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. 

 

Hubbard Street Does It Again

Hubbard Street dancer Meredith Dincolo in "Fluence". Photo by Quinn B Wharton.

I realize it’s redundant for me to exclaim how spectacular Hubbard Street Dance Chicago is, but…well, they are. Last night’s opening night performance of the Fall Series at the Harris Theater was standard in its phenomenal performers and thoroughly entertaining choreography, but with a few surprises. Works from master choreographers Mats Ek and Ohad Naharin, plus a new work from Princess Grace Award winner (and former Hubbard Street dancer) Robyn Mineko Williams and a world premiere duet by resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo showcased the company’s talents from top to bottom.

The first surprise was the emergence of Williams as a thoughtful choreographer that can hold her own with the best of them. Not a shock since we’ve seen her work before, but Fluence was the first time she and her handpicked creative team put it all on stage in a longer, cohesive piece. Quirky chaotic moves turn into a slow duet. A group twitches alongside a lone dancer in his own world.  And then came the bubbles. Yes, bubbles. The delicate spheres came raining down creating a serene, space-like atmosphere. A sole column filled with smoke disintegrated in a puff above dancer Meredith Dincolo, whose solo ended the work with a horizontal disjointed backstroke.

Hubbard Street never lacks for stunning duets in their works, but Surprise #2 is, this time, the couples are female. Emilie Leriche and Alice Klock connect effortlessly in Fluence and Ana Lopez and Jacqueline Burnett in Cerrudo’s Cloudless proved a perfect pairing for his intimate choreography. Cerrudo’s newest work, his 12th for the company, features a dark (obviously) stage, stripped bare with two industrial chandeliers highlighting the dancers. Although we may have seen some of his deft duet designs before, they look completely different (dare I say, even more intimate) set on two women.

The rest of the performance was – no surprises here – stellar dancing of audience favorites Passomezzo (Naharin) and Casi-Casa (Ek). Naharin’s romantic, human duet was at times rough, sweet, funny and endearing with some really difficult, knee-killing dancing by Kellie Epperheimer and Johnny McMillan. The company danced Ek’s work for the first time last season and they have really settled into the piece. Comfortable and at ease, they breezed through the extreme choreography with style and aplomb. Here, the men shined. Quinn B (“Legs”) Wharton opened with a smart, sassy take on the “TV Man” solo and the trio of McMillan, David Schultz and Jesse Bechard gets better and more poignant with each viewing.

Shout out to costume designer Hogan McLaughlin for his futuristic take on leotards in Fluence and a hearty BRAVO to lighting and tech director Matt Miller.

Hubbard Street’s Fall Series runs through Sunday, Oct. 13 at the Harris Theater. Tickets are $25-$99; call 312.850.9744 or visit hubbardstreetdance.com.

 

Susan Marshall & Co open Dance Center’s 40th season

Susan Marshall & Co. in "Play/Pause".

Last weekend open the 40th season at the Dance Center of Columbia College. Mayor Emanuel declared Friday, September 20 Dance Center of Columbia College Day by Mayoral Proclamation. Susan Marshall & Company opened the season with the world premiere of Play/Pause.

With six different and distinct dancers from the two petite women (one blonde, one brunette) to the tall, blonde gentleman with neo A Flock of Seagulls haircut, the piece seemed a hodge-podge of variety pulled from the 80s. One dancers sported just one sparkly sock as perhaps a nod to the King of Pop. The live onstage band played LOUD throwback rock music intermittently, the dancers and musicians teasing each other with a start/stop format indicated by the work’s title. The sound scape, which included pounding and running the mic over figurations of duct tape or on the plexiglass or wood, adding in the dancers’ voices or the ripping of the tape as a avant garde soundtrack, proved more interesting than the movement that was steeped with commonplace gestures.

