CDF 12: Celebration of Dance

Bolero Chicago. Photo by Cheryl Mann.

The Chicago Dancing Festival (CDF), a week-long series of free dance events, came to a close Saturday night on the Pritzker Pavilion stage in Millennium Park.  A large crowd turned out on a beautiful night to witness dance from some of the top companies in the country as well as artistry from fellow Chicagoans.  Festival co-founders Lar Lubovitch and Jay Franke addressed the audience and introduced a casually dressed Mayor Rahm Emanuel before the show began.  “Hey Chicago! Hey dance lovers!” The performance opened and closed with local talent: the After School Matters Hip Hop Culture Dance Ensemble with Nicholas Leicther’s Touch of Soul in honor of Maggie Daley and Bolero Chicago with Larry Keigwin’s homage to our sweet home city.

Nestled in between the two large local numbers was a mini tasting of the best of the best in the current dance scene.  Houston Ballet performed Mark Morris’ Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes with live piano accompaniment from Katherine Burkwall-Ciscon.  Dressed in comfy looking white blowsy tops and short leggings (can I get this in black?), the dancers skipped and skimmed across the stage in a light-footed romp that showcased Morris’ deftly musical choreography.  Two gala-esque performances by major ballet companies showed the range of classical ballet.  New York City Ballet stars Ana Sophia Scheller and Gonzalo Garcia dazzled in the show-stopping pas de deux from Marius Petipa’s  Don Quixote (1869). An early one-handed lift seemed to last forever and Scheller’s fouette run in the coda, featuring a double pirouette every second turn for the first 16 counts and one every third turn for the second half, had me jumping out of my seat.  Girl can turn.  Later, Sofiane Sylve and Vito Mazzeo from San Francisco Ballet danced Christopher Wheeldon’s pas de deux from Continuum (2002).  The couple brilliantly danced the Sleeping Beauty pas earlier in the week and proved they are just as stunning doing more contemporary work.

Two powerhouse companies represented the same kind of choreographic range in the modern/contemporary realm.  Martha Graham Dance Company performed an excerpt form Chronicle (1936), which they performed earlier in the week in its entirety.  Steps in the Street physically showed just how powerful women can be.   Local favorite Hubbard Street Dance Chicago danced an excerpt of Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin’s Tabula Rasa (1986), giving an equally powerful performance in a more relaxed, freer style.

The Pritzker Pavilion is a wonderful outdoor venue that normally houses musical acts including the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.  With that said, the seating isn’t ideally designed for viewing dance.  The seats are directly behind one another and on a very shallow raking. My apologies to the woman seated behind me for “driving her crazy” by moving my head from side to side to see.  Unless you’d like a detailed account of the woman’s hair cut and color in front of me, it was a necessary evil.

Congratulations to everyone that worked, volunteered or performed at CDF 12.  It was a wonderful week full of terrific dance that won’t soon be forgotten.  All free.  We are lucky Chicago.

 

CDF12: Chicago Dancing

The Chicago Dancing Festival (CDF) kicked off its sixth year with a performance showcasing local talent.  CDF Board Chair David Herro welcomed the audience and took a few minutes to talk about the origins of the fest and its mission.  He said it’s threefold: 1) to make Chicago a national and international dance destination, 2) to keep elevating the dance form and building an audience by providing the best dance at the lowest possible cost – free!, and 3) to provide a forum, a place where these dancers can come together and watch each other perform.  Mission accomplished.

Our dance-loving Mayor was up next, introduced by Herro as “probably the only Mayor in the United States that can do a proper plié”.  (True and something I’m not ashamed to say I’m particularly proud of.)  Rahm Emanuel took the mic, quipping that his plié talent came in handy in the City budget meetings.  While introducing the opener of the show – a performance by After School Matters Hip Hop Culture Dance Ensemble, a program started by the late First Lady Maggie Daley – the current Mayor acknowledged the Daley family in the audience and said the work’s title Touch of Soul was perfect because “dance is the hidden language of the soul.  I can’t think of a better tribute to the soul of our city, Maggie Daley”.  Mayor Emanuel finished by thanking the family – “from the entire city, thank you for sharing her with us”. (Tear.)  That beautiful, but melancholy moment was short lived, because seconds later, 31 young dancers dressed in white took the stage in a world premiere by choreographer Nicholas Leichter with such energy and enthusiasm that the audience was whooping with joy.

Hometown heavy-hitters Hubbard Street Dance Chicago (HSDC) technically tantalized in the epic, exhaustive Scarlatti.  Choreographed for HSDC by Twyla Tharp in 2011, this work for twelve dancers is a testament to speed and stamina.  In their CDF debut, Giordano Dance Chicago (GDC) paired up with Swedish choreographer Alexander Ekman for a humorous duet featuring lead dancers Maeghan McHale and Martin Ortiz Tapia about life and love, but not necessarily a happy ending.  (Great job Maeghan and Martin!)  Intermission was abuzz with conversation, the packed theater a mass of movement, hand shakes and hugs.

The Joffrey Ballet opened Act II with William Forsythe’s In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated.  This contemporary masterpiece from 1987 changed the way people thought of ballet.  The stark set, the off-center partnering, the hyper-flexibility and “I don’t care” attitude wowed audiences then and continue to now.  Dancer Rory Hohenstein’s multiple, multiple pirouettes amazed.  (He later attributed them to a slippery stage.)  The finale of the show was a collaboration with choreographer Larry Keigwin, a few of his dancers and everyday Chicagoans.  Introduced by CDF co-founders Jay Franke and Lar Lubovitch, Bolero Chicago was a tribute to our city.  Big and small, short and tall, the dancers in this piece represented everyone.  A lady reading a newspaper, a woman walking her dog, a passerby smoking a cigarette, a commuter biking to work, a cluster holding on for balance on a bumpy el ride, and a man in drag losing a battle with his umbrella and the wind.  Bears, Bulls, Cubs and Sox tees – even Benny the Bull merrily flipping around the stage.  Illuminated cell phones lit the stage before bows were replaced by the “everyday” contingent jamming out on stage.

Chicago Dancing had something for everyone and everyone liked something different. Perfect.

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