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.

Watch Out For Team McQueen!

Dancer/choreographer Jeremy McQueen. Photo by Eduardo Patino.

If you haven’t heard of Jeremy McQueen; you will. The New York-based dancer/choreographer has had quite a year – and it’s only June! McQueen was one of three choreographers to win Joffrey Ballet‘s Choreographers of Color Award (2013), culminating in the world premiere of his Black Iris at the Harris Theater this past March. Last week he wrapped up teaching a workshop for Motion 41 Dance in Omaha, Nebraska, while last Friday, his new work Au bord de l’eau (At the water’s edge) premiered at Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri. Later this summer, he’ll present a new commissioned work at the Fire Island Dance Festival along with nine other choreographers including Lar Lubovitch and Christopher Wheeldon. In August, he competes as a finalist (for the second year in a row) for Capezio’s Award for Choreographic Excellence (ACE).

McQueen grew up in San Diego, California and began studying music (violin, flute, piano) at an early age and by eight was active in children’s theater. It wasn’t until he was picked on and bullied in 6th grade P.E. class that he opted to take dance as an alternative. While attending a performing arts high school for music, his love of dance really took hold. He then attended the Ailey School/Fordham University, graduating in 2008 with a B.F.A. in Dance. “I just kind of threw myself into a professional career auditioning for whatever,” said McQueen. “I always talk about being well-rounded, so I do see myself as a dancer, but I also do music and theater. I kept my skills up in those areas, so that when I graduated I might have a better shot with different opportunities. I didn’t know what door would open first.” His musical theater background served him well. He was cast in Contact in a Boston-area theater, did two years of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular as well as the national tours of The Color Purple and Wicked. “I always tell people I know what it means to persevere and have patience and faith,” he said. “Wicked was always a show I wanted to be in. I auditioned about nine times over the course of four years before I got the job, but here I was at 23 and I was in the show.”

Leaving the cast without another job lined up was a leap of faith for McQueen, but he was ready to pursue other dreams and goals. Earlier, in 2008, while frustrated with the “audition grind” and missing concert dance, he had gathered a group of friends to “play” in the studio in between projects to see what he could do creating choreography. That turned into a project-based company affectionately called “Team McQueen” and proved to be a blessing after he left the touring circuit. This Friday, Team McQueen will dance (again, for the second year in a row) on the outdoor Inside/Out stage at Jacob’s Pillow. “Choreography was a creative outlet I wanted to explore. I knew that was a long-term goal of mine,” he said. “I really didn’t have a lot of expectations when I started. I wanted to see what I could say with it, not necessarily what I could do or get. I love seeing my vision come to life on stage. It’s been the greatest experience of my life to see my own voice develop through other people.”

For Jacob’s Pillow, McQueen and Team will be presenting three works. Black Iris, the classic, contemporary ballet piece (en pointe) McQueen created on the Joffrey Academy dancers earlier this year, was inspired by artist Georgia O’Keeffe’s painting Black Iris III and represents the strong black women in his life including his mother, godmother and aunt. Dancer Nardia Boodoo, who originated the role in Chicago, will again be the lead. Also dancing in the work, is former Joffrey dancer Brian Gephart, who danced for two seasons with the Atlantic Ballet Theatre of Canada and recently moved to New York City. Gephart and McQueen met in 2006 while attending the San Francisco Ballet summer program and reconnected in April. “It’s such a treat to get to work with someone with that uniquely Broadway-grounded eye for detail and precision and yet have the movement quality from Ailey in the same person,” Gephart said (via email). Gephart is also the lead in another work on the program, an excerpt from a full-length work titled What Lies Within. This piece for seven male dancers has six of them representing the lead dancer’s insecurities. “It’s been a fabulous creation process of letting me explore movement based on my ballet foundation, where I feel so at home, but ultimately working to strip it down to a more pedestrian, relatable place,” he said. “It’s one of those special opportunities where the role pushes you as an artist to something beyond just technique and turns. Making it be ‘human’ and not a ‘dancer’ has been delightfully a stretch for me.”

