Transition Notice

Instead of a Throwback Thursday this week, I’m writing a little update on what I’ve been doing. Hint: a lot! After my birthday vaca to NYC to see and all-Balanchine program at New York City Ballet (review still to come!), I immediately started my new gig as editor at SeeChicagoDance.com. The next week I accepted a new job as Marketing Associate at The Joffrey Ballet – seriously, it kind of just fell in my lap and I couldn’t say no. Everything can change in a minute. For me, it really did.

After six years at Modern Luxury, I’m now officially at Joffrey, learning the ropes, and looking forward to The Nutcracker season. I hear it’s busy! And after nearly two years writing the dance column for Windy City Times, I will be leaving. November will be my last column, but it is going to the very capable hands of Miss Lauren Warnecke of Art Intercepts.

What does this mean for RB? Well, I’m still hoping to post dancer interviews/profiles, Where Are They Now segments and the occasional preview, time willing. Reviews will be minimal. I will still have a sassy presence on social media. As always, it will be a work in progress.

Hamburg Ballet to return in 2014!

First of all, Happy National Dance Day! I hope you’ll be tapping, pointing, smacking, twerking, turning, jumping, stomping and shimmying the day away.

Big news! The Harris Theater has announced that Hamburg Ballet will return to Chicago to perform in February 2014. The company wowed audiences last season with the epic, overwhelming, evening-length ballet Nijinsky. This season they bring Director John Neumeier’s Third Symphony of Gustav Mahler for the only American performances. Tickets go on sale – today! Deets below.

Other touring dance highlights in the 2013-2014 season are Savion Glover‘s STePz (Jan 24, ’14) Alonzo King LINES Ballet (Feb 27-28, ’14), Trey McIntyre Project (April 3, ’14) and Ballet Preljocaj (May 2-4, ’14). That is on top of the regular season performances by local troupes /resident companies Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Giordano Dance Chicago, River North Dance Chicago, Thodos Dance Chicago, Ballet Chicago and Deeply Rooted Dance Theater.

And, I’m super-duper stoked that Wendy Whelan: Restless Creature is coming (March 20). This project pairs the incomparable New York City Ballet ballerina with four contemporary choreographers including Hubbard Street’s Alejandro Cerrudo! The program has its world premiere this August at Jacob’s Pillow (“someone” couldn’t afford to go see it, so…yay!).

Tickets for the Hamburg Ballet’s “Third Symphony of Gustav Mahler” go on sale today – Saturday, July 27 – at 10 am. Tickets are available at the Harris Theater Box Office (205 E. Randolph); call 312.334.7777 or visit www.harristheaterchicago.org.

Watch Out For Team McQueen!

Dancer/choreographer Jeremy McQueen. Photo by Eduardo Patino.

If you haven’t heard of Jeremy McQueen; you will. The New York-based dancer/choreographer has had quite a year – and it’s only June! McQueen was one of three choreographers to win Joffrey Ballet‘s Choreographers of Color Award (2013), culminating in the world premiere of his Black Iris at the Harris Theater this past March. Last week he wrapped up teaching a workshop for Motion 41 Dance in Omaha, Nebraska, while last Friday, his new work Au bord de l’eau (At the water’s edge) premiered at Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri. Later this summer, he’ll present a new commissioned work at the Fire Island Dance Festival along with nine other choreographers including Lar Lubovitch and Christopher Wheeldon. In August, he competes as a finalist (for the second year in a row) for Capezio’s Award for Choreographic Excellence (ACE).

McQueen grew up in San Diego, California and began studying music (violin, flute, piano) at an early age and by eight was active in children’s theater. It wasn’t until he was picked on and bullied in 6th grade P.E. class that he opted to take dance as an alternative. While attending a performing arts high school for music, his love of dance really took hold. He then attended the Ailey School/Fordham University, graduating in 2008 with a B.F.A. in Dance. “I just kind of threw myself into a professional career auditioning for whatever,” said McQueen. “I always talk about being well-rounded, so I do see myself as a dancer, but I also do music and theater. I kept my skills up in those areas, so that when I graduated I might have a better shot with different opportunities. I didn’t know what door would open first.” His musical theater background served him well. He was cast in Contact in a Boston-area theater, did two years of the Radio City Christmas Spectacular as well as the national tours of The Color Purple and Wicked. “I always tell people I know what it means to persevere and have patience and faith,” he said. “Wicked was always a show I wanted to be in. I auditioned about nine times over the course of four years before I got the job, but here I was at 23 and I was in the show.”

