Break

RB took a little time off after the Chicago Dancing Festival (CDF), but now I’m back and ready to go!? Coming up: interviews/previews with Luna Negra (Veronica Guadalupe), Inaside Chicago Dance (Mary Williams), Joffrey Ballet (Michael Smith), Hubbard Street (David Schultz) , Smuin Ballet (Jonathan David Dummar) and even a little chat with Twyla Tharp!

Keep a look out for changes/additions to the blog in the coming weeks, but in the meantime, here are some beautiful pics from CDF finale by the gorgeous and gracious mama-to-be Cheryl Mann.

Michelle Fleet and the Paul Taylor Dance Co in "Esplanade".

NYC Ballet dancers Tiler Peck & Gonzalo Garcia in "Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux".

Martha Graham dancer Xiaochuan Xie in "Diversion of Angels".

Joffrey's Temur Suluashvili & Victoria Jaiani in "Stravinsky Violin Concerto".

CDF11 Wrap Up

Aspen Santa Fe Ballet in "Uneven". Photo by Cheryl Mann.

Last week was quite a week for dance in Chicago.? The Chicago Dancing Festival (CDF) presented five free nights of dance to eager audiences with an estimated 19,000 in attendance over the course of the week.? Many thanks and much gratitude to the CDF staff – Evin Eubanks (Executive Director), Todd Clark (Director of Production), Natalie Williams (Admin Assistant) and of course co-founders/Artistic Directors Lar Lubovitch and Jay Franke for showcasing such phenomenal talent and giving the city another chance to shine.? Mayor Emanuel attending three nights of dance has secured his place as dance in Chicago’s biggest fan.? I was lucky to be able to attend each night of the fest (I missed the free dance movies day) and I have to admit I was a little disappointed this Monday night when there wasn’t a kick ass show to go see.? Spoiled, but grateful.

Here are links to my coverage of the CDF events:? Opening Night Gala, Moderns, MCA Moves, Masters, Muses and Celebration of Dance.? Some of the highlights for me were Richard Move, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago (Too Beaucoup, Petite Mort), Lar Lubovitch Dance Company (The Legend of Ten), Paul Taylor Dance Company (Eplanade) and New York City Ballet artists Tiler Peck and Gonzalo Garcia (Tchaikovsky Pas De Deux).? I was surprised how much I enjoyed the Martha Graham Dance Company, Doug Varone and Dancers and Walter Dundervill’s work.? I can’t wait to see who CDF will bring in to perform next year.? Plan ahead: you won’t want to miss CDF2012!

Let me know what you think!? Did you go to any of the CDF shows?? What was your favorite?? Are you now a fan of a company you’d never seen before?? What would you like them to do differently next year?? What companies would you like to see at CDF 2012?

CDF11 Celebration of Dance

River North Dance Chicago performing "Nine Person Precision Ball Passing". Photo by Cheryl Mann.

Saturday night was beautiful.? The weather, the venue, the dancing.? The perfect night to hold an outdoor, free dance concert for the city of Chicago.? At Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, Mayor Emanuel took the stage to introduce the final night of the Chicago Dancing Festival (CDF) and vowed to take the now five-day fest up to six days of free dance events next year.? Dubbed a Celebration of Dance, the entire evening was just that.? Some of the best dancers in the country came together to dance works by Kyl?an, Balanchine, Graham and Taylor for the estimated 10,000-12,000 people in attendance.? Even the fabulous Gehry-designed concert venue could not compete with what was happening on the stage.

Ballet West, under the direction of former Joffrey dancer and Ballet Master Adam Sklute, opened the show with Jir? Kyl?an’s Sinfonietta.? This troupe won a Chicago following last year when they performed Balanchine’s Serenade at CDF. ?Program notes declare Sinfonietta is “a celebration of our earthly life” and with joyous jet?s and rousing score, it proved to be a pitch-perfect opener for our celebration.? A black back drop with sparkling lights like stars came clearly into focus when the piece finished just as the sun set and the stars overhead came out.? Timing is everything.? The woman sitting next to me literally jumped out of her seat in excitement as the piece ended.? She seemed embarrassed at first until she realized she wasn’t alone.? This was the first of many mini standing ovations of the evening (most of which were started by the Hubbard Street dancers in the crowd).? River North Dance Chicago (RNDC) followed with Charles Moulton’s post-modern Nine Person Precision Ball Passing.? For the third time this week, RNDC took their places on three tiers to perform the brain-teasing work which has seven minutes of fast ball exchanges in every possible configuration.? It is clear that the dancers have it embedded to memory as they performed it perfectly, even throwing in some sassy faces and attitude.? It’s a fun work that drew giggles and appreciation.? Now if I could only get that pinball-synth score out of my head.