The final work on the program – the aforementioned Au bord de l’eau – was created in residency with the Ailey School and Stephen’s College and pays tribute to women fighting breast cancer. McQueen has a close friend that is going through this struggle and her beauty and strength inspired him. Discolored nails, losing your hair and even your breast(s) are obvious and notable side effects. “When you go through chemotherapy, you’re in a big room with other people that are in your same situation. There’s a sense of community and mutual support,” he said. “This pays tribute to the courage that women go through in their quest to maintain their femininity during breast cancer.” The all-female piece has the dancers clad in long, pink chiffon skirts, nude bras and 29″ wigs.

The 27-year-old choreographer tends to tackle social issues that have effected his life. And with all his recent success, it doesn’t look like he’ll be stopping any time soon. “People constantly ask me if this is where I thought I’d be at this point in my life. I always tell them no,” said McQueen. “I’ve completely exceeded my expectations of anything I thought I could do. This year has been a blessing. To really see these opportunities unfold has been incredible. I feel so blessed. I’m really trying to live in the moment and enjoy it.”

The Jacob’s Pillow performance will take place Friday, June 28 at 6 pm on the Henry J. Leir Stage and Marcia & Seymour Simon Performance Space, 358 George Carter Road, Becket, MA. Tickets are free.

BONEdanse’s bully.punk.riot: Preview

BONEdansers Cheryl Cornacchione and Nicole Scatchell in "bully.punk.riot." Photo by Carl Wiedemann.

A lesson in moshing, a debate on electronic equipment, a lecture on moral hypocrisy, a futball duet, a cattle-like corral and a urinal test. You get all that and more in BONEdanse‘s bully.punk.riot + REBELLION  EVENT running for two weekends at the new Links Hall/Constellation starting tonight. The fearless Atalee Judy teams up with choreographers Melissa Ganser and Megan Klein for this intelligent, intense trifecta of turbulent tension encased in fervent, physical, female fierceness. Come prepared for a riotous rebellion and some damn fine dancing.

Judy saw Ganser’s and Klein’s work while they were studying at Columbia College and thought they spoke the same language, so she asked them to collaborate on a show. “They’re smart, really athletic and very thoughtful without over-thinking,” Judy said. “They’re very physical in a visceral kind of way. We bonded immediately. I didn’t want to just do a show by myself, so it excited me to bring them in.” A book she was reading – Herd: How to Change Mass Behavior by Harnessing Our True Nature by Mark Earls – provided the impetus for the show’s theme. Klein chose to explore violence in gangs and riots, Ganser wanted to address bullying, while Judy went to her knowledge of the punk scene and mosh pits. Those three takes became bully.punk.riot. “Why not make it really transparent? It’s charged, It’s powerful,” Judy said of the title.

The three main theme sections are broken up by what Judy calls “herding transitions” inspired by tests in the book. One of these transitions is the futball duet which tackles (ha!) the herding mentality in sporting events complete with referee hand signals and wrestling take-downs.  Judy, who also did all of the costuming and sound design, has the two dancers clad in all-white costumes with football pads on their hips. (See pic.) “I’ve always liked how football players looked in their white pants and I thought girls would look great in them too,” she said. “It’s so perfect. They make this clapping, crashing sound. It’s definitely a commentary on the herding trends in football and wrestling, but the switch is the fashion industry. These are haute couture, even vogue-y kind of female divas. The put their shoes on their hands and do boxing things to get into that competition feel.”

While those costumes take things to the extreme, another costuming choice tacks simple. In the bully section, Judy has the dancers in plain white underwear (which as a recovering ballerina, I found terrifying). “I thought of the white underwear because they have this vulnerability to them. I wanted to show vulnerability without being stupid, sexy, girly,” she said. “The perfect icon, for me, is when men strip down, ‘are you wearing boxers or briefs’? It’s that iconic, vulnerable place. Everybody takes a shit sitting down. It makes a level player out of all of us. Later on in the piece, we do put pants on. Everybody puts pants on one leg at a time. It just brings us all to this level playing field. Plus, I really like tighty whities. It’s the most comfortable cotton.”

