Chicago Dancing Festival 2012

Martha Graham Dance Co dancer Xiaochuan Xie on the Pritzker stage.

The Chicago Dancing Festival (CDF) hits Chicago stages for a week of free dance performances again this August.  Now in its sixth year, CDF – the brainchild of Lar Lubovitch and Jay Franke – is expanding (again) to six days of events with new programs and a couple of commissioned world premieres to boot!  RB will be part of CDF’s blogger initiative for the second year, bringing you sneak peeks, dancer/choreographer interviews, event coverage, reviews and wrap ups.  I’ll also be live-Tweeting pre- and post-event coverage for the Fest complete with photos, behind-the-scenes happenings and audience quotes.

New to the fest this year is an all-Chicago program, Chicago Dancing, featuring local faves Hubbard Street Dance Chicago (HSDC) and Joffrey Ballet and three CDF commissioned works.  Giordano Dance Chicago (note the new name!) makes its CDF debut in a work by Swedish choreographer Alexander Ekman.  New York-based choreographer Nicholas Leichter will work with the After School Matters students to create a world premiere honoring the memory of Maggie Daley, former first lady of Chicago, who started the program in 1991.  A two-week residency led by Larry Keigwin blends dancers and non-dancers from Chicago into a world premiere, Bolero Chicago.  Keigwin’s new work, set to Ravel’s most famous score, will incorporate local movement traits for a uniquely Chicago piece.  New groups performing at the fest this year include Pacific Northwest Ballet and Ballet Arizona, along with returning companies San Francisco Ballet, Houston Ballet, New York City Ballet, Martha Graham Dance Company and Brian Brooks Moving Company.

A partnership with Chicago SummerDance, the city’s outdoor dancing series, for Dancing Under the Stars and prolific local dance writer Zac Whittenburg leads a lecture demonstration, Chicago Now, with local companies at the MCA Stage.  Programming for both of these event to be announced at a later date.   A day of Dancing Movies also takes place at the MCA with films including PINA, All Is Not Lost, Two Seconds After the Laughter and Fanfare for Marching Band curated by local artist Sarah Best.  The fest always ends with a Celebration of Dance at the outdoor Pritzker Pavilion stage in Millennium Park showcasing a number of artists that have performed throughout the week.

Tickets for all of the events are free, however, you do need to reserve seating for the indoor theaters in advance.  These will “sell out” very fast!  More information on tickets will be available the week of July 16th.

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 Kylían, 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 Jirí Kylían’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 jetés 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 Jirí Kylían’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!

Lar On Duets

Joffrey Ballet's Victoria Jaiani & Temur Suluashvili in "Bells". Photo by Herbert Migdoll.

At the opening night gala performance for Chicago Dancing Festival on Monday, co-founder/co-artistic director Lar Lubovitch spoke so beautifully about dance and the art of the duet. I asked his PR firm if I could obtain a copy of the poem or essay he read from only to find out that Mr. Lubovitch wrote it himself.  Here is an excerpt from his speech:

For all of the effort to do so, one cannot authentically describe dance in words, no matter how eloquent the speaker.  In fact, only dance in action can describe itself.  It’s a language for the eyes, for those who can see, and a sensation of the heart, for those who can feel.  By the same token, it is useless to attempt to sum up in words the essence of a duet.  Its meaning is embodied by its action.

Of course, language is indispensable before the act of dance can be committed.  Through hours of practice two dancers in a duet become sublimely sensitive to the transmission of the subtlest physical sensation.  And to arrive at that destination, a deluge of language has been employed, parsing words to the nth degree in order to reach their objective.  But when the resulting movement illuminates what many words have contrived to describe, no further language is necessary – or even possible.  It is then that the dancers have established the bond of trust that enables them to be free to risk everything in the hands of the other with wordless abandon.

