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: Solitaire – A Game of Dance (gala)

Alvin Ailey dancer Samuel Lee Roberts in "IN/SIDE". Photo by Paul Kolnik.

Last night the Chicago Dancing Festival (CDF) hosted a benefit gala at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) and premiered the Solitaire – A Game of Dance performance that will be repeated this Friday at 6 and 8 pm. Guests mingled in the lobby with wine and passed hors d’oeuvres while perusing silent auction items. MCA Director of Performance Programs Peter Taub introduced CDF co-founders Jay Franke (in the cutest shorts suit!) and Lar Lubovitch, who in turn introduced our favorite local dance fan, Mayor Rahm Emanuel. After telling the dancers backstage to “break a leg” (Eek!), he proceeded to boast about “the largest free dance fest anywhere in the country”. He brought his family along including his parents who were celebrating their 58th wedding anniversary (aww). He talked about the 750 free events that have taken place in Chicago this summer and said that next year the hope is to take CDF around the city and “break out to all the neighborhoods”.

Franke graciously thanked everyone that helped to make CDF13 possible and Lubovitch, a man as eloquent with words as he is with choreography, gave us a history of the game solitaire (“the game of patience”) and a brief essay on how hard it is dancing and creating a solo. But he promised the performance would show just “how vast and varied the art of dancing alone is”. The show indeed did just that. A hand of cards projected on the back wall served as program notes and transitions. Before each solo a card was flipped with the picture and name of the artist about to perform.

First, the exquisite Victoria Jaiani of the Joffrey Ballet danced a breathtaking and heart-wrenching (yes, I cried) Dying Swan variation from 1905. She seemed to float across the stage in her entrance. From her delicate death, we jump to the dramatic, super strong solo In/Side (2008) performed by Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre‘s Samuel Lee Roberts. His sheer physicality was expertly matched by Robert Battle’s intense choreography. Ensemble Español‘s Julia Hinojosa danced a beautiful ode to Cuba in this flirtatious, percussive solo complete with a gorgeous long ruffled skirt and a large white fan. Ensueños de mi Caribe (2012), inspired by the city of Havana, showcases the traditions of flamenco. The petite Camille A. Brown commanded the stage in a powerful, puppet-like excerpt from her 2012 work Mr. Tol E. RAncE celebrating black performers and challenging stereotypes.

Natya Dance Theatre dancer Krithika Rajagopalan. Photo by Amitava Sarkar.

Things lightened up as Hubbard Street Dance Chicago dancers Johnny McMillan, David Schultz and Jonathan Fredrickson took the stage in Alejandro Cerrudo’s charming PACOPEPEPLUTO (2011), a fun, technically challenging and “cheeky” trio of solos set to Dean Martin songs. Krithika Rajagopalan of Natya Dance Theatre, wearing a stunning orange and red sari, was a study of intricate detail and expression in Sthithihi – In the Stillness (2013). The placement of each finger or the raising of an eyebrow telling an entire story. The performance went from stillness to the extreme with Brian Brooks’ frenetic 2007 solo I’m Going to Explode. Towards the end of the solo, he spirals down onto his knees leaving one arm extended up to the ceiling reminding me of the swan dying at the beginning of the show.

The evening ended with guests gathering in the upstairs galleries for drinks, dinner, dancing and a live auction. Once again, CDF did what it does best, which is bring a wide range of dance forms together on one stage performed by some of the best dancers around. You may not enjoy every style of dance you see here, but you can’t deny the talent, commitment and artistry involved.

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 + 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.

Hubbard Street’s Quinn B Wharton: Man of Mystery

Hubbard Street dancer Quinn B Wharton. Photo by Cheryl Mann.

Her: What’s the B. stand for?

Him: It’s a good question, isn’t it? I’ll never tell.

Her: Ooh, it’s top secret!

Him: It’s more interesting that way, right? There’s no period.

Her: Is that an artistic statement?

Him: It’s like that on my birth certificate, Quinn B Wharton. There’s a reason.

Her: Do you want to tell me?

