Joffrey Affinity Night: Othello

Joffrey Ballet dancers April Daly and Fabrice Calmels in "Othello". Photo by Herbert Migdoll.

Next Wednesday, May 1st – May Day! – the Joffrey Auxiliary Board is hosting an Affinity Night for the Joffrey Ballet‘s production of Othello. The event is FREE and will include a short performances of excerpts from the ballet, a Q&A and refreshments.

Attendees will receive a code for 50% off of tickets to next week’s performances of Othello at the Auditorium Theatre. RSVP here!

 

Location: Joffrey Tower, 10 E. Randolph St.

Time: 5:45 – Registration, 6:00 – Performance/Q&A, 6:45 – cocktails & hors d’ouevres

 

Joffrey’s Fabrice Calmels on being Othello

Joffrey Ballet's Fabrice Calmels and April Daly in "Othello". Photo by Herbert Migdoll.

At 6’6″ and 216 lbs, this 32-year-old Joffrey Ballet dancer stands out on stage…or anywhere. In 2009, landing the lead role in Lar Lubovitch’s Othello solidified him as a star. “It’s the ultimate role,” said Fabrice Calmels*. This week he revises this life-changing role as Joffrey presents the three-act ballet for a two-week run at the Auditorium Theatre before it is retired from the active repertory.

Calmels grew up outside Paris, France and began dancing at age three at a small school in Magnanville. By 10, he was studying at the Paris Opera Ballet School and by 16 things really began to change. “I became very tall and it became an issue,” he told me over tea last week. “They told me I wouldn’t do very well in the company, that I wouldn’t be dancing very much.” He came to the States to study and dance at The Rock School in Philadelphia, then traveled across the country auditioning. After a year dancing with Boston Ballet II, he accepted a spot with Joffrey in 2002. He’s now finishing his 11th season here in Chicago.

Being plagued with a back injury (two bulging discs) for almost a year hasn’t slowed him down much. He’s hard at work preparing for the Othello run, bulking up and building stamina. Calmels spoke with RB about dancing this signature role.

You’re almost a week before opening. What was your schedule like today?

We’ve been very meticulously working on the first act now for a few weeks trying to really get all the dancers to understand Lar Lubovitch’s style. Lar has a very specific style that’s very circular and grounded. When you’re dealing with younger dancers who’ve been training in mostly ballet, they’re up, up, up and he wants down, down, down. To get his style ingrained in your brain and to really feel confident takes a while. When you understand, it becomes easier. The second act came together really quick. Now we’re working on the third act. Today we ran the first and second act…not right away. We ran one, then had notes and then the second act and notes. I think tomorrow we’ll run all three acts and start getting momentum, because we need it.

This role made you a big star here. What are you doing to take it to the next level?

I follow different training. I want my body to be very strong and tense. I need that frame to be really solid, so I don’t hurt myself. I needed to gain weight. In a long run, you tend to lose weight because you’re so tired and overburning. I bulk up to become the character, one, and so I have the structure that I can handle the ballet. I’m working out a lot more. I’m working out my legs more. I run more. I do like ten miles every other day to build stamina in my legs. The last production my upper body was strong, but by the middle of the third act, my legs were burning. In terms of character, I want to completely submerge myself in the character and be able to be the character through the three acts. My goal this time is to stay in character, even though there’s intermissions, and see where it leads to. I want to be able to produce that all the way through. The character and the role is as important as the dancing. Otherwise, you lose the audience very quickly. They want to hear the story, they want to care, they want to hate you, the want to feel emotion. What will make a huge difference is what reads. It’s not a battement. It’s the emotion and the acting.

What does dancing the role of Othello mean to you?

The role Othello is really magic. It’s magic. I saw “Othello” when I was younger. Desmond (Richardson)…he’s a legend. There aren’t many that have done the role. To be asked to do it, at first it was a lot of weight. It’s huge. I feel really fulfilled. Thank you Lar. He’s a master to create such a piece. It’s a difficult role physically. It’s tense. It’s a marathon. You have to be powerful all the way to the end. 

