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.

Hyde Park School of Dance Turns 20!

Hyde Park School of Dance Artistic Director August Tye.

Congrats to the Hyde Park School of Dance for two decades of technical dance training on Chicago’s South Side. There are two performances of En Avant, celebrating their 20-year mark, this weekend at the Logan Center for the Arts (915 E. 60th St.). Tickets are $35-$75.

Read my interview with Artistic Director August Tye that appears in the current issue of Windy City Times here.

Thodos’ A Light in the Dark premieres

Thodos dancers Jessica Miller Tomlinson and Alissa Tollefson in "A Light in the Dark". Photo by Cheryl Mann.

The Chicago premiere of A Light in the Dark: The Story of Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan opens this weekend at the Harris Theater. Thodos Dance Chicago (TDC) founder Melissa Thodos teamed up once again with Broadway legend Ann Reinking and dance/acting coach Gary Chryst to co-create this new story ballet about the beginning of a lifelong friendship.

A few weeks ago, I sat in on interviews with Thodos and Reinking by Emmy-nominated filmmaker Chris Olsen of Kai Harding who is filming a documentary, Touch, about the process of making the ballet. You can watch excerpts and clips of the doc here. The thing that struck me most was the passion behind the project from all involved.

After the success of their first collaboration, The White City, Thodos and Reinking knew they had something special. “We knew we weren’t finished, We had more stories to tell,” Thodos said during the Olsen interview. “It was just a matter of finding what story we wanted to tell.” She credits Chryst for suggesting the idea at a White City post-party in 2011. Read my interview with Chryst for Windy City Times here. Reinking said, “It was a precipe of a new age. Once they cracked the code with the alphabet, Helen was brilliant. They became quite famous.” The ballet focuses on a short period of time when Keller first meets Sullivan and they learn how to communicate. Incorporating spoken word and sign language with the dance steps TDC has created a truly special piece that pulls an emotional response. The evening is rounded out with a world premiere from Thodos, a world premiere from KT Nelson of ODC Dance Company and a repertory work from local choreographer Brain Enos.

Thodos Dance Chicago’s Winter Concert at the Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph St., Saturday, March 2 at 8 pm and Sunday, March 3 at 2 pm. Tickets are $30-$60. Call 312.334.7777 or visit harristheaterchicago.org.

 

Chicago Dance 2012 Highlights

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre dancers in "Revelations". Photo by Christopher Duggan.

Nothing says end-of-the-year-review time quite like the last day of the year…am I right? My proficiency in procrastination aside, now is the time to reflect on the past year and look forward to new, exiting surprises in the next. Here’s my Dancin’ Feats year-end review for Windy City Times that came out last week noting 12 memorable performances/performers of 2012, but I wanted to add a few more things.

Looking back at my notes and programs from the year (yes, they are all in a pile, I mean filing system, in the corner of my bedroom) I am so thankful for all the wonderful dance I get to see. Narrowing it down to 12 “top whatevers” was not an easy task for there were too many people and performances to name. Here are some other performances that are still in my thoughts:

Alvin Ailey Dance Theater in Ohad Naharin’s Minus 16. Although Revelations is still amazing, seeing this company in more contemporary work was refreshing. And the audiences at Ailey performances are a show unto themselves.

Paris Opera Ballet and American Ballet Theatre‘s performances of Giselle were stellar for their star-studded casts on opening night, but ABT’s Sunday matinee with real-life couple Yuriko Kajiya and Jared Matthews stole my heart.

Luna Negra Dance Theater founder Eduardo Vilaro brought Ballet Hispanico to town with former Chicago dancers (Jamal Callender, Jessica  Wyatt and Vanessa Valecillos) back for a rep show at the Dance Center to much acclaim, while current director Gustavo Ramirez Sansano continues to take the company in new and fascinating directions.