Joffrey Ballet performed George Balanchine’s difficult and folksy ballet Stravinsky Violin Concerto.? The large group piece features two duets (Victoria Jaiani and Temur Suluashvili, Valerie Robin and Fabrice Calmels) to arias mixed in with all male and all female sections.? This work is at times difficult for me (why is she doing inside/out back bends?? why are they making a thumbs up sign and waving at each other?), but it was performed with flair and verve.? With fire engine sirens in the background, Joffrey showed the hometown crowd what it’s made of – strong technique, charisma and love.? (Shout out to Derrick Agnoletti for his fierce pas de chats!) Martha Graham Dance Company took the stage next in Diversion of Angels.? Graham’s trademark pitches and contractions were staples, but with lyrical passes and beautiful lifts mixed in.? Carrie Ellmore-Tallitsch, Ben Schultz and the gorgeous Xiaochuan Xie were stand outs.

Principal dancers Tiler Peck and Gonzalo Garcia from the New York City Ballet (NYCB) wowed the crowd with a stunning performance of Balanchine’s Tchaikovsky Pas De Deux.? The virtuoso duet showed the amazing technique, performing chops and musicality of the dancers.? Peck, aside from one slight bobble en pointe, was impeccable.? Her pointe work, her presence, her extensions, her turns, her playfulness all came together at warp speed. ? I felt like a little girl seeing something so amazing that it changed my life.? (Mommy, I want to be a ballerina!)? I had goosebumps and yes, I was one of the many shouted bravo during bows.? The excitement carried over to the final piece.? The crowd was ready and ?Paul Taylor Dance Company did not disappoint.? Taylor’s Esplanade set to Bach concertos was original inspired by a woman running to catch a bus.? The piece incorporates common human gestures with innovative partnering (a promenade with a woman standing on the man’s stomach), ridiculously fast footwork (Michelle Fleet’s solo was lightening fast!), running passes and a little romance.? The dancers were joyful with smiles on their faces as if they were having the time of their collective lives.? The audience was too.? *Insert full standing ovation here.

Every year, a random bird makes an appearance in the show, flying about the stage above the dancers as if it is so caught up in the moment that it wants to be part of the performance. ? I imagine much of the audience felt exactly the same way.? Just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, it did.? Multiple times.? Every day the festival got better and better and I can honestly say (although I didn’t “get” some pieces) I enjoyed watching every single dance.? Lar Lubovitch, Jay Franke and Evin Eubanks deserve great thanks and kudos for pulling off this hugely successful dance festival.? I wonder how they’re going to top it next year.

CDF11 Muses

Hubbard St dancers Ana Lopez & Benjamin Wardell in Cerrudo's "Maltidos". Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

Dance writer/critic/historian Lucia Mauro opened Chicago Dancing Festival‘s (CDF) Muses program (Friday, Aug 26 on the MCA Stage) by distinguishing the difference in meanings of the term muse.? In ancient Greek mythology, the work referred to “beings who imparted knowledge.? They were empowered beings, the sources of greatness”.? But today, we refer to a muse as someone who inspires artistic creation.? After giving a brief list of famous choreographic partnerships (Balanchine and Farrell, Tharp and Baryshnikov, etc.) Mauro set the stage for the discussion to follow with Lar Lubovitch, Alejandro Cerrudo, Janet Eilber and Bettie de Jong that dealt with the artist/choreographer relationship.? Is it “control or collaboration”?? And how has that relationship been defined historically and is it being redefined now?

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago‘s (HSDC) resident choreogher Alejandro Cerrudo subscribes to the “two brains think better than one” theory and tends to use a collaborative approach with his dancers.? After praising the HSDC dancers many talents, he says, “anything the dancers give me is valid” and states simply, “I became a choreographer to become a better dancer.”? HSDC dancers Ana Lopez and Benjamin Wardell (frequent muses for Cerrudo) danced the final duet that was created on them from Cerrudo’s 2010 work Deep Down Dos.? Wardell is leaving HSDC to pursue independent projects.? I’m really going to miss these two artists dancing together.? They seem to have a kinetic ESP that drives their duets.

