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. 

 

Sneak Peek: Giordano Dance Chicago

Giordano dancers Maeghan McHale and Sean Rozanski in "Exit 4". Photo by Gorman Cook.

Giordano Dance Chicago (GDC) opens the first Chicago engagement in their 51st season this weekend at the Harris Theater. The program boasts a world premiere by Israeli choreographer Roni Koresh, Artistic Director of Philadelphia’s Koresh Dance Company, a world premiere for GDC II from GDC Assistant Artistic Director Autumn Eckman, plus three full-company works and audience favorites Brock Clawson’s Give and Take, Kiesha Lalama’s Alegría and Liz Imperio’s La Belleza de Cuba and a revival of Eckman’s Commonthread.

RB stopped by rehearsal back in August when Koresh was in town working with the dancers on his new work Exit 4. Set to Israeli music with a tribal feel, Koresh’s work is intense. That is an understatement. “There should be danger in this piece,” he said to the dancers. “I want to see who you are. It’s more valuable to me than your movement.” For a company known for its solid technique and upbeat vibe, he was asking them to go deeper. Much deeper.

A fun group section breaks into strong and fierce men’s and women’s sections respectively. The fourth section is, well…intense. After working on the last section, which they had just finished, the dancers looked physically and emotionally spent. Not one to mince words, Koresh did not let up. In fact, at times he was downright mean. But in a final full run of the entire work, what he got out of the dancers was amazing. Perhaps it was the week-long process, the “audience” of friends, board members and press, or just pure exhaustion, but the dancers brought an honest, raw energy to it that blew me away. (Don’t tell anyone, but I had to fight back tears. It was – again – intense.)

“Your last interaction with the audience will determine your strength. Make the audience uncomfortable,” he said. “I am. Just be. Connect.” If (and it will be hard to do), but if they can recreate that final run and make it read from the vast Harris stage, they will have accomplished something really spectacular. I think they can and I hope they do.

Giordano Dance Chicago in their Fall Engagement at the Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph Dr., Friday-Saturday, Oct. 25-26 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $15-$60; call 312.334.7777 or visit harristheaterchicago.org. 

Thodos New Dances 2013

Brian Hare and Jessica Miller-Tomlinson in Panem nostrum quoditianum, choreographed by New Dances 2013 guest choreographer Ahmad Simmons. Photo credit: ©Cheryl Mann

For 13 years, Thodos Dance Chicago (TDC), once a year, lets the dancers become the boss. New Dances showcases TDC dancers’ voices by giving them the chance to cast, choreograph, design, manage and create. With a panel of experts from the Chicago dance field offering impressions and advice, New Dances 2013 turned out nine new premieres in a range of styles, lengths and talents.

As with any all, in-house choreographic show, there were hits and misses. The only way to learn is to try and see if it works. Kudos to the dancer/choreographers for putting their voices on the stage with audible rain storms, prayer, a sandbox and even cartwheels.

Stand out pieces, for me, were Relativity by Carrie Patterson and Alissa Tollefson (short and sweet, good dancing), Sudden Throws by Cara Carper Balcer and Brian Hare (great difficult dancing), Weights of Being by Ray Doñes and Jon Sloven (nice, smooth partnering) and guest choreographer Ahmad Simmons’ Panem Nostrum Quoditianum (strong, cohesive work incorporating all stage elements – dance, costumes, lighting, sound with stellar dancing). Dancer shout outs to Brian Hare, Ricky Ruiz, Jessica Miller Tomlinson, Annie Deutz, Joshua Manculich,Carrie Patterson, Jon Sloven and Rebecca McLindon! Plus major props to lighting designer Jacob Snodgrass and sound designer Johnnie Nevin.

There is one more performance left – today at 5 pm. Check it out! You’ll get a little taste of everything and will definitely be entertained.

Thodos Dance Chicago presents New Dances 2013, Sunday, July 21 at 5 pm at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn. Tickets are still available ($10-$38) at the theater box office.

Throwback Thursday

Backyard Betty posing for the camera.

Last month I was at the Chicago Repertory Ballet performance (great show, Wade Schaaf’s The Rite of Spring was awesome!) and a pre-show song jogged my memory.

Peaches & Herb’s Shake Your Groove Thing was my first solo. An acro-jazz combo with some hips, a few turns and lots of flips and sass, the piece was right up my alley. While excited, the news that I was to perform it not only at my studio’s recital but at the local mall, threw me into a state.

My hopes that no one would be at the mall on a Saturday were dashed as the crowd gathered before the show. Gulp! My nerves (which became infamous in later years) were getting the best of me. First rule when you’re nervous before a performance? Go over your steps. I knew the steps. I just didn’t necessarily want to do them in front of all these people…in the day light…on stage at the center the mall!

