CRB Takes On the Seasons

Schaaf in rehearsal with dancer Lizzie MacKenzie.

“I feel like I’ve been painting with all the colors in my palette,” said Wade Schaaf, founder and artistic director of Chicago Repertory Ballet (CRB). “As I’ve been creating more and more, I feel like my movement vocabulary is pretty expansive, so I felt really free with this piece to use everything I know.” Schaaf presents the premiere of his one-act, 30-minute The Four Seasons this weekend alongside CRB favorites including his Peoplescape: Juxtaposition; Manuel Vignoulle’s duet In a Box; Jacqueline Stewart’s cheeky One Way; and a tender, personal trio, Of Alice, by Autumn Eckman. “The audience is really going to get a ride.”

For The Four Seasons, Schaaf found his inspiration in the music, using composer Max Richter‘s modern take on Vivaldi. “The Richter version is a little more contemporary and a little more streamlined, applicable to now,” said Schaaf on a quick break before teaching class at Joffrey Tower (#convenient). “I wanted to hone in on the humanity of the piece. To me, the whole thing is about people, which always intrigues me as a choreographer.” He also cites the Thorne Miniature Rooms at the Art Institute as an abstract inspiration. “I feel like we’re watching these little vignettes. The music is set up with three sections per season. I treated each of those sections like the miniatures. It didn’t make sense to look at the picture as a whole, but to look at each individual part.”

CRB’s motto may be “Everyone has a story to tell”, but this new The Four Seasons let’s the audience fill in the blanks. “We’re just watching these scenes from life and together they make the four seasons or life, the four seasons of a person’s life, or even the seasons of a relationship,” Schaaf said. “There’s no set plot. I’m not translating a particular feeling, but you get little elements of a story. I wanted it to look like little moments in people’s lives.”

Chicago Repertory Ballet presents THE FOUR SEASONS: and contemporary works Friday-Sunday, May 9 – 11 at The Biograph Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave. Tickets are $25 ($20 for Saturday matinee); visit: victorygardens.org or call 773.871.3000.

On Philip Elson’s Terms

“Technology is challenging the way we experience life,” he said. “As a society, we are fascinated by its nonhuman capabilities while abusing it to learn more about how people live their lives.” In his first evening-length work, emerging choreographer Philip Elson explores life in the digital age using multiple disciplines to create a new dance-theater work. You may have seen him on stage performing with The Seldoms, Same Planet Different World, and Khecari, among others, but this weekend, he’s in charge and he’s taking the stage on his own terms.

One of his many jobs aside from dancer, choreographer, sound designer, Technology and Media Coordinator is Apple Genius, so aside from perhaps taking inspiration from his Seldoms’ director Carrie Hanson by creating an issue-based work, he’s an expert in tech and diving into how our digital lives have changed us seems like an inevitable subject for him. “We have become so accustomed to a certain type of living and relating to others,” Elson said. “These ways of life are being disrupted by concerns of privacy and it changes how we interact with each other.” (In fact, we even conducted this interview via email.)

For all the upsides of being “connected”, Elson is well aware of the down including identity theft, annoying pop-up ads or “blindly agreeing to something without understanding the consequences”. He uses spoken text, video projection and, of course, dance to investigate the balance of digital consumption. Are we consuming it or is it consuming us? The forward-thinking Elson is already toying with idea of taking this show viral. “I’m thinking about reworking it to fit on a digital platform, meaning the entire work would be consumed either through a computer, tablet, or smartphone and somehow be interactive.” That sounds super cool, but first go see it live.

Philip Elson presents Terms and Conditions, Friday-Sunday, March 14-16 at 7 pm at Links Hall at Constellation, 3111 N. Western Ave. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased here

Hubbard Street Does Kylian (x 4)

Jiří Kylián repetiteur Roslyn Anderson, former dancer and rehearsal director at Nederlands Dans Theater, rehearses Petite Mort with Hubbard Street Dancers Andrew Murdock, foreground, and Jason Hortin. Photo by Quinn B Wharton.