Janet Eilber, Artistic Director of the Martha Graham Dance Company told stories about working with the iconic choreographer in the 70s.? Eilber took over many of Graham’s roles once she was retired from dancing and said the best advice she ever gave her was to always create an internal monologue.? “You have to talk to yourself the whole time,” Graham advised her. Eilber also talked of how Graham had changed after a leave of absence from the company (depression and an extended hospital stay).? Once back, the way she choreographed changed to “visually instead of viscerally”.? Clips were shown of Eilber dancing in Graham classics Frontier and Clytemnestra.

Bettie de Jong, Rehearsal Director for Paul Taylor Dance Company brought her considerable personality and humor to stories of working with Mr. Taylor.”Unlike Martha, he doesn’t like to talk about the dances he’s making…maybe two words”, she says.? “His dances had an animal instinct, a dark side, a musical side, a funny side.”? Clips of her dancing with Taylor were shown including Esplanade and Big Bertha.

CDF co-founder Lar Lubovitch came last and promptly rearranged the two chairs on stage into a more pleasing configuration (he admitted it had been bothering him the entire program).? Once settled, he explained that his approach to choreographing is to tell the story of the music.? The dancers need to embody the music. ? “My relationship with my dancers is based on who they present themselves to be,” he says adding, “there has to be a bond of trust in the room.? We trust and therefore can be free and therefore can create.”? An excerpt from HISTOIRE DE SOLDAT, Three Dances:? Tango, Waltz, Ragtime (2011) with three of his dancers followed telling a story with dark humor of a soldier, a princess and the devil.? Mauro opened the floor up to questions from the audience before wrapping up a lovely discussion on dance, history and the choreographic process.

CDF11 Masters

Hubbard Street's Jesse Bechard & Ana Lopez in "Petite Mort". Photo by Cheryl Mann.

The Chicago Dancing Festival (CDF) Masters program last night at the Auditorium Theatre was a spectacular night of dance.? The packed house was jazzed and ready for a great show giving Mayor Emanuel (who was in attendance again this evening) thunderous applause for just being there.? It doesn’t hurt that he’s also the city’s number one dance advocate and biggest fan.? The show opened with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago (HSDC) performing Jir? Kyl?an’s Petite Mort (1991), a gorgeous work to two Mozart piano concertos that has been in their rep since 2000.? Between the music, the choreography and the beautiful dancers, it really doesn’t get any better than this.? (I told Artistic Director Glenn Edgerton at intermission that I was getting tired of trying to find new words to describe HSDC and that I might just have to make something up.? Stellatasticerifficabulous?? Nah, that’s harder to say – and type – than Suluashvili!) Anyway, the bar had been set.

River North Dance Chicago in "Nine Person Precision Ball Passing". Photo by Cheryl Mann.

River North Dance Chicago (RNDC) followed with Charles Moulton’s Nine Person Precision Ball Passing (1980) which they performed earlier in the week at the opening gala. ? On Monday, RNDC performed it flawlessly, but two balls during the seven-minute piece “got away” drawing giggles from the audience.? Moulton told me last week that “mistakes are part of it” and that they are inevitable.? With extra balls hidden in their costumes, the number kept pace and you wouldn’t know something happened except for those darn balls rolling on the stage.? I liked that they dropped a ball.? It shows they are human (‘cuz some of the things they can do really make you wonder) and it showed their professionalism and focus when they kept on going.? Act I ended with Victoria Jaiani and Temur Suluashvili from Joffrey Ballet dancing the Act II pas de

Joffrey's Victoria Jaiani & Temur Suluashvili in Act II pas from "Giselle". Photo by Cheryl Mann.

deux (1841) from Giselle.? Please note: I love the Joffrey and Giselle is my favorite ballet (yes, I named my dog Giselle), so it hurts me to say that this was the weakest number in the show.? Jaiani was gorgeous, as usual, but the tempo of the audio track was off.? It was too fast when it should’ve been slow to show off her ridiculous extensions and slowed down during the filler parts.? Plus, you really need to understand the relationship of the characters to fully appreciate what is happening on stage.? They would’ve been better served doing a bravura pas from Don Quixote or Le Corsaire or even the White Swan pas they performed earlier in the week.

Martha Graham Dance Co's Carrie Ellmore-Tallitsch, Tadej Brdnik & Mariya Dashkina Maddux in "Embattled Garden". Photo by Cheryl Mann.

