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: Dancing in Chicago

Lar Lubovitch Dance Company in "Transparent Things". Photo by Rose Eichenbaum.

A crowd of 2,200 people came to the Auditorium Theatre Thursday night for another free performance in the Chicago Dancing Festival (CDF). If you were not one of those people, I’m truly sorry. Dancing in Chicago, featuring all-Chicago companies plus CDF co-founder and Chicago native Lar Lubonitch’s New York-based troupe, was one of the best nights of dance I’ve seen – and I’ve seen A LOT of really good dance. From flamenco to a flirty pas de deux, Picasso to vacuum cleaners, the evening had it all.

I’ve never heard or said the word amazing so much in one night. In fact, that word is still swirling in my head as I think about the performance, but is it accurate? Let’s see. Dictionary.com defines the word amazing as “causing great surprise or sudden wonder” -yep. Or “to astonish greatly” – check. Synonyms include: “astound, dumfound, stun, flabbergast” – ditto.

Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Theater started the show with their stunning full-company Bolero (1993). Set to Ravel’s 17-minute masterpiece of the same title, this epic work by artistic director Dame Libby Komaiko gradually fills the stage with red dresses, shawls, fans, tradition and passion. I’ve taken class from Dame Libby and while the flamenco movements seem simple, I assure you they are more difficult than they look. I could’ve done without the large Picasso projections across the backdrop. They were distracting and took attention away from the dancing. Bolero also closes the Celebration of Dance performance tonight at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park.

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago astounded in two excerpts from Master Choreographer Mats Ek’s Casi Casa (2009). A brief cameo by the “hat man” (Quinn Wharton) lead to a moving male trio danced by Jesse Bechard, Johnny McMillan and David Schultz. Next the ladies danced a demented jig with vacuum cleaners and delighted the audience with their despair for the household chore. (You can see Casi this October in their Fall Series at the Harris Theatre.) Act One ended with Balanchine’s perky Tarantella pas (1964) danced by Joffrey Ballet dancers Anastacia Holden and John Mark Giragosian. This dynamic duo had the audience dumbfounded with their speedy turns and grand jumps. Holden lights up the theater with her smile, while Giragosian played the sassy pirate.

Lar Lubovitch Dance Company opened Act Two with Transparent Things accompanied on stage by the lovely Bryant Park Quartet.  Lead by the joyful, jester-like Attila Joey Csiki, this wondrous work by Lubovitch was inspired by Picasso’s Saltimbanques painting depicting a group of street performers. The ebb and flow and circular structure of Lubovitch’s movement that I love was on full display here. The four-section piece, although based in modern technique, read like a story ballet. The third section ended with the performers “falling asleep” amid the musicians creating a terrific tableau with Csiki’s head resting on the cello.

Closing the show was a truly inspired pairing of the Joffrey Ballet with contemporary Swedish choreographer Alex Ekman. Thanks Lar! (This CDF commission will also appear in Joffrey’s Contemporary Choreographers program at the Auditorium next February.) Joffrey went way outside their comfort zone in Episode 31 and to say it paid off is a huge understatement. The dancers really went for it and they blew the roof off (or, at least, the walls). This astonishing undertaking had dancers decked out in rad Eurpoean-style school uniforms and incorporated ballet, tap, modern, yelling, coughing, flopping, a video intro and a hodgepodge of props thrown in for good measure. At one point, the side walls or “Reducing Panels” of the proscenium flew out (Flabbergasted!), creating an even larger deconstructed set for the dancers to play on. And they had a blast. A strong, if long, duet by Derrick Agnoletti and Aaron Rogers held focus in the middle as white-faced dancers looked on. A lone dancer (Dylan Gutierrez) opens and closes the piece by turning on and then off a light bulb set downstage left.  Throughout the work, he slowly walks one loop around the stage watching the events unfold. I’m sure it was tough to not participate in the craziness happening on stage, but the work wouldn’t have been the same without that character. The reaction from the audience was incredible with the ovation overflowing into the lobby. It was an incredible way to finish off another great night of dance. Bravo!

The entire evening was, in a word, amazing.

A New Movement 2012

Joffrey dancers Derrick Agnoletti and Anastacia Holden.

This Thursday, November 1, Embarc teams up with The Joffrey Ballet for a night of dancing, food and fun for a great cause. Embarc Chicago takes students from the city’s most forgotten (and dangerous) communities and gives them firsthand, real-world experiences through workshops, seminars and field trips to downtown theater and restaurants. According to Embarc Executive Director, Imran Khan, most of these kids have never been outside a four block radius of where they live. “We’re creating networks with businesses to build a bridge into communities, so that everyone has access to opportunity,” says Khan.