This weekend my favorite contemporary company takes on the Czech master choreographer Jiří Kylián. In their first-ever program dedicated to one artist’s work, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago presents four of Kylián’s works in their Spring Series at the Harris Theater.  Two of the works – 27″52′ and Petite Mort – will be familiar to local audiences and two are Hubbard Street premieres.

Répétiteur Roslyn Anderson, former dancer and rehearsal director at Nederlands Dans Theater (NDT), is no stranger to Chicago. She’s been coming here to set Kylián’s work on Hubbard St. – his work has been in their rep since 1998 – and The Joffrey Ballet for many years. In all, she sets about 16 of his works around the world and has worked with him, in one capacity or another, since the mid 70′s. “I told him I was interested to rehearse,” Anderson said from Hubbard Street’s West Loop studios. “I knew that from a young age that I wanted to rehearse.” Her first staging was Forgotten Land for San Francisco Ballet in the mid 80′s.

Joining Anderson to recreate these contemporary masterpieces are fellow “Kylián authorities” Urtzi Aranburu (staging), Dick Schuttel (sound design and effects), Joost Biegelaar (lighting) and Hubbard Street artistic director Glenn Edgerton, a former director of NDT. Stopping by the studios to catch Edgerton rehearsing the company’s men in Sarabande proved enlightening. As the artistic head of the company, you know he’s the brain behind the rep, but you don’t normally see him in action in the studio. He danced two roles in the work and gave insights to the dancers from a performer’s perspective.

Sarabande, a piece for 6 men, is about “exploring all aspects of masculinity”, said dancer Jesse Bechard. Grunting, shouting and crawling take a beautiful, human edge when set to Bach music. The all-female piece, Falling Angels, a throbbing, tight ensemble piece performed to live music by Third Coast Percussion, immediately follows providing the perfect compliment. The beautiful Petite Mort, set to Mozart, and the abstract, improv-driven 27’52″ round out the program although the works are presented chronologically backwards, a choreographic timeline in retrograde. “His work is so unique,” said Anderson. “The structure of this program, starting with the more recent and going backwards in time is just such a beautiful arc that people are going to see.”

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago presents their Spring Series, an All-Kylián program, at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, Thursday, March 13 through Sunday, March16. Tickets are $25-$99; call 312.850.9744 or visit hubbardstreetdance.com/spring.

 

P/Review: River North’s Autumn Passions

River North dancers in Frank Chaves' "Eva". Photo by Cheryl Mann.

This weekend River North Dance Chicago (RNDC) takes the stage of the Harris Theater with their Autumn Passions program. RNDC opened the 2013-2014 season with a shortened gala program on Thursday, Nov. 14 featuring two world premieres, a company premiere and the Harris debut of a 2013 work by Artistic Director Frank Chaves and will perform a full program Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 16-17.

Thursday’s gala performance began with Chaves’ Eva, a suite of dances to jazzed up songs sung by Eva Cassidy. Gorgeous vocal mixed with Chaves’ talent for partnering and duets. Three couples swirled to Cassidy’s rendition of Sting’s Fields of Gold (one of my favorite songs) and although timing was off, it offered  a perfect opening for the evening. A hot, hot, hot quintessentially RNDC, Vent-like duet with Jessica Wolfrum and Ahnad Simmons and a lovely side-by-side duet for Lauren Kias (sassy haircut, btw) and Hank Hunter. Eva closed with a feel good, full company section to Wade in the Water – a jazz-meets-Ailey’s Revelations.

It was a gala, so speeches and donation pitches came before the world premiere of Ashley Roland’s Get Out the Ghost. Roland, co-artistic director of BodyVox came to Chicago in July to set the new work. When I popped in to rehearsals, it wasn’t complete, but after seven days was quickly taking shape. “I need to choreograph faster, otherwise my head gets in the way,” she said. Chaves had asked her to create something “ethereal”. The final section of the Americana work dealing with getting rid of personal baggage or “cleaning your own personal house” is ethereal, but as Roland said, you have to get there first. The work began with the movement, although that’s not always how she works. “It comes through me. It’s not manufactured,” said Roland. “It’s definitely a gift.”

