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
 
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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: 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.

Hubbard Street’s danc(e)volve 2013: Review

Hubbard Street 2 dancers Emilie Leriche and Felicia McBride.
Hubbard St 2 dancers Brandon Lee Alley and Emilie Leriche.
Hubbard St dancers Quinn B Wharton and Jessica Tong.
Hubbard St dancers Jonny McMillian and Jesse Bechard.
Hubbard St dancers Alice Klock and Jonny McMillan.
HS 2 dancers Richard Walters and Lissa Smith.
Hubbard St dancers Garrett Anderson and Alice Klock.

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago is known for taking choreographic risks. From bringing top European choreographers like Mats Ek to the Chicago stage to commissioning works from emerging artists to cultivating in-house talent with danc(e)volve: New Works Festival 2013. Some risks are bigger than others. Some pay off, while some get chalked up to a learning experience. This “risk” showcased in the two-week run of performances at the MCA Stage, pays off big time. Usually, there is one piece that sticks with you, one that stands out – a favorite. Not here, all six new works are sharp, unique and satisfying.

The choreographers range from the more experienced – HS2 director Terence Marling, former Hubbard Street dancer Robyn Mineko Williams and soon-to-depart, new Mom Penny Saunders to the younger, just-starting-out HS2′s Andrew Wright. Wright proves he has a bright future as a choreographer opening the show with Agape. Utilizing his fellow HS2-ers, he goes from a twitchy opening female solo with dancers running and reaching for something unattainable to a freeing second section where the dancers run in abandon with their arms and heads flung back. The second company commands the stage in this opening piece, especially Emile Leriche, who will join the main company this fall. She’s strong, subtle and stunning. When she’s on stage, you simply can’t take your eyes off her. At times, she seems to dissipate like a puff of smoke.

With a packed touring schedule, we rarely get to see HS2 perform alongside the main company. It was nice to see the younger dancers mixed in with the more seasoned dancers. Marling’s ditto, a trio with HS2′s Leriche and Brandon Lee Alley dancing with Ana Lopez, blurred the lines between first and second company. Alley showed considerable skill partnering the always stunning Lopez. Saunders’ Adalea featuring six dancers from the main company had some fun with chairs, ending with a tumbling, tossing, physical duet with Jesse Bechard and Johnny McMillan. As a lovely extra, at the end of the first act, a video made by the dancers of their trip with DanceMotion USA was shown giving us a glimpse into some of the adventures they had while in North Africa and Spain. Pictures and video from the trip with voice over from the dancers reveal an inspiring once-in-a-lifetime adventure.

Jonathan Fredrickson’s Límon-esque For the Wandered was a meditation in white for five dancers incorporating text via hidden microphones inside movable starched white mounds of material. Most of the new works were somber, focusing on the complex construction and the dancing, but Marling’s stop…stop…stop. was a lighter, humorous romp set to a mambo with the dancer’s voices remixed on top like an audio thought bubble. HS2′s Lissa Smith and Richard Walters were perfect as a shy, awkward potential couple manipulated by the dashing Quinn B Wharton as a mentor/matchmaker. Wharton’s intermittent sly solos a fun, quirky interlude to the actions of the couple. Mineko William’s Grey Horses closed the show with the black brick back wall exposed creating a darker, starker stage.  Again mixing dancers from both companies (props to Leriche – again – and Walters!), she used the stark setting to create another dance of shadows across the back wall with beautiful solo work by Alice Klock. Set to music titled Ghost Come Morning by Robert G. Haynes, the final image of Klock and her shadow fading in to the dark brought an otherworldly feel.

Most performances are already sold out, but there are ticket still available for the Sunday, June 16 shows. Get them here now!

Slideshow Photo Captions: All photography by Todd Rosenberg.

Emilie Leriche and Felicia McBride in “Agape” by Andrew Wright.

Brandon Lee Alley and Emilie Leriche in “ditto” by Terence Marling.

Quinn B Wharton and Jessica Tong in “Adalea” by Penny Saunders.

Johnny McMillan and Jesse Bechard in “Adalea” by Penny Saunders.

Alice Klock and Johnny McMillan in “For the Wandered” by Jonathan Fredrickson.

Richard Walters and LIssa Smith in “stop…stop…stop.” by Terence Marling.

Garrett Anderson and Alice Klock in “Grey Horses” by Robyn Mineko Williams.

