CDF13 Sneak Peek: Alexander Ekman’s “Episode 31″

Choreographer Alexander Ekman. Photo by Urban Joren.

I stopped by to watch rehearsal earlier this month as the Joffrey Ballet gets ready for the Chicago premiere of Alexander Ekman‘s Episode 31 this week at the Chicago Dancing Festival (CDF). A CDF13 commission, the work was originally created for students at the Juilliard School in 2011 and incorporates a multi media/video element at the beginning of the piece. The young Swedish choreographer also had a commissioned work in last year’s festival. Giordano Dance Chicago performed his humorous relationship duet Two Becomes Three in CDF12 and will perform it again at CDF13.

On a sunny Friday afternoon, 28 Joffrey dancers headed out to film the into video and danced in the street, on the Brown line, across the Clark Street bridge, on the steps of the Vietnam Memorial Park under Wacker, under the “Bean” and in Crown Fountain. Clapping, stomping and yelling accompanied the choreography and caught a number of people off guard. A group of students gave the dancers an impromptu cheer to thank them and one woman waiting for her train said, “It’s better than the muggers on the Red Line”. Gotta love Chicagoans.

A few weeks later, back in the studio, the dancers prepped for a run-thru of Episode 31. The studio had random props (an empty lamp stand, tennis balls, a wooden box) and strips of marley strewn about the floor. I asked one dancer, “What’s this all about?” His reply, “Joffrey being Hubbard Street.” While it might not be in Hubbard’s rep, this piece is way more their style than what you normally see from the Joffrey. It’s outside their comfort zone. For some, I’d say way out. One girl stays in pointe shoes, randomly bourree-ing throughout the chaos. Most are in jazz shoes. One dancer comes out and does a quick, intense tap solo. Two men perform a loosely balletic, post-modern duet while a poem is read. The dancers drop suddenly to the floor and convulse like they are being electrocuted (frying bacon, anyone?), while a lone dancer slowly circles the stage, taking it all in.

Joffrey dancers in Crown Fountain at Millennium Park. Photo courtesy of The Joffrey Ballet.

Oh, and there is some coughing and sneezing. Yeah, not your typical Joffrey. Artistic Director Ashley Wheater is embracing the difference and think it will only enhance their artistry. “The way have to move in 31, the way they have to use their spine to instigate the movement…if they would take that into classical ballet, then ballet becomes that much more of an interesting, organic form as opposed to being two-dimensional and a little bit flat” he said. “It will be very fun to see how people respond to it.”

Episode 31 will also appear in Joffrey’s Winter program next February at the Auditorium Theatre.

The Joffrey Ballet performs Alexander Ekman’s “Episode 31″ at the Chicago Dancing Festival on Thursday, Aug. 22 at 7:30 pm at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Pkwy. The performance is SOLD OUT, but any available stand-by tickets will be released at 7:15 pm.

For more information on the Chicago Dancing Festival, visit www.chicagodancingfestival.com.

 

Joffrey Ballet: American Legends preview

Joffrey dancers Jeraldine Mendoza & Dylan Gutierrez. Photo by Dave Frieddman.

Tomorrow night begins Joffrey Ballet‘s two-week run of American Legends at the Auditorium Theatre. Rehearsals were in full swing last Friday when I stopped by the studios for a peek. Artistic Director Ashley Wheater and Ballet Master Nicolas Blanc were fine-tuning sections of Jerome Robbins’ Interplay in one studio, while Crista Villella (daughter of Edward Villella, founding director of Miami City Ballet) coached two couples in Twyla Tharp’s Nine Sinatra Songs down the hall. Wheater discusses an awkward prep for a double tour to the knee with dancer John Mark Giragosian before running a killer fouette section multiple times. Villella focuses on tricky handholds in difficult lifts (it’s Twyla, ain’t nothing going to be easy) to the sounds of Sinatra’s theme song My Way.

