Throwback Thursday: Pumpkin edition #tbt

A quick Throwback Thursday this week as I’m busy getting my entire life in order before I start my new big girl gig at Joffrey on Monday. (Yay.)

Every year my dear friends have a pumpkin carving party that is a BLAST! You know I love anything pumpkin, but getting together with a room full of them to carve with your friends (while you drink) is awesome.

Anyway…I convinced my friend Chris Bell, who also happens to be the illustrator on the children’s book I wrote, to carve the RB logo in a pumpkin!!! This makes me happy.

Sneak Peek: Giordano Dance Chicago

Giordano dancers Maeghan McHale and Sean Rozanski in "Exit 4". Photo by Gorman Cook.

Giordano Dance Chicago (GDC) opens the first Chicago engagement in their 51st season this weekend at the Harris Theater. The program boasts a world premiere by Israeli choreographer Roni Koresh, Artistic Director of Philadelphia’s Koresh Dance Company, a world premiere for GDC II from GDC Assistant Artistic Director Autumn Eckman, plus three full-company works and audience favorites Brock Clawson’s Give and Take, Kiesha Lalama’s Alegría and Liz Imperio’s La Belleza de Cuba and a revival of Eckman’s Commonthread.

RB stopped by rehearsal back in August when Koresh was in town working with the dancers on his new work Exit 4. Set to Israeli music with a tribal feel, Koresh’s work is intense. That is an understatement. “There should be danger in this piece,” he said to the dancers. “I want to see who you are. It’s more valuable to me than your movement.” For a company known for its solid technique and upbeat vibe, he was asking them to go deeper. Much deeper.

A fun group section breaks into strong and fierce men’s and women’s sections respectively. The fourth section is, well…intense. After working on the last section, which they had just finished, the dancers looked physically and emotionally spent. Not one to mince words, Koresh did not let up. In fact, at times he was downright mean. But in a final full run of the entire work, what he got out of the dancers was amazing. Perhaps it was the week-long process, the “audience” of friends, board members and press, or just pure exhaustion, but the dancers brought an honest, raw energy to it that blew me away. (Don’t tell anyone, but I had to fight back tears. It was – again – intense.)

“Your last interaction with the audience will determine your strength. Make the audience uncomfortable,” he said. “I am. Just be. Connect.” If (and it will be hard to do), but if they can recreate that final run and make it read from the vast Harris stage, they will have accomplished something really spectacular. I think they can and I hope they do.

Giordano Dance Chicago in their Fall Engagement at the Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph Dr., Friday-Saturday, Oct. 25-26 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $15-$60; call 312.334.7777 or visit harristheaterchicago.org. 

Throwback Thursday: CMP edition #tbt

Circuit Mom and RB performing at The Metro.

Today’s Throwback Thursday is of a Circuit Mom number I’ve performed numerous times. On a makeshift riser stage in San Fran, in the back garden at The Pepper Lounge and at Chicago’s Metro. We even poached sections of choreography to put in other big event numbers.

This number, again by the ever-creative Todd Michael Kiech, involved bras, white material and a parachute set to Lara Fabian’s I Will Love Again (obvi a kick-ass remix). The crowd at Metro was electric and super close. This was one of the most exciting small venue shows I’ve done.

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 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.

 

Throwback Thursday: CMP edition #tbt

RB walking like an Egyptian.

This week’s throwback is from Hell Ball, a “circuit” fundraiser that used to happen annually in San Francisco. Circuit Mom Productions (CMP), with the wonderful choreographic vision of Todd Michael Kiech, performed – in the early aughts – an epic Egyptian-themed number to a remix of Dive in the Pool (aka “Let’s Get Soaking Wet”) and Madonna’s Music. 

The event was in what looked like an old airport hanger, so it was massive! The stage seemed the size of a football field. We had to take “big girl” steps to make it to our marks. This was one of the most fun performances I can remember. I always get nervous before a show, but this one was mixed with so much excitement and energy from the thousands in the crowd that I was literally shaking before we went on stage.