Ok, I thought, I can do this. I can do this in my sleep. What do I need to do? 1. Point your feet. 2. Don’t flip into the brick wall. 3. Don’t fall into the water moat at the front of the stage. 4. Smile. Crap, don’t forget to smile. Obviously I made it through, since I wasn’t shamed into hiding. But it was close.

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.

Dancer Spotlight: River North’s Ethan Kirschbaum

River North dancer Ethan Kirschbaum in Adam Barruch's "I Close My Eyes Until the End". Photo by Cheryl Mann.

Monday night I stopped by the Ruth Page studios to peek in on the end of an adult jazz class. A group of women were dancing a short combination to a slow GLEE version of Florence + the Machine’s Shake It Out. Leading the combo was River North Dance Chicago (RNDC) dancer Ethan Kirschbaum, 25, who was sub teaching for a friend. Even though he was marking while demonstrating, emotion and easy enthusiasm oozed out of his body. You could feel how much he loves to dance.

Kirschbaum grew up in Oakland, California and began studying dance on a bet from his babysitter. He and his brother had to take a class and if they didn’t like it, she would buy them a Slurpee. “We went and pretended we hated it to get our free Slurpee,” he said. “But a week later, we were taking classes. We started out in jazz together and slowly started adding classes until I was basically living at the studio. My brother broke off into more hip hop and I went more classical.” His training took him to the San Francisco Ballet School and summer programs with Alonzo King LINES Ballet and the Juilliard School. He was also a performing apprentice with Reginald Ray-Savage’s Savage Jazz Dance Company.

He attended college at the Ailey School/Fordham University in New York where he had the chance to perform with the Ailey company in his sophomore year, travel to the Holland Dance Festival and perform a work by Spanish choreographer Nacho Duato. “I got a lot of great opportunities in school, but I felt like I wanted to get closer to contemporary work,” he said. “The summer of 2007, I was doing my first paid gig with the Santa Fe Opera and I had this epiphany. I should dance with Hubbard Street 2!” He auditioned, got the job and moved to Chicago with college friend Jacqueline Burnett, also joining HS2 (now in Hubbard Street’s main company) in January 2008.  After two and a half years, director Taryn Kaschock Russell suggested he audition for Marguerite Donlon’s company while they were touring in Germany. He did and, shockingly (snark), he got in and moved to Germany in 2010. “It was probably the hardest thing I’ve done to date,” he said. “I’d never lived alone. I’d never lived in another country. I had a boyfriend in Chicago at the time. My heart was here, but my career was there. My friends were here, but my future was there. It was rough, but it brought me a lot of self-awareness.”

Back in Chicago after a season with Donlon Dance Company, he auditioned around town and found a home at RNDC. He’s now concluding his second season. “I think I was intrigued by going back to my jazz roots,” Kirschbaum said. “I think River North has a good balance and a good rep. There was something familial about it. After being in a foreign country for a year, where I felt like I didn’t belong, I wanted to be somewhere that felt like home. It’s been a good fit so far. I love the people I work with. We just have fun every day. We laugh at each other. That’s one thing I’ve really learned. It’s not so much the job, but the people you work with. The day-to-day, in-the-studio is your life as a dancer. It’s not the two minutes on stage; it’s the hours in the studio.”

This weekend, Kirschbaum and his RNDC family perform at the Auditorium Theatre as part of the Music + Movement Festival with the world premiere of Havana Blue, a collaboration with Orbert Davis’ Chicago Jazz Philharmonic (CJP). Davis and RNDC artistic director Frank Chaves traveled to Havana together for a nine days of research, immersing themselves in Cuban music and culture. Also on the program for the one-night-only show are three pieces by CJP and Chaves’ Eva, which premiered earlier this month at the Annenburg Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia, coincidentally the same theater where he first auditioned for HS2 (“full circle moment!”). Kirschbaum said of the new work, “It’s very musical, very emotional, very expressive…quintessential Frank. It’s always amazing to have live music on stage next to you. There’s energy. You can make eye contact. You can play off of each other. It’s something special.”

Saturday’s performance is the last of the season for RNDC. Kirschbaum will spend the hiatus teaching – take his 11:30 am intermediate modern class at Conte’s on Saturdays! – before returning to rehearsals in July to start his third season. Eventually he may want to explore other contemporary avenues, but for now, he’s happy where he is. “I love my life,” he said. “Right now, I’m very content with where I’m at. I love my home environment. I love to connect with the community. I love the fluidity of the relationships and how quickly you can all become friends.”