The super-charged, emotionally energetic show also boasts some great music – if you like punk rock. Dead Kennedys, FEAR, The Young Gods and Trent Reznor (head of Nine Inch Nails) are just some of the rebellious music you’ll hear throughout the soundscape. “This is not just a dance trance monster,” said Judy. “There’s a lot of really great music and really awesome energy to feel and get into. It’s a group of really strong women doing great stuff. It’s been a great process.”

BONEdanse presents bully.punk.riot at Links Hall/Constellation, 3111 N. Western Ave., Thursday-Sunday, June 20-23 and June 27-30 at 7 pm. Tickets are $18-$20 and can be purchased here.

 

 

 

 

Preview: Striding Lion’s Dada Gert

Dancers Jeff Hancock and Annie Arnoult Beserra perform a "Sound Dance" inspired by Valeska Gert's variations on the Dada sound poem. Photo by Matthew Gregory Hollis.

A duo moves across the floor improvising with a chair and a serving tray. On the opposite side of the room is a trio similarly working with a tea kettle and cup. At the end of each phrase the first group looks center and says, “Danke” while the later turns to reply “Bitte”. This is repeated until the moving tea service lands on a set table, while a female singer begins to hum and play the accordion. Add in circus-esque black and white striped walls where vintage film clips play, poetry and a disjointed soundtrack that includes the dancers’ own soundscapes and Die Moritat von Mackie Messer (or Mack the Knife) and you have entered the surreal world of Expressionist/Dadaist art in pre-World War II Berlin. In particular, you’ve entered the world and work of dancer/film and cabaret artist/model and self-proclaimed artistic genius Valeska Gert, who is the inspiration for the upcoming performance of Striding Lion Performance Group‘s Dada Gert.

The group’s artistic director Annie Arnoult Beserra learned of Gert’s work (*short video below) while in grad school and has been intrigued ever since. “What drew me to her was her absolutely seamless integration of dance and theater,” Berserra said, “and she has a voracious, raw, aggressive energy.” Gert definitely pushed the boundaries of what was happening in her day by utilizing pieces of the Dada movement (although according to Beserra, she did not consider herself a Dadaist) and the influence of Bertolt Brecht to create her own unique artistic voice in the Weimar Era. Gert is perhaps an obscure choice to create an hour-length work about, but in this case – and with this cast that is fully committed – it works. The six dancers and one singer literally throw themselves into this crazy world of twitches, snorts, funny faces and lyric. Jeff Hancock (who also did the installation and costume design) leads the others in a puppet-like defense of Dada, while Beserra becomes Gert by perfecting and replicating the unusual faces and energy that made her famous in her day. One particularly impressive section has Beserra pulling these “faces” simulating normal/”Valeska”, “horrified”, “tough guy”, “bright idea” and “fat face” over and over with increasing speed while the singer and accordion play on.

I stopped by rehearsal yesterday, so I haven’t seen it run in the theater with production values, but from what I saw, this will be a uniquely entertaining, multi-media piece of historical dance theater.

Striding Lion Performance Group presents Dada Gert at the Hamlin Park Fieldhouse Theater, 3035 N. Hoyne, Thursday-Friday, May 23-24 and Thursday-Friday, May 30-31 at 7:30 pm. Tickets are $20 ($10 students and seniors) – half price rush tickets will also be available. Call 773.769.7540 or visit brownpapertickets.com/event/345021.

The Seldoms’ Philip Elson Dishes on Mix With Six

The Seldoms dancers Amanda McAlister and Philip Elson in "Exit Disclaimer". Photo by Brian Kuhlmann.