The Seldoms, in their tenth year, deconstructed the Harris Theater and traipsed around the world to collaborate with WC Dance in Tapei, while tackling the ongoing arguments around climate change with artistic director Carrie Hanson’s trademark wit and intelligence.

Before Hubbard Street Dance Chicago turned 35 this fall, it said goodbye to retiring, beloved dancer Robyn Mineko Williams. Artistic Director Glenn Edgerton completed his goal of presenting all five master European choreographers in the rep with the acquisition of Mats Ek’s Casi-Casa. Ek’s work took the company to a new level, but I’m still haunted by their dancing in William Forsythe’s Quintett from the summer series.

The Joffrey Ballet performed Forsythe’s In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated in their regular season and at the Chicago Dancing Festival. I was proud to be an official CDF blogger for the second year in a row. New to the fest this year was Giordano Dance Chicago, now celebrating 50 years. And Muntu Dance Theatre of Chicago hit 40!

River North Dance Chicago dancer Ahmad Simmons deserves a mention for his work in Ashley Roland’s Beat, particularly his performance on the Pritzker Pavillion stage in Millenium Park.

Special thanks to Catherine Tully of 4dancers.org for her continuous and generous encouragement and insight. Thanks lady!

Dance writing-wise, I’m thankful for the opportunity to write for Front Desk Chicago, Windy City Times, 4dancers and Dance Magazine.

I could go on (and on…), but tomorrow is a new year and I look forward to seeing more incredible dancing and dancers in our most awesome city. Happy New Year!

 

The Snow Scene

 

Snow Queen in "The Nutcracker" with Alexei Khimenko. Photo by someone's dad?

The other day I was home working on my November column for Windy City Times. My iTunes genius list was set to “classical”. A little Corigliano, some Yo Yo Ma and then more familiar music came on. Music I’ve known intimately for years. I first remember being moved by it when I was much younger. I was in the kitchen of the house I grew up in. The rest of my family was downstairs watching who knows what (probably basketball), but I was upstairs standing in the kitchen watching Baryshnikov’s The Nutcracker on PBS.

It was the beginning of the snow scene – or snow pas. Misha had just magically turned from a “wooden” soldier to a prince and was asking Gelsey Kirkland (“Clara”) to dance. The setting was beautiful and romantic. The dancing…well, it was Misha and Gelsey. It is still my favorite version of my favorite scene and I still watch it every year. And, yes, it still makes me cry (but don’t tell anyone, I have a reputation to uphold).

Luckily, I got to dance a version of the snow pas many times in Springfield. I still get a little tingly with anticipation (and a bit nauseated with nerves) when I hear the first few notes. Walking out to do the pas was nerve-wracking, but once you got through it, you were home free for the rest of the scene. The flakes come on and you get a break, then basically just a few quick jump passes and lifts  – oh, how I love the lifts, especially when  your partner is 6’5″ – and you’re already in the blizzard. Slow down, resolution, make it snow and scene.

I know it’s only the beginning of November, but the snow scene will happen, real and on stage, soon! So here’s a little something to get you in the mood.

 

Happy Anniversary to RB!

Last week – September 24th to be exact – Rogue Ballerina turned 3! While there are ups and downs to having a one-person-pony-show dance blog (up: getting to see tons of kick-ass dance, down: burn out, making very little $ – read 0.00), and while I honestly consider scrapping the whole thing about once a week (sometimes daily), I’m still having a helluva good time doing it. I get to meet amazing artists one-on-one (even if it’s via phone) and discuss what they love passionately. I’ve been exposed to genres and styles I never would have come across in my normal “post-dancer/civilian” life and my knowledge base and tastes have evolved exponentially (I am now a full-fledged Forsythe fan!).

Going over some of the posts from the last year, my belief that Chicago is a world-class city for dance has only grown. From the big dogs like Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and Joffrey Ballet, to small start-ups like Leopold Group and Elements Contemporary Ballet and everything in between, the Windy City has myriad opportunities to see great dance and a ceaseless artistic creativity that is unmatched.

