Vision, Faith & Desire II at Pritzker Pavilion

Winifred Haun and Lizzie Leopold come together again to present Vision, Faith & Desire II: Dancemakers Inspired by Martha Graham inside on the stage at the Pritzker Pavilon this weekend.

Starting tonight, Haun and Leopold revisit works from the original Vision program that had enormous success in September 2013 (preview here). This time around, they are joined by Randy Duncan, who will present his award-winning solo Love Not Me and Jeff Hancock, who will dance a solo he choreographed titled Quilting Martha.

Vision, Faith & Desire II, Thursday – Sunday, Feb. 6 – 8 at 7:00 pm. at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park. Tickets are $15, purchase here.

Hubbard Street Premieres Fluence (preview)

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in Robyn Mineko Williams' "Fluence". Photo by Quinn B Wharton.

This Thursday, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago presents its Fall Series at the Harris Theater. Opening this Thursday and running through Sunday, the program features two returning works from master choreographers Mats Ek and Ohad Naharin, plus the world premiere of Alejandro Cerrudo’s Cloudless and the Chicago premiere of Robyn Mineko Williams’ new work Fluence, which premiered last month in Minneapolis, MN.

Williams received the news in August that she is the recent recipient of the 2013-2014 Princess Grace Choreography Fellowship Award. “It’s bonkers,” she said. “I’m still shocked about it, but I’m really excited.” The grant money that goes with the award went to fund this new work for nine dancers. As a former Hubbard Street dancer, she knows the dancers well and set to work putting together a creative team. Robert (Robbie) F. Haynes composed an original score, Burke Brown provided his expertise in lighting and fashion designer Hogan McLaughlin created intricate costumes. “My creative team has been so awesome,” said Williams. “They’re all so open to anything I have to say and they’re geniuses on their own. They’re cool, laid back people. I think that’s why I stayed so calm throughout the process.”

According to Williams, the definition of fluence “is a stream of particles crossing a unit area, usually express as the number of particles per second”. Another definition references magical/mystical influence. “I thought both were apropos for the work,” she said. She was inspired by the ideas of individualism and solitude and the creative team took off from that. “We’re still learning how we collaborate,” said Williams. “We’re kind of going from our guts. It’s instinctual.”

The fact that her work is being presented along with choreographers like Ek and Naharin, not to mention her colleague Cerrudo, could make a girl nervous, but she is only grateful. “It’s cool. I feel really lucky to have this opportunity. If I’m doing anything, I’m just trying to be myself.”

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s Fall Series at the Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph St., Thursday-Sunday, Oct 10-13. Performance times vary. Tickets are $25-$99; call 312.850.9744 or visit hubbardstreetdance.com/fall.

 

Local dancemakers channel Martha

*Practice means to perform, over and over again in the face of all obstacles, some act of vision, of faith, of desire. Practice is a means of inviting the perfection desired. ~Martha Graham

Winifred Haun and Lizzie Leopold begin the conversation by saying how different they are, but by then end, they are finishing each other’s sentences. Their friendship began over a quibble about the purpose of Twitter (Leopold won) and has developed over the years to a partnership of two dancemakers exploring their visions. “We’re a good team,” said Leopold. “We work well off of each other. Wini has a lot more experience than I do and…I’m more stubborn than I should be for my lack of years. Wini was the first person to offer me a seat at the table.” That table includes a love and respect (shared by many in the dance world) of Martha Graham and her contributions to the art. Inspired by Graham’s work, the two have put together a remarkable show with a number of artists that have been touched by her in some way or form. Kind of a six-degrees-of-separation, Martha-style.

This weekend, Winifred Haun & Dancers/Leopold Group present Vision, Faith & Desire:Dancemakers Inspired by Martha Graham, a multi-faceted show will include video of Graham’s 1930 solo work Lamentation, a dance film by Graham’s former choreographic assistant Peter Sparling and with the blessing of The Martha Graham Center of Contemporary Dance, the world premiere of Leopold’s Lamentation Variation, and new work by Haun, plus other works. “This is a show that I would like to see,” Haun said. “No one else is doing a show like this.”

About a year and a half ago, the two began putting together what they referred to as “The Graham Show”, asking various artists to join and calling in some favors. Haun’s friend Deb Goodman (former Graham student) agreed to teach the iconic Lamentation solo to Haun’s and Leopold’s dancers. When Haun reached out to the Graham Company, she learned that the work was not in the public domain. What could have been a disaster turned into a fantastic opportunity to create their own Lamentation-inspired work (being tackled by Leopold), permission to show the historic footage of Graham performing it and to teach part of the variation in a master class. Score!