You’re dancing with April Daly again. Do you find you’ve evolve as partners in these roles?

Of course. There’s the experience. The second shot. It’s the big problem in ballet, you get that one first shot. Now we can look back and see that we were able to do it, but the first time, it was a challenge for us. They were big roles for us. I think we were taking it a little bit too tense even though it was a good run. It was a huge risk for the Joffrey and it was a big deal. The second time around, we know we can deliver. We know what to do. We know how people reacted the first time, so we can do better. It can only go up. She knows she can trust me.

Are you nervous? Do you get nervous?

I’m a perfectionist. When I do well, I expect to do better. When I don’t get this, sometimes it really pisses me off. I want consistency. I hate roller coaster seasons. I hate roller coaster performances. I think they are the worst. I want to deliver great and above. That’s my only concern. It’s myself. I want to have always great, better, better.

Joffrey Ballet presents Lar Lubovitch’s Othello at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Pkwy. Wednesday, April 24 – Sunday, May 5. Tickets are $31-$152. Call 800.982.2787 or visit joffrey.org/othello.

*Calmels performance schedule:

Wednesday, April 24 at 7:30 pm

Friday, April 26 at 7:30 pm

Saturday, April 27 at 7:30 pm

Saturday, May 4 at 2 pm

Sunday, May 5 at 2 pm

Auditorium Theatre 2013-2014 Highlights

Cloud Gate Dance Theatre in "Songs of the Wanderer". Photo by YU ui-hung.

The Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University (ATRU) just announced its 2013-2014 season. Here are a few things I’m excited about:

Ballet West – former Joffrey Ballet dancer Adam Sklute’s company will be presenting Sleeping Beauty (classic, long, but beautiful w/ gorgeous music) and Val Caniparoli’s The Lottery. Caniparoli created Incantations for Joffrey in 2012 and has received great reviews for the premiere of The Lottery which has a unique twist where the audience finds out the “secret” before the dancers (who don’t know who will perform the final solo until it happens live!). Cool beans.

Houston Ballet – In another local connection, Joffrey premiered Artistic Director Stanton Welch’s Son of Chamber Symphony in 2012. His company brings the storybook ballet Aladdin to town in March of 2014.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre – The New York-based company returns for another two-week run featuring a mixed rep and the showstopper Revelations. Yay.

River North Dance Chicago – Local favorite Rivno takes the stage in April 2014 will a new world premiere. Always a good show – expect lots of abs and speedy turns.

Paul Taylor Dance Company – I’m reading Paul Taylor’s new book Facts and Fancies right now, so the timing is perfect! My only regret is never getting to see my friend Julie Tice perform with the company live during her ten years there 🙁

Cloud Gate Dance Theatre – Co-presented with the Dance Center of Columbia College and the Joffrey Ballet, this troupe from Taiwan always amazes with their imagery and Butoh-esque stamina/control.

Chick Corea and Béla Fleck – Non-dancy, but my brother (a musician) listened to Corea ALL the time when we were growing up and a bazillion years ago I performed a piece with the above mentioned Tice to a Beatles cover by Fleck (and the Flecktones). Good times.

So there you have it. Oh plus, the yearly tradition of the Joffrey’s The Nutcracker and any chance to see ATRU E.D. Brett Batterson and you can see why I’m stoked.

For more information, visit auditoriumtheatre.org.

Dance Center Announces 40th Anniversary Season

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

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

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

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

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

HS2’s Taryn Kaschock Russell: The Exit Interview

Hubbard Street 2 Director Taryn Kaschock Russell. Photo by Cheryl Mann.

On January 17th, Hubbard Street 2’s Artistic Director Taryn Kaschock Russell, rocked the Chicago dance world with this Facebook post: “After 17 amazing years in Chicago…I will be moving back to the east coast…”. You may think I’m being hyperbolic, but this petite powerhouse made a huge impact on the local dance scene. She will be missed. The impetus of the move comes via her husband Greg, who was recently named the new Company Manager for the New York City Ballet. “He started out at SAB (The School of American Ballet),” Kaschock Russell tells me over the phone from her West Loop HSDC office. “To be back managing the building that he learned in, some parts seem full circle.” The couple met while dancing with the Joffrey Ballet soon after the company made the transition to Chicago from New York in 1995.