“I’ve been a curious creature all my life,” Philip Elson told me last week. “Try everything once. That’s my thought process.” Elson, a graduate of Columbia College, dances with The Seldoms and serves as their Technology and Media Coordinator. Along with dancing for other groups and independent artists around Chicago, most recently guesting with Same Planet Different World for the opening of FlySpace Dance Series, he also is an Apple “Genius”, adept at video editing/archiving, sound scoring, filming dance and curating (Red Tape Theatre). Try everything once. It seems he’s good at everything he tries.

A Fort Worth, Texas native, Elson began taking dance and gymnastics at the age of three, eventually dropping the gymnastics to focus on jazz and ballet and perform on the competition/convention circuit, even appearing on Star Search with Arsenio Hall. After three semesters at New York University studying musical theater, he returned to Texas and got his first taste of modern dance at 19. “I kind of fell in love with it,” he said. “One of the things I really love about dancing is the exploration…that pureness, That rawness of just feeling movement. It felt like an opportunity to explore movement that I never felt possible before.”

Elson, 26, met Seldoms artistic director Carrie Hanson when he moved to Chicago in 2008 to study dance at Columbia where she was one of his professors. The first week of school, he went to see The Seldoms performance Convergence, which was set in a 17,000 square foot garage space. He was blown away. Shortly thereafter, he remembers her telling him to “Be on the lookout.” For what? He wasn’t sure until he saw a sign posted for male auditions for The Seldoms and thought, “This is it.” He’s now in his fifth season with the company. “What drew me to her work is twofold. The anatomical nature of it, because of her history with Laban and the way that she’d talk about it as you’re learning it. She was my anatomy teacher at the time and everything was clicking. The body exploration was really athletic. She was able to help me find the ease in my athleticism, a softness in that. It’s still powerful, but not spazzy. It’s really clear.”

Elson admits he made his first solo for himself (to Gloria Estefan’s Turn the Beat Around) at age seven. The interest in creating dances was there, but not the confidence. He felt he was stronger as a dancer, but wanted to learn more about choreography. When Hanson asked her dancers to make in-house works for the upcoming show Mix With Six, he took it as a challenge. “I hate making solos with a passion. I do,” he said. “I find it so much easier when there are relationships and bodies to work with.” So naturally, he decided to create a solo on fellow dancer Cara Sabin that will appear this weekend along with dances from Damon Green, Amanda McAlister, Bruce Ortiz and Javier Marchán-Ramos.

Elson’s Between Means and Ends, a work explores the relationship and space between chaos and stability, began with a introspective and unique process including writing about insecurities, staring in a mirror, and a theory of movement he created in college called “The Exhaustion Theory”. “The way it works is if you totally tax yourself physically and mentally, you have no choice but to move with ease and efficiency,” he said. “You don’t have the energy for all the extra stuff. That was my way to get people to find a certain physicality, but also vulnerability.” Elson and Sabin did a 45-minute boot camp followed by a disorientation exercise taking about an hour and a half before standing still with their hands over their heads for 10 minutes. “It’s hard, but movement, a motif, came out of that. I’ve always thought Cara has such an interesting body. I’m fascinated by the way she moves and her strength, her flow and her longness. I wanted there to be this mesh of my ideas with her interpretation.”

The Seldoms presents Mix With Six at Constellation/Link’s Hall, 3111 N. Western Ave., Friday-Saturday, April 12-13 at 8 pm and Sunday, April 14 at 7 pm. Tickets are $15; call 773.281.0824 or visit mixwithsixlh.eventbrite.com.

Dance Center Announces 40th Anniversary Season

Cloud Gate Dance Theatre dancer WANG Wei-ming in "Songs of the Wanderers". Photo by YU Hui-hung.

The Dance Center of Columbia College marks its 40th anniversary season with an exciting range of dance companies from around the world. Along with staple local and international modern companies, the season welcomes a number of hip hop and urban artists to the roster. Nods to the past, present and a look toward an interesting, if changing, future?

