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!

 

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

 

 

 

 

Wednesday in the Park with Giselle

Crowd at Pritzker Pavillion for Paris Op?ra Ballet's live simulcast of "Giselle". Photo by Robert Carl.

An estimated 14,000 people showed up at Millennium Park Wednesday evening to watch the live simulcast of the Paris Op?ra Ballet‘s performance of Giselle.? After a greeting from Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) Commissioner, Michelle T. Boone and a few words from Brigitte Lef?vre, Paris Op?ra Ballet’s Director, the audience fixed its collective gaze at a giant screen? set up on the Pritzker Pavilion stage.? The LED screen set up by Staging Solutions was 18′ x 32′ according to the City’s press release or 16.5′ x 32.5′ according to Hedy Weiss in the Chicago Sun Times – it was big!? Hi-tech, LED, surround sound and arguably the most famous ballet company in the world performing my favorite ballet…for free.? I love my city!

Chicagoans have been privy to this ballet before.? Local fave Joffrey Ballet presented Giselle in October 2007 and American Ballet Theatre has performed it here numerous times, most recently in March.? The ballet was created for the Paris Op?ra Ballet in 1841, however, the current version was staged by Patrice Bart and Eugene Polyakov in 1991.? The french version is pretty much the same as what we’ve seen before with one notable exception.? The Americanized adaptations throw in more grandiose choreography. ? For instance, ABT’s version has Albrecht’s bris? diagonals and grand jumps in Act II, where Paris Op?ra has him doing slow changements that grow into a crescendo of entrechat quatr? and six (performed with great ballon by Nicolas Le Riche).? Where ABT’s Myrta breezes back and forth across the stage and in and out of the wings in a bourr? flurry, Paris Op?ra’s Myrta’s doesn’t leave the stage, stopping and balancing in sous-sus before taking off again, an exercise in complete control (danced brilliantly by Nolwenn Daniel – she was scary!). ?? Clairemarie Osta’s Giselle was a sweet, innocent take on young love, but her mad scene lacked the dramatic prowess of a Julie Kent.? Rounding out Wednesday’s cast was hottie Vincent Chaillet as Hilarion and a stellar corps de ballet.? Those Wilis were on!

Being outside had the effect of enhancing, yet separating you from the performance.? The breeze made you feel like you were in the glen celebrating the wine festival and as the sun set and the sky became darker, you could imagine yourself in a wooded graveyard.? The minimal downside was random fire engine sirens and the weekly fireworks exploding at nearby Navy Pier, but that made the experience uniquely Chicago.? There was a disconnect not being in the theater.? A twice-removed feeling: one, you’re not in the theater and two, you’re watching live dance being filmed on a screen.? Nothing beats a live performance experience, but knowing it was being performed live a few hundred feet away (and below) was pretty cool.? The actual filming was fantastic with close-up shots of the lead dancers, a peak into the orchestra pit, an angled shot that showed a hint of the entrances from one wing.? It gave those of us in the cheap (free) seats a VIP feel.

 

Spring Break

After the whirlwind that was the spring dance season, it is time for spring break. Spring cleaning, holidays for some, chocolate (hopefully) for all and a little down time until we hit the theaters again with for another run of performances.? I saw a truckload of fantastic dance in the last few weeks.? In fact, the final performance of ABT‘s Giselle still haunts my dreams with its beauty.? My hopes are to put up delayed reviews at some point, but for now l? brain is fried and Seabiscuit needs a nap.

Happy Spring!

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.