With everything coming together – including a stellar list of guest performers like Sparling (who is also giving a guest lecture**), co-artistic director of Kanopy Dance and former Graham Company dancer, Lisa Thurrell (who is also giving a master class – SOLD OUT!) and Ayako Kato – they needed a title. Haun researched Graham reviews and quotes and found a quote (*above) about artistic process that fit perfectly. “It’s about practice,” said Leopold. She worried that people would think they were trying to compare themselves to the iconic choreographer, but eventually found a way to accept the enormity of the challenge on her own terms. “It’s just about saying, ‘We’re working on this’, just like she was working on things,” she said. Haun added, “Martha is a person just like us. Ok, she’s way better, but there’s a quote about when she was making like her 150th dance and thinking ‘I can’t do this. What am I doing?’. That’s all we’re doing. We’ll toss it out there and see what happens.”

Vision, Faith & Desire: Dancemakers Inspired by Martha Graham featuring Winifred Haun & Dancers, Leopold Group, Ayako Kato, Kanopy Dance, and Peter Sparling at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn St., Friday-Saturday, Sept. 27-28 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $30; visit www.brownpapertickets.com/event/357861.

**Peter Sparling’s lecture and video premiere at Northwestern University, Marjorie Ward Marshall Dance Center, 10 Arts Circle Dr., Evanston on Sunday, Sept. 29 at 12:00 p.m. (noon). Tickets are free.

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.

 

 

 

 

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. 

 

 

All Chicago Dance Shoot #ACDS

All Chicago Dance Shoot. Photo by Quinn B Wharton.

What would happen if dancers from all over Chicago were invited to get together for a one-day photo shoot? Hubbard Street dancer and professional photographer Quinn B Wharton and Chicago native/dancer Jonathan “Jojo” Alsberry decided to find out. By creating a Facebook event page, the pair invited as many dancers as they could to participate in this uniquely awesome artistic feat.  On Easter Sunday a couple dozen dancers from companies like River North Dance Chicago, Giordano Dance Chicago, Luna Negra Dance Theater (now defunct), Hedwig Dances, Joffrey Ballet,  and more, as well as local independent artists gathered at the Intuit Gallery to get their creativity on with direction from Wharton. The result: the cool-ass photo above that captures the energy, vibrancy and diversity of Chicago’s dance scene.

A statement about the project from Wharton:

“This project was about community more than anything else. Having moved to Chicago not so long ago I was struck by the city’s vibrant and close-knit dance scene. The dancers here know each other, support each other, and work together whenever possible. Coming from a different environment, I was touched and inspired by this community. Trying to get a number of dancers together for a shoot was an early thought that I wanted to pursue. With the closing of Luna Negra, and its shock to the dance community, it seemed like a perfect time to attempt to get a group together. With a strict timeline set we worked to find a location, develop a concept, and pull all the dancers together. The day became a testament to that, a gathering of dancers from a number of companies in the city. Everyone pitching in, lending support, and hopefully making new connections that will last. The dynamic of an art community in a city is fostered by these cross interactions and educations, positive sit downs where everyone builds real face-to-face relationships. This photo is the first like it that I have ever attempted, a large panoramic that involves a significant amount of photoshop work. It taught me so many things about how to prep, build, and execute a work like this; something that I will carry with me for as long as I take pictures. So thank you to everyone involved, I hope that the process has affected you in some way, and that you will continue to carry that community out into the world.”

To see the photo larger or order a print, go here.

Thodos’ A Light in the Dark premieres

Thodos dancers Jessica Miller Tomlinson and Alissa Tollefson in "A Light in the Dark". Photo by Cheryl Mann.

The Chicago premiere of A Light in the Dark: The Story of Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan opens this weekend at the Harris Theater. Thodos Dance Chicago (TDC) founder Melissa Thodos teamed up once again with Broadway legend Ann Reinking and dance/acting coach Gary Chryst to co-create this new story ballet about the beginning of a lifelong friendship.

A few weeks ago, I sat in on interviews with Thodos and Reinking by Emmy-nominated filmmaker Chris Olsen of Kai Harding who is filming a documentary, Touch, about the process of making the ballet. You can watch excerpts and clips of the doc here. The thing that struck me most was the passion behind the project from all involved.

After the success of their first collaboration, The White City, Thodos and Reinking knew they had something special. “We knew we weren’t finished, We had more stories to tell,” Thodos said during the Olsen interview. “It was just a matter of finding what story we wanted to tell.” She credits Chryst for suggesting the idea at a White City post-party in 2011. Read my interview with Chryst for Windy City Times here. Reinking said, “It was a precipe of a new age. Once they cracked the code with the alphabet, Helen was brilliant. They became quite famous.” The ballet focuses on a short period of time when Keller first meets Sullivan and they learn how to communicate. Incorporating spoken word and sign language with the dance steps TDC has created a truly special piece that pulls an emotional response. The evening is rounded out with a world premiere from Thodos, a world premiere from KT Nelson of ODC Dance Company and a repertory work from local choreographer Brain Enos.