Dancers twitch and twist in angsty spurts while pulling shiny gold mylar pieces from their costumes throughout the first two sections. I get the idea, but it was too literal and while the dancers gave it their all, it seemed over-danced. A little less attack, a little more softness would have served the work better. Daring running dives and catches wowed, but overall, the work needed more subtly.

Dancer Drew Fountain is the first dancer other than choreographer Adam Barruch to perform his theatrical solo work The Worst Pies in London set to the song of the same title from the Broadway musical Sweeney Todd. Barruch himself performed it here at the Chicago Dancing Festival in 2011. Fountain was hilarious and charming in this quirky duet with a table. It’s a definite crowd-pleaser.

The world premiere of  Dawn by Deeply Rooted Dance Theater‘s Kevin Iega Jeff closed the hour-long show and proved to be a stellar showcase of the dancers’ talents. Set to the driving beat of a version of Carmina Burana, Dawn depicts an intense, physical, ritualistic society with goddess overtones, or as Iega Jeff states in the program notes – “a new Age of Enlightenment”. All gold tones and biceps – and I’m talking about the ladies! – Iega Jeff makes these dancers WORK! It really is non-stop, balls-to-the-walls dancing – just what we’ve come to expect from RNDC. Wolfrum was fierce as a the head of the hierarchy, boldly commanding the stage.

My only regret not going to see the performances this weekend is I will miss the stunning Nejla Yatkin solo Renatus danced by diva Wolfrum and Daniel Ezralow’s SUPER STRAIGHT is coming down, which was originally created for Hubbard Street Dance Chicago (and one of my fave pieces EVER). RNDC’s first attempt at Ezralow’s work didn’t meet expectations (injuries, etc.), but I’m glad they are bringing it back with a different cast. My guess is they will knock it out of the theater this time around.

River North Dance Chicago’s Autumn Passions at the Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph St., Saturday, Nov. 16 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, Nov. 17 at 3 p.m. Tickets are $30-$75; call 312.334.7777 or visit harristheaterchicago.org. 

 

Joffrey Dances La Bayadère (aka Snakes at the Ballet)

Joffrey Ballet goes Bollywood in "La Bayadere". Photo by Christopher Duggan.

This Wednesday the Joffrey Ballet* begins a 10-performance run of Stanton Welch’s La Bayadère: The Temple Dancer at the Auditorium Theatre. Welch’s version, originally choreographed for Houston Ballet in 2010, whittles down the three-plus hour original tale, keeping the story of love, jealousy and revenge flowing, while adding in more dancing. He’s left the famous “Kingdom of the Shades” scene, where 26 ballerinas in white tutus enter the stage performing synchronized arabesques, in tact. Oh, and there are live snakes.

You read that right. Snakes. Real ones. Live, on stage. SNAKES! (Can someone please tell me what happens while they are on stage, because my eyes will be shut as I silently shriek to myself.) Real snakes were used on a photo shoot in Houston to promote the revamp of the 19th classic. The dancers “really got into it” and ended up on the floor with 30 snakes slithering over them – ew – so Welch thought, “We have to use it!” A snake handler from The Traveling World of Reptiles (you’ll have to look up their site on your own…can’t do it) will be part of the production with four of his serpent friends.

The story follows Niiya, a temple dancer, and a love quartet with a secret love, a princess and a betrothed priest. The drama heightens with dancing gods and a little help from a hookah pipe. Solor, Nikiya’s love interest tends a broken heart by smoking opium and enters a dreamlike state. The is where the “Shades” come in. Welch describes them as “a stream of smoke coming down from heaven, where Nikiya appears in a cloud”. This scene has been seen as a stand-alone at galas around the world and is breathtaking.

Considering Welch himself has never performed the ballet, why La Bayadère? “It’s historic and important,” said Welch when I stopped by Joffrey Tower to chat and watch rehearsal earlier this month. “It has strong women characters. There are no victims and I love that the two women fight each other.” He’s replaced a lot of the pantomime – and there was a lot – with dancing and added more dancing for the men. “It’s all dance, less mime,” Welch said. Artistic Director Ashley Wheater agrees. “It’s real dancing people, not cardboard cut outs.” Wheater is excited to have his dancers perform such a staple. “It’s strictly classical,” he said. “It’s hard…a kind of a show-us-everything-you’ve learned.”