 

 

Hubbard Street’s Kevin Shannon Talks DanceMotion USA (Part 2)

Hubbard Street dancer Kevin Shannon with Roma children in Spain.

Some days my “job” is easy. Case in point, meeting Hubbard Street dancer Kevin Shannon on a Sunday afternoon shortly after he returned from his trip abroad with DanceMotion USA. Shannon along with fellow Hubbard Street dancers Jesse Bechard, Jacqueline Burnett, Meredith Dincolo, Kellie Epperheimer, Jason Hortin, David Schultz, Jessica Tong and their fearless leader Glenn Edgerton, lighting and tech director Matt Miller and Company Manager Ishanee DeVas traveled to North Africa and Spain as cultural ambassadors providing dance workshops and performances.

RB spoke with Shannon in March right before he left, when he talked about the DMUSA program – ie. Part 1. Once he was back in the States, we wanted to have a tapas-style picnic, but the weather did not agree with us, so we met at Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba. After ordering a pitcher of sangria and a couple of small plates (I ate octupus!). I said, “Ambassador Shannon, tell me everything.” For the most part, my job was done. He proceeded to tell me all about the trip including a number of dancers getting ill requiring performance adjustments, spice markets, a tannery, Moroccan tea, guys on donkey carts, crazy driving and traffic, a lovely day off in Spain and meeting new friends. Here are his stories in his own words. Hint: the word inspiring came up a lot!

First stop – Casablanca: We flew from Chicago to New York, New York to Madrid, Madrid to Casablanca. It’s a long trip. We arrived around 11 in the morning and had a little bit of a break. Everyone was jet-lagged. That evening we had a press conference with the woman from the Embassy. The next day we woke up at 7:30 to start the workshop. It was in a little neighborhood. It was still in Casablanca (the white city). They split us up in two groups and we do two workshops a day. One group was all hip hop. Nobody has any training. They come from the street. There were more men. The culture is not conducive to have women be dancers. A lot of the girls came, but wouldn’t tell their family what they were doing. They were so dedicated. We’d teach them a lot of improvisational and movement technique. What’s it mean to do points in space or to manipulate your body? We even taught ballet to them. There they have folk dancing, hip hop and b-boys. They wanted to learn something different, more contemporary, so they could incorporate it into what they do. It was so cool to see them try to figure it out. They can dance and move, but it’s a different way of thinking and moving. It was really inspiring.

We worked with a group of actors there as well. They did not have dance training at all. We pushed them to think creatively and physically in new ways. Physical dance theater…taking an object and doing exercises with it and around it without words. We worked with people in a detention facility. They were either abandoned by their family or they’d been abused or there was violence within the home where they had to leave. They had girls that were the leaders. I worked with them. To get them to be physical is very difficult. It’s not their culture. The empowerment of women is really important to see. It exists as a whole in certain ways, but it doesn’t exist outside of the home. Or being a physical woman, to dance, to move…they don’t do sports. The men do that. The men are ready to move and be physical, but the woman are more tentative and on the side afraid to do it. It was great to have empowering woman like Meredith and Jac and Kellie and Jess say, ‘no, you can do this’. By the end of the workshop, there was a huge change in their demeanor. Their faces lit up.

 

Hubbard Street and ONCI Ballet of Algeria.

On to Marrakesh: Marrakesh was very different. Marrakesh has more tourism. One of the guys asked where we should go eat and they said “McDonald’s!” The McDonald’s were packed. [It was] strange to see that Americanization of certain areas. We were staying at this beautiful hotel. It was strange to be in that Westernized place and then working with students in a studio with the floor falling apart. We had one day to walk around. We went into the spice market. I brought some spices home. I carried them around to Algeria, so when I got home and unpacked, it smelled so pungent. We went to these old French mansions. Everything is hidden behind walls. So you walk in and there’s this beautiful large space, but you don’t see it from the street. 