Thodos Dance Chicago’s Winter Concert at the Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph St., Saturday, March 2 at 8 pm and Sunday, March 3 at 2 pm. Tickets are $30-$60. Call 312.334.7777 or visit harristheaterchicago.org.

 

Hubbard St Shatters Own Glass Ceiling

Hubbard St dancer Jonathan Fredrickson in Alejandro Cerrudo's "One Thousand Pieces". Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

The lights dim, the audience settles and music begins to play. The tone is set for an evening of wonder and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago does not disappoint. One Thousand Pieces, inspired by Marc Chagall’s America Windows at the Art Institute of Chicago, celebrates the company’s 35th anniversary season with the first full-length work for the company and the first full-evening work by one choreographer – resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo – around a central theme. Bringing both the main company and HS2 dancers on stage together for this world premiere, Cerrudo takes this world-renowned company to a new level of its ever-reaching creative heights.

The curtain opens at the Harris Theater to a lone dancer (Jonathan Fredrickson, hanging briefly on to the ascending curtain) in front of stunning visuals. Blue hues flood the stage highlighting moveable set pieces, some opaque, some clear, some reflective, that look like staggered pieces of glass. A special mirrored Marley floor adds to the reflection/glass theme. Costumes are subdued with dark sheer tunics with a hint of pink or blue underneath for the ladies and dark blue pants with sheer black shirts for the men. The score, a collage of music from Philip Glass and designed by Cerrudo, completes the mood. Once the awe of the scene takes hold. The audience is ready for the dance.

Dancers slide in and out of duets, trios and group work with control and ease. Cerrudo features some – Ana Lopez and Garrett Anderson in frequent, lovely duets threaded throughout, Fredrickson, Jacqueline Burnett, Jessica Tong, Meredith Dincolo and Jesse Bechard – but it’s the moments with all 24 dancers on stage together that really make an impact. The end of Part 1 has everyone doing the same movement, but in alternating directions off three vertical lines having a reflective effect – aided with the mirrors behind them – as if they are multiplying. An interlude between Parts 1 and 2 has Fredrickson floating above the audience like the spirit “Ariel” in The Tempest (from a way too visible harness) reciting a romantic text from an excerpt of Glass’ Einstein on the Beach: Knee Play 5 (*full text below). It could be a nod to the angel or literary figure from the Windows, but that seems to literal for Cerrudo. It’s more likely a love letter to art, to dance, to Glass, to his company, to his fellow dancers and to the audience.

Hubbard St dancers in Alejandro Cerrudo's "One Thousand Pieces". Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

Part 2 brings together the brilliance of the choreography, sets, costumes (both by Thomas Mika), lighting (Michael Korsch), special effects (fog courtesy of Big Shoulders Productions) and dancing in a perfect storm of magic. Shining sparkles dot the floor looking like someone scattered shattered glass across the stage. As dancers move across, the realization hits that it’s water. Three light/fog columns flow down like waterfalls and dancers appear through them from the darkened stage behind to dance in the water. Simply gorgeous.

With that visual still in mind, the shock of intermission was a disappointment and it was a bit difficult to get that vibe back for Part 3, which continued with fantastic dancing from the entire Hubbard Street crew. All the dancers brought their A-game (new company members Laura O’Malley and Quinn Wharton fit in seemlessly), but the true star of the show was Cerrudo himself.  If he’s thinking about topping this any time soon, he better get started now. Wow.

One of the dancers posted to “come get lost” on his Facebook page yesterday. It’s easy to get lost in this world Cerrudo creates completely. A program note quotes Chagall, “Stained glass has to be serious and passionate. It is something elevating and exhilarating.” Serious, passionate, elevating, exhilarating – the perfect description of One Thousand Pieces.

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago presents One Thousand Pieces at the Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph St., through Sunday, October 21. Tickets are $25-$99. Call 312.850.9744 or visit hubbardstreetdance.com.

Harris Theater box office: 312.334.7777.

*Original text source: Samuel Johnson:

The day with its cares and perplexities is ended and the night is now upon us. The night should be a time of peace and tranquility, a time to relax and be calm. We have need of a soothing story to banish the disturbing thoughts of the day, to set at rest our troubled minds, and put at ease our ruffled spirits.