Joffrey Ballet presents La Bayadère: The Temple Dancer at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Pkwy., Wednesday, Oct. 16 – Sunday, Oct. 27. Performance times vary. Tickets are $31-$152; call 800.982.2787 or online at ticket master.com. 

*La Bayadère is the last time RB will be covering Joffrey for the blog. At the end of the month, I’m joining the Joffrey Marketing Team full-time. You can follow my coverage of them, in an official capacity, on their website, JPointe blog and on social media.

Hubbard Street Premieres Fluence (preview)

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in Robyn Mineko Williams' "Fluence". Photo by Quinn B Wharton.

This Thursday, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago presents its Fall Series at the Harris Theater. Opening this Thursday and running through Sunday, the program features two returning works from master choreographers Mats Ek and Ohad Naharin, plus the world premiere of Alejandro Cerrudo’s Cloudless and the Chicago premiere of Robyn Mineko Williams’ new work Fluence, which premiered last month in Minneapolis, MN.

Williams received the news in August that she is the recent recipient of the 2013-2014 Princess Grace Choreography Fellowship Award. “It’s bonkers,” she said. “I’m still shocked about it, but I’m really excited.” The grant money that goes with the award went to fund this new work for nine dancers. As a former Hubbard Street dancer, she knows the dancers well and set to work putting together a creative team. Robert (Robbie) F. Haynes composed an original score, Burke Brown provided his expertise in lighting and fashion designer Hogan McLaughlin created intricate costumes. “My creative team has been so awesome,” said Williams. “They’re all so open to anything I have to say and they’re geniuses on their own. They’re cool, laid back people. I think that’s why I stayed so calm throughout the process.”

According to Williams, the definition of fluence “is a stream of particles crossing a unit area, usually express as the number of particles per second”. Another definition references magical/mystical influence. “I thought both were apropos for the work,” she said. She was inspired by the ideas of individualism and solitude and the creative team took off from that. “We’re still learning how we collaborate,” said Williams. “We’re kind of going from our guts. It’s instinctual.”

The fact that her work is being presented along with choreographers like Ek and Naharin, not to mention her colleague Cerrudo, could make a girl nervous, but she is only grateful. “It’s cool. I feel really lucky to have this opportunity. If I’m doing anything, I’m just trying to be myself.”

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s Fall Series at the Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph St., Thursday-Sunday, Oct 10-13. Performance times vary. Tickets are $25-$99; call 312.850.9744 or visit hubbardstreetdance.com/fall.

 

Ballet West Comes To Chicago (preview)

Ballet West in "Sleeping Beauty". Photo by Luke Isley.

You may have heard of Ballet West. Their artistic director Adam Sklute danced and was on the artistic staff of the Joffrey Ballet. In fact, you likely saw him dance “Herr Drosselmeyer” in The Nutcracker with flair and finesse a time or two. You may have seen them perform at the Chicago Dancing Festival once or twice, but aside from the fest, they haven’t toured in Chicago for over 20 years. Oh, the company also stars on the CW series Breaking Pointe, a reality show that follows the inner workings and lives of professional ballet dancers. If you’ve seen it, you’re obsessed. If you haven’t, you should. Aside from the glitz and glam of t.v. stardom, Ballet West begins their 50th anniversary season – a big deal – on tour. First stop: Chicago.

This weekend at the Auditorium Theatre, Ballet West brings two shows to town and they couldn’t be more different. Friday and Saturday, Oct. 4-5 they perform Sklute’s “reconceived” Sleeping Beauty and on Sunday, Oct. 6, they perform a repertory program that includes Val Caniparoli’s The Lottery based on the short story by Shirley Jackson. “Both programs show off the versatility of my dancers and the diversity of our repertoire,” Sklute said. “I hope that Chicago enjoys it. It’s an important engagement for us. We’re very honored and proud to come.”