Kaschock Russell grew up on the East Coast. She graduated high school early and planned on joining Boston Ballet II, but ended up at the Joffrey School in New York right before they declared bankruptcy – “It was a really amusing situation.” – and spent a year in NYC with her brother (dancing with David Parsons) and sister (on scholarship at Ailey). During her seven years at Joffrey, she made quite a name for herself in principal roles including the “Cowgirl” in Agnes de Mille’s Rodeo and as the first female outside of David Parson’s company to perform his six-minute, jump-laden solo Caught. In 2002, she joined Hubbard Street and was soon recognized as a “25 To Watch” in 2003 by Dance Magazine. After retiring from the stage, she began teaching and setting works for Hubbard St as part of the artistic staff – had a baby! – and in 2008, took over as director of the second company, HS2.

RB spoke with Kaschock Russell earlier this month about her career, leaving Chicago at the end of April and what’s next. Here are excerpts of our conversation:

First of all, I’m very sad, but happy for you too.

I know. It’s the same type of emotions I’m having too.

I know you from your Joffrey days. Let’s talk about Caught. Did your brother dancing for David Parsons have anything to do with you getting the part?

Yes and no. David knew me beforehand. I used to sit there and watch when it was only David doing the role. I remember sitting at City Center in the front wing when I was 15, watching David. I’m very proud of this story. I never went in and asked for anything, I didn’t believe in that. I believed in hard work and that should be acknowledged. But when I found great out that David was coming and that they were doing “Caught” that it was one of those opportunities in a career.  So I said, I’m going to get my shit together and I’m going to go in during my lay off and I’m going to tell Mr. Arpino that I just want to learn it. I want to be in the room. I know that women can’t do it, but I want to be in the room and learn it. I walked in and they had the schedule up during lay off, before I went to talk to him, and there were three names on the list to learn it. It was Davis Robertson, Harris Jones and me. I never said anything! He just put me in there.

I have to say, seeing you do that solo was one of the coolest things I’ve seen in Chicago dancing. It was so awesome to see a girl do it. How hard was it? It was all jumps! 

Thank you. It kicked my ass. Basically you have to keep jumping because you don’t know the timing of how the strobe works. It was a ton of trial and error. It is all jumping. After the first or second day, I’d blown out my quads. I had no idea what that was. I couldn’t walk up stairs. My legs kept giving out and then I’d have to go to rehearsal and they were like three-hour-a-day rehearsals. We would do it over and over again. I remember very vividly, he (David) pulled me aside after having me do something like ten more times than the guys did it and he said, “You just bought yourself a matinee missy, if this company will let me put a woman on”. It was really hard. First of all, it took a while to even have the stamina to do it. Still when I was in the wings before I went on, I would feel almost physically sick, because I knew how tired I would be at the end. At the same time, the audience experience is unreal. It’s like a rock performance. I knew that from watching him, but when you feel that and you’re on the stage and the whole audience freaks out that certainly ups the adrenaline. There’s that perseverance of I’m going to get through this.

You came to Hubbard Street in 2002. What made you switch?