River North Dance Chicago & Orbert Davis’ Chicago Jazz Philharmonic premiere Havana Blue at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Pkwy., Saturday, April 13 at 8 pm. Tickets are $32-$76; call 800.982.2787 or visit auditoriumtheatre.org/musicandmovement.

Auditorium Theatre 2013-2014 Highlights

Cloud Gate Dance Theatre in "Songs of the Wanderer". Photo by YU ui-hung.

The Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University (ATRU) just announced its 2013-2014 season. Here are a few things I’m excited about:

Ballet West – former Joffrey Ballet dancer Adam Sklute’s company will be presenting Sleeping Beauty (classic, long, but beautiful w/ gorgeous music) and Val Caniparoli’s The Lottery. Caniparoli created Incantations for Joffrey in 2012 and has received great reviews for the premiere of The Lottery which has a unique twist where the audience finds out the “secret” before the dancers (who don’t know who will perform the final solo until it happens live!). Cool beans.

Houston Ballet – In another local connection, Joffrey premiered Artistic Director Stanton Welch’s Son of Chamber Symphony in 2012. His company brings the storybook ballet Aladdin to town in March of 2014.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre – The New York-based company returns for another two-week run featuring a mixed rep and the showstopper Revelations. Yay.

River North Dance Chicago – Local favorite Rivno takes the stage in April 2014 will a new world premiere. Always a good show – expect lots of abs and speedy turns.

Paul Taylor Dance Company – I’m reading Paul Taylor’s new book Facts and Fancies right now, so the timing is perfect! My only regret is never getting to see my friend Julie Tice perform with the company live during her ten years there :(

Cloud Gate Dance Theatre – Co-presented with the Dance Center of Columbia College and the Joffrey Ballet, this troupe from Taiwan always amazes with their imagery and Butoh-esque stamina/control.

Chick Corea and Béla Fleck – Non-dancy, but my brother (a musician) listened to Corea ALL the time when we were growing up and a bazillion years ago I performed a piece with the above mentioned Tice to a Beatles cover by Fleck (and the Flecktones). Good times.

So there you have it. Oh plus, the yearly tradition of the Joffrey’s The Nutcracker and any chance to see ATRU E.D. Brett Batterson and you can see why I’m stoked.

For more information, visit auditoriumtheatre.org.

Harris Theater’s Eat to the Beat: Giordano Dance Chicago

Giordano Dance Chicago in Autumn Eckman's
Harris Theater for Music and Dance.
Food trucks at Harris Theater for
Lunch from Bombay Wraps at
Ready for the show!

What a fun lunch! Today I went to the Harris Theater‘s Eat to the Beat series, a lunchtime $5 dance performance where you can take your lunch or partake in the fantastic food truck offerings on the lower level of Randolph Dr. and enjoy a show. Giordano Dance Chicago (GDC), celebrating 50 years with performances at the theater this weekend, took the stage to a scattered, but substantial house at noon. I got there early to stake my claim, since it was open seating, and grabbed a delicious Paneer Wrap from Bombay Wraps, a glass of wine – don’t judge, it’s Friday! – and a cupcake from Gigi’s Bake Shop for the road. Unfortunately, I didn’t have stomach room or time for a tamale from the Tamale Spaceship…next time, for sure.

The show opened with Giordano Moves, a retrospective of Gus Giordano’s famous jazz style, set by his daughter Nan and former GDC dancer John Lehrer in 2005. Although the style is a bit antiquated by today’s standards, it is a lovely historical look back and it’s nice to see the tradition carried on. The old school jazz moves (lots of triple turns, double stag jumps and “Gus” arms) look way different on these younger dancers bodies. The second company performed River, by former dancer Cesar Salinas. Wow! These five ladies are the future. Tons of energy and beautiful technique. You can tell they are young and hungry (in an artistic way, not like me…still eating my paneer).

The main company followed with a 2012 work by Artistic Associate Autumn Eckman. G-Force is a fun look at what dance might be in the future. Hints of jazz, lyrical, contact improv, street with inventive partnering show off these eight dancers talents well. Funky! I had to leave early to make it to work on time, but GDC closed the mid-day show with a world premiere by L.A. choreographer Liz Imperio titled La Balleza De Cuba (The Beauty of Cuba). Luckily, I will get a chance to see it at tomorrow night’s performance.

Giordano Dance Chicago has two performances left this weekend, Friday-Saturday, March 22-23 at 7:30 pm. Tickets are available by calling 312.334.7777 or at www.harristheaterchicago.org.

 

Top 5 Reasons to go see Alvin Ailey this weekend

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in "Revelations". Photo by Christopher Duggan.