Next stop, Spain: Seville – that was our next journey. It was beautiful. I loved Spain. Morocco is a place to visit. Spain is a place to live. I’d like to go back. We worked with adults with Down Syndrome. It was incredible. They were dancers. The kids with Down Syndrome and the hearing-impaired children were the best students. They were so expressive with emotion. They could just go there. They were so creative and inventive. We did the same type of work. Each workshop was a little different. The place we were teaching the workshops were near this bridge and had a lot of empty spaces. Even though there are a lot of economic issues, there’s still a lot of support for programs like this. In Morocco there’s nothing. We worked with flamenco students as well. They were incredible. We taught them ‘Little Mortal [Jump]‘ and sometimes Jason would give a little jazz warm up. They were beautiful. We didn’t get to learn, but we got to watch them. We got to hear them talk about it. They’re just as skilled at what they do as we are. It’s so sexy. A lot of it is improv. They watch the teacher and just pick up what she’s doing. And, the tapas bars are amazing! Valencia is paella city. Beautiful, huge paellas.Valencia was an amazing city. Seville is more traditional, where Valencia is more progressive in the sense of there are more contemporary stores, etc. I would love to go back to Valencia.

And Algeria: And then to the chaos of Algiers. ‘Battle vans’. They were these armored vehicles that were bulletproof. That’s what we traveled in. Algiers was like Morocco, but without the tourism. You don’t see Americans. It’s a police state. They are all over. There are halts and barricades, bomb detectors. Morocco and Algiers don’t have a good relationship. Their borders are closed. In Algeria we worked with Roma children. They are like gypsy families. It was interesting. We’d worked before with the hearing-impaired children. They were so good, so focused. With the Roma children it was like herding cats. Their school is beautiful. It was in an old area that used to be a fishing community. The Roma children are a little darker than typical Spaniards and the culture is less Westernized. Flamenco music is a huge part of that culture. Their identity is music.

We did a performance together with a folkloric company ONCI [Ballet of Algeria] *. I don’t think they were expecting it to be so physical. I taught a movement improv class. They were in shock. They aren’t used to moving that much. The women do their little steps. Some are dancers, but some are more actors. We worked with them for three days. Then we found out a former president had passed away. The country went into eight days of mourning, so all of our performances were cancelled. We ended up doing a performance for the students.

Looking back: It was really inspiring to see dancers without really any training trying to do what we do and then giving us so much back. Sharing movement. It’s just dance. We didn’t have to speak the same language, but the language is dance. It’s the movement. You don’t have to have words. One of the most beautiful parts of this trip is it reminded me that what I do is so extremely important and such a gift. It is a gift to be able to share dance. Dance can be high class or for the middle class or from the streets. It transcends. For me it was very inspiring to come back here and be more inspired to do this again. Sometimes you get burned out and need to be reminded why you do what you do.

Don’t miss Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s danc(e)volve opening tomorrow night at the MCA Stage, 220 E. Chicago Ave. Most performance dates are already sold out, but tickets are still available for the matinee (3 pm) and evening (7:30 pm) performances on Sunday, June 16. 

 

 

Hubbard Street’s 2013-2014 Season

Hubbard Street dancers Jessica Tong and Jesse Bechard in Alejandro Cerrudo's "One Thousand Pieces". Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

Kylián, Naharin, Ek, Duato, Forsythe. Five big names – perhaps the biggest – in European-based choreography will be represented by Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in the 2013-2014 season. Add in a reprise of resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo’s full company, Chagall-inspired One Thousand Pieces, plus a world premiere from him next June and it looks to be another amazing season for the 36-year-old troupe. All performance will be held at the Harris Theater (205 E. Randolph).

I’m super stoked about getting to see One Thousand Pieces again. I was very melancholy leaving the theater last year, after seeing it for the second time. I didn’t want it to be over. Set to music by Philip Glass, Cerrudo creates a vivid, beautifully surreal world in water, glass and blue.

Over the years, Hubbard Street has challenged me to expand and/or change my perception and likes/dislikes of choreography. Some of my favorite works now are from choreographers I had never heard of growing up in Central Illinois. It will be interesting (and fun!) to see which of the five superstar international choreographers will come out on top at the end of next season. (Front runner: Forsythe, by a hair.)

Former Hubbard Street dancer Robyn Mineko Williams, now making quite a name for herself as a choreographer, will also create a new work for the company to premiere in October. Also of note, Terence Marling will succeed Taryn Kaschock Russell as the new director of HS2 – congrats!! – and Lucas Crandall returns to Chicago to fill Marling’s former role as Hubbard Street’s rehearsal director.

Fall Series – October 10-13, 2013: Passomezzo (Ohad Naharin), new work (Robyn Mineko Williams), Casi-Casa (Mats Ek), and the Compass quintet from AZIMUTH (Alonzo King).