The second act began with the Martha Graham Dance Company in Embattled Garden (1958).? I loved it!? Even though it was choreographed 53 years ago, the work holds up.? The sets by Isamu Noguchi looked like they were from Beetlejuice. The basic, colorful costumes and strict technique all blended into a dramatic story of biblical seduction.? High drama!? Artistic Director Janet Eilber came out before the piece to set up the plot and let us know what we were going to see.? Smart move.? Maybe this would’ve helped with the Giselle pas.? The Eve character’s (danced by Mariya Dashkina Maddux) hair was a character unto itself, whipping violently back and forth to the music as if it had its own choreography.? The Masters program closed with

Lar Lubovitch Dance Co in "The Legend of Ten". Photo by Cheryl Mann.

Lar Lubovitch Dance Company in The Legend of Ten.? Choreographed by CDF co-founder Lar Lubovitch in 2010, the piece for – you guessed it – ten dancers was wonderful.? Set to two movements from Brahms’ Quintet for Piano and Strings in F Minor, Opus 34, Legend showed that Lubovitch is a master with not only movement, but music.? The seamless flow of the dancers’ energy was hypnotic.? It could literally lull you into a stupor, but then you would miss the quick little solo turns by each dancer and the smart, luscious partnering by Jenna Fakhoury and Reid Bartelme.

The main thing I’ve noticed in this week of dance so far is the appreciation and appetite for dance in Chicago. The audiences have been attentive and generous and eager for more.? That’s my kind of town!

CDF11 MCA Moves

Richard Move as Martha Graham. Photo by Josef Astor.

Foreshadowing the evening to come, the title of the Chicago Dancing Festival‘s second consecutive free night of dance, MCA Moves, proved to be right. ?The night was Move’s. ?Richard Move, Artistic Director of Moveopolis!, TEDGlobal 2011 Oxford Fellow and impersonator of the iconic Martha Graham, hosted the program as Graham.? With costume changes, quips and quotes, he offered insights littered with history into her persona by becoming – in spirit, cadence and mannerisms – Martha. Joined by two young dancers (Deborah Goodman and Sandra Kaufman), he/she led a class Graham technique mini-class (“contract, release, repose”) and later performed his solo Lamentation Variation, an homage to Graham’s version commissioned by her company in 2007.? Quite frankly, he stole the show. (Honestly, any show that starts with a dude in drag as emcee – I’m in!)

There were two shows this evening at 6pm and 8pm.? I attended the second showing.? Two pieces from Monday night’s opening gala performance were on the program – Shaker Interior from Snow on the Mesa (1995) by artist from Martha Graham Dance Company and Brian Brooks Moving Company‘s duet from MOTOR (2010).? One I liked more the second time around and the other less.? The precision athleticism of MOTOR that enthralled on Monday wasn’t there.? The men were out of sync and looked tired.? Perhaps, two shows back-to-back for this number was too much.? Shaker Interior, by contrast, seemed more subtle and fragile this time.? The female dancer (Xiaochuan Xie) performed the piece topless, which made more sense contextually than the white leotard she wore on Monday.? There is a moment when she is kneeling on the floor with the man (Tadej Brdnik) sitting on a bench next to her and she slowly lifts her hand up so the back of it lightly touches his back and he moves ever so slightly in acknowledgement…it’s breathtaking.

Lucky Plush Productions piece Habituation (2010) incorporated everyday gestures and humor to deliver a clever dance about how they make dances. Faye Driscoll‘s If you pretend you are drowning I’ll pretend I am saving you is an excerpt of a work-in-progess not…not (2011).? More performance art than technical dancing, she and Jesse Zaritt tackle the strange and sometimes awkward developments in a male/female relationship.? Using their breath as music and a triangle of hot pink duct tape (did anyone else think this was a sexual reference?) as the stage parameters, they flirted, climbed, humped, bumped and writhed through their quirky attempt at a sexual bond.? Sometimes funny, sometimes wtf?? I’m not sure about this one.? I’d like to see it again in the context of the entire work.

CDF Opening Gala

Joffrey Ballet's Victoria Jaiani & Temur Suluashvili in White Swan pas. Photo by Cheryl Mann.

Last night was the opening night gala kicking off the fifth year of the Chicago Dancing Festival?(CDF). A short 5-piece program on the MCA Stage was followed by cocktails, a buffet with three ballroom dance couples interspersed upstairs at Puck’s Restaurant and outside on the terrace. ?The $250-a-head evening was co-chaired by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who stayed to mingle after the show along with his wife and daughter. ?A few short speeches preceded the performance. MCA Director of Performance Programs Peter Taub opened the fest saying, “We are here to celebrate the best of dance from across the country”. ?CDF co-founder Jay Franke gave some impressive stats including that in the past five years the festival has presented over 35 companies and over 400 dancers and proudly announced that this year CDF sold out approximately 10,000 seats for this week’s performances. ?Franke turned over the mic to Mayor Emanuel, who celebrated his 100th day in office by attending the gala. ?The Mayor, a former dancer and huge fan, declared that he wants to double the size of the fest and make sure Chicago is the dance destination for the entire country. He added there are 19 companies performing this week to an estimated 19,000 audience members. ?Co-founder Lar Lubovitch said, “One cannot describe dance in words, no matter how eloquent,” but then went on to read the most eloquent essay (written by him) on duets, five of which we were about to see.