Notable touring company Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan returns to Chicago next March and will be co-presented with the Joffrey Ballet and the Auditorium Theatre. (*This performance will be at the Auditorium.) A French hip hop choreographer sets work on young dancers from Brazil for an explosive show by Compagnie Kafig performing in February 2014. Other traveling companies include multiple award-winning Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, Philadelphia-based choreographer Raphael Xavier, as well as New York-based Susan Marshall and Company. A co-commissioned by the Dance Center will feature a work about migration out of Africa through the “lens of Moses stories” by Reggie Wilson/Fist & Heel Performance Group.

Local troupes to hit the South Loop stage include Mordine & Company Dance Theater, Same Planet Different World and Peter Carpenter Performance Project (joint program), and Khecari and The Humans (joint program). Also look for Family Matinee performances throughout the season.

For more information on the 2013-2014 season, visit colum.edu/Dance_Center.

Flyspace: A Dance Consortium

Four women: founders, directors, choreographers, administrators and artists. Four women working together to elevate the visibility and grow audiences for their perspective modern dance companies. Four women: Jan Bartoszek, Margi Cole, Michelle Kranicke and Joanna Rosenthal. These four women are launching FLYSPACE, a strategic partnership and consortium, with two weekends of shared performances at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park. Hedwig Dances and Same Planet Different World share the closed-in, outdoor stage this weekend followed by The Dance COLEctive and Zephyr Dance next weekend.

FLYSPACE has been flying around the media recently, garnering tons of press for its unique approach to sharing resources. A meeting with Arts Work Fund director Marcia Festen between eight local female company leaders sparked the conversation and inspiration for the consortium. The discussion revolved around how to share resources and knowledge to help each other, which in turn would help each individual company. As mid-career, female, acclaimed artists, why are the economics not aligning with your accomplishments? Why are you still struggling? Obviously the economic downturn had a say, but a shift in funder focus to new and emerging artists added to the problem. “There’s a shift that happened, which kind of left us standing in the wind with our pants down,” said co-chair Cole.

Energized by the conversation, but realistic about the challenges, the group eventually shrank to four partners and FLYSPACE really took off. “To everyone’s credit, there was a real commitment,” said Kranicke, also a co-chair. “I think those that opted out did so because they realized they couldn’t give to the partnership the amount of energy that it was suddenly becoming clear it would need. It’s like taking on another job.” The group quickly discovered that technology would be a key factor in their success. “We recognized that our challenge is that we’re a one-man-show, for the most part,” said Cole. “Our audience walks up and buys a ticket. They don’t buy in advance, so it’s really difficult to get information. If we’re lucky enough to have them fill out a survey, who is going to enter all that data? I am. I’ve got grants to write and dances to make, so maybe technology is the way to solve the challenge.”

Cole and Kranicke make it clear that this is not an artistic collaboration, but a consortium with a shared interest. “The intention of the shared show and the launch is to showcase what we do,” said Cole. “We are dance companies. We are all different. Kranicke adds, “Our interests are strictly business. We operate to try to advance and extend our visibility and enhance our marketing, but we maintain our individual aesthetics.” The ladies of FLYSPACE have set goals with hopes of creating a national model for similar artistic entities and look to expand the FLYSPACE group in the future. “It is not an exclusive organization,” Kranicke said. “We are at a point where we’re still developing certain parts of the partnership, so we aren’t looking for new members at this time, but that won’t always be the case.” Cole said, “We want to have a solid structure before we bring more people in. We put an awful lot of time and energy into it and I’d like to see it sustain itself whether I’m sitting at the table or not.” A running joke between the partners is that between them they have over 100 years of arts administrative experience. With that kind of experience beneath them, other companies will look to them as inspiration and perhaps as future partners.