Winter Series - December 12-15, 2013: One Thousand Pieces (Alejandro Cerrudo).

Spring Series – March 13-16, 2014: All Kylián! Sarabande, Falling Angels, 27’52″, and Petite Mort.

Summer SeriesGnawa (Nacho Duato), Quintett (William Forsythe), world premiere (Cerrudo).

Hubbard Street’s Kevin Shannon Talks DanceMotion USA (Part 1)

Hubbard Street dancer Kevin Shannon in Mats Ek's "Casi-Casa". Photo by Quinn B Wharton.

“I started tap dancing when I was eight, mainly because I was a little rambunctious,” he said. “I was just troublesome. I was always trying to figure out a way to get a reaction out of people and my Mom was just over it.” Hubbard Street Dance Chicago dancer Kevin Shannon, 28, told me about growing up in inner city Baltimore (the John Waters movie Pecker was filmed there) over ice cream – his brilliant idea! – his one day off after the company’s combined performances at the Harris Theater with Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet before heading out on tour to Wisconsin. Before landing in Chicago in 2007, Shannon took his orneriness to the Baltimore School for the Arts and Julliard. He’s now in his sixth season with Hubbard Street.

It was his senior show at Julliard that caught the attention of Jim Vincent, Hubbard Street’s artistic director at the time, and brought him to the Midwest. “I’d auditioned in Europe and Canada, but I kind of wanted to be in the States,” Shannon said. “The rep here is so great and we get to travel. This is one of the best contemporary companies in the world, not just the States. I don’t think a lot of companies have what this company has. These dancers can do anything and do it well.” Seven of those dancers, plus fearless leader artistic director Glenn Edgerton, joined Shannon this week in an epic adventure. On Monday, they flew out on the first leg of a cultural diplomacy program sponsored by the U.S. State Department and the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) called DanceMotion USA (DMUSA). Now in its third year, DMUSA sends American dance companies abroad for performance, education and outreach. Hubbard Street is one of four companies chosen this year and will be visiting Morocco, Spain and Algeria.

Earlier this year, they traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet with Assistant Secretary of State Ann Stock and BAM Executive Producer Joe Melillo to be briefed on the trip, the regions/cities they would visit (Casablanca, Marrakesh, Valencia, Seville, Algiers and Orun) and their duties as artistic ambassadors. “I’m really excited about it,” said Shannon. “We’ll have one performance in each city and every day we’ll be doing workshops. It’s more of an outreach/teaching program. It’s a wide range of students. Some will be dance trained and I think in Spain we’ll be working with mute and deaf children.” The eight dancers – Shannon, Jesse Bechard, Jacqueline Burnett, Meredith Dincolo, Kellie Epperheimer, Jason Hortin, David Schultz and Jessica Tong – will be performing five in-house pieces from the Hubbard Street rep from dancer Jonathan Fredrickson, former dancer Robyn Mineko Williams and resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo.

While they’re away, the rest of the company is hard at work here getting ready for the upcoming Danc(e)volve performances of newly created in-house choreographic works. Not to be left out, Edgerton is having the DMUSA dancers create a work while they’re gone about the trip. Another way they’re staying connected is through social media. You can follow the dancers throughout the entire trip via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the DMUSA blog. “My hope for this program, going into it, is that when we come back, we stay connected, so we can expand our outreach,” said Shannon. “It’s really exciting. Once you do this, you’re always a cultural ambassador and will always have a connection to the State Department.” Well, Ambassador Shannon, we look forward to hearing all about the trip in Part 2 of the interview, when you get back.

Check out what’s happening on their first stop in Casablanca, Morocco – where they are right now!

 

 

 

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.

 

 

Hubbard Street Shines in Ek’s Work

Hubbard Street dancers Ana Lopez and Alejandro Cerrudo in Mats Ek's "Casi-Casa". Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

Opening night of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago‘s Winter Series at the Harris Theater last night marked the first time a U.S. company has presented the work of Swedish master choreographer Mats Ek. Well-known in Europe for his theatrical creations for stage and film, Ek has worked with acclaimed dancers like Sylvie Guillem and Mikhail Baryshnikov. Now, with the help of dancers Ana Laguna and Mariko Aoyama, he takes our very own Hubbard Street dancers to new, extraordinary heights in his 2009 work Casi-Casa. A mash-up of two of his previous works, Appartement and Fluke, Casi was originally created for Danza Contemporánea de Cuba in 2009. Also on the program, Aszure Barton’s grand Untouched and two works by resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo.