There were some really interesting images created throughout the hour-long work like a man trying to keep his face lit in the plexiglass frame as a woman lowers it to the floor and back up again. A female duet of one count gestures, while intriguing at the start, went on too long.  A recurring step-touch, step-touch baseline for the dancers seemed to by pulled from a junior high dance or bar mitzvah, but would then turn into a lovely break-out solo or touching duet. Basically, it was uneven and I thought the props warranted more of my attention than the dancing, which is too bad. Interesting concepts, but perhaps fleshing out the movement sections more will make it more cohesive.

I felt like I was trapped in an Talking Heads video directed by David Lynch. It was at times cheesy, bizarre, beautiful, bright, funny and sad. The cast lined up at the front of the stage breathing heavily onto the plexiglass frames was a wonderful way to end, but by then, aided with a raging headache, I was ready for it to be over.

 

 

CDF13 Celebration of Dance

Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Theater in "Bolero". Photo by Cheryl Mann.

It was a celebration. A celebration of dance. A celebration of the end of an all-free, world-class dance festival. A celebration of the city we love. Last Saturday night, thousands gathered – including Mayor Emanuel – at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park to enjoy a perfect evening under the stars surrounded by the Chicago skyline for the final night of the 2013 Chicago Dancing Festival (CDF). Dancers representing 13 different companies treated lucky ticket holders to an array of dance styles over the five day festival culminating in this star-studded performance in the heart of downtown.

The celebration began with a CDF commissioned work by Chicago artists Lane Alexander and Bril Barrett for the Chicago Human Rhythm Project, which premiered earlier in the week. In the beginning… created an entire world including soundscape, conversation and relationships with rhythm and footwork. The Joffrey Ballet followed with Jerome Robbins’ 1945 work Interplay. This perky ballet that predates his acclaimed West Side Story is a fiendishly difficult, but fun romp incorporating bright colors, pony tails, big smiles, lots of pirouettes, double tours and even cartwheels. Much to the crowd’s delight, Giordano Dance Chicago‘s Maeghan McHale and Martin Ortiz Tapia brought back a 2012 CDF commission and audience favorite with Alex Ekman’s rubber-faced, romantic comedy piece Two Become Three.

Philadanco in "Wake Up". Photo by Cheryl Mann.

In their CDF debut, Philadelphia-based Philadanco brought a long, meandering work by Rennie Harris. The dancers clad in Soul Train-era, 70s costumes (love the afros!) blend street, jazz and hip hop in an aerobic mix of stylish funk. The dancers were strong in Wake Up (2012), but I wanted to see them do more. Tamako Miyazaki (Columbia Classical Ballet) and Brooklyn Mack (Washington Ballet) once again dazzled in the classical Diana and Actaeon pas de deux (1935). They performed this trick fest earlier in the week, but were even more solid with their dizzying turns and gravity-defying leaps (and some impressive balances en pointe, penché anyone?) than their stellar performance on Tuesday night. “Standing O” in the park. Samuel Lee Roberts of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre reprised the intense, dramatic solo In/Side (2008) he had performed on Wednesday and twice on Friday. Roberts danced his heart out on the stage on Saturday, but with a good amount of the choreography performed on the floor, I wonder if it read as well for the people on the lawn viewing the performance mainly via video feed provided by HMS Media on a huge jumbo tron screen. I hope it did, because it was fantastic. The evening ended with Ensemble Español‘s epic Bolero. This flamenco feast for the eyes looked great on the outdoor stage and was the perfect way to end the performance and the festival.

CDF13: Dancing in Chicago

Lar Lubovitch Dance Company in "Transparent Things". Photo by Rose Eichenbaum.

A crowd of 2,200 people came to the Auditorium Theatre Thursday night for another free performance in the Chicago Dancing Festival (CDF). If you were not one of those people, I’m truly sorry. Dancing in Chicago, featuring all-Chicago companies plus CDF co-founder and Chicago native Lar Lubonitch’s New York-based troupe, was one of the best nights of dance I’ve seen – and I’ve seen A LOT of really good dance. From flamenco to a flirty pas de deux, Picasso to vacuum cleaners, the evening had it all.