Working with Joffrey came organically, with dancers Anastacia Holden (Business Coordinator) and Derrick Agnoletti (Board Member) already associated with the non-profit. Khan also gives credit to Joffrey artistic director Ashley Wheater. “Ashley believes in the power and purpose of art to change lives and make the world better,” he says. The dancers follow his lead and were eager to give up their time and talent again this year for the benefit. Seven works – including six world premieres – of in-house choreography from Joffrey dancers and staff will be performed on Thursday night. (*Links to the artist’s statements below.) A piece choreographed for last year’s event by dancer Michael Smith ended up being reworked and performed at Dance For Life this past August.

Good news (for them) is the event this year has exceeded expectations and is already SOLD OUT. Khan hopes to expand next year with a bigger venue and possibly inviting other companies to join in the performance.

For more information on their program or to donate, go to www.embarcchicago.org.

ANM Artist board NB

ANM Artist board MA

ANM Artist board SU

ANM Artist board EE1

ANM Artist board CM

ANM Artist board MS

 

 

Joffrey’s Nutcracker a Sweet Treat!

 
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Time really does fly during the holiday season.  It’s been almost a week since opening night of Joffrey Ballet‘s annual The Nutcracker performance at the Auditorium Theatre and I can’t stop thinking about it (or get the music out of my head!).  Honestly, this is not a new development.  Nothing says Happy Holidays to me more than watching a good version of The Nut and, in my view, Joffrey’s is the best.  Set in 1850s America, Robert Joffrey took a classic German tale and made it ours.  There is so much action happening on stage that even the notoriously boring Party Scene breezes by leaving you wondering what you missed. Derrick Agnoletti as the bratty little Fritz provided comic relief for those not completely enthralled with Clara (Abigail Simon), her Godfather Drosselmeyer (Matthew Adamczyk) and her obsession with the wooden doll that happens to crack nuts.  Once the clock strikes midnight, the action escalates in Clara’s dreams aided with some magic dust from Dr. Drosselmeyer.  (Seriously, what is in that sparkly stuff? I’ll take two please!)  Dolls coming to life, an enormous growing tree, a, epic battle, a first kiss, a beautiful snow fall and a lovely pas de deux: and that’s only Act One!  The audience seemed a bit shy and lulled by the graceful snow pas danced by Victoria Jaiani and Dylan Gutierrez, but finally livened up to applaud during Agnoletti’s spirited dancing as the Snow Prince.

The excitement carried over into Act Two which had each of the divertissements getting rousing approval.  Erica Lynnette Edwards was sassy in the Spanish variation, Arabian showed off Jaiani’s super flexibility, the Russian Nougats’ gravity-defying leaps (as usual) brought down the house, Elizabeth Hansen proved perfectly pristine as the lead Marzipan Shepherdess and Gerald Arpino’s choreography in Waltz of the Flowers is just as gorgeous as the famous music.  The petite Yumelia Garcia as the Sugar Plum Fairy stunned the crowd (and RB!) with a spectacular balance at the end of the Grand pas that lasted at least 10 seconds!    No joke, she stayed perched in first arabesque so long, she missed the next section of choreography, then hurried with her cavalier (Ogulcan Borova) downstage for the dramatic end poses all to cheers and wild applause.

On a somber note before the show, Artistic Director Ashley Wheater dedicated this season’s Nutcracker performances in honor of the city’s former First Lady, Maggie Daley, who was a huge supporter of the arts and served on Joffrey’s Women’s Board.  Daley died last month after a long battle with cancer.

There are 16 performances left – get your tickets now and enjoy this holiday classic ballet.

Joffrey Ballet presents The Nutcracker through Dec 27th

Auditorium Theatre, 50 E Congress, 800.982.2787 or ticketmaster.com

 

Joffrey Dances for EMBARC

Erica Lynette Edwards in "Strange Fuit". Photo by Sasha Fornari.

On Thursday, November 3rd, a group of Joffrey dancers performed in the black box studio theater at the Joffrey Tower to benefit local non-profit EMBARC A New Movement was an evening of in-house choreography, plus a duet from the Joffrey rep with a reception and silent auction following in an adjacent studio.  The benefit performance was delayed temporarily due to bad weather and to let everyone in the theater (it was full), but once things got started, it went swimmingly.  A portion of the front row was roped off for the guests of honor – three students from Harper High School that are part of the EMBARC program which empowers students from socially and economically isolated areas through mentoring and cultural interactions.  After a few words from co-founders Imran Khan (Executive Director) and January Miller (Program Manager), the show began.