Although last on the evening’s program, Ek’s Casi is what everyone came to see. Even founder Lou Conte was there to witness his company make history. And make history they did, for once they raised the bar for themselves, the audience, the city and the country by excelling in this work, they can never go back. The cast of 12 dancers was stellar, but it was the staging and choreography that transfixed. Casi-Casa was stunning, ugly, casual, urgent, funny, human, disturbing and wonderful. Ek’s way of taking a mundane gesture or activity and turning it into something alternately beautiful, endearing and disgusting is true brilliance. With a cast of misfit characters like TV Man, Vacuum Woman, Stove Couple and Door Couple, the 40-minute piece flies by and leaves you wondering just what the hell happened. No, really…WTF just happened? Poking, sniffing, sighing, spitting, grabbing and whistling mix easily with insanely difficult, breathtaking dancing set to a score as schizophrenic as the characters. Vacuum cleaner-wielding women dance an OCD-frenzied jig, a couple struggles to stay together while tragedy roasts in an oven, and a man makes being a couch potato an art form. The work has everything you never thought you’d see on stage in a dance and then some. There is a sexual undercurrent throughout – a hand to the breast, a foot to the crotch, a groping embrace – that is sometimes nonchalant, purposeful, sad and almost crude. One of the most beautiful moments was a delicate, loving duet between Jesse Bechard and David Schultz. A section with no dancing had yellow and black caution tape zig-zagged across the stage as Hitchcockianly dangerous music blared as if to say, what happens in between these walls should not be seen. But Ek lets us look anyway.

Barton’s Untouched is a beautiful work that brilliantly showcases these dancers talents. Originally created on Hubbard Street in 2010, Barton incorporated bits of the dancers personalities into the movement. Even though a few of the performers have changed, the delicate intimacy of the gestures remain, punctuated by strong technique and creative partnering. With a lush red curtain pulled back on stage right as a backdrop and an almost formal informality to the structure, it is reminiscent of Edwaard Liang’s Age of Innocence, but on LSD. It’s just a little off. Where Liang’s duets are pristine with a feminine sense of longing, Barton’s transforms the women – Ana Lopez and Kellie Epperheimer – into wounded birds seeking freedom. Where Liang works within the structured lines of Victorian court dances, Barton takes that framework and alters it with syncopation and weight. Unexpected moments of impatience – a fast hip bounce, a dancer frantically running in place – dot the more serene essence of the dance. The dancers are at home in this piece. Plus, anything that begins with the gorgeous Meredith Dincolo in a floor length dress is assured to be spectacular.

In between Barton and Ek was a suite of dances by Cerrudo. Both have his penchant for dark lighting and mood, but to different ends. Blanco, a study in minimalist movement for four women, and PACOPEPEPLUTO, a tongue-in-cheek romp for three men to Dean Martin songs, highlight the rising choreographer’s serious and light sides. Both used similar movement vocabulary with results at the opposite ends of the dance spectrum. The audience seemed in awe of the raw physical beauty of the women, but the charming men – Johnny McMillan, Schultz and Pablo Piantino – captured their hearts wearing nothing but dance belts. Recently named to Crain’s Chicago Business’ “40 Under 40″ list, Cerrudo shows what he can do with just music, lighting and bodies. While all the dancers deserve high praise, Cerrudo gets a special mention. With his busy schedule traveling the world setting his work, he hasn’t graced the Harris stage – aside from choreographic bows – since last March. He showed that he still has the chops to hang with and stand out in this amazing group of dancers. Bravo!

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s Winter Series runs through Sunday, Dec. 9 at the Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph. For a 20% discount on tickets use the code: CASI at www.hubbardstreetdance.com/winter.