I can’t believe I haven’t told you this story. One of the things I loved and was fortunate enough to grow up with was original creations, original choreography. At Joffrey, I got to do that a small amount, but it wasn’t happening quite as often. I had been watching Hubbard Street for years. We always traded tickets. The first inkling when I considered Hubbard Street was after I had just seen NDT’s (Nederlands Dans Theatre) performance of “Petite Mort” on an arts channel. It was the very first piece of choreography on television that made me cry. It was so beautiful and so unexpected and musical. I swear within a week of me seeing it, we got a newsletter at Joffrey saying that Hubbard Street had acquired “Petite Mort”! I remember freaking out. I went to see it and it was right after they’d learned it, so I think the company was still settling in to that kind of partnering, so the experience of watching it from the third balcony at the Shubert didn’t match how I felt watching NDT do it. I thought,ok, I’m still where I’m supposed to be right now. I was kind of getting a bug where I wanted to do more contemporary work, but I wasn’t there yet. Then I had a life-changing experience at Joffrey dancing “Appalachian Spring”. Yuriko Kikuchi came in to set it. The entire experience for me changed a lot of how I was viewing performance or what I get out when I’m learning. She was so giving. She’s very demanding, but so rich with information and not any part of that information felt selfish. She just wanted it to be ours and to watch it grow. It really was profound, the entire exchange and getting to dance that role and working with her. By the time I got to the stage, all I wanted to do was live in it and perform it in that way. I don’t think I’d experienced anything to that point. The process of learning it and putting it on stage was perfect in so many ways. At the same time, I was at a party with Cheryl Mann. She was going through the exact same kind of profound experience (at Hubbard Street). She said, “There’s this man, Ohad Naharin.” She started to describing the initial time he was there for “Minus 16”.  The improvisation, pushing them outside their envelopes, telling stories, how he was using their vocals and everything that went into mounting that first “Minus 16”. So she and I made a pact. She was going to come see “Appalachian Spring” and I would go to see “Minus 16”. They had done “Petite Mort” in that program and then the last thing was “Minus 16”. That time “Petite Mort” floored me. I was in tears. The way they were dancing together was seamless. And “Minus 16” sealed everything. I think I looked at Patrick Simonello, who was with me, and said, “What am I doing with my life? And why am I not doing this?” It changed everything. I certainly had never thought of staying in Chicago. When you change companies, you normally move cities. I thought I’d go to Europe, or San Francisco or another ballet company. That performance just did it. That’s what I want to do with my life. I wanted to do the work, which made a huge difference and why I’m still here.

HS2 ladies: Emilie Leriche, Alicia Delgadillo, Taryn Kaschock Russell, Felicia McBride and Lissa Smith. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

Tell me about the transition from dancing to artistic staff.

One of the reasons I stopped dancing specifically is that we were touring so much and I wanted to have a family and that wasn’t working out. It just wasn’t happening. I stopped dancing in December and within a month, Jim (Vincent) asked me to come back to set a piece. Julie (Nakagawa) and Andreas (Böttcher) had just resigned, so there was an interim year where HS2 had a rehearsal director and trying to figure out what to do. I set one piece on second company and shortly after they named me rehearsal director. It wasn’t a full-time contract. I didn’t go on tour, but when the company was here, I was here. Two months after I stopped dancing, I got pregnant. So I was rehearsal director and going back to school (studying Psychology at Northwestern) and pregnant. I really was crazy. I was responsible for remounting works from scratch. I started teaching class for the company. The transition was really smooth. Right after I had Donovan, they had a conversation with me about working with the second company. Basically, from the second I started working with the second company, it was history, because I just fell so in love. I came in the first day. My first group was with Jacqueline (Burnett, Hubbard St.) and Eduardo (Zuniga, Luna Negra) and Ethan (Kirchbaum, River North) How could you not fall in love with them? They were so hungry for information. I started giving corrections on a piece I already knew and the amount that it impacted them within 24 hours was so profound that I was floored. It was two things. It was exhilarating and beautiful and it was scary as hell. They will take what I say and it will mean this much to them. It will make an impact in their lives. The responsibility of it was overwhelming. It was the same way with becoming a new parent. The opportunity to impact lives in that way and help produce change that was meaningful for them. And to just give, in the same way, strangely enough, that I feel Yuriko had given to me. The way she gave to me made me want to give the same way to other people.

What is your teaching/mentoring philosophy?