Him: Then you’d know and it would be no fun. Maybe I’ll tell you someday.

That’s how my conversation began with the tall, lean, talented dancer at Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. Quinn B – no period – Wharton was bright, blithe and downright bewitching when we met over tea (for him, he was recovering from a cold) and decaf (for me, ’nuff said) two weeks ago. Who is this man with the mysterious initial and missing punctuation? I did my best to find out.

Wharton grew up in Seattle and began taking hip hop classes with a friend through an inner city outreach program. Pacific Northwest Ballet School‘s Dance Chance program took notice and offered him a scholarship. After a five-year “drought” in his training when his family moved to Hawaii, he relied on the wisdom of his ballet-teaching grandmothers to find him a teacher to get him back in shape. A summer program at San Francisco Ballet (SFB) led to three years at the North Carolina School of the Arts before he returned to San Fran to join the ballet company’s trainee program, or second company, while completing his degree via correspondence. Wharton danced with SFB, under the direction of Helgi Tomasson, for seven years before joining Hubbard Street in the summer of 2012.

In 2008, during SFB’s 75th Anniversary season, Wharton sustained a lower back injury that kept him from dancing. He used his down time to develop an impressive talent in photography. After “working like hell” on his ballet come back, he started traveling and auditioning to see what else was out there in the dance world. Now, he joins fellow SFB alums Garrett Anderson and Pablo Piantino at Hubbard Street.

Wharton, 25, will be dancing the opening “TV Man” solo in Swedish choreographer Mats Ek’s Casi-Casa this weekend at the Harris Theater. Hubbard Street’s Winter Series will be the first time an American company has presented this work. Also on the program, Canadian choreographic phenom Aszure Barton’s Untouched, a dense and grand work make for the company in 2010, and a coupling of short works by resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo. One is a quartet for women, the other a trio for men.

Ek has been in and out of town working with the dancers for a while, but is aided by his wife/muse Ana Laguna, who notably danced a duet with Mikhail Baryshnikov at the Harris Theater in 2009, and repetiteur Mariko Aoyama, who is well-known for her work with Pina Bausch. A rehearsal earlier this fall for the “TV Man” solo had Laguna riffing on the finer points of chair slumping and nose picking. Here is a peak into the rehearsal process filmed by HMS Media:

Wharton (also a gifted videographer) started his Hubbard Street career with a bang. Only two weeks in, he found himself learning Twyla Tharp’s SCARLATTI to replace an injured dancer the next night at the Chicago Dancing Festival. Welcome to Chicago! Here’s a bit of our chat on working with Ek.

I’ve read a lot of articles and interviews in the past few years and most of the dancers say they want to work with Ek. Is he someone you aspired to work with?

He wasn’t, actually…until now.

Since he wasn’t on your list, what makes it…

Amazing? It’s watching someone that’s been so thoroughly in his craft for so long, so specifically. It’s very different from how most dance is portrayed. It’s almost like from a theater background. You can tell from what he makes for film. I don’t know what it’s like when he creates, but it seems like he comes into the room with these characters and bases dances on them as opposed to creating movement and infusing it with character, which is what most people do, if at all. He’s a little soft-spoken. He’s tall. He wants really big movement. He’s not irrational with what he expects, but he does demand a lot. He’s respectful, which is nice. When he came back this past week, we were working on the TV solo. Watching it is really weird, but hearing him talk about it, makes complete sense. At first it seemed really obscure. The TV Man is in love with this game show hostess on tv and you write her a bunch of letters and she doesn’t respond to you. You love her, but you hate her and this couch is always here for you and it’s your friend you love it. There are people out there like that and it allowed me to relate to what I was doing.

What was it like working with Ana and Mariko?

I can see why Mariko was here first. She’s super sweet. She’s very detail-focused. She gave us a lot of information very quickly. She’s fast and she pushes. She’s quirky and she’s worked in very contemporary dance for years with Pina Bausch. They both just give us a base, because they know Mats will come in later. Ana is a sweetheart, beyond sweet. Obviously she knows Mats work inside and out.