CDF 12 Artist Spotlight: Hubbard Street’s Jesse Bechard

HSDC dancers Jesse Bechard & Ana Lopez in  Jirí Kylían's
HSDC dancers Jesse Bechard & Penny Saunders w/ Nacho Duato.  Photo by Igor Larin.
HSDC dancer Jesse Bechard.  Photo by Cheryl Mann.
HSDC
HSDC Penny Saunders & Jesse Bechard in
HSDC Jesse Bechard & Jacqueline Burnett in
HSDC Jesse Bechard & Ana Lopez in

The studios at Hubbard Street Dance Chicago (HSDC) were eerily quiet last week.  The dancers were on a well-deserved break and the staff was holed up in their offices busily preparing for the upcoming season (rehearsals started yesterday).  Fresh off a three-week trip to Costa Rica, dancer Jesse Bechard agreed to meet with me before taking an afternoon ballet class.  After spending an hour chatting with the 31-year-old, this is what I know. He’s smart, funny, loyal, curious, an avid reader, and a self-proclaimed news junkie. He plays drums, he loves kale – and, let’s be honest – he’s pretty easy on the eyes.

Bechard grew up in the Northeast (Connecticut, Massachusetts) and cites seeing Baryshnikov dance on tv as his impetus to start dancing.  Here’s the Cliff Notes of his early career:  danced in various Nutcrackers and recitals; quit dancing during the middle schools years to focus on academics and play sports like soccer, basketball and lacrosse; started dancing again at 16/junior year of high school; went to Walnut Hill School for the Arts for his senior year; attended Boston Ballet summer programs; quit dancing again to go to college (one year at University of Chicago); moved to New York City to dance (and wait tables); apprenticed with Ballet Austin for a year; joined Richmond Ballet in Virginia where he danced for eight years.  Whew!  “I didn’t have that much exposure when I was growing up dancing,” he said.  “The things that were put in front of me as goals were all these white tights things.  I didn’t know what was going on in Europe.  I’d seen Hubbard Street, but I didn’t know about NDT (Nederlands Dans Theater).  In the early 2000′s I went to see NDTII and that really changed my trajectory substantially.  ‘Well, there it is!  That’s what I’d like to do.’  I remember the next day in class, my whole motivation and what I was focusing on had really shifted overnight.  I never really had that much of a desire to be the prince at all.  You always idolize Baryshnikov.  He’s beautiful. He does incredible things.  But I don’t think I was built for that.  It’s an interesting point when you come to the realization of what you want to do and what your body is aesthetically built for.”

The “third time is a charm” adage rang true to for Bechard and his bumpy adventure to reach HSDC.  He auditioned for three times before everything worked out.  The beginning of the financial crisis, other contract obligations and lack off an opening in the company all delayed his debut with HSDC until August of 2010.  In 2011, Bechard performed at the Chicago Dancing Festival (CDF) for the Moderns (Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar’s Too Beaucoup) and Masters (Jiri Kylían’s Petite Mort) programs.  This year he’s scheduled to perform Twyla Tharp’s Scarlatti in the Chicago Dancing program on Monday, August 20, and Ohad Naharin’s Tabula Rasa in the closing night’s Celebration of Dance on Saturday, August 25.  (Casting may change.)  Here are some excerpts from our chat.

The first thing I remember seeing you in was Nacho Duato’s Arcangelo.  Since then, it seems like you’ve been in everything.  Who were some of your favorite choreographers to work with or favorite pieces?

Nacho was really fun to work with. It was really fun to work with Yoshi (Fumi Inao), who came to set Ohad’s  (Naharin) work.  ”Too Beaucoup” was a really difficult process for me.  I was new.  I’d only been in the company six months at that point and certain things, like Nacho’s piece were within my comfort zone.  Then we come in and have this crazy Israeli woman dancing around asking you what you got out of that.  You get to a point in this company where you get much better at learning the way that things operate.  It’s not often in a ballet company that someone will come in and do something and ask what you got from it, so you learn a lot more how to interpret what you do.  We do a massive amount of improvisation.  If you make it up and it looks convincing, it will probably work.  It’s true.  If you’re tentative and hesitant, that reads.  But if you’re like this is what I’m going to do, that’s a choice.  It really doesn’t have to be right, it just has to be what you intend to do.  You can take risks and something can happen that you didn’t intend, but you have to make it happen.  As you get more comfortable with that it becomes more enjoyable.  In her process, I was not quite used to that and her movement style is…insane.  The process was cool, but it wasn’t my favorite process, but now it is one of my favorite pieces to perform in terms of the visceral experience as a dancer.  You’re in this unitard, you have contacts on, you have a wig on, you’re dancing to this killer music with these awesome lights and you’re just one little cog in the wheel. It’s awesome for your brain.  You’re just in there, talking to yourself.  You have to count everything.  There’s 9 of these and 14 of these and 12 of these. I think that’s the piece with the biggest difference between how much I enjoy doing it and how much I enjoyed the process. I love Sharon and Gai, they were really cool, but the process was really hard.