Robbins’ 1945 work Interplay is a fun, youthful prelude to his masterpiece West Side Story that has major classical ballet moves mixed with cartwheels. Tharp’s ode to ‘Ole Blue Eyes is a series of duets in various stages of romance with costumes by Oscar de la Renta. All American legends. The Chicago premiere of Son of Chamber Symphony by Houston Ballet Artistic Director Stanton Welch (Australian-born, but perhaps an American legend in the making?) takes classic ballet to a new place with deconstructed costumes made to look like inside-out tutus. (I’ve heard they are a bitch to partner in.)  Set all of this to live music by the Chicago Philharmonic, add in a romantic, mystical pas, and you have the makings for a lovely Valentine-timed show.

On opening night dancers Jeraldine Mendoza (21) and Dylan Gutierrez (23), partners on and off stage, have the privilege of dancing Joffrey co-founder Gerald Arpino’s 1962 romantic pas de deux Sea Shadow in honor of what would be his 90th birthday. The duet feels like a rite of passage for the young couple who are quickly rising stars. Mendoza made heads turn in Wayne McGregor’s Infra last season and gained notoriety by winning a scholarship from the Leonore Annenberg Fellowship Fund. Gutierrez made a name for himself stepping in for an injured dancer in Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux for last season’s gala and as “Basilio” in Don Q. He solidified his stature (pun intended, he’s tall!) as a strong Cavalier for opening night of The Nutcracker this season. The two don’t normally dance together and are excited about this opportunity.

The 12-minute pas tells an Ondine-esque story of a man on a beach that falls in love with the idea of a perfect woman. Is she a shadow of the sea? Is she real? Mendoza thinks she’s something more. “I interpret it as I’m a mermaid,” she said. “She’s this mysterious creature that he’s so interested in.” Gutierrez’s take is a little different. “She’s like a fantasy,” he said. “She’s seducing him, but she doesn’t know how. She has as much interest in him as he has in her.” They admit some of the lifts and choreography are difficult, but they are ready for the challenge. In fact, they welcome it. “I think Ashley sees in both of us that we’re hungry and willing to dance,” said Mendoza. “I just love dancing and I want him to totally trust in me.” Gutierrez adds, “We’re people that when the opportunity presents itself, we don’t back away. Every role we’ve gotten, we’ve earned, even though they’ve come quickly. That’s just circumstance. It’s what you do with the shot when you get it. We’ve always delivered.”

The two have dated for over a year and admit that knowing each other so well makes a difference when dancing together and they make an effort to keep a certain distance emotionally on stage. Will falling in love in front of a large audience be a problem? “It’s easy,” said Gutierrez. “I already love her at the beginning of the ballet.”

Gutierrez, with the help of Mendoza (and friend Ruben Harris), started a movement called Young + Cultured. You can follow them on Twitter – @DylanthaVillain, @jeraldineeeee #YoungandCultured.

Joffrey Ballet presents American Legends at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Pkwy., Wednesday, Feb. 13 – Sunday, Feb. 24. Performance times vary. Tickets are $31-$152. Call 800.982.2787 or visit ticketmaster.com.


Tapping Away the Winter Blues

Tapper/Choreographer Michelle Dorrance. Photo by Matthew Murphy & Kenn Tam.

This weekend, Feb. 8-10, shake, hop and shuffle off your winter blues by attending the Winter Tap JAMboree! presented by the Chicago Human Rhythm Project (CHRP). Located at the American Rhythm Center (ARC) in the historic Fine Arts Building on Michigan Ave., the three-day fest features some of the best tappers around including CHRP Director Lane Alexander, Nico Rubio, Bril Barrett, STOMP performer Lisa La Touche and Michelle Dorrance, winner of a 2012 Princess Grace Award (the first tap choreographer to ever win!). Master classes in tap will be offered, plus classes in hip hop, break dancing, fitness and tai chi, plus an open forum discussion about the future of American tap dance. General registration $15. Master classes $17.50/per class. Also, on Saturday, Feb. 9 from 7-9 pm, there will be auditions for tap scholarships for dancers ages 12 – 18 to CHRP’s Rhythm World tap festival this summer, July 22 – Aug. 4. Ten $1000 scholarships will be awarded. Registration fee is $15. For more information, visit chicagotap.org.

