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.

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.

 

Break

RB took a little time off after the Chicago Dancing Festival (CDF), but now I’m back and ready to go!? Coming up: interviews/previews with Luna Negra (Veronica Guadalupe), Inaside Chicago Dance (Mary Williams), Joffrey Ballet (Michael Smith), Hubbard Street (David Schultz) , Smuin Ballet (Jonathan David Dummar) and even a little chat with Twyla Tharp!

Keep a look out for changes/additions to the blog in the coming weeks, but in the meantime, here are some beautiful pics from CDF finale by the gorgeous and gracious mama-to-be Cheryl Mann.

Michelle Fleet and the Paul Taylor Dance Co in "Esplanade".

NYC Ballet dancers Tiler Peck & Gonzalo Garcia in "Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux".

Martha Graham dancer Xiaochuan Xie in "Diversion of Angels".

Joffrey's Temur Suluashvili & Victoria Jaiani in "Stravinsky Violin Concerto".

CDF11 Wrap Up

Aspen Santa Fe Ballet in "Uneven". Photo by Cheryl Mann.

Last week was quite a week for dance in Chicago.? The Chicago Dancing Festival (CDF) presented five free nights of dance to eager audiences with an estimated 19,000 in attendance over the course of the week.? Many thanks and much gratitude to the CDF staff – Evin Eubanks (Executive Director), Todd Clark (Director of Production), Natalie Williams (Admin Assistant) and of course co-founders/Artistic Directors Lar Lubovitch and Jay Franke for showcasing such phenomenal talent and giving the city another chance to shine.? Mayor Emanuel attending three nights of dance has secured his place as dance in Chicago’s biggest fan.? I was lucky to be able to attend each night of the fest (I missed the free dance movies day) and I have to admit I was a little disappointed this Monday night when there wasn’t a kick ass show to go see.? Spoiled, but grateful.

Here are links to my coverage of the CDF events:? Opening Night Gala, Moderns, MCA Moves, Masters, Muses and Celebration of Dance.? Some of the highlights for me were Richard Move, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago (Too Beaucoup, Petite Mort), Lar Lubovitch Dance Company (The Legend of Ten), Paul Taylor Dance Company (Eplanade) and New York City Ballet artists Tiler Peck and Gonzalo Garcia (Tchaikovsky Pas De Deux).? I was surprised how much I enjoyed the Martha Graham Dance Company, Doug Varone and Dancers and Walter Dundervill’s work.? I can’t wait to see who CDF will bring in to perform next year.? Plan ahead: you won’t want to miss CDF2012!

Let me know what you think!? Did you go to any of the CDF shows?? What was your favorite?? Are you now a fan of a company you’d never seen before?? What would you like them to do differently next year?? What companies would you like to see at CDF 2012?

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 Kyl?an, 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 Jir? Kyl?an’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 jet?s 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.

CDF11 Muses

Hubbard St dancers Ana Lopez & Benjamin Wardell in Cerrudo's "Maltidos". Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

Dance writer/critic/historian Lucia Mauro opened Chicago Dancing Festival‘s (CDF) Muses program (Friday, Aug 26 on the MCA Stage) by distinguishing the difference in meanings of the term muse.? In ancient Greek mythology, the work referred to “beings who imparted knowledge.? They were empowered beings, the sources of greatness”.? But today, we refer to a muse as someone who inspires artistic creation.? After giving a brief list of famous choreographic partnerships (Balanchine and Farrell, Tharp and Baryshnikov, etc.) Mauro set the stage for the discussion to follow with Lar Lubovitch, Alejandro Cerrudo, Janet Eilber and Bettie de Jong that dealt with the artist/choreographer relationship.? Is it “control or collaboration”?? And how has that relationship been defined historically and is it being redefined now?

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago‘s (HSDC) resident choreogher Alejandro Cerrudo subscribes to the “two brains think better than one” theory and tends to use a collaborative approach with his dancers.? After praising the HSDC dancers many talents, he says, “anything the dancers give me is valid” and states simply, “I became a choreographer to become a better dancer.”? HSDC dancers Ana Lopez and Benjamin Wardell (frequent muses for Cerrudo) danced the final duet that was created on them from Cerrudo’s 2010 work Deep Down Dos.? Wardell is leaving HSDC to pursue independent projects.? I’m really going to miss these two artists dancing together.? They seem to have a kinetic ESP that drives their duets.

Janet Eilber, Artistic Director of the Martha Graham Dance Company told stories about working with the iconic choreographer in the 70s.? Eilber took over many of Graham’s roles once she was retired from dancing and said the best advice she ever gave her was to always create an internal monologue.? “You have to talk to yourself the whole time,” Graham advised her. Eilber also talked of how Graham had changed after a leave of absence from the company (depression and an extended hospital stay).? Once back, the way she choreographed changed to “visually instead of viscerally”.? Clips were shown of Eilber dancing in Graham classics Frontier and Clytemnestra.

Bettie de Jong, Rehearsal Director for Paul Taylor Dance Company brought her considerable personality and humor to stories of working with Mr. Taylor.”Unlike Martha, he doesn’t like to talk about the dances he’s making…maybe two words”, she says.? “His dances had an animal instinct, a dark side, a musical side, a funny side.”? Clips of her dancing with Taylor were shown including Esplanade and Big Bertha.

CDF co-founder Lar Lubovitch came last and promptly rearranged the two chairs on stage into a more pleasing configuration (he admitted it had been bothering him the entire program).? Once settled, he explained that his approach to choreographing is to tell the story of the music.? The dancers need to embody the music. ? “My relationship with my dancers is based on who they present themselves to be,” he says adding, “there has to be a bond of trust in the room.? We trust and therefore can be free and therefore can create.”? An excerpt from HISTOIRE DE SOLDAT, Three Dances:? Tango, Waltz, Ragtime (2011) with three of his dancers followed telling a story with dark humor of a soldier, a princess and the devil.? Mauro opened the floor up to questions from the audience before wrapping up a lovely discussion on dance, history and the choreographic process.