“Petite Mort” (Jirí Kylían) – that’s another thing you want to check off the list in your dance career.  That’s one that for most dancers, you really, really want to do. It’s almost a perfect piece.  It’s concise, it’s short.  It’s not overdone.  It is so insanely musical and so simple.  The whole men’s section…getting six guys to breathe together.

When you all turn around that first time and swipe the sword…it’s such a great moment.

That’s definitely one of the most stressful things…walking down with it balanced on your finger.  Finding that balance point is difficult.  You get good at it, but when the curtain opens up, there is a shift in air and then you’re trying to walk backwards, downstage and find your mark and look at the other person, then lower your sword down and as you lower it, trying to keep it balanced on your finger. I love dancing in silence with only the sounds of the swords.  There’s such a cool internal rhythm to it. 

Alejandro’s (Cerrudo) stuff feels really good to do.  The movement feels really nice.

Does his work become shorthand after a while, since you’ve worked with him so much? 

It becomes much easier to know what he wants.  I think it’s like that with a lot of choreographers.  You know what they like to see.  Not even what they like to see, it’s not about ass-kissing or pleasing someone, but you kind of have an idea of what aesthetic they’re shooting for, so you can just get to it quicker.

The Forsythe piece in the Summer Series was amazing.  You were in both casts.  How did you get through that week?  

It was really difficult.  That was a hard program.  I drank a lot of Pedialyte.

What was the learning process like for Quintett?

The people that he sent – Thomas (McManus), Stephen (Galloway) and Dana (Caspersen) – they were fantastic.  None of us really knew what to expect when they came in.  That process was great.  I really enjoyed working with them. I think what Thomas was asking me to do and trying to get out of me and everybody felt massively different from the beginning to the end.  And then it felt massively different from when we did it here and at ADF. 

Did you get to meet William Forsythe at the American Dance Festival? 

Yeah, he worked with us.  He comes in wearing jean, sneakers and a tee shirt. He’s a totally quirky, awesome, incredibly laid-back guy.  I’ve heard that he can really not be that way, but anyone who is trying to create something can go a little crazy. He wasn’t like “Forsythe”.  He was joking about himself and totally mellow. He was super encouraging.  In that piece, because of the nature of the music and the movement, you really are supposed to go for it as much as you can.  And if something happens that didn’t happen before?  See where it goes.  

At the Harris, I’m pretty sure I saw you slide off the stage at one point.

I fell at one point.  I was running and sliding and hit a tape mark.  But honestly, that could be the movement. 

There was something different about that work.  Even in rehearsals, if was the first time I saw you guys laughing and having fun in rehearsal. Not that you don’t have fun, but everyone seemed really laid back and you seemed to be having such a good time, especially on stage.

It makes you smile.  We don’t have a lot of smiling pieces.  It feels like that when you’re doing it.  We weren’t putting that on.  In rehearsals, you’re kind of like – gasp! – dying, but on stage, it makes you smile. The fact that it was made right after his first wife passed away, you thought it was sort of memorial, but it’s a celebration of life and memory.  Working with them there was no stress.  There was so much respect.

So, Twyla. What was it like working with her? 

It’s another one of these “icon” people.  She was great.  She was super fun to work with.  She a little ball of energy.  She could power a city.  She 71 now. She was jumping on me and wrapping herself around me – totally off the floor.  I’m there with Twyla hanging off of me thinking ‘I can’t drop her. This is a lawsuit waiting to happen.’  She’s so professional and has such a specific style and procedure of working. She’s a workhorse.  She didn’t take lunch.  She would have lunch brought to her and stagger our lunches, so we could have lunch, but she could continue working throughout the day.  

How is dancing Scarlatti?  

It’s a fun piece to do.  It’s entirely different than “Quintett”.  In “Quintett”, you want to really throw yourself at it.  ”Scarlatti”, you throw yourself at it too, but there are parts that are much lighter on the floor.  It is super musical, so it’s fun to dance.  I think it’s exactly what she intended it to be.  It exactly fits the music. I’d like to work with her again.  