While Dorrance is in town for the JAMboree!, she’s also working with CHRP group BAM! setting a new work to be premiered on April 4th at the Auditorium Theatre‘s Music + Movement Festival. The new five-month-long festival – just announced yesterday – features Chicago dance companies paired with live musicians for original performances commission by the theater. BAM! will perform in the Katten/Landau Studio (435 S. Wabash, 4th floor). Tickets are $10.

I sat in on rehearsals this morning while Dorrance finished piecing together the first section set to a remixed version of Etta James’ St. Louis Blues for five dancers. Fast is an understatement for the rapid-fire rhythms coming off their feet. Dorrance, 33, tosses out commentary with a humorous tone (this really mattered to me last night; did I lie to you?; this shit…let’s clean it up while we’re here) and advice (trust it and try it; stay in plié, it will save your life; surprise yourself with the first over-the-top) while going over choreographic notes and layering in bits of character to the complicated syncopated steps. Familiar names like wings and Charleston are interspersed with audible rhythmic cues like shig-a-dig-a and go-go-go-go GA-GA! The first section is short, but jam-packed with steps, which leads Dorrance to apologize, sort of, for adding in old-school trenches (switching legs back in a flat back, reaching to the floor with the opposite hands, while sliding back on the outside of one foot) at the very end. “Sorry to end this so tiring…hmph!” But, she doesn’t change it.

 

Sneak Peek: Hubbard Street’s One Thousand Pieces

Hubbard Street dancers Ana Lopez and Garrett Anderson in front of "America Windows". Photo by Todd Rosenberg. Marc Chagall © 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.

Yesterday morning I popped in on rehearsals at Hubbard Street for Alejandro Cerrudo’s much-anticipated new full-length work, One Thousand Pieces,  inspired by Marc Chagall’s America Windows housed at the Art Institute of Chicago. This was the first rehearsal with the mirrors covered and with the dancers getting used to new elements (which I’ve been asked not to reveal), so there was some experimentation with aspects of the movements and a lot of starting/stopping as is necessary in a cleaning rehearsal. With that in mind, what I saw was a company fresh, focused and on the verge of something big.

Preparing for next week’s world premiere celebrating the company’s 35th anniversary at the Harris Theater (Oct. 18 – 21) is a collaborative effort engaging all Hubbard Street dancers – main company and HS2 – with all artistic staff hands on deck. Hubbard Street rehearsal director Terry Marling, HS2 director Taryn Kaschock Russell and dancer Penny Saunders (who is expecting a baby – congrats Penny and Pablo!) take turns running rehearsals and helping Cerrudo mold his new masterpiece.

The little bits I saw – and, frankly I wanted to stay and watch all day – were enough to make me believe this work will be something spectacular. Here’s a little glimpse into the process filmed by HMS Media:

Hubbard Street Inside the Studio: One Thousand Pieces

 

 

Sneak Peek: Joffrey’s Incantations

Choreographer Val Caniparoli.

RB sat in on a run-thru of Val Caniparoli’s world premiere for Joffrey Ballet this afternoon. Incantations is a whirlwind of movement from start to finish. As lead dancer Matthew Adamczyk* said, “It’s like being shot out of a cannon.”  The full-costume run (men shirtless in nude tights w/ sanscrit verse, women in nude leotards with spirals and lines) showed off dancers still a week out from the premiere, but at the top of their game.  This work is difficult and non-stop, yet some of the dancers were smiling as if they were delighted (or perhaps delirious) with performing it.  Solo passes garnered applause from the dancers watching.  Duets are dramatic and fast, with a few partnering moves reminiscent of Mr. A’s Light Rain and William Forsythe’s works.  A brief male duet featuring Adamczyk and Rory Hohenstein is…hot!  In fact, every dancer in the piece looks great – a tribute to the choreographer.

Caniparoli’s Incantations is joined by Edwaard Liang’s Age of Innocence and Jerome Robbins’ In the Night on the Spring Desire program.  Fantastic news!  RB also learned that Miguel Angel  Blanco, who was sidelined with an Achilles tendon injury last season requiring two surgeries, will be performing a piece on opening night.  Welcome back.

Joffrey Ballet Spring Desire runs April 25 – May 6 at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Pkwy.  Tickets:  800.982.2787 or visit ticketmaster.com.

*Click here to read my preview of Incantations in Windy City Times.