Someone recently told me they appreciated my enthusiasm. While I’m certain some find it annoying, it was greatly appreciated. I see myself more as a cheerleader for all dance in Chicago as opposed to a critic (although I sure do have my opinions).

On the writing front in the past year, I took over the monthly dance column at Windy City Times, covered the sixth annual Chicago Dancing Festival as one of the official bloggers for the second year in a row and had the pleasure of writing Hubbard Street’s Robyn Mineko Williams’ transition notice for Dance Magazine, as well as my usual gigs as a culture writer for Front Desk Chicago and CS Magazine. Other noteworthy events – and there are way too many to list here – include interviewing Twyla Tharp (terrifying!), singing “Happy Birthday” to Ann Reinking and seeing Batsheva Dance Company, Merce Cunningham Dance Company on the final leg of The Legacy Tour and the American Ballet Theatre (live) and the Paris Opera Ballet perform Giselle live (via simulcast).

Goals for the upcoming year include officially meeting fellow dance lover Mayor Rahm Emanuel (instead of just smiling and nodding in passing at events – an interview would be stellar!) and moving forward with a book project (or two) near and dear to my heart and possibly throwing some advertising up on this mug.

Thanks to everyone who reads RB!

Feeling the love,

Vicki

 

 

 

 

Wunderkind Whittenburg

Zachary Whittenburg - photo by Todd Rosenberg.

If you’re at all familiar with the Chicago dance scene, you know his name.  He’s been a dancer, choreographer, teacher, student, panel moderator, writer, critic and “insatiable audience member.” Locally, he’s danced with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Lucky Plush Productions, Same Planet Different World Dance Theatre and Molly Shanahan/Mad Shak. After graduating high school two years early at age 16, he moved to Seattle to train at Pacific Northwest Ballet School and joined the company at 18. After three years at PNB performing works by choreographers ranging from George Balanchine to William Forsythe, he moved cross-country to dance with North Carolina Dance Theatre, where he was a soloist for a season before coming to Chicago to dance with Hubbard Street for two years.

He then traveled for a year performing Crystal Pite’s choreography with Les Ballets jazz de Montréal. He’s also written for many publications and websites including Flavorpill, See Chicago Dance, Windy City Times, Hoy Chicago, Time Out Chicago, Dance Magazine, Pointe Magazine, Dance International magazine (where he recently got the cover story!), Dance Teacher magazine, Dance Spirit magazine as well as his own blog, trailerpilot. Zac Whittenburg: wunderkind, indeed.

Now, Whittenburg is taking his career in a new direction. Almost a decade after dancing with Hubbard Street, he returns to join the external affairs team at the beginning of an exciting landmark season that will include a full-length world premiere by resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo, a work by Swedish choreographer Mats Ek and a collaboration with Alonzo King LINES Ballet.

I spoke with him over Labor Day weekend, just before he started in his new position.

When you danced with Hubbard Street, which choreographer or pieces were your favorites or that you had a deep experience with?


I’ll never forget the experience of learning “Minus 16″ [by Ohad Naharin]. It’s probably the piece I performed most when I was in the company. I might’ve done over 100 performances of it in two years. It’s such an extraordinary piece. It asks so much of the dancers as artists. We did a piece by Jirí Kylían for five dancers called “No More Play.” It runs like a wristwatch, the way the characters and the vocabulary intersect with each other, and how the sections turn from one into the next. I’d never been so close to something that was built that way. I learned so much about choreography just by being involved with that.

Why did you leave Hubbard Street?