I’m a little bit crazy. I’m not kidding. I make a fool out of myself every single day, multiple times a day. I’m so not self-conscious about who I am that they feel more comfortable being who they are and I make sure that can happen. I really, truly believe that HS2 needs to be a safe environment for exploration. I give this lecture every single year. You walk into that room and you are there to support each other. You support each others’ failures and successes. You root for everyone to succeed. Not everywhere is like that. I feel that the second company’s experience needs to be a place where they can try and fail in order to get to where they’re going to get to next. You have to fail. You have to fail in big ways and small ways and be able to try things that are ridiculous. The room is a safe room. I really look at everyone individually and try to develop groups that will work to feed off each other’s strengths and weaknesses. I would never want a group of individuals that is very similar, because there’s not enough diversity in the room to add. Everyone comes in with their own experiences and it adds to how everyone grows. They see each other change and I think it helps them. Nobody should want to leave two years later as the same person. They want to be transformed. My directing is trial and error. I’m trying things out. If it doesn’t work, I try other things. I don’t walk in with the answers. I walk in with every bit of information that I have and I give them everything that I have. Even if it’s “I don’t know”. I’m very honest. I try to be extremely honest about what their strengths and weaknesses are even when it’s hard. There are always difficult moments. It takes a lot of confidence on my own part to sit down and know that I’m not going to make someone hate me by saying something difficult. That’s growing up on my part. Laughter. Laughter is enormous. It’s allowing emotion to be shown. Our pieces are set up that they’re theatrical. They’re contemporary internal. They’re always asking for “you” to be in there. Your personality has to be in there. Especially for 18 to 25-year-olds, that can be super uncomfortable. Allowing the time to be ridiculous and silly in that safe atmosphere. You need to be somewhere where you aren’t judged for trying.

What advice would you give to the next director of HS2? 

Allow yourself to be changed. Observe and learn from the people you’re directing. People learn from example. I love the education outreach we do. I believe in it so wholeheartedly. My love for those things goes to my dancers. My willingness to think outside the box in situations and create site-specific improves so they look the best. As I open my mind to things, their minds are open as well, because they see the person in front of the room be excited and inspired. Also, believing the dancers are really special. They are special and they are worth serious investment. Each group of them will change. Adapt to your companies and leading them with strong examples without fear. If you’re asking them to give all of that to you and to create a safe environment, then you have to do it too. You have to lead by example.

What’s in your future in New York?

One of the things I’d like to do is stop touring. He’ll be touring some, so I want to take the opportunity to be the one not leaving. I’ve been fortunate to be able to have worked with a lot of choreographers and NYC isn’t a small dance town. I’ve developed some friendships. I’ve put out some feelers at university programs. That age group fascinates me because they want to learn. But I would be lying if I didn’t say some of the companies there would be interesting to work with. I’m not going towards one thing there. I’m looking forward to spending a little time and teaching in different places and figuring out what might make the most sense. I’m pretty non-committal. My first priority is getting settled and finding where we want Donovan to be in Kindergarten.

 

B.T. Dubs

I’m introducing a new series of updates on happenings on the Chicago dance scene and various Rogueness. By the way…Btw…B.T. Dubs…get it? Anywho, from time to time I will list things that I’ve been doing, seeing and hearing that I think are interesting or relevant.

Next Thursday, Feb. 14th Valentine’s Day, The Women’s Board of the Joffrey Ballet hosts What Is This Thing Called Love, an evening with singer Shelley McArthur with a pre-performance hors d’oeuvre reception and champagne and desserts after the show. The event begins at 6 pm and will be held at The Murphy, 50 E. Erie. Tickets can be purchased at joffrey.org or by calling 312.386.8921.

I popped in on Thodos Dance Chicago rehearsals last week to watch them work on the new story ballet about Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan, A Light in the Dark. The day I was there, film maker Chris Olsen of Kai Harding Productions was filming interviews with artistic director Melissa Thodos and Ann Reinking, as well as rehearsal. Things were a bit crazy, since they were finishing up setting the new work and getting ready for their gala the next night (I went. It was fun!), but I got to hear a little about the impetus and process of making the new ballet and really, who wouldn’t like just hanging out with Ann Reinking?