I’ve never heard or said the word amazing so much in one night. In fact, that word is still swirling in my head as I think about the performance, but is it accurate? Let’s see. Dictionary.com defines the word amazing as “causing great surprise or sudden wonder” -yep. Or “to astonish greatly” – check. Synonyms include: “astound, dumfound, stun, flabbergast” – ditto.

Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Theater started the show with their stunning full-company Bolero (1993). Set to Ravel’s 17-minute masterpiece of the same title, this epic work by artistic director Dame Libby Komaiko gradually fills the stage with red dresses, shawls, fans, tradition and passion. I’ve taken class from Dame Libby and while the flamenco movements seem simple, I assure you they are more difficult than they look. I could’ve done without the large Picasso projections across the backdrop. They were distracting and took attention away from the dancing. Bolero also closes the Celebration of Dance performance tonight at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park.

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago astounded in two excerpts from Master Choreographer Mats Ek’s Casi Casa (2009). A brief cameo by the “hat man” (Quinn Wharton) lead to a moving male trio danced by Jesse Bechard, Johnny McMillan and David Schultz. Next the ladies danced a demented jig with vacuum cleaners and delighted the audience with their despair for the household chore. (You can see Casi this October in their Fall Series at the Harris Theatre.) Act One ended with Balanchine’s perky Tarantella pas (1964) danced by Joffrey Ballet dancers Anastacia Holden and John Mark Giragosian. This dynamic duo had the audience dumbfounded with their speedy turns and grand jumps. Holden lights up the theater with her smile, while Giragosian played the sassy pirate.

Lar Lubovitch Dance Company opened Act Two with Transparent Things accompanied on stage by the lovely Bryant Park Quartet.  Lead by the joyful, jester-like Attila Joey Csiki, this wondrous work by Lubovitch was inspired by Picasso’s Saltimbanques painting depicting a group of street performers. The ebb and flow and circular structure of Lubovitch’s movement that I love was on full display here. The four-section piece, although based in modern technique, read like a story ballet. The third section ended with the performers “falling asleep” amid the musicians creating a terrific tableau with Csiki’s head resting on the cello.

Closing the show was a truly inspired pairing of the Joffrey Ballet with contemporary Swedish choreographer Alex Ekman. Thanks Lar! (This CDF commission will also appear in Joffrey’s Contemporary Choreographers program at the Auditorium next February.) Joffrey went way outside their comfort zone in Episode 31 and to say it paid off is a huge understatement. The dancers really went for it and they blew the roof off (or, at least, the walls). This astonishing undertaking had dancers decked out in rad Eurpoean-style school uniforms and incorporated ballet, tap, modern, yelling, coughing, flopping, a video intro and a hodgepodge of props thrown in for good measure. At one point, the side walls or “Reducing Panels” of the proscenium flew out (Flabbergasted!), creating an even larger deconstructed set for the dancers to play on. And they had a blast. A strong, if long, duet by Derrick Agnoletti and Aaron Rogers held focus in the middle as white-faced dancers looked on. A lone dancer (Dylan Gutierrez) opens and closes the piece by turning on and then off a light bulb set downstage left.  Throughout the work, he slowly walks one loop around the stage watching the events unfold. I’m sure it was tough to not participate in the craziness happening on stage, but the work wouldn’t have been the same without that character. The reaction from the audience was incredible with the ovation overflowing into the lobby. It was an incredible way to finish off another great night of dance. Bravo!

The entire evening was, in a word, amazing.

CDF13: Solitaire – A Game of Dance (gala)

Alvin Ailey dancer Samuel Lee Roberts in "IN/SIDE". Photo by Paul Kolnik.

Last night the Chicago Dancing Festival (CDF) hosted a benefit gala at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) and premiered the Solitaire – A Game of Dance performance that will be repeated this Friday at 6 and 8 pm. Guests mingled in the lobby with wine and passed hors d’oeuvres while perusing silent auction items. MCA Director of Performance Programs Peter Taub introduced CDF co-founders Jay Franke (in the cutest shorts suit!) and Lar Lubovitch, who in turn introduced our favorite local dance fan, Mayor Rahm Emanuel. After telling the dancers backstage to “break a leg” (Eek!), he proceeded to boast about “the largest free dance fest anywhere in the country”. He brought his family along including his parents who were celebrating their 58th wedding anniversary (aww). He talked about the 750 free events that have taken place in Chicago this summer and said that next year the hope is to take CDF around the city and “break out to all the neighborhoods”.