New works created by Joffrey dancers Derrick Agnoletti, Shane Urton, Aaron Rogers and Michael Smith were shown along with a premiere from Joffrey Ballet Master Nicolas Blanc.  Agnoletti’s dramatic African-influenced Incantation started the show danced by students from the Strobel Step Up program.  If these kids were nervous dancing on a bill with professionals, it didn’t show.   Agnoletti’s other offering Strange Fruit: Solo of the Disinherited danced beautifully by Erica Lynette Edwards was one of the highlights of the night.  The long skirt and lyrical moves were Ailey-esque and her emotional intensity added a personal touch to the piece.  During a pause in the music, she let out an audible sigh/cry that had the audience rapt.  Fabrice Calmels and Victoria Jaiani danced a duet from Edwaard Liang’s Age of Innocence, a gorgeous work that was well worth the price of the $100 ticket to see it up close and personal.  What struck me most was that it was performed in this small studio theater as if it was on stage at the Auditorium Theatre.  To them, there was no difference – they gave it their all.    Another choreographic highlight was Michael Smith’s “_________” (and yes, I gave him crap about not having a title!).  Set to music by Arvo Pärt, the work for six dancers was earthy and beautiful inspired by a quote from the book of Revelations.  The dancers seemed most honest in pedestrian moves, particularly a recurring theme where they held a hand to the forehead of a fellow dancer following them on or off stage.  The dancers took clothes on and off on stage with all but one ended up “naked”, which warranted a joke from one of the EMBARC students after the show.  Shout outs to Elizabeth Hansen (strong and clean) and Aaron Rogers (I could watch him do anything – he’s like butter!).

Anastacia Holden & Derrick Agnoletti in "Purple People". Photo by Sasha Fornari.

After the performance, Miller told the audience how you can see Willis Tower from Harper High School, but most of the students had never been downtown, had never been out of their neighborhood and after starting with EMBARC programming their attendance and grades improved.  The three students in attendance came up to speak.  Terence, once overcoming his nerves, was eloquent telling how “you can learn things you’ve never done before” and declaring that most kids think Batman and Superman are super heroes, but his super heroes are Mrs. Miller and Mr. Khan.

 

Joffrey Embarcs on A New Movement

Tonight at the Joffrey Tower, Joffrey Ballet dancers will premiere in-house works benefitting a local charity.  EMBARC, co-founded by Joffrey dancer Anastacia “Stacia” Holden and two teachers at Harper High School in Englewood Imran Khan and January Miller, works to empower underprivileged youth by expanding their education to outside of school activities and cultural experiences.  Through mentoring programs, field trips to shows or participating at a local garden, EMBARC strives to empower with skills to improve the students’ future.  A quote by Antoine de Saint Exupery on the charity’s homepage reflects the core of their mission:  ”If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders.  Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea”.

Joffrey dancer Derrick Agnoletti (Holden’s bff) is also on the board of directors and will participating in tonight’s event as a performer and choreographer.  ”I like the fact that EMBARC is providing a space for choreographers of a world-class company to deliver in-house work all for a good cause,” says Agnoletti.  ”I’m grateful for the Joffrey being so passionate about taking part in this.”  Everyone has been hard at work, some since this summer, creating works and the environment for a special, intimate evening of dance.  Agnoletti and Holden will dance a duet by Joffrey Ballet Master Nicolas Blanc and Agnoletti has created a solo for fellow dancer Erica Lynette Edwards set to Strange Fruit by Nina Simone.    ”Erica dances with her heart,” he says.  ”She exudes a quality that i feel is very rare in dancers today.  She is able to touch an audience with her movement.  She can pull people in and drive them to feel something.”

Go see the Joffrey dancers strut their creative stuff for a great cause.  A reception will follow the performance.  For more information, please visit:  embarcchicago.org

Joffrey Ballet & EMBARC present A New Movement

Nov 3 at 630pm, $100, Joffrey Tower, 10 E. Randolph, 4th fl

 

 

Joffrey’s Don Q: Q for Questioning

Derrick Agnoletti & Fabrice Calmels in "Don Quixote". Photo by Herbert Migdoll.