Post-show, I got to party with some of my best friends and we extended our tour, so we could stay for a long weekend and sightsee. Great memories and photo ops…and yes, there were band hats!

Where Are They Now? Luna Negra’s Renee Adams

Dancer Renee Adams opens up about the end of Luna Negra Dance Theater and what she’s up to now.

Where are you now?

Richland, WA.

What are you doing?

As of September, I am the Artistic Assistant of Mid-Columbia Ballet in Richland, a youth company under the direction of Debra Rogo. My role includes choreographing, running company rehearsals, and initiating a new arts education program in area schools. I also teach in the school (Tri-Cities Academy of Ballet) which is operated in the same building and is under the same direction. The students and staff are wonderful and I’m very lucky and grateful to have found this opportunity. Since leaving Chicago in May I have traveled throughout the Northwest, including Portland and Seattle, teaching workshops and summer courses.

After the shock (and multiple shock waves) of job loss, I’ve thought through many different career scenarios. My career trajectory hasn’t fully emerged, but dancing and performing is still an important expression for me. In what way that will manifest, I have yet to discover.

What do you miss about Luna Negra?

I miss all of the artists that made up the company. It’s heartbreaking to not have them to share inspirations with, grow and laugh with, and share such a deeply artistic experience with. It’s also beautiful and wonderful to remember the INCREDIBLE things that we did and created together. I miss having an artistic home, a place where I knew every day that I was going to search for the things that were impossible to say with words.

What was special about Luna? What did it mean for you to be a “Lunatic”?
Gustavo saw things in me that I did not know where there and those three years represent a turning point in the way I view myself, the world, and dance. Learning from Gustavo meant finding and losing myself over and over again, and allowing both change and individuality each moment. Gustavo guided dancers on their own journey, while bringing everyone together on his own. That’s a remarkable gift that very few people, let alone artists, have, and it is what made Luna special.

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.

 

Throwback Thursday: Sleeping Beauty edition #tbt

RB as Lilac Fairy and the Fairy Court in "Sleeping Beauty".

This Throwback Thursday is in honor of the opening night – tomorrow night – of Ballet West‘s Sleeping Beauty at the Auditorium Theatre. My first full-length ballet with the Springfield Ballet Company, way back in the day, was Sleeping Beauty. I was a “maid-in-waiting” and a “lilac sylph”. It was some hard corps dancing for my first thing aside from Nutcracker and a lot of it. The hardest part was standing in “B+” for the entire Rose Adage. Good lord. Feet asleep, hips cramped…now dance!

About ten years laster, I was cast as the “Lilac Fairy” and I was ecstatic. I may have gone a little overboard (only wearing purple leos, lilac lotion and acting nice and fairy-like), but I wanted to be “in character”. During the rehearsal process, I was also falling in love with the boy I was dating. Things were good.

Tech week is always stressful transitioning from the comfortable studio setting to the “big girl” stage. Things change and you freak out. The first full dress rehearsal my crown got stuck in netting of the forest. A lovely apprentice finally freed me after I’d severely missed my cue and yelled (I’m sure with profanity) for help. Then my wand got stuck on my tutu in a series of chaine turns. But as they say, a terrible dress means a great show.

Our officiall dress rehearsal is also taped and performed with a live audience of friends and disabled persons from local area, so I consider this a “real” performance. It was also the last time to get out any kinks before “the boyfriend” was to see me dance for the first time. Ahhh! I’d had a terrible cold that I inadvertently gave to “Princess Aurora” (sorry Alicia!), so I hadn’t seen “him” all week. After warm up and photos, I decided to call and let “him” know where to pick up his tickets for the Saturday matinee and…he broke up with me..over the phone…while I was backstage…20 minutes before curtain.

This isn’t quite as dramatic as Ballet West’s Allison DeBona’s longtime boyfriend not showing up to see her dance as depicted in Breaking Pointe this season, but I was heartbroken. Since the “show must go on”, I hooked up my tutu and danced. There’s a lovely video of me nailing all my pirouettes and not smiling once. Blergh.

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.