Oh, and I’ve started selling ads on the blog. *Look right! A special shout out and big thank you to my first advertisers Chicago Dance Supply. If you’re interested in advertising rates, please email me for more information: rb@rogueballerina.com

 

 

Feb 2013: Upcoming Events

Pointe of Departure – The Joffrey Auxiliary Board presents this 3rd annual event with silent auction, art exhibition and sale of works inspired by Joffrey’s Winter Program American Legends. Meet the artists at a cocktail and hors d’oeuvre reception. Thursday, Feb. 7 from 6-9 pm at Block 37, 108 N State St., 3rd floor. Tickets are $75.

What is This Thing Called Love – Enjoy an evening of music with singer Shelley McArthur and special guests Alfreda Burke and Rodrick Dixon along with The City Lights Orchestra on Valentine’s Day to benefit The Joffrey Ballet. A cocktail and hors d’oeuvre reception starts at 6 pm, followed by the concert with an after party featuring champagne and chocolates. Thursday, Feb. 14 at the Murphy Auditorium, 50 E. Erie St. Tickets are $350-$500. Call 312.386.8921 or email: love@joffrey.org.

One Billion Rising Chicago – On Valentine’s Day, why not go to a block party with dance performances, djs and live singers? This hour-long event benefits One Billion Rising Chicago, a non-profit dedicated to ending violence against women. Thursday, Feb. 14 from 2-3 pm at Grace House, 1801 W. Adams St. This event is free, but you can donate at www.onebillionrising.org.

Wholehearted Wellness Jam 2013 – The Dance COLEctive and The Big Hearts Fund team up again for an event promoting family and animal wellness featuring 30-minute sessions of ZUMBA, yoga, pilates and more. Healthy refreshments will be provided. The first 50 participants registered receive a gift bag. Saturday, Feb. 16 from 12 – 2:30 pm at Menomonee Club, 1535 N. Dayton. Tickets are $35 in advance, $45 at the door. Register at http://wellnessjam2013.eventbrite.com.

 

 

Chicago Dance 2012 Highlights

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre dancers in "Revelations". Photo by Christopher Duggan.

Nothing says end-of-the-year-review time quite like the last day of the year…am I right? My proficiency in procrastination aside, now is the time to reflect on the past year and look forward to new, exiting surprises in the next. Here’s my Dancin’ Feats year-end review for Windy City Times that came out last week noting 12 memorable performances/performers of 2012, but I wanted to add a few more things.

Looking back at my notes and programs from the year (yes, they are all in a pile, I mean filing system, in the corner of my bedroom) I am so thankful for all the wonderful dance I get to see. Narrowing it down to 12 “top whatevers” was not an easy task for there were too many people and performances to name. Here are some other performances that are still in my thoughts:

Alvin Ailey Dance Theater in Ohad Naharin’s Minus 16. Although Revelations is still amazing, seeing this company in more contemporary work was refreshing. And the audiences at Ailey performances are a show unto themselves.

Paris Opera Ballet and American Ballet Theatre‘s performances of Giselle were stellar for their star-studded casts on opening night, but ABT’s Sunday matinee with real-life couple Yuriko Kajiya and Jared Matthews stole my heart.

Luna Negra Dance Theater founder Eduardo Vilaro brought Ballet Hispanico to town with former Chicago dancers (Jamal Callender, Jessica  Wyatt and Vanessa Valecillos) back for a rep show at the Dance Center to much acclaim, while current director Gustavo Ramirez Sansano continues to take the company in new and fascinating directions.

The Seldoms, in their tenth year, deconstructed the Harris Theater and traipsed around the world to collaborate with WC Dance in Tapei, while tackling the ongoing arguments around climate change with artistic director Carrie Hanson’s trademark wit and intelligence.

Before Hubbard Street Dance Chicago turned 35 this fall, it said goodbye to retiring, beloved dancer Robyn Mineko Williams. Artistic Director Glenn Edgerton completed his goal of presenting all five master European choreographers in the rep with the acquisition of Mats Ek’s Casi-Casa. Ek’s work took the company to a new level, but I’m still haunted by their dancing in William Forsythe’s Quintett from the summer series.

The Joffrey Ballet performed Forsythe’s In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated in their regular season and at the Chicago Dancing Festival. I was proud to be an official CDF blogger for the second year in a row. New to the fest this year was Giordano Dance Chicago, now celebrating 50 years. And Muntu Dance Theatre of Chicago hit 40!