Franke graciously thanked everyone that helped to make CDF13 possible and Lubovitch, a man as eloquent with words as he is with choreography, gave us a history of the game solitaire (“the game of patience”) and a brief essay on how hard it is dancing and creating a solo. But he promised the performance would show just “how vast and varied the art of dancing alone is”. The show indeed did just that. A hand of cards projected on the back wall served as program notes and transitions. Before each solo a card was flipped with the picture and name of the artist about to perform.

First, the exquisite Victoria Jaiani of the Joffrey Ballet danced a breathtaking and heart-wrenching (yes, I cried) Dying Swan variation from 1905. She seemed to float across the stage in her entrance. From her delicate death, we jump to the dramatic, super strong solo In/Side (2008) performed by Alvin Ailey Dance Theatre‘s Samuel Lee Roberts. His sheer physicality was expertly matched by Robert Battle’s intense choreography. Ensemble Español‘s Julia Hinojosa danced a beautiful ode to Cuba in this flirtatious, percussive solo complete with a gorgeous long ruffled skirt and a large white fan. Ensueños de mi Caribe (2012), inspired by the city of Havana, showcases the traditions of flamenco. The petite Camille A. Brown commanded the stage in a powerful, puppet-like excerpt from her 2012 work Mr. Tol E. RAncE celebrating black performers and challenging stereotypes.

Natya Dance Theatre dancer Krithika Rajagopalan. Photo by Amitava Sarkar.

Things lightened up as Hubbard Street Dance Chicago dancers Johnny McMillan, David Schultz and Jonathan Fredrickson took the stage in Alejandro Cerrudo’s charming PACOPEPEPLUTO (2011), a fun, technically challenging and “cheeky” trio of solos set to Dean Martin songs. Krithika Rajagopalan of Natya Dance Theatre, wearing a stunning orange and red sari, was a study of intricate detail and expression in Sthithihi – In the Stillness (2013). The placement of each finger or the raising of an eyebrow telling an entire story. The performance went from stillness to the extreme with Brian Brooks’ frenetic 2007 solo I’m Going to Explode. Towards the end of the solo, he spirals down onto his knees leaving one arm extended up to the ceiling reminding me of the swan dying at the beginning of the show.

The evening ended with guests gathering in the upstairs galleries for drinks, dinner, dancing and a live auction. Once again, CDF did what it does best, which is bring a wide range of dance forms together on one stage performed by some of the best dancers around. You may not enjoy every style of dance you see here, but you can’t deny the talent, commitment and artistry involved.

CDF13: The Harris at 10! Anniversary Special

Tamako Miyazaki and Brooklyn Mack in "Diana and Actaeon pas". Photo by Sarah Weymar.

Opening night of the 7th annual Chicago Dancing Festival (CDF13) was in honor of the Harris Theatre‘s 10th anniversary – and what a celebration it was. A packed house was treated to a star-studded, eclectic evening of beautiful dancing. It is an amazing thing watching local audiences witness for FREE what I am humbly privileged to see all the time as a dance writer and from the reaction (thunderous applause, mini standing ovations and, what I can only call, whooping), they enjoyed it as much as I did.

Pieces are announced by a Let’s-get-ready-to-ruuuuuuuumble! voice over giving pertinent details of the upcoming work. The show started off with a bang – or stomp – with a CDF13 commissioned work by local artists Lane Alexander and Bril Barrett. Chicago Human Rhythm Project busted out some crazy mad beats in a showcase of a groovy, partially improvised master tap class. Shout out to the ladies Donnetta Jackson and Starinah (“Star”, yes she is) Dixon. The flaptastic opening was followed by Hubbard Street Dance Chicago performing Little Mortal Jump (2012) by their resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo. (If you’ve ever read my blog, you know I’m a huge fan of AC.) This fun, theatrical work never ceases to impress. Retirements and injuries updated the original casting and added new, interesting timing and phrasing choices. The slow-motion duet near the end by Ana Lopez and Jesse Bechard always gives me goosebumps. A woman sitting near me started a chorus of “Bravos”, while a number of people jumped to their feet with enthusiasm.