FLYSPACE Dance Series: Hedwig Dances and Same Planet Different World, Friday-Saturday, April 5-6 at 7 pm and Sunday, April 7 at 5 pm. The Dance COLEctive and Zephyr Dance, Friday-Saturday, April 12-13 at 7 pm and Sunday, April 14 at 5 pm at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, 201 E. Randolph St. Tickets are $15, visit flyspacechicago.brownpapertickets.com.

Hubbard Street + LINES Ballet: Review

Hubbard Street & LINES Ballet dancers in Alonzo King's "Azimuth". Photo by Margo Moritz.

What happens when two very different top contemporary companies combine talents for a much-anticipated joint appearance including a premiere commissioned by the Harris Theater in honor of its 10th anniversary and funded in part by a grant from the Joyce Foundation? You get an amazingly danced, slightly overwhelming, long-ass show. Last night Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and San Fransisco-based Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet took the stage for the Chicago premiere of a new collaborative work by King presented with an older work (Rasa) from King and a work by Hubbard Street resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo. As the culmination of a years-long process that included a three-week residency at the University of Irvine and the world premiere collaboration of Azimuth, it is a historical dance feat, for sure, but this felt like a LINES Ballet show with Hubbard Street as mere guest artists.

King has a unique approach to choreographing, pushing the dancers to always investigate and make choices with their movement. This makes for interesting, ever-changing dancing, but at times proves tiring for the audience and with works pushing 40-minutes a piece, a little editing would go a long way. His philosophical base of construction is a bit too heady for my taste, but what he gets out of the dancers is astounding. His dancers are beautiful creatures with legs, arms and technique for days that move in a way that is uniquely King-created. There is something in the way they move their arms that is breathtaking. Courtney Henry, Keelan Whitmore and Michael Montgomery were stand outs in this super talented group.

As if thrown in as a quirky palette cleanser between King pieces, Cerrudo’s Little mortal jump offered lighter fare with its whimsical, theatrical humor. The ending duet between Jesse Bechard and Ana Lopez (my favorite part) is usually clouded in dark, foggy lighting that adds to the ethereal quality of the slow-motion duet. Last night’s lighting was much brighter (showing dancers behind boxes, the couple exiting upstage, etc.) losing some of its magic.

Obviously, with King choreographing the new work, the LINES dancers were at an advantage, but the fact that Azimuth looked like another all-LINES piece is a testament to the Hubbard Street dancers’ chameleon-like talent to assimilate. Some adapted quicker than others – Jacqueline Burnett, Johnny McMillan and Kellie Epperheimer were all featured in solos.  Epperheimer was also featured in a soaring quintet aided by Hubbard Street men (Jonathan Fredrickson, Garrett Anderson, Bechard and David Schultz) that had her diving, floating, skimming, jumping and climbing around the entire stage. Yet, when all 26 dancers were on stage moving together, it was a lot to take in. The dancers I’ve spoken with all say it was an inspiring process and I’m sure they have all grown from it, while gaining new friends as an added perk.

Hubbard Street + LINES Ballet at the Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph, through Sunday, March 17. Tickets are $25-$99; visit www.hubbardstreet.com or call 312.334.7777.

 

 

Alvin Ailey’s Ghrai DeVore

Alvin Ailey dancer Ghrai DeVore (front) in Jiri Kylian's "Petite Mort". Photo by Paul Kolnick.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is making headlines this week with great reviews for their run at the Auditorium Theatre. This year marks the first time the company performs ten shows over two weeks to the delight of Chicago audiences. The main staple, Ailey’s 1960 Revelations never fails to get the audience on its feet and is looking as strong and fresh as ever. Newer works, such as Kyle Abraham’s 2012 Another Night and European contemporary works fill out the repertory showcasing the dancers formidable technique and physical talents.