Leaving the cast without another job lined up was a leap of faith for McQueen, but he was ready to pursue other dreams and goals. Earlier, in 2008, while frustrated with the “audition grind” and missing concert dance, he had gathered a group of friends to “play” in the studio in between projects to see what he could do creating choreography. That turned into a project-based company affectionately called “Team McQueen” and proved to be a blessing after he left the touring circuit. This Friday, Team McQueen will dance (again, for the second year in a row) on the outdoor Inside/Out stage at Jacob’s Pillow. “Choreography was a creative outlet I wanted to explore. I knew that was a long-term goal of mine,” he said. “I really didn’t have a lot of expectations when I started. I wanted to see what I could say with it, not necessarily what I could do or get. I love seeing my vision come to life on stage. It’s been the greatest experience of my life to see my own voice develop through other people.”

For Jacob’s Pillow, McQueen and Team will be presenting three works. Black Iris, the classic, contemporary ballet piece (en pointe) McQueen created on the Joffrey Academy dancers earlier this year, was inspired by artist Georgia O’Keeffe’s painting Black Iris III and represents the strong black women in his life including his mother, godmother and aunt. Dancer Nardia Boodoo, who originated the role in Chicago, will again be the lead. Also dancing in the work, is former Joffrey dancer Brian Gephart, who danced for two seasons with the Atlantic Ballet Theatre of Canada and recently moved to New York City. Gephart and McQueen met in 2006 while attending the San Francisco Ballet summer program and reconnected in April. “It’s such a treat to get to work with someone with that uniquely Broadway-grounded eye for detail and precision and yet have the movement quality from Ailey in the same person,” Gephart said (via email). Gephart is also the lead in another work on the program, an excerpt from a full-length work titled What Lies Within. This piece for seven male dancers has six of them representing the lead dancer’s insecurities. “It’s been a fabulous creation process of letting me explore movement based on my ballet foundation, where I feel so at home, but ultimately working to strip it down to a more pedestrian, relatable place,” he said. “It’s one of those special opportunities where the role pushes you as an artist to something beyond just technique and turns. Making it be ‘human’ and not a ‘dancer’ has been delightfully a stretch for me.”

The final work on the program – the aforementioned Au bord de l’eau – was created in residency with the Ailey School and Stephen’s College and pays tribute to women fighting breast cancer. McQueen has a close friend that is going through this struggle and her beauty and strength inspired him. Discolored nails, losing your hair and even your breast(s) are obvious and notable side effects. “When you go through chemotherapy, you’re in a big room with other people that are in your same situation. There’s a sense of community and mutual support,” he said. “This pays tribute to the courage that women go through in their quest to maintain their femininity during breast cancer.” The all-female piece has the dancers clad in long, pink chiffon skirts, nude bras and 29″ wigs.

The 27-year-old choreographer tends to tackle social issues that have effected his life. And with all his recent success, it doesn’t look like he’ll be stopping any time soon. “People constantly ask me if this is where I thought I’d be at this point in my life. I always tell them no,” said McQueen. “I’ve completely exceeded my expectations of anything I thought I could do. This year has been a blessing. To really see these opportunities unfold has been incredible. I feel so blessed. I’m really trying to live in the moment and enjoy it.”

The Jacob’s Pillow performance will take place Friday, June 28 at 6 pm on the Henry J. Leir Stage and Marcia & Seymour Simon Performance Space, 358 George Carter Road, Becket, MA. Tickets are free.

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.

 

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.

 

Chicago Dancing Festival 2012

Martha Graham Dance Co dancer Xiaochuan Xie on the Pritzker stage.

The Chicago Dancing Festival (CDF) hits Chicago stages for a week of free dance performances again this August.  Now in its sixth year, CDF – the brainchild of Lar Lubovitch and Jay Franke – is expanding (again) to six days of events with new programs and a couple of commissioned world premieres to boot!  RB will be part of CDF’s blogger initiative for the second year, bringing you sneak peeks, dancer/choreographer interviews, event coverage, reviews and wrap ups.  I’ll also be live-Tweeting pre- and post-event coverage for the Fest complete with photos, behind-the-scenes happenings and audience quotes.