Sklute, who recently married his partner of 20 years (yay!), spoke candidly over the phone about the tour, the anniversary, coming back to Chicago and, of course, Breaking Pointe. (Disclosure: Adam and I have known each other since we both worked on staff at Joffrey “x” number of years ago.)

What does it mean to you to come back to Chicago with your own company and perform on your former home stage at the Auditorium?

This is a very, very personal experience for me. For so many years I was at the Joffrey and the Auditorium was my home theater. To be going to Chicago and performing with my company for so many people that I’ve known and loved for so many years is an intense experience. I started thinking at Dance For Life…Oh my God, we’re going to be here. Ballet West is going to be here. I won’t deny that’s it’s a little overwhelming. The feelings are so big. I’m really proud of Ballet West right now. I’m really excited for my company to be seen now, because we’re very different from the great Chicago companies and a lot of the companies that have toured to Chicago, so we’re ready to bring something unique, which is exciting for me.

I can’t remember the last time anybody did Sleeping Beauty here.

That was totally a request of Brett Batterson [Executive Director of the Auditorium Theatre]. When we first started talking, he thought that was perfect. I won’t deny that ‘Sleeping Beauty’ is a little nervewracking for me. Almost more than the rep show, ‘Sleeping Beauty’ is the one that’s freaking me out. There’s such a standard to it. It requires absolute classical purity. While I’m proud of our dancers, there’s the weight of history on our shoulders. Chicago saw Margot Fonteyn dance the role of Aurora, for gosh sakes. This is my production of ‘Sleeping Beauty’. I’ve reconceived it and restaged it with the choreography of the late Mark Goldweber. In a way, it’s also my tribute to Mark, because Mark was such a part of our team that worked under Jerry Arpino when Joffrey was redefining itself in Chicago, so I love that I can bring something that shows Mark’s work. He did a lot with the children in this production and I love that we’re using so many local children to show off the ensemble. All in all, it’s pretty intense and wonderful.

What did you change in Sleeping Beauty?

I edited it down. We’re in a different era now, a different age and people have different attention spans. I tried to honor the story, honor the choreography of Petipa, the concept and Tchaikovsky’s music, but make it more palatable for a 21st century audience. I did a lot to bring out the drama in different ways, to make it an allegory. It’s not something unique, but the way I did it, I think, is unique. The fairies are now the fairy of joy, happiness, beauty, temperament and kindness, wisdom and ‘Carabosse’, the evil fairy, becomes the fairy of jealousy. The princes, the suitors in the Rose Adage are the Princes of the North, South, East and West. The Prince that’s known as ‘Florimund’ is now ‘Prince Desire’. She’s awakened by the kiss of desire at the age of 16, or 116 as the case may be. We tightened up the action. Things to sort of make it move along.

Tell me about the rep show.

I’m really excited about. I think that the company looks smashing. We have the world premiere of ‘Pas de Quatre’ by my resident choreographer Nicolo Fonte and the pas from ‘Diamonds’. ‘The Lottery’, based on Shirley Jackson’s short story. It’s a really intense story. The person that gets killed dances a really long, complicated solo and it’s a cast of 14, so everyone in the cast has to be ready to go for any given night. They don’t know if they will have to dance the long, hard solo at the end of the night or not. It’s pretty incredible. When people are picking their “ticket”, the audience can see it. The tension is palable. It’s not just dramatic tension. They are literally wondering if they have to do it. It adds to the drama of the moment. It’s not predetermined. It happens right there on stage. The way Val has done it is so expert. Val always told us the story is kind of like “The Rite of Spring” meets “Leave it to Beaver”. In a way, it’s also our own homage to the 100th anniversary of “Rite”. [Sklute was part of Joffrey's 1987 reconstruction of Le Sacre du Printemps/The Rite of Spring.]

Let’s talk Breaking Pointe. I think it’s brilliant that you said yes to it. I’m sure people are wondering what you’re doing, but I think it brought your profile up and made fans around the world. Do you still think it was a good idea? How hard is it to cameras everywhere all the time?