Washington Ballet dancer Brooklyn Mack and Tamako Miyazaki of the Columbia Classical Ballet and Dortmund Ballet stunned in the Diana and Actaeon pas de deux. I wasn’t familiar with this pas based on a greek myth where a goddess turns a man into a deer like a 1935 balletic version of Beauty and the Beast. The casting of Miyazaki (tiny, pale and petite) and Mack (tall, dark and massive) was perfect. Both were exceptional dancers showing off technical tricks in a classic forum. While Miyazaki breezed across the floor with fleet footwork, Mack defied gravity with amazing jumps. Those jumps!** A friend said it was a switch leap, jete coupe with a 520…huh? I still can’t quite figure out what that is, but WOW! And he did it more than once. Not to be outdone, Miyazaki more than held her own with beautiful extensions, pristine pointe work and top-like turns. Her fouette run in the coda with a double every other turn and a lightly landed triple to finish was only topped by the supported turns with Mack that were so fast, furious and frequent that I lost count. (Yes, I do count them). Get thee to the Pritzker Pavillion in Millennium Park to see this for yourself on Saturday at 7:30 pm. What a way to end Act I.

The only work that seemed to leave the audience perplexed was festival co-founder Lar Lubovitch‘s Crisis Variations (2011), which was likely from a lack of exposure to this style. Set to a musical suite of the same title, and played by the amazing Le Train Bleu, Crisis was difficult and dischordant from the start. The swooping, circular flow that I love about his choreography was absent here, likely on purpose, but I missed it. The dancers of his company began in formations on the floor and for most of the dance, the majority stayed on the floor as if grounded by a magnet or unbearable burden. A couple performed a dependent and (again) difficult duet, climbing and resting on top of one another as if struggling and helping each other at the same time. Perhaps that was the point. Something can come out of a crisis that is unique, strong and loving, but not necessarily pretty.

Brian Brooks in "I'm Going to Explode". Photo by Christopher Duggan.

New York-based artist Brian Brooks followed with a quirky solo I’m Going to Explode (2007). Beginning in a chair on stage left, the suited and ready for work Brooks took off his shoes and jacket, walked to the other side of the stage and started swishing his arms from front to back, then side to side. The movement became more frenetic as if he indeed was going to explode. He looked like a human washing room, but with the cycle going backwards. He started off crisp and dry and ended soaked and disheveled. As he made his way back to the chair, the audience couldn’t wait for him to put his shoes back on before starting to clap. Rounding out the show was a balls-to-the-walls performance of Stanton Welch’s Son of Chamber Symphony by the Joffrey Ballet. This work, created for them last season, demonstrated the opposite end of the classical ballet spectrum. With inside-out tutus, impeccable, off-kilter technique to a contemporary score, Son is almost a ballet inverted. My notes are basically a list of the cast as every dancer brought their ‘A’ game and then some.

It was a spectacular night of dance to open the festival. It makes me proud to be a Chicagoan. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

**UPDATE: I sat next to Brooklyn Mack at CDF’s Dancing in Chicago show last night (08/22/13). He told me the jumps are a twist on a 540, not 520 as I originally reported. Here is a video of a Le Corsaire pas. The male dancer does two 540s at the beginning, so you can see the base of Mack’s incredible jump.

Thodos New Dances 2013

Brian Hare and Jessica Miller-Tomlinson in Panem nostrum quoditianum, choreographed by New Dances 2013 guest choreographer Ahmad Simmons. Photo credit: ©Cheryl Mann

For 13 years, Thodos Dance Chicago (TDC), once a year, lets the dancers become the boss. New Dances showcases TDC dancers’ voices by giving them the chance to cast, choreograph, design, manage and create. With a panel of experts from the Chicago dance field offering impressions and advice, New Dances 2013 turned out nine new premieres in a range of styles, lengths and talents.