New to the fest this year is an all-Chicago program, Chicago Dancing, featuring local faves Hubbard Street Dance Chicago (HSDC) and Joffrey Ballet and three CDF commissioned works.  Giordano Dance Chicago (note the new name!) makes its CDF debut in a work by Swedish choreographer Alexander Ekman.  New York-based choreographer Nicholas Leichter will work with the After School Matters students to create a world premiere honoring the memory of Maggie Daley, former first lady of Chicago, who started the program in 1991.  A two-week residency led by Larry Keigwin blends dancers and non-dancers from Chicago into a world premiere, Bolero Chicago.  Keigwin’s new work, set to Ravel’s most famous score, will incorporate local movement traits for a uniquely Chicago piece.  New groups performing at the fest this year include Pacific Northwest Ballet and Ballet Arizona, along with returning companies San Francisco Ballet, Houston Ballet, New York City Ballet, Martha Graham Dance Company and Brian Brooks Moving Company.

A partnership with Chicago SummerDance, the city’s outdoor dancing series, for Dancing Under the Stars and prolific local dance writer Zac Whittenburg leads a lecture demonstration, Chicago Now, with local companies at the MCA Stage.  Programming for both of these event to be announced at a later date.   A day of Dancing Movies also takes place at the MCA with films including PINA, All Is Not Lost, Two Seconds After the Laughter and Fanfare for Marching Band curated by local artist Sarah Best.  The fest always ends with a Celebration of Dance at the outdoor Pritzker Pavilion stage in Millennium Park showcasing a number of artists that have performed throughout the week.

Tickets for all of the events are free, however, you do need to reserve seating for the indoor theaters in advance.  These will “sell out” very fast!  More information on tickets will be available the week of July 16th.

Henry V Delights at Dance Center

Post modern guru David Gordon has a way with words.  He uses them as a structure, a starting point, an inspiration and then turns them into a complex living creative act right before your eyes on the stage.  So it is with his Pick Up Performance Co(s)‘ presentation of Dancing Henry Five this weekend at The Dance Center of Columbia College.  This 2004 revival is part theater, part performance art, part dance, part music collage.  A deconstructed take on Shakespeare’s Henry V, it not only entertains, but offers a commentary on war that still resonates today.

The program calls it a “reduction” of Shakespeare’s work.  Once in the theater, the stage shows what Gordon has reduced it down to – the bare necessities.  Everything for the performance is on the stage in plain view.  No wings, props strewn about the stage and performers standing around the edges waiting.  Costumes of colorful, but faded rugby shirts with shorts suggest uniforms of a different kind of battle, rather than the 1415 Battle of Agincourt that they are about to partially recreate.  The performers walk around the stage carrying signs with pertinent information (title, names, please turn off cell phones) passing by like the opening credits of a movie.  Valda Setterfield (Gordon’s wife and former dancer with Merce Cunningham) acts as narrator and chorus moving the action along and adding sly, sometimes biting commentary – Gordon’s,  not her own, she states – as well as joining in the dance.  At 77, she’s still a dynamic performer with impeccable timing.  (Go on with your bad self, Valda!)

Dancing Henry Five incorporates spoken word along with audio excerpts from the stage and movie versions of Henry V with musical interjections of William Walton’s score from the film.  The first Shakespeare quote heard is “a kingdom for a stage” and Gordon transforms this stage into a kingdom, ocean and battlefield.  At times funny, poignant, sad and moving, the one-hour production is a creative, quirky take on a classic historical poem.  Shakespeare through the looking glass.  Seven dancers make the action happen, most notable former American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet star Robert La Fosse.  His trademark mole on his left cheek is barely visible through his make up, but watching him do a low quick jeté shows the technique, if not the flexibility, is still there.

As the plot takes us to war against the French, one can’t help but be reminded of more current events.  ”War takes minds off deficits”, says the narrator.  Indeed.  Originally choreographed in 2004, a year after we began the war in Iraq, the words bring a poignant pause to the audience.  A quilt carried across the “water” includes an American flag, even though Columbus wouldn’t discover America for another 77 years.  One image that sticks is dancers standing on sheets of material being slowly pulled across the stage like ships.

There is one performance left of this interesting post modern take on Shakespeare’s play.  Tickets are still available.

Pick Up Performance Co(s) – Dancing Henry Five

The Dance Center at Columbia College, 1306 S, Michigan, 312.369.8330

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 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.