In rehearsals you were playing with a black bowler hat. What’s with the hat?

What IS with the hat? I like hats. I am the hat man, as well. I die at the end of my solo. I turn the tv off and I die, because that is my world. “Vacuum Lady” comes on and has a hat. I go for it and she takes it away. I put it on and she sends me somewhere. It’s very conceptual. Either it’s another world or I’m a spirit. I provide transition and “slight leadership”. Every time I come in to change a scene, I’m wearing the hat…except for the finale.

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago presents its Winter Series at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph, on Thurs., Dec. 6 at 730 pm, Friday-Saturday, Dec. 7-8 at 8 pm and Sunday, Dec. 9 at 3 pm. Tickets are $25-$99. Call 312.850.9744 or visit hubbardstreetdance.com.

CDF 12: Opening Night slideshow

After School Matters #CDF12
After School Matters CDF 2012
Bolero Chicago CDF 2012
Bolero Chicago CDF 2012
Bolero Chicago CDF 2012
Bolero Chicago CDF 2012
GDC CDF 2012
GDC CDF 2012
HSDC CDF 2012
HSDC CDF 2012
HSDC CDF 2012
Joffrey CDF 2012
Joffrey CDF 2012
Joffrey CDF 2012
 
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View some great photos taken of the Chicago Dancing Festival‘s opening night program Chicago Dancing taken by the ever-lovely Cheryl Mann.

1 & 2: After School Matters in Touch of Soul by Nicholas Leichter

3 – 6: Bolero Chicago by Larry Keigwin

7 & 8: Giordano Dance Chicago dancers Maeghan McHale & Martin Ortiz Tapia in Two Become Three by Alexander Ekman

9-11: Hubbard Street Dance Chicago dancers Kellie Epperheimer, Johnny McMillan, Garrett Anderson & Pablo Piantino in Scarlatti by Twyla Tharp

12-14: Joffrey Ballet dancers Victoria Jaiani & Rory Hohenstein in In The Middle, Somewhat Elevated by William Forsythe

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.

 

Thoughts on HSDC’s Summer Series 2012

In a word:  brilliant.  The dancers, the dancing, the choreography, the curation – all of it.  Hubbard Street Dance Chicago‘s (HSDC) Summer Series opened last night at the Harris Theater with a three-work program that solidified the company as an elite group of dancers at the top of their field.  Breaking new ground as the first U.S. company to perform William Forsythe’s Quintett, HSDC proved (again) they have the chops to tackle anything.  HSDC resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo’s cross-company collaboration with HSDC and Nederlands Dans Theatre Malditos and Batsheva Dance Company artistic director Ohad Naharin’s 2011 mash-up of previous works THREE TO MAX bookended Forysythe’s piece for a full, lush, well-rounded evening.

Malditos is a study in shadows.  Dark lighting is a tool Cerrudo uses often, but never with as great effect as in this work.  The dancers slip in and out of the darkness like ghosts appearing and disappearing at the edges of your mind.  The score from the film The Beat That My Heart Skipped by Alexandre Desplat beautifully compliments his    choreography.  The end, where an almost naked Ana Lopez dances duets with three interchangeable men, is breathtaking.  The dancing continues as the lights fade out and back in as a different partner joins her.  Each partner touches her with the top of his head, but she reacts differently to each touch eventually taking over and touching one back with her head before they melt to the ground together as the lights fade.  The duets throughout are stunning displays of love and trust studded with architectural partnering and razor-like technique.  Cerrudo holds his own next to master choreographers Forsythe and Naharin.

The performance of Quintett was transformational.  What these five dancers (Meredith Dincolo, Penny Saunders, Jonathan Fredrickson, Jesse Bechard and Kevin Shannon) created on stage was extraordinary.  They are always good, but this was something truly special.  A looped score of a homeless man singing “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet” created a base canvas for the movement to take life.  The repetition let you focus on the relationship of the five characters.  Simple ballet moves like a tendu devant or a double pirouette seemed to take on new meaning.  The piece was created in 1993 in collaboration with five of Forsythe’s dancers.  Three of the original cast – Dana Caspersen, Stephen Galloway and Thomas McManus – worked with the HSDC dancers to set the work over the past few weeks.  The connection, emotion and energy of the dancers was palpable.  Bechard, a strong presence in all three pieces on the program, at times simply defied gravity.  One quiet moment as Saunders rested her head on Bechard’s back for a couple of seconds let the audience catch their breath before being sucked back in to the wonderful whirlwind happening on stage.