Well, there are two answers to that question. A dancer’s career is very short, and things run their course. And it was around the time that I became aware of Crystal Pite’s choreography. I saw a video of “Short Works: 24,” which I think was the first piece she made while she was in residence [at Les Ballets jazz de] Montréal. I was aware of her when she was a member of Frankfurt Ballet, which sort of became today’s Forsythe Company, but hadn’t seen her choreography before. I wasn’t aware of the things she was doing using Forsythe’s movement vocabulary in a dance theater context. I thought that was really fascinating, and that she was doing it with a lot of intelligence and humor. I wanted to work with her. I had the wonderful fortune of doing Crystal’s evening-length work ["The Stolen Show"] all over Canada and in Asia and in the United States. To get to see so much of the world, and to have the reason for that travel be that you’re bringing this work to audiences all over…it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. There was a sense of purpose. A feeling that we were a company of ambassadors for contemporary dance.

Let’s talk about your new gig at Hubbard Street. What is your official job title and what will you be doing?


I’m going to be the company’s manager of communication. I have a pretty good understanding of what I’ll be doing, but of course, I’m not in the chair yet. It’s a great position because there are a lot of different angles to it. A large part of it is press relations and working with media outlets to get the word out about what the company is doing. That said, that comes in a variety of flavors. The conversations that I had in the interview process…we were talking about how the media landscape is changing. Part of this job is going to be working on getting the word out about a company when the channels about how the word gets out about a contemporary dance company like Hubbard Street are changing. There are new channels opening, old channels closing, a whole new landscape of how people receive information. I’m thrilled to walk into the challenge of, how do you work with that, and how do you get the most out of what the current media landscape is, anticipate how it’s going to change in the future and use all of that to your advantage, to make sure people know what Hubbard Street is doing, make sure they are aware of the variety of things we do in addition to the production and stage work, and how those things relate to one another. I’m excited to talk about our partnerships with other institutions and put stories in places where the company hasn’t been covered before.

You’re coming in right at the beginning of the 35th Anniversary Season, which is a big deal. What do you expect to be doing on day one?


I know I have a meeting on Tuesday morning with some other managers. It’s great that literally the first thing I’ll do is touch base with people in other departments to see what they’re doing and what they have planned for the near future. I haven’t been in that building very much in the last eight years. I have a lot of catching up to do, not only meeting the people that make the magic happen, but what the company’s overall strategies are. There are a lot of things that I’ve already learned about the 35th Anniversary season and there’s a lot more that I don’t know yet, so I imagine a lot of it will be about finding my place in relation to all those initiatives, cooperating with the other team members and figuring out how I can help them.

You know I like to joke around about how we’re arch nemeses, but I hope you really know that I’m a huge fan. Your voice, not only in the Chicago dance scene, but nationally, is really important and you have a big fan base, so what does your new job mean for trailerpilot?

The blog still exists. When I was full-time at Time Out Chicago, I wasn’t posting a lot. At this point, I’ve got 426 posts on the blog. It’s a big archive and I will continue to make the annual payments to make sure people can find it. I’ve always been interested in things other than just dance and choreography. I’m glad I’ll still have a place, where, if I go see a film and really have something to say about it, I can. My voice will still be out there, I’m still on Twitter, although long form writing about dance isn’t appropriate while I’m manager of communication for a dance company. I think, just in going back over my career with you, over the phone this morning, it’s just been one episode after another of all of these different things I’ve done, and all of my various experiences constantly coming back around and intersecting and sort of morphing together in new ways. Writing is one of those things. I’m certain that will continue. I don’t have my mouth stapled shut, but Hubbard Street is going to be the star in my sky. I love the company. I love where it’s been and where it’s going. I’m really looking forward to helping them get in front of more people and new audiences.


East Meets West

The Seldoms dancers. Photo by Brian Kuhlmann.

Later this month, local modern company The Seldoms takes the stage with WCdance from Taiwan.  Read my preview of the show in Windy City Times here.

The Seldoms with WCdance at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts, Thurs – Sat, June 28-30 at 8 pm and Sunday, July 1 at 3 pm.  Tickets are $20 ($15 for students and seniors).  Call 312.337.6543 or visit www.brownpapertickets.com/event/246618