As with any all, in-house choreographic show, there were hits and misses. The only way to learn is to try and see if it works. Kudos to the dancer/choreographers for putting their voices on the stage with audible rain storms, prayer, a sandbox and even cartwheels.

Stand out pieces, for me, were Relativity by Carrie Patterson and Alissa Tollefson (short and sweet, good dancing), Sudden Throws by Cara Carper Balcer and Brian Hare (great difficult dancing), Weights of Being by Ray Doñes and Jon Sloven (nice, smooth partnering) and guest choreographer Ahmad Simmons’ Panem Nostrum Quoditianum (strong, cohesive work incorporating all stage elements – dance, costumes, lighting, sound with stellar dancing). Dancer shout outs to Brian Hare, Ricky Ruiz, Jessica Miller Tomlinson, Annie Deutz, Joshua Manculich,Carrie Patterson, Jon Sloven and Rebecca McLindon! Plus major props to lighting designer Jacob Snodgrass and sound designer Johnnie Nevin.

There is one more performance left – today at 5 pm. Check it out! You’ll get a little taste of everything and will definitely be entertained.

Thodos Dance Chicago presents New Dances 2013, Sunday, July 21 at 5 pm at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn. Tickets are still available ($10-$38) at the theater box office.

Hubbard Street’s danc(e)volve 2013: Review

Hubbard Street 2 dancers Emilie Leriche and Felicia McBride.
Hubbard St 2 dancers Brandon Lee Alley and Emilie Leriche.
Hubbard St dancers Quinn B Wharton and Jessica Tong.
Hubbard St dancers Jonny McMillian and Jesse Bechard.
Hubbard St dancers Alice Klock and Jonny McMillan.
HS 2 dancers Richard Walters and Lissa Smith.
Hubbard St dancers Garrett Anderson and Alice Klock.

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago is known for taking choreographic risks. From bringing top European choreographers like Mats Ek to the Chicago stage to commissioning works from emerging artists to cultivating in-house talent with danc(e)volve: New Works Festival 2013. Some risks are bigger than others. Some pay off, while some get chalked up to a learning experience. This “risk” showcased in the two-week run of performances at the MCA Stage, pays off big time. Usually, there is one piece that sticks with you, one that stands out – a favorite. Not here, all six new works are sharp, unique and satisfying.

The choreographers range from the more experienced – HS2 director Terence Marling, former Hubbard Street dancer Robyn Mineko Williams and soon-to-depart, new Mom Penny Saunders to the younger, just-starting-out HS2′s Andrew Wright. Wright proves he has a bright future as a choreographer opening the show with Agape. Utilizing his fellow HS2-ers, he goes from a twitchy opening female solo with dancers running and reaching for something unattainable to a freeing second section where the dancers run in abandon with their arms and heads flung back. The second company commands the stage in this opening piece, especially Emile Leriche, who will join the main company this fall. She’s strong, subtle and stunning. When she’s on stage, you simply can’t take your eyes off her. At times, she seems to dissipate like a puff of smoke.

With a packed touring schedule, we rarely get to see HS2 perform alongside the main company. It was nice to see the younger dancers mixed in with the more seasoned dancers. Marling’s ditto, a trio with HS2′s Leriche and Brandon Lee Alley dancing with Ana Lopez, blurred the lines between first and second company. Alley showed considerable skill partnering the always stunning Lopez. Saunders’ Adalea featuring six dancers from the main company had some fun with chairs, ending with a tumbling, tossing, physical duet with Jesse Bechard and Johnny McMillan. As a lovely extra, at the end of the first act, a video made by the dancers of their trip with DanceMotion USA was shown giving us a glimpse into some of the adventures they had while in North Africa and Spain. Pictures and video from the trip with voice over from the dancers reveal an inspiring once-in-a-lifetime adventure.