River North Dance Chicago dancer Ahmad Simmons deserves a mention for his work in Ashley Roland’s Beat, particularly his performance on the Pritzker Pavillion stage in Millenium Park.

Special thanks to Catherine Tully of 4dancers.org for her continuous and generous encouragement and insight. Thanks lady!

Dance writing-wise, I’m thankful for the opportunity to write for Front Desk Chicago, Windy City Times, 4dancers and Dance Magazine.

I could go on (and on…), but tomorrow is a new year and I look forward to seeing more incredible dancing and dancers in our most awesome city. Happy New Year!

 

Joffrey’s Nutcracker: Clean, Crisp, Classic

Joffrey Ballet dancers Yoshihisa Arai and Jack Thorpe-Baker battle in "the Nutcracker". Photo by Herbert Migdoll.The Joffrey Ballet‘s production of The Nutcracker still sparkles in its silver anniversary. Opening night, Friday, December 7 at the Auditorium Theatre, marked the 25th year for this particular magical tale choreographed by Joffrey co-founders Robert Joffrey and Gerald Arpino and the magic and choreography still hold up today. With beautiful accompaniment by the Chicago Philharmonic, under the direction of Scott Speck, this version of the holiday ballet boasts clean dancing, crisp choreography and classic storytelling.

Joffrey’s Act One is notable for its speed and depth of action, especially the Party Scene. There is a lot going on in that Victorian living room. Too much for one set of eyes to catch it all, but that also speeds the story along and sweeps you Clara’s world, so you’re ready to fight and dream right along with her. Opening night’s casting had Clara and Fritz almost as tall as their parents, a distraction from the illusion of them really being children. That uneasiness was quickly erased by the dancers commitment and enthusiasm to their characters. Caitlin Meighan was delightful, youthful and vibrant as Clara, her rapid bourrée runs full of excitement. Ricardo Santos was obstinate and ornery as Fritz before taking a star turn as the Snow Prince in the Snow Scene at the end of the Act. His lightening quick jumps and spot-on turn sequences dot the fiendishly fast Arpino choreography amid a flurry of snowflakes. Solid dancing from the entire company lets the choreography shine. I know Mr. A. liked things brisk, but the speed of this evening’s performance surely made it the fastest Nutcracker in the Midwest!

Joffrey dancers Dylan Gutierrez and April Daly in "The Nutcracker". Photo by Herbert Migdoll.

Act II transports to us to The Kingdom of Sweets where the dancers took bravuro turns in each variation. Highlights were Amber Neumann as the sassy Spanish Chocolate, the pristinely perfect Marzipan Shepherdesses (Jeraldine Mendoza, Catherine Minor and Jenny Winton) as well as Kara Zimmerman and Elizabeth Hansen as the lead flowers in Waltz. Always a crowd pleaser, the Russian Nougats (Jacqueline Moscicke, Derrick Agnoletti, Yoshihisa Arai and John Mark Giragosian) did not disappoint. Arpino’s Waltz continues to be an all-time favorite for me, however, this year incorporated some costume updates that marred the visual cohesiveness of the dance. The Sugar Plum Fairy (April Daly) and her Cavalier (Dylan Gutierrez) raised the bar with strong, stellar performances. Daly, as fresh and lovely as her month’s namesake, lit the stage with dazzling effervescence, exquisite extensions and beautiful balances. Gutierrez continues to come into his own in lead roles, establishing himself as a solid, sure partner and delivering a clean, commanding variation. These two definitely proved the saying ‘save the best for last’.

The Joffrey Ballet’s The Nutcracker runs through December 27 at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Pkwy. Tickets are $31-$132. Call 800.982.2787 or visit www.ticketmaster.com.