But when the performance arrives, at the end of all the words and all the work, all former understandings fly out the door and the reality of the stage steps in.  Now the air is charged with an unfamiliar energy.  A black void exists where a mirror once stood.  The heart rate is altered and powerful shafts of light press on their bodies.  Now is the moment when speech is useless and only action counts, when the dancers minds and therefore their bodies must meet in perfect synchrony.  Once the curtain goes up and the journey has begun, they must negotiate the thicket of possibilities without a word.

This tension – this energy – this profound act of trust between two beings has been at the heart and soul of nearly every dance ever choreographed.  It is the moment when all the frenzied group action subsides and two dancers become one in a profound exhibition of freedom through trust that the human spirit is revealed and the essence of dance is made apparent.  It would not be incorrect to say that the essence of dance, and in fact all of art, is inherently love, but it would be even more accurate to say it is about belief.  The belief that all artists share, that through acts of dedication and imagination there is the possibility of a better way and therefore, a better world.

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 penché), 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 devánt (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 fouetté turns and bourré 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-Saëns, 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!

CDF’s 5 After 5 Event

Jay Franke and Evin Eubanks address the crowd while Chicago Cabaret Project's Kyle Hustedt looks on. Photo by Vin Reed.

Last night the Chicago Dancing Festival (CDF) kicked off its summer season with a launch party 5 After 5 at Benchmark in Old Town.  Dance enthusiasts, supporters, board member, artistic staff, bloggers, pr reps and dancers all gathered on the top floor of the swanky bar to mingle and toast the start of CDF events.  Executive Director Evin Nicole Eubanks greeted guests at the door, while Co-Founder Jay Franke worked the crowd.  Notable absent was Co-Founder Lar Lubovitch who is out of town with his company that is performing at Jacob’s Pillow through July 24th.

Kristi Burris and Jessica Chapuis show us how it's done! Photo by Vin Reed.

After sipping cocktails — Bean and Body even crafted a signature Cinq cocktail for the event – emcee Kyle Hustedt from the Chicago Cabaret Project opened with a rousing and humorous rendition of Wilkommen from what else…Cabaret!  After “wilkommening” the crowd, Hustedt introduced the first of three dance performances of the evening.  Chicago Human Rhythm Project‘s Kristi Burris and Jessica Chapuis delivered (I really want to say good, old-fashioned) tap-off with each taking syncopated turns on their wooden stages.  Fun!

Amber Jackson and Louis Jackson perform at CDF's "5 After 5". Photo by Vin Reed.

After a short pause, DanceWorks Chicago dancers Amber Jackson and Louis James Jackson (no, they aren’t related) literally exploded out of the crowd with a sassy piece “Beat in the Box” choreographed by Brian Eno.  I found out later that this was the last performance with DWC for these two beautiful dancers.  Louis is heading out as a performer on a cruise ship and Amber is looking for a job as a school teacher.  Best of luck to both!


Moníca Cervantes and Eduardo Zuñiga of Luna Negra getting close. Photo by Vin Reed.

Luna Negra dancers Moníca Cervantes and Eduardo Zuñiga later wowed the crowd with a flirty duet created  by Artistic Director Gustavo Ramírez Sansano for the event.  After the performances, more mingling ensued.  I got to meet some of my fellow CDF bloggers (click the icon at the top right of this page for more info) in the festival blogger intiative:  Scott Silberstein, Miguel Cano, Araceli Arroyo as well as Astek Consulting rep Rachel Yeomans and catch up with Silverman Group gurus Beth Silverman and Eric Eatherly.  I especially enjoyed hanging with visual artists Sasha Fornari and Vin Reed.

It was a fun evening and great way to start the CDF festivities!

Inaugural Post

Ta da!

I’m so excited to get started on this new project — and what a way to start. I recently had the privilege of interviewing acclaimed contemporary choreographer Lar Lubovitch about the upcoming Joffrey Ballet performances of his version of Othello.  To be honest, when I pitched the idea, I was hoping to get to meet with Joffrey dancer Fabrice Calmels, but the Lar angle was too good to resist for my editor (thanks KKH!). Needless to say, I was extremely nervous before the interview, but Mr. Lubovitch was very kind and we had a lovely talk about the making of Othello.