And what sort of story shall we hear ? Ah, it will be a familiar story, a story that is so very, very old, and yet it is so new. It is the old, old story of love.

Two lovers sat on a park bench with their bodies touching each other, holding hands in the moonlight.

There was silence between them. So profound was theire love for each other, they needed no words to express it. And so they sat in silence, on a park bench, with their bodies touching, holding hands in the moonlight.

Finally she spoke. “Do you love me, John ?” she asked. “You know I love you. darling,” he replied. “I love you more than tongue can tell. You are the light of my life. my sun. moon and stars. You are my everything. Without you I have no reason for being.”

Again there was silence as the two lovers sat on a park bench, their bodies touching, holding handls in the moonlight. Once more she spoke. “How much do you love me, John ?” she asked. He answered : “How’ much do I love you ? Count the stars in the sky. Measure the waters of the oceans with a teaspoon. Number the grains of sand on the sea shore. Impossible, you say. Yes and it is just as impossible for me to say how much I love you.

“My love for you is higher than the heavens, deeper than Hades, and broader than the earth. It has no limits, no bounds. Everything must have an ending except my love for you.”

There was more of silence as the two lovers sat on a park bench with their bodies touching, holding hands in the moonlight.

Once more her voice was heard. “Kiss me, John” she implored. And leaning over, he pressed his lips warmly to hers in fervent osculation…

Joffrey Goes Deep

Joffrey Ballet dancers in James Kudelka's "Pretty BALLET". Photo by Herbert Migdoll.

“To express your human spirit is a beautiful thing,” Ashley Wheater said in a pre-taped, pre-show video last night before the opening curtain of The Joffrey Ballet‘s fall program at the Auditorium Theatre. As artistic director of the company, he’s tasked with creating an environment for the dancers and audience to grow, learn and thrive. With Human Landscapes, he succeeded immeasurably. The three works on the program span nine decades and range from minimalist German expressionism to modern contemporary ballet and pushed the dancers and audience beyond their comfort zones with resounding success. The Chicago Philharmonic, under the direction of Joffrey Musical Director Scott Speck, added pitch perfect timbre to the contemplative tone of the evening.

As the curtain opens on Jirí Kylián’s Forgotten Land the dancers all face upstage looking out over a dark, but beautiful set designed by John F. Macfarlane, inspired in part by an Edvard Munch painting of women on a beach. The sound of wind, which is actually Kylián blowing into a microphone, alludes to turbulent times and the turmoil of loss.  Couples in muted colors (black, red, gray, biege, pink and white) ebb and flow in duets, trios and sextets to music from British composer Benjamin Britten. Each color has its own mood and tempo for movement. A beautiful trio of women end the piece on a somber note.

James Kudelka’s Pretty BALLET, orginally created for the Joffrey dancers in 2010, elicited audible wonder from the audience with its opening tableau. amidst a white fog, Miguel Angel Blanco holds Victoria Jaiani in a horizontal overhead lift as if she’s a puppet waiting to be set free. The long, white tulle skirts on the women are a nod to classical “white” ballets, and aside from a lovely pas de deux by Jaiani and Blanco (where Jaiani, again puppet-like, exits walking en pointe as if a blind or in a trance), that’s all that is pretty here. Women run and circle like demented Wilis, while men march across the stage with forceful battements and fisted hands. Kudelka (on video) said that “ballet is going through an interestingly rough time”. His take in Pretty BALLET shows that ballet doesn’t have to be pretty as long as it’s good – and this is, although the group sections weren’t as tight as in 2010 and could use some cleaning.

Joffrey Ballet dancers Fabrice Calmels and Anastacia Holden in Kurt Jooss' "The Green Table". Photo by Herbert Migdoll.

The most exciting work on the program was Kurt Jooss’ 1932 anti-war ballet The Green Table: A Dance of Death in Eight Scenes. A green table surrounded by “the Gentlemen in Black”, diplomats and politicians, argue about the prospect of going to war. The answer comes as the ten “men” pull out pistols (loaded with blanks) and fire them into the air. In the following six scenes “Death” – in a stellar performance by Fabrice Calmels – is a foreboding, always present presence. He lurks in the background only to swoop onto a battlefield or village and take life, casually, violently and compassionately. The scene where he takes the life of “The Young Girl”, the wonderful Anastacia Holden, was both heart-wrenching and beautiful. Interwoven through the scenes is the Charlie Chaplin-esque character “The Profiteer”, danced brilliantly by Temur Suluashvili. The ballet ends as it began with another meeting at the table, a nod to seemingly perpetual war. Dancer Erica Lynette Edwards said it best (again, from the video), “stillness speaks volumes”. The moments of stillness, of holding a simple gesture, were the most powerful.