HSDC's Penny Saunders & Alejandro Cerrudo in Following the Subtle Current Upstream. Photo by Cheryl Mann.

The program of duets featured choreography from 1895 to present and while they represented divergent styles, there was a through-line of choreographic evolution. ?A pristine classical white ballet to a fluid neoclassical ballet with a contemporary twist. ?An emotive classic modern offering to a postmodern minimal feat. ?Then an avant garde performance art work that evoked musical and choreographic themes from the first duet. ?A mini-history of dance in 60 minutes or less…sort of. ?Joffrey Ballet‘s husband and wife team, Victoria Jaiani and Temur Suluashvili began with Lev Ivanov’s traditional White Swan pas?(1895) from Swan Lake. ?On a small, bare stage it is difficult to bring the audience into the magical place that is needed for the dance, but what it lacked in mood and setting was made up for by technique. ?Jaiani’s extraordinary extensions and limberness were on full display. ?(I’m fairly certain her back is made of a flexible pipe cleaner.) ?Just as they disappeared into the wings, Hubbard Street‘s (HSDC) Penny Saunders and Alejandro Cerrudo oozed onto the stage in an excerpt from Alonzo King’s Following the Subtle Current Upstream (2000). ?While similar to the previous pas in technique, flexibility and master partnering (and similar promenades in pench?), this duet was the opposite in feel. ?Fluid, continuous and rich.

Martha Graham's Xiaochuan Xie & Tadej Brdnik in "Snow on the Mesa". Photo by Cheryl Mann.

An excerpt from *Robert Wilsons Snow on the Mesa?(1995) brought a display of control and drama with Martha Graham Dance Company dancers Xiaochuan Xie and Tadej Brdnik’s gorgeous interpretation. ?Strong, yet delicate with minimal, but heartbreaking gestures, I found myself holding my breath through the piece. ?The all white costuming and loving touches again reminded me of the first duet. ?Brian Brooks Moving Company changed things up with a male duet titled MOTOR (2010).? Clad only in black briefs, Brooks and David Scarantino embarked on a thigh-killing, synchronized chugging spree.? Set to a driving beat with ominous overtones, MOTOR had the men hopping, jumping and chugging, foward, backward, in changing formations around the stage.? It was an exercise in stamina and focus.? There were more than a few moments, however, that took me back to the swan theme.? Precise chugs in attitude dev?nt (four cignets) and chugs in fondue arabesque (white swan corps).? A stripped down off-kilter Swan Lake.

The final piece Compression Piece (Swan Lake) was a commission by Walter Dundervill , created specifically for CDF this year.? If the previous piece was off-kilter, this was Swan Lake on crack!? Dundervill (who Lubovitch said could be ” a lunatic”), along with partner Jennifer Kjos, creates a white landscape of distorted beauty in his choreography (warped fouett? turns and bourr? sequences), sets (a fabric installation that serves as back drop and eventually part of the choreography) and costumes (interchangeable pieces – they changed on and off stage – layered from baroque to bridal).? The soundscape featured swan riffs from Tchaikovsky and Saint-Sa?ns, but funked it up with Diana Ross and Sonic Youth.? This world premiere proved that the black swan has nothing on the white swan when it comes to crazy (in a good way).

Maybe I have Swan Lake on the brain (a strain of avian flu?), but I caught a definite thread of similarity in the pieces.? As if all of the works were distilled from choreography from 120 years ago and ended up being all of these unique moments on stage…and maybe they were.? Example:? Look at the photos on this page.? From very different styles and eras, yet all are an interpretation of a standard supported arabesque.? Technical issues prevented Faye Driscoll from performing on the program as scheduled, but I’m looking forward to seeing it later in the week at the MCA Moves program to see how it would’ve fit into this program.? As it was presented last evening, it was a testament to the brilliant artistic direction of Lubovitch and Franke.

*This has been updated.?? I originally had the piece choreographed by Martha Graham.? Oops!