Ave. Purchase tickets here.

 

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.

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.

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.