Chicago Dancing Festival 2012 runs August 20 – 25.  For more information, visit chicagodancingfestival.com.

Slideshow Photo Credits:

Bechard with Ana Lopez in Jirí Kylían’s “Petite Mort”.  Photo by Cheryl Mann.

Bechard in “Arcangelo” rehearsal with Penny Saunders and Nacho Duato.  Photo by Igor Larin.

Bechard headshot by Cheryl Mann.

Bechard in Jonathan Fredrickson’s “Untitled Landscape”. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

Bechard and Penny Saunders in William Forsythe’s “Quintett”. Photo by Cheryl Mann.

Bechard and Jacqueline Burnett in Alejandro Cerrudo’s “Malditos”. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

Bechard and Ana Lopez in Alejandro Cerrudo’s “Little Mortal Jump”. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

 

 

 

Johnny-Come-Lately

HSDC dancer Johnny McMillan in "Quintett". Photo by Cheryl Mann.

The past few weeks have been pretty good for Johnny McMillan.  In late April, he was promoted from HS2, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago‘s (HSDC) second company, to the main company.  He was immediately cast in William Forsythe’s Quintett (a big fucking deal), which he danced with veteran company members in the Summer Series at the Harris Theater earlier this month.  In addition to Forsythe, he performed a tiny part in resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo’s Malditos – “I was a cross-over girl.” – and sections of the group work by Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin THREE TO MAX.  He’s now setting a new work for HSDC’s in-house choreographic workshop Inside/Out, which will be the third piece he’s made since joining HS2 in 2010.  Did I mention he’s only 20?

That’s a lot to absorb for his petite 5’6″ frame, but he’s enjoying every minute.  “I wasn’t really nervous for Malditos at first, because I was just going on stage and doing three counts of eight,” he said last week from HSDC’s West Loop studio.  “But the first night, I run out on stage, slide, and my whole body goes ‘oh no, there are people here’.  That’s when it hit me.  I’m dancing with the main company.  Everything I’ve wanted in dance is happening.” That he got to dance a Forsythe piece in his first show is a testament to his talent and maturity.  Dancing alongside Ana Lopez, Alejandro Cerrudo, Jacqueline Burnett and Jesse Bechard, McMillan fit right in.  “It was a surreal experience,” he said.  “The nice thing about starting with Forsythe was…it wasn’t directed at the audience.  From the moment you’re on stage, you don’t have time to think about anything but the people you’re dancing with and what you’re doing.  That was nice.  It was just being on stage for 25 minutes and having a blast.  That’s the most fun I’ve ever had with a piece.”

Hitting the ground running, so to speak, he’s already learning tons of rep like Twyla Tharp’s speedy marathon Scarlatti and Sharon Eyal’s brain-twister Too Beacoup, while also rehearsing the three works he’ll perform at Inside/Out, as well as setting a solo on HSDC dancer Penny Saunders set to “Goin’ Out of My Head” by Little Anthony and the Imperials.  “It’s really groovy.  We were in Kansas (on tour) in the airport and I heard this song.  I was outside smoking a cigarette and it was on and – shazam! – this is it”, McMillan said.  “I’m really liking the solo and everything Penny is doing with it.  He’s taking a new approach with this piece, working more with improv than strict, set steps and patterns.  Inspired by memories of entertaining his parent as a child and watching videos of HS2 artistic director Taryn Kaschock Russell’s son Donovan, McMillan found his groove.  “Kids have this carelessness.  It’s always about the music.  I really want to play with this lack of counts and just hearing and feeling the music…not even choreographing to the music, but the way it makes you feel.”

McMillan’s work premieres this weekend along with 17 new works from HSDC dancers and artistic staff in the intimate UIC Theater.  Tickets are still available, but going quickly.  The thing I find most intriguing about Inside/Out and new works programs (there are a ton in Chicago) is that when the tables are turned and the dancers have the opportunity to create the movement, you really get a glimpse at who they are as people, not just as performers.  Don’t miss this chance to see you favorite HSDC-ers in a new light.

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago presents Inside/Out at the UIC Theater, 1044 W. Harrison St, Saturday, June 23 at 5 & 8 pm.  Tickets are $20 ($35 for VIP, $15 for students).  Call 312.850.9744 or visit www.hubbardstreet.com.