Ailey American Dance Theater continues its 10-performance run at the Auditorium Theatre this weekend. Here are 5 reasons you should go see them:

1. Two new programs that include contemporary European works (you may know for local Hubbard Street Dance Chicago‘s rep) Jirí Kylían’s Petite Mort and Ohad Naharin’s Minus 16. Even if you’ve seen these pieces before, watching the tautly muscled Ailey dancers perform them is something entirely new.

2. My non-dancer friend that I took with my to opening night said, “This is the best dance show I’ve seen!”

3. It’s at the Auditorium Theatre. Beautiful and historic, it is the perfect place to see this great American company.

4. The audience. Ailey audiences are the best! There will be whooping, hollering, clapping, yelling and, if my experiences serve me correctly, a standing ovation. I guarantee you will leave the theater feeling joyful.

5. Revelations! Revelations! Revelations! This iconic work created by Alvin Ailey in 1960 still stands the test of time. Set to traditional gospel music, like Wade in the Water and Sinner Man (my favorite!), this piece will have you jumping out of your seat and dancing out of the theater. I dare you to now leave with the high energy finale stuck in your head. I’ve seen this work at least 20 times (yes, I’m that old) and, truth be told, there was a time when I didn’t want to see it again, but now, I would go if it was the only thing on the program. This one dance is worth the price of your ticket.  

Joffrey’s American Legends Review

Joffrey dancer Victoria Jaiani in Stanton Welch's "Son of a Chamber Symphony". Photo by Herb Migdoll.

Last night, the Joffrey Ballet opened a 10-performance run of American Legends at the Auditorium Theatre. History was in the air as legendary choreographers Jerome Robbins, Twyla Tharp and Joffrey’s own Gerald Arpino’s works took over the stage, but it was the newest work, Stanton Welch’s 2012 Son of a Chamber Symphony, that stole the show. Three stylish looks back and one big jeté forward to the future.

Robbins’ 1945 Interplay opened the show with a fast, flirty and fun piece showing the playfulness of youth. Dancers in colorful costumes zipped through the movement showcasing technical feats with huge, laughing smiles. Strong dancing from the entire cast with stand outs John Mark Giragosian performing four sequential double tours (move over OMG, new catchphrase is JMG!) and Cara Marie Gary whipping off a la secondé turns en pointe with the boys. After a short pause, Arpino’s 1962 Sea Shadow transported the audience to a secluded seaside and a dream of love. Young up-and-comers Jeraldine Mendoza and Dylan Gutierrez danced a lovely pas de deux in honor of the company co-founder’s 90th birthday year. (Happy bday Mr. A!) Her liquid bourrées enchanted, while his partnering proved strong and sure. Height difference made some of the floor work awkward, but these two will grow and thrive in these roles.

Joffrey dancer Aaron Rogers in Stanton Welch's "Son of a Chamber Symphony". Photo by Herb Migdoll.

Get in the DeLorian and fire up the flux capacitor because we are flying from the early ’60s to 2012 and beyond. Welch’s Son of a Chamber Symphony, created for and on the Joffrey dancers and set to music of the same title by John Adams, delightfully deconstructs classical ballet, turning steps, structure and the costumes inside out to create a fresh, exciting new form. Ballerinas undulate in slicing tutus hovering at the far edges of their technique. Men hang mid-air in leaps only to land and take off in a flurry of footwork. Three movements each feature a central – and stunning – pas (Amber Neumann and Matthew Adamczyk, Victoria Jaiani and Fabrice Calmels, April Daly and Temur Suluashvili) that take seemingly normal moves like a promenade and skew it on an extreme angle or by a surprising hold highlighting fierce female flexibility and ultimate trust in partnering. The square structure and choreographic edginess was reminiscent of William Forsythe’s In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated with obvious nods to classics like Swan Lake and Giselle, yet Welch takes the dancers natural talents and pushes them to new, exciting ends.

After Welch’s wonder, going back to 1982 for Tharp’s sultry and sassy Nine Sinatra Songs provided a bit of choreographic whiplash. The cast of seven couples lead by the dashing Daly and Calmels gleefully glided through the nine sections of jazzy ballet laced with ballroom chic. Each duet had its own characters and story to tell under a gigantic, twirling disco ball. Lucas Segovia, paired with Jaiani, shown with dapper, distinguished star power and technical chameleon Elizabeth Hansen never disappoints. The dancers were lovely – sorry ladies, but those shoes are horrible! – and the audience was clearly wooed by the romance and velvet voice of Sinatra. Since the final piece was to recorded music (the previous three were accompanied by the wonderful Chicago Philharmonic) necessity dictated the order of the show. The performance would have been better served, in my opinion, if it had followed the evolutionary and chronological arc of the choreography.