 Thank you for saying that. We took a big chance. I wasn’t going to do it if the dancers said no. We all agreed to do it as a group, not only for Ballet West, but what we thought was for ballet. We’re not doing this show for the thousands of people that know and love ballet. We’re doing this show for the millions of people that know nothing about ballet. Is it necessarily about the art? No, but it is about dancers and dancers’ lives. I’ve heard so many things from positive to negative, but what I love is that we’re giving a face to what dancers’ lives are like and what they go through to people that would never know. I’m really pleased that we did it. Was it hard? It was so freakin’ hard. I can’t tell you how awful it was to have cameras in our faces practically 24/7. Dancers would have cameras coming to their houses after rehearsals. It was so hard, but we think still that it was worth it. Was everything exactly as we wanted it? No. I would’ve loved more dance. It is what it is. For all those people saying “why isn’t there more dance?” “Why are you using cheesy music over it”? People don’t realize that reality shows are done on a shoestring budget. The Prokofiev Estate, for ‘Cinderella’, is one of the most expensive to get. A lot of times the producers couldn’t afford to buy that much music. Plus on top of that, to use the actual choreography for clips more than a certain amount of seconds, they had to negotiate and pay for the Ashton choreography to be seen. I can deal with whatever the fallout is as long as the dancers look good in rehearsals and class and performances, I was fine. Even if the clips are short or of personal lives or partying or one too many body shots…whatever it is, Seriously! Really people, you had to do that on camera?

You forget that some of them are just 21-years-old.

Right? Vicki, I maintain we were worse when we were that age. We didn’t talk about it. We didn’t know what planet we were on, but by morning we were in class. If these people say you can go into their personal lives, then you can go there. I try to stay out of my dancer’s personal lives. Can I just tell ya, the real drama that was going on in our company during that time…well, the drama on t.v. pales in comparison to what was really happening. What you see on t.v. is 100% real, but there were things going on that were way more scandalous. 

Will there be a Season 3?

I have no idea. I’m not 100% sure I want to do a Season 3. This was so exhausting and intense, but on the other hand, if they came to us, we probably would.

Have you noticed an uptick in ticket sales since the show? 

We have. The biggest thing has been what we call the “institutional marketing” part of the company. Ticket sales have seen a bump, but really it’s not about that as much as it’s about our name recognition and about the face we’re giving to ballet in general. Certainly on t.v. the Nielson ratings haven’t been very good for the show. Season 1 wasn’t either. But we’re finding out that we’re the CW Channel’s top trending social media show and the top show for online rerun viewing. That matters for something. Every single night our episodes run, we’re in the top ten tv shows during that time period. Obviously something is right.

I have to mention your scarves. Everyone on Twitter is obsessed with you wearing scarves. They’ve even suggested you create your own line.

That’s hilarious. Everyone is saying “you’re totally doing the Mr. Arpino thing”. I had a terrible cold during the entire filming process. The entire ten weeks they were with us I couldn’t shake this cold. I was always cold. I always had the sniffles. I was always wearing one scarf after another. I found out later that was trending.

Ballet West performs at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Pkwy., Friday-Sunday, Oct. 4-6. Performance times vary. Tickets are $30-$90; call 800.982.2787 or visit the Auditorium Box Office or buy online at auditoriumtheatre.org.

 

 

 

 

Aspen Santa Fe Ballet Comes Back to Chitown

Aspen Santa Fe Ballet dancers in Alejandro Cerrudo's "Last". Photo by Sharen Bradford.

Aspen Santa Fe Ballet (ASFB) has been busy. Earlier this year, their touring schedule took them to Moscow, Saratoga Springs, CA. and Wolf Trap. The current season, which began on Sept. 1, has already taken them to Laguna Beach, Portland, Oregon and San Diego. The tour finishes this Saturday, Oct. 5 in Chicago at the Harris Theater. Former Joffrey Ballet dancer Tom Mossbrucker brings his company back to town with a mixed repertory program featuring three contemporary choreographers.