The sets were amazing, the costumes stunning, the integration of video/images imaginative, the score fast and flamboyant, the life-size horse puppet fantastic, the choreography ambitious, the characters lovable, so why am I left with the feeling something was off? Last night’s premiere of  Yuri Possoknov’s version of Don Quixote for the Joffrey Ballet at the Auditorium Theatre had all the elements for a spectacular opening night, but it just didn’t quite get there.  That may be a bit harsh.  It was a wonderful show and sure to be a huge hit with audiences, but some of casting and staging were questionable and at times it seemed more like a full dress run and not up to the bar Joffrey has set for themselves.  The show was held for twenty minutes due to a medical emergency (someone slipped and fell in the lobby), which may have had a negative effect on the dancers.  I should also note that I sat in the third row, which was too close for my taste, and the ballet seemed almost too big for the stage.

Victoria Jaiani as Kitri in "Don Quixote". Photo by Herbert Migdoll.

Let’s start with the good stuff – and there was more than plenty.  First, Victoria Jaiani as Kitri was fantastic as we have come to expect.  Her fiery, flirty interpretation seemed second nature (although she seemed uncharacteristically nervous in parts of Act I) and I assume, growing up in Tbilisi, Georgia, she was practically weened on the part.  Her ridiculous flexibility was on full display particularly in Kitri’s Act I solo with Plisetskaya leaps (named after Maya Plisetskaya who made them famous with the Bolshoi) where she literally kicks the back of her head.  But why was she carrying castanets if she wasn’t playing them?  The Act II wedding pas de deux coda famously has a run of thirty-two fouettes.  Jaiani’s was spot on, even tossing in doubles every third turn in the first half.  From my seat, while watching her turn, I could perfectly see her husband Temur Suluashvili’s face behind her beaming with love and pride.  Jaiani’s partner (hired to replace the injured Miguel Angel Blanco), Cuban guest artist Carlos Quenedit, was charming, charismatic and mui talented, although I kept wondering “who is this guy?”  The program only notes (with an asterisk) that he’s a guest artist.  He was great and would be a lovely addition to the Joffrey family, but why hire a guest artist?

Amber Neumann & Anastacia Holden in "Don Quixote". Photo by Herbert Migdoll.

The other star of the show was the puppet.  Crafted by Von Orthal Puppets, Rocinante, Don Q’s faithful companion was fresh and endearing addition to the cast performed by Shane Urton and Alberto Velazquez.  The creation, nicknamed Otis by the company, only appeared in a few scenes which was a shame.  Free Otis!  More of the horse please.  All of the character parts were perfectly played.  Fabrice Calmels as Don Quixote (dashing, distracted), Derrick Agnoletti as Sancho Panza (delightfully bumbling), Willy Shives as Lorenzo (deliciously daft) and Matthew Adamczyk as Gamache (scene-stealingly silly).  Soloists Amber Neumann and Stacia Holden were stand outs as Kitri’s friends.  The corps — toreadors, seguidillas, dryads and bridesmaids — were outstanding and, aside from Kitri, did most of the dancing.  Two female solo variations beautifully danced by Amber Neumann and Jeraldine Mendoza inserted in the middle of the Act II pas de deux seemed out of place and unnecessary.  Equally perplexing was the need for the character Mercedes, a street dancer (Alexis Polito) who danced in the village with the toreadors.  No offense to Polito who danced a lovely solo amidst daggers ingeniously stuck to the floor with frightening intensity, but I failed to see how her character aided the story line.

Victoria Jaiani & Carlos Quenedit in "Don Quixote". Photo by Herbert Migdoll.

The audience at first seemed timid and unsure of how to react to such a bold and ambitious production.  Case in point:  Kitri and Basilio do these amazing one-handed presage lifts about six times.  The first four are done in pairs and in quick succession separated by supported pirouettes.  Fair enough, the lift might not have been held long enough for them to really see what was going on.  The second two are held for a sustained period of time – long enough for Jaiani to hold, look at audience and shake her tambourine before coming down – with the orchestra (Chicago Sinfonietta) holding for effect.  The first lift…nothin’.  The second, held long enough for Quenedit to carry her  – with one hand! -  across the entire stage.  I laughed out loud before obnoxiously clapping, wondering what it was going to take to get these people going.  Luckily, they came around and were clapping to the music enthusiastically during the finale.  Over all, it was a tremendous undertaking that, once a few kinks are figured out (particularly the long, awkward “pause” in Act II), will delight for the entire two week run.  As Artistic Director Ashley Wheater said last week, “I think the company will grow into it.”  I think they will and hope Don Q will be in Joffrey’s rep for a long, long time.