Jonathan Fredrickson’s Límon-esque For the Wandered was a meditation in white for five dancers incorporating text via hidden microphones inside movable starched white mounds of material. Most of the new works were somber, focusing on the complex construction and the dancing, but Marling’s stop…stop…stop. was a lighter, humorous romp set to a mambo with the dancer’s voices remixed on top like an audio thought bubble. HS2′s Lissa Smith and Richard Walters were perfect as a shy, awkward potential couple manipulated by the dashing Quinn B Wharton as a mentor/matchmaker. Wharton’s intermittent sly solos a fun, quirky interlude to the actions of the couple. Mineko William’s Grey Horses closed the show with the black brick back wall exposed creating a darker, starker stage.  Again mixing dancers from both companies (props to Leriche – again – and Walters!), she used the stark setting to create another dance of shadows across the back wall with beautiful solo work by Alice Klock. Set to music titled Ghost Come Morning by Robert G. Haynes, the final image of Klock and her shadow fading in to the dark brought an otherworldly feel.

Most performances are already sold out, but there are ticket still available for the Sunday, June 16 shows. Get them here now!

Slideshow Photo Captions: All photography by Todd Rosenberg.

Emilie Leriche and Felicia McBride in “Agape” by Andrew Wright.

Brandon Lee Alley and Emilie Leriche in “ditto” by Terence Marling.

Quinn B Wharton and Jessica Tong in “Adalea” by Penny Saunders.

Johnny McMillan and Jesse Bechard in “Adalea” by Penny Saunders.

Alice Klock and Johnny McMillan in “For the Wandered” by Jonathan Fredrickson.

Richard Walters and LIssa Smith in “stop…stop…stop.” by Terence Marling.

Garrett Anderson and Alice Klock in “Grey Horses” by Robyn Mineko Williams.

 

 

Movie review: Fame High

“If you’re early, you’re on time. If you’re on time, you’re late. If you’re late, you’re dead,” the teacher says. The kids in class giggle in response. With a deadly serious face, he says, “Not a joke.”

This interaction sets the tone for a behind-the-scenes year at the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts (LACHSA) or FAME HIGH, the subject of a new docu-drama by Oscar nominated director Scott Hamilton Kennedy. The film follows select freshman and seniors through a year at the intense arts school training in their respective fields of music, theater and dance.

The opening scene shows Brittany, a music major, as a 6-year-old playing Mary Had a Little Lamb on the harp at her home in Wisconsin. Now a senior, we follow her through the struggle to balance academics with her desire to begin her singing career immediately. Zak, a freshman music major, learns a big lesson while dealing with a sometimes overbearing and overprotective father. A freshman theater major from a theatrical family, Ruby, finally finds acceptance and sees that professional gigs aren’t always what you think they’ll be. And finally, Grace, a senior dance major, works to break out of her shy ballerina mold within a strict, traditional Korean family.

The film follows these four and their various interactions with teachers, parents, and professionals through a year of ups and downs, laughter and tears, budding romances, broken hearts, and auditions to their final performances/graduations and then resolves the lessons learned. You grow to root for them and love them for their passion, fears, strengths and naiveté. Oh, and their talent. These are some talented youngins.

Of course the shy ballerina pulled at me the most as she danced around en pointe in her Converse sneaks (who didn’t do that?) and pines over a cute boy that her parents won’t let her date (Romeo and Juliet anyone?). In ballet class, her teacher says, “I want to see your soul. I don’t care if your feet aren’t pointed. I don’t care if you can’t get your leg way up to here. I want to see you dance from inside of your heart.” While I’m pretty sure I’ve never heard that in a ballet class, the challenge and struggle to break out of yourself to give more resonates with any dancer.

There are no dancing in the lunch room or on top of a taxi in the middle of the street scenes here. Just raw footage and honest confessions overlapping a plethora of performances in class and on stage. Kennedy goes for the heart and hits it with a bulls eye.

The movie is available digitally now and will be in select theaters/cities in June. For more information, visit FAME HIGH.