One of the dancers with Chicago ties is the lovely Ghrai DeVore. Ghrai – pronounced “gray” – started dancing in Washington, D.C., but moved to Chicago when her mother joined Deeply Rooted Dance Theater. Miss DeVore  trained at the Chicago Multicultural Dance Center, then danced with Deeply Rooted 2, Hubbard Street 2 and DanceWorks Chicago before heading to New York where she was in the fellowship program at The Ailey School. She quickly obtained a position in Ailey II and after two years, she was picked by Judith Jameson to join the main company. She’s now in her third season.

RB had a quick phone chat with DeVore, who was getting over a bout of food poisoning and preparing for the second week of performances.  Here are her thoughts…

On her unique first name: My Mom told me it means “happy medium”, so when she was pregnant, she would be happy if the baby was a boy or a girl.

On working with Julie Nakagawa at HS2 and DWC: I wanted to be a part of whatever she was doing.

On a typical performance day on tour: We have rehearsals starting at 2:00 pm; an hour class at 5:30 pm, followed by an hour break; at 7:00 pm we are in the theater, putting on make-up and ready to go; show at 7:30 pm. If it is a matinee day, we have to be there at 10:00 am.

On dancing Jirí Kylían’s Petite Mort and Ohad Naharin’s Minus 16: I’m really interested in what’s going on overseas. With these works, I’m getting a taste of that.

On Ronald Brown’s Grace: It’s about your particular connection with God or whatever higher being you believe in and dancing for that higher being, because you were created for a purpose. It’s very spiritual, but I wouldn’t say it’s religious.

On dancing Kyle Abraham’s Another Night: It’s nice to have pieces you can really connect with. We can look at each other on stage and really express our love.

On performing the iconic work Revelations: Humbling. It’s amazing to do what so many people before me have done. We have to keep up the integrity. Every time I do it, it feels new.

On dancing the super-controlled “Fix Me, Jesus” duet in Revelations: Actually, it’s one of the easier roles, for me. I feel like I have more control when I move slower. I can give more value to each movement. It’s nice to come off stage and think, ‘Yeah, that’s what I trained for’.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performs at the Auditorium Theatre (50 E. Congress Pkwy.) through Sunday, March 17. Tickets are $32-$92; call 800.982.2787.

Stephen Petrionio Co’s Underland

Stephen Petronio Company dancers.

Tonight is your last chance to see the Stephen Petronio Company perform Underland at the Dance Center of Columbia College. And see it, you should. Lovely dancing, brave choreography, great music.

Petronio’s 2011 work set to the music of Australian singer/songwriter Nick Cave was originally made for the Sydney Dance Company.  In program notes, Petronio describes Underland “as a ‘place’, a kind of subconscious world ‘beneath the surface’, that locates the heart of Cave’s music”. The 14-section work succeeds in creating a dark, emotional world perfectly matched by Cave’s somber tones especially in ‘The Weeping Song’ and ‘The Ship Song’ sections. Petronio himself makes an appearance opening the piece by slowly crawling down an inclined ladder with a pen in his mouth, measuring time or distance by making marks on his arm. The “Descent” sets the stage for the hour-long world he has created.

Too many costume changes and a lackluster ending are the only downsides to this show. The choreography is smart, tight and interesting with solos, duets, trios and group work meshing so that your eyes and mind never get bored. The wildly off dancing in short tutus and garters in The Carny section deserve special mention. All the dancers were strong, yet distict, allowing their personalities and individual styles show through. Two that stood out were the petite Jaqlin Medlock, fierce technique and stunning attention to detail, and Joshua Green, powerhouse legwork set off with beautiful arms. The technique is what sets this group apart. Solid ballet training sets the base so they could do anything Petronio asks of them. With more experimental works, the technique sometimes gets lost. Not here. Gorgeous extensions (a la-besque?), a torqued jets, deconstructed fouette turns and a perky little parallel brise all make appearances. Slicing arms, a hip or head swirl, a bun askew all lend to the feel of a ballet gone beautifully wild.

Stephen Petronio Company presents Underland at the Dance Center, 1306 S. Michigan Ave. Final performance Saturday, March  at 8 pm. Tickets are $ 30.