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 Power of Love

ABT's Yuriko Kajiya in "Giselle". Photo by Rosalie O'Connor.

If you like a good love story, then get thee to the Auditorium Theatre this weekend, poste-haste.? A romantic tale on par with Romeo and Juliet takes over the stage with some of the top ballet dancers in the world bringing the action to life.? Originally created in 1841 for the Paris Opera Ballet (they are coming to Chicago this summer for the first time ever!), Giselle tells the story of a young peasant girl who falls in love with a prince, only to find out he is betrothed to another.? She goes mad, dies of a broken heart, then proceeds to come back from the grave to save her love from an untimely death.? Drama.

American Ballet Theatre (ABT) brings its version of “the quintessential Romantic ballet” to town for five performance starting tomorrow.? The lead roles of Giselle, Prince Albrecht and Myrta, Queen of the Wilis are some of the most sought after in ballet.? On top of difficult technical feats, the dancer must add emotion and dramatic acting skills to aid the plot while making it all look easy.? And the women are dead in Act II!?? It takes a tremendous amount of technique to do a series of entr? chats and look as if you are other-worldly.? Of course, there are artistic choices to be made.? Some Albrecht’s play the cad who later tragically regrets his actions.? Some Giselle’s commit suicide with her lover’s sword.? For real-life couple Yuriko Kajiya and Jared Matthews (both soloists who will be debuting as Giselle and Albrecht in ABT’s version this Sunday, March 25th) they rely on the power of love.? Matthew’s Albrecht is truly in love with Giselle and Kajiya’s Giselle dies of a broken heart, yet relies on her love for him to save his life in Act II.? “Albrecht is a role you aspire to achieve and work on,” said Matthews.? “It’s more than just about dance, you have to bring them into your world.”? Kajiya has the dual challenge of the dramatic mad scene at the end of Act I and then switching into Wili-mode for Act II.? She’s been working with her coach Irina Kolpakova on the nuances of the character.? “In Act II, the upper body has to change,” she said.? “You have to be very much forward.? That helps with the illusion.”? But Matthews adds, “It takes a lot of work to make her look weightless.”

ABT's Jared Matthew's in "Le Corsaire". Photo by MIRA.

The duo have performed together often outside of the company and have even performed Act II of Giselle together, but they have never performed the full-length ballet together until now.? The couple met as teenagers while in ABT’s Studio Company (now ABT II) and have been together romantincally for eight years, literally growing up physically and artistically side by side.? ( I spoke with them separately from NY on consecutive days off.) “We have a huge passion for ballet,” Kajiya said.? “We love and know each other so well.? We work really well together in and out of the studio.”? Matthews agreed, “We both want the same things and we’re both willing to put in the time…refining and honing, growing and changing…to become better artists. We have the same goals.” With vastly different backgrounds – she is from Japan and moved to China to study ballet at age ten, he grew up in Texas – they both came to know of ABT via the screen.? Matthews remembers watching Baryshnikov on television and Kajiya saw videos of the company at school and on the big screen in the movie Centerstage.? It is another love story that has them ending up at the same place together now.

They have fond memories of Chicago having danced in the first two years of the Chicago Dancing Festival at Pritzker Pavilion.? Some may remember them as well from a July 2010 guest appearance on So You Think You Can Dance, where they performed the second act pas de deux from Don Quixote.? “Every few minutes, someone would come by to remind us that the show was live,” said Kajiya.? Executive Producer and judge Nigel Lithgoe had seen her perform at a gala and asked her if she’d like to perform on the show.? Matthews said, “The air conditioning was on high, which made the floor slick like ice.? Once we were out there dancing, it was fun.”

Come see Kajiya and Matthews fall in love again on stage this Sunday with live music by the Chicago Sinfonietta.? This story of romance, love, betrayal and forgiveness, set to the achingly gorgeous score by Adolphe Adam is not to be missed.

American Ballet Theatre performs Giselle at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Pkwy.

Thurs & Friday, March 22-23 at 7:30 pm, Saturday, March 24 at 2 & 8 pm, and Sunday, March 25 at 2 pm.

Tickets are $32-$137. Call 800.982.2787 or visit ticketmaster.com.