 

Tutu Talk with Jennifer Goodman

She’s sweet like the Sugar Plum Fairy she will portray in the Ruth Page Civic Ballet‘s The Nutcracker starting this weekend. Local audiences know Jennifer Goodman, 38, from her 16-year tenure at Joffrey Ballet, 13 of it here in the Windy City, where she made a memorable impression in Nutcrackers past as Clara, a variety of variations and, yes, the Sugar Plum Fairy. Since leaving Joffrey in 2009, the Michigan native has enjoyed a lush freelance career dancing for Ballet NY, Ballet X, The Met, Lyric Opera, Chicago Opera Theater, Dallas Opera and will be dancing at the San Diego Opera next year. But first, it’s Nutcracker time. Goodman’s cavalier will be former Joffrey dancer Calvin Kitten (Hi Calvin!) this weekend, former River North Dance Chicago dancers Luke Manley next weekend, then she heads to Minnesota to dance with another former Joffrey-ite Matthew Prescott (Hi Romeo!).

RB sat down with the petite ballerina to talk pointe shoes (Freed), freelancing, yoga (she trained at Core Power Yoga) and, of course Nutcracker.

Since you’ve done The Nut a billion times, how do you keep it fresh?

Being Sugar Plum as a freelancer, it’s easier to keep it fresh. I pretty much do my version, a pretty classic version. Each show is new. Sugar Plum is easy because it’s technically challenging and the music is so beautiful. I enjoy it so much that every time I go out there; I feel it. Clara was more difficult. The last time I did it I was 34. I love doing story ballets. It takes you out of being just you. It’s fun to go somewhere else and become a character. Definitely as I’ve gotten older I’ve enjoyed taking on those roles. That helps keep it fresh.

What’s a typical performance day for you? Do you have any routines or superstitions?

I try to stay away from superstitions. I try to catch myself. As far as routine, especially if I’m guesting and there isn’t class offered, I have an order of how I get ready. I do my make up, then my hair and then I go warm up. I have a routine I do. I’ve noticed, because there is so much time to wait during the second act before you go on…with that anticipation, you go crazy, so I end up going over the whole thing with just my arms. Calvin and I have a routine for Ruth Page. We do our opening, we go off to the side, we sit, we chat, we stretch. Sometime around Russian, we stand up and move around a bit. At Flowers we stretch a bit more and then at a certain point in the music, we part. I go to my side of the stage, he goes to his. I’ll go over the pas de deux with my arms right up until we need to go and then we blow each other kisses.

 

Jennifer Goodman and Calvin Kitten in Joffrey Ballet's The Nutcracker. Photo by Herbert Migdoll.

You’ve been dancing with him for almost 20 years.

One year he came in the morning of the first show. We didn’t even touch each other. It was one of our best shows. He knows me. He knows my movement. It’s pretty cool.

How is it switching partners from week to week?

It’s definitely different. We’re all professionals, so it’s not that hard. Especially with Calvin and Matthew. I have to do a little more with Calvin just because of the height.

When did you start to get certified in yoga and how have you incorporated that into your dance life? How has it changed your dancing?

Last summer, I did a week intensive teacher training. Prior to that, in New York, I started taking more classes. What drew me into it even more than just the physicality was dealing with problems personally and wanting to heal what I’d been going through. Yoga is so good for that because there is so much positivity and self-love it really touched me and helped me get through. When I came here and did the week of training, I just loved it. It built my confidence up so much more. After the training, I went to teach a ballet class and I noticed I was calmer when I taught and I was a lot more positive and confident.  I’m not going to worry about whether people are liking it or not or that I’m not doing the right thing. People have noticed, even doing Sugar Plum since last year, my confidence in the dancing and expressiveness I was giving out, not just worrying about the technical, was a lot freer.

Ruth Page Civic Ballet’s The Nutcracker at Northeastern Illinois University Auditorium, 3701 W. Bryn Mawr, Saturday, Dec. 1 at 7 pm and Sunday, Dec. 2 at 1 pm. Tickets are $18-$25. Call 773.442.4636 or visit www.boxoffice.neiu.edu/civic_ballet.

Performances on Saturday, Dec. 8 & 9 at 3 pm presented at Elgin Community College Arts Center, 1700 Spartan Dr, Elgin. Tickets are $20-$32. Call 847.622.0300.