“We’re really excited about the program we’re doing in Chicago because it’s all commissioned work,” said Mossbrucker. “It’s become one of our hallmarks, developing relationships with the choreographers instead of just seeing them one time and then never seeing them again. You develop a trust and it shows in the work. This program really highlights that.” Over Glow, “an upbeat piece that shows off the classicism of the dancers”, is the fourth work by Jorma Elo for the company. Set to Mendelssohn and Beethoven, it features an 11-minute adagio in the middle section with intimate moments that contradict Elo’s usual quick, jerky style. “It’s one of my favorite pieces in the repertory,” Mossbrucker said. “I just love it.”

The company is also working with Spanish choreographer Aayetano Soto for the fourth time. Beautiful Mistake, inspired by “the mistakes we make in our lives that sometimes turn out to be good things”, is his second commission for ASFB. His work Uneven appeared in Chicago at the Chicago Dancing Festival in 2011. “It really shows off that hard-edged side of the dancers,” Mossbrucker said. “His super-physical partnering and the articulation of that makes the dancers look like technical athletes, but with the classical lines still there.” This new work premiered in Aspen earlier this year.

The third work on the program (and the one I’m most excited about) is by Hubbard Street Dance Chicago‘s resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo. Mossbrucker, who has seen and presented Cerrudo’s work many times over the last few years, is a big fan. Having danced with Hubbard Street director Glenn Edgerton at Joffrey, he asked his longtime friend if he could “borrow” his choreographer. “He [Cerrudo] has such an intuitive way of knowing what would strike an audience and how many times to introduce it, how to refer to it and to develop off of it,” said Mossbrucker. “There is always something…an image you remember when you leave the theater.” Having such a packed touring schedule meant that they would be traveling with bare bones, so there won’t be any elaborate sets or dramatic theatrics in this work this time – “just pure Alejandro”. This is also the first time Chicago has seen Cerrudo’s work presented on a company outside of Hubbard Street. “I was in the studio watching him create,” Mossbrucker said, “and there was one of those moments where I said, ‘There it is. That’s what I’ve been waiting for’.”

Aspen Santa Fe Ballet at the Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph St., Saturday, Oct. 5 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $25-$75; call 312.334.7777 or visit harristheaterchicago.org.

 

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.

SHINE: Dance Doc to premiere on WTTW

Photo by Kai Harding.

This Sunday September 8, go from behind the scenes to on stage with Thodos Dance Chicago (TDC). Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Christopher Kai Olsen of Kai/Harding followed the company as they prepared for the world premiere of a new story ballet earlier this year. Partners in crime TDC artistic director Melissa Thodos and Broadway legend Ann Reinking teamed up once again to create an original work set in historical fact. This time, the two decided to tell the story of Anne Sullivan and Helen Keller’s unique relationship through dance.

When A Light in the Dark* premiered in March 2013 at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts in Skokie, Olsen was there to document the premiere in delicious HD detail. With his keen editing eye, he also filmed the creative process and put together an impressive dance documentary with behind-the-scenes rehearsal footage as well as one-on-one interviews with Reinking, Thodos and TDC lead dancers. The prelude of Shine – Making “A Light in the Dark debuts on Chicago’s PBS station WTTW this Sunday at 1:30 pm with A Light in the Dark showcasing the final production and performance immediately following at 2:00 pm.

I got to preview both films (so I can not feel guilty if I flip back and forth between the Bears game – Go Bears!) and the footage and editing is quite remarkable. I sat in on the interviews and rehearsals, but the way they come together in the film, incorporating Bruce Wolosoff’s original score and perfectly dropped quotes, takes it to another level. Watching what the dancers are creators go through to make the show and then to watch the entire performance makes it more believable and will make for a very entertaining afternoon of television.

“Shine” debuts Sunday, September 8 at 1:30 pm on WTTW followed by “A Light in the Dark” at 2:00 pm CST. 

*You can see A Light in the Dark live in Thodos Dance Chicago’s 2014 Winter Concert February 22, 2014 at the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts and on March 8 and 9 at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance. Visit thodosdancechicago.org for more information.