CDF11 Celebration of Dance

River North Dance Chicago performing "Nine Person Precision Ball Passing". Photo by Cheryl Mann.

Saturday night was beautiful.  The weather, the venue, the dancing.  The perfect night to hold an outdoor, free dance concert for the city of Chicago.  At Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, Mayor Emanuel took the stage to introduce the final night of the Chicago Dancing Festival (CDF) and vowed to take the now five-day fest up to six days of free dance events next year.  Dubbed a Celebration of Dance, the entire evening was just that.  Some of the best dancers in the country came together to dance works by Kylían, Balanchine, Graham and Taylor for the estimated 10,000-12,000 people in attendance.  Even the fabulous Gehry-designed concert venue could not compete with what was happening on the stage.

Ballet West, under the direction of former Joffrey dancer and Ballet Master Adam Sklute, opened the show with Jirí Kylían’s Sinfonietta.  This troupe won a Chicago following last year when they performed Balanchine’s Serenade at CDF.  Program notes declare Sinfonietta is “a celebration of our earthly life” and with joyous jetés and rousing score, it proved to be a pitch-perfect opener for our celebration.  A black back drop with sparkling lights like stars came clearly into focus when the piece finished just as the sun set and the stars overhead came out.  Timing is everything.  The woman sitting next to me literally jumped out of her seat in excitement as the piece ended.  She seemed embarrassed at first until she realized she wasn’t alone.  This was the first of many mini standing ovations of the evening (most of which were started by the Hubbard Street dancers in the crowd).  River North Dance Chicago (RNDC) followed with Charles Moulton’s post-modern Nine Person Precision Ball Passing.  For the third time this week, RNDC took their places on three tiers to perform the brain-teasing work which has seven minutes of fast ball exchanges in every possible configuration.  It is clear that the dancers have it embedded to memory as they performed it perfectly, even throwing in some sassy faces and attitude.  It’s a fun work that drew giggles and appreciation.  Now if I could only get that pinball-synth score out of my head.

Joffrey Ballet performed George Balanchine’s difficult and folksy ballet Stravinsky Violin Concerto.  The large group piece features two duets (Victoria Jaiani and Temur Suluashvili, Valerie Robin and Fabrice Calmels) to arias mixed in with all male and all female sections.  This work is at times difficult for me (why is she doing inside/out back bends?  why are they making a thumbs up sign and waving at each other?), but it was performed with flair and verve.  With fire engine sirens in the background, Joffrey showed the hometown crowd what it’s made of – strong technique, charisma and love.  (Shout out to Derrick Agnoletti for his fierce pas de chats!) Martha Graham Dance Company took the stage next in Diversion of Angels.  Graham’s trademark pitches and contractions were staples, but with lyrical passes and beautiful lifts mixed in.  Carrie Ellmore-Tallitsch, Ben Schultz and the gorgeous Xiaochuan Xie were stand outs.

Principal dancers Tiler Peck and Gonzalo Garcia from the New York City Ballet (NYCB) wowed the crowd with a stunning performance of Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky Pas De Deux.  The virtuoso duet showed the amazing technique, performing chops and musicality of the dancers.  Peck, aside from one slight bobble en pointe, was impeccable.  Her pointe work, her presence, her extensions, her turns, her playfulness all came together at warp speed.   I felt like a little girl seeing something so amazing that it changed my life.  (Mommy, I want to be a ballerina!)  I had goosebumps and yes, I was one of the many shouted bravo during bows.  The excitement carried over to the final piece.  The crowd was ready and  Paul Taylor Dance Company did not disappoint.  Taylor’s Esplanade set to Bach concertos was original inspired by a woman running to catch a bus.  The piece incorporates common human gestures with innovative partnering (a promenade with a woman standing on the man’s stomach), ridiculously fast footwork (Michelle Fleet’s solo was lightening fast!), running passes and a little romance.  The dancers were joyful with smiles on their faces as if they were having the time of their collective lives.  The audience was too.  *Insert full standing ovation here.

Every year, a random bird makes an appearance in the show, flying about the stage above the dancers as if it is so caught up in the moment that it wants to be part of the performance.   I imagine much of the audience felt exactly the same way.  Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, it did.  Multiple times.  Every day the festival got better and better and I can honestly say (although I didn’t “get” some pieces) I enjoyed watching every single dance.  Lar Lubovitch, Jay Franke and Evin Eubanks deserve great thanks and kudos for pulling off this hugely successful dance festival.  I wonder how they’re going to top it next year.