Naharin’s piece has the dancers clad in simple jeans and colorful tank and tees. Dressed as civilians, the dancers seemed stripped down to their bare essence.  They were open, honest, subtle, sensual, vulnerable.  Human.  The rich movement sections captured their talents and personalities.  At one point a dancer looks at his hands and then extends them to the audience, giving us what’s there as if saying “here, this is who I am”.  The counting section (where the dancers ascribe a movement to a number as a voice counts to ten, adding new movements each time the counting starts over) and a partially improvised follow-the-leader sections are stand outs.

Three shows remain in the Summer Series.  I highly recommend it.

For ticket information:  hubbardstreet.com, call 312.850.9744 or visit the Harris Theater box office at 205 E. Randolph. 

Thoughts on HSDC’s danc(e)volve – for real!

Johnny McMillan in "Never was" by Alejandro Cerrudo. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

Over the weekend on the MCA Stage, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago (HSDC) presented nine new works created by HSDC dancers/choreographers and the winners of HSDC’s 2010 National Choreographic Competition. danc(e)volve – preview here – proved to be an interesting and intimate look into what makes HSDC tick: its artists.  Tickets for the four shows were sold out early, but there are tickets still available for the upcoming shows this weekend except for Saturday, which is already sold out.  (Hint: get your tickets now!)

Unlike most HSDC programs, this new works festival serves up multiple shorter pieces averaging 15-minutes a pop.  It’s like going to your favorite restaurant for a five-course chef tasting.  You aren’t sure what you’re going to get, but you’re confident you’re going to like it.  Unlike a big, gluttonous meal like an Ohad Naharin work, with a number of smaller pieces, you get varying tastes:  an amuse bouche, a palette cleanser, complex notes, sweet and light and the one course that wow’s you.  If you don’t like one course, something completely different is coming next.  (Hmm…note to self:  remember to eat before the show!)

Each work in danc(e)volve looked remarkably like the dancers that choreographed them, which is testament to their honesty as an artist.  The natural way they move embedding itself into their art.  Many took the opportunity to play with traditional conventions, pushing the definition of what the audience is used to seeing.  Lighting effects – shout out to lighting designer Matt Miller! – (downstage footlights creating shadows on the back wall), entrances and exits (utilizing the side door in the audience), even starting/ending points (music beginning in darkness or the dance ending in darkness, while the music still plays).  Some were greeted with tentative applause (is it over?), others with a murmur of surprised approval.

Resident Choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo’s duet Never was, at seven minutes one of the shortest pieces, served as the main course of each program.    Placed in the middle of Programs A and B, his newest work takes trademark moves (a quick sauté in second, a perky parallel pop up like a pencil, a partnered promenade slide in plié) and distills them into their purest essence.  You see moments of Cerrudo’s previous works woven in and watch as he hones his craft before your eyes.  Straight up props to Emile Leriche and Johnny McMillan (two of the younger dancers in HS2) for their strong showing in this dense, intense piece.

Other pieces of note:  Robyn Mineko Williams’ Recall,  a techno-infused meditation on memory with some breaking tossed in for fun; Penny Saunder’s humorous and slightly creepy Vaudevillian  Bonobo; and Terry Marling’s thrice, which completely transformed from its previous incarnation, twice (once) that premiered last December.   Many of the works used the dancers from HS2.  It was nice to see the younger dancers perform at home (they tour a LOT) and in challenging works made by their HSDC mentors.

Hubbard Street presents danc(e)volve, Jan 26 – 29

MCA Stage, 220 E Chicago, 312.397.4010