Here is the edited transcript from our talk.

You’ve had an extraordinary career. Do you have a favorite moment/dance…any highlights?
Well…I don’t know that I can choose a highlight. It’s dance…and the freedom to create a dance is in itself a privilege. And to be allowed to do the work that I do…it’s a very unusual thing to make dances. There’s no real reason the world should make a place for it, but I have the privilege of occupying that place.

Why Othello? What drew you to this particular story?
As a subject for a dance? Well, I thought it was a story that could be conveyed in pictures. And because the central characters in the story are such archetypes, and so easily related to by most people. The basic themes of the story are such a common human circumstance. The idea of jealousy as a theme and the physicalizing of that story seemed very possible. Of all the Shakespeare plays it is more depicted by…or known by its action than by its words – although there are many beautiful words in it. In fact, I didn’t base it on the Shakespeare play. Shakespeare based his play on a story by Giraldi Cinthio, a short story writer of 100 years earlier than Shakespeare’s time. Cinthio based it on legend that was popularly told. So in researching Shakespeare, I found the Cinthio and found that there was a different way to relate the story. Cinthio chose much broader strokes with much more archetypal characters.

I read the Cinthio version yesterday and it kind of scared me.
Oh, that’s amazing!… It’s not easy to find. Then you know it’s very extreme – and there are only the main four major characters. Shakespeare added many more characters and much more psychological depth. From the Shakespeare version, I picked up the psychological…plumbed the psychological ideas of the characters and thought that could be put into movement.

I saw a PBS interview with Parrish Maynard (the original Iago) and he said that you had given him a book about 5 ways to play Iago. Do you normally, even when you’re creating modern work, rely on literature to work from?
Um, no I don’t. In this particular case, there is so much literature on the subject that there’s plenty of source material and I had the good fortune to find an unusual book called “The Iago” which expounds upon the five basic motives that have been discussed as to why Iago does what he does. And…it’s almost not necessary to know his motives, but for the person playing that character, it gives them a great deal of background information.

The first live dance performance you saw (@ University of Iowa) – and inspired you to become a dancer/choreographer – included Jose Limon’s “Moor’s Pavane”. Is it synchronicity or just coincidence that you eventually chose to create this ballet?
I think you could call it synchronicity. It wouldn’t be inappropriate. It was one of the first dances I ever saw…and it made the kind of impression that was locked into my mind and I thought there was another way I could approach the idea. Not disrespectfully because (the) ”Moor’s Pavane” …is one of the great pieces of dance writing of the last century.

Most storybook ballets tend to have female leads, with the men being almost secondary. With Othello, it kind of flips everything. Was it more difficult for you to create a full-length ballet with such strong male leads (Othello, Iago, Cassio) or did it free you up to be able to do more creative things?

I never gave it a second thought. The roles men and women play in dance today are so much less designed to be unequal. And partnership and partnering are such a shared, physical act that the idea of a recessive character being a woman and a dominant character being a man isn’t a consideration anymore.
In this particular case, the central story is about two men, the Iago/Othello conflict and the role of Desdemona and Cassio, the other major, but somewhat peripheral characters are vehicles to which we examine this very strange conflict with Othello.

How different was it to set a full-length ballet as opposed to typically shorter modern pieces that you are used to creating?

It took a great deal more preparation time, of course. And more often than not, I would choreograph a dance of 20 or 30 minutes to an existing score of music. But for this we commissioned a piece of music, so I spent a great deal of time with the composer writing the music – and prior to that, a great deal of time composing how the time would be spent to give a roadmap to the composer to follow. A storyboard – where they use in film…where they give the composer a storyboard…so I wrote a storyboard of the entire three acts and then he used that as his guide.

So after you created the storyboard for Elliot (Goldenthal, Oscar-winning composer), then did you…did the music come before the choreography? Or did it all kind of…
Simultaneously, really. Certainly there was a bunch of music before the choreography because we worked for a while before I actually got to the studio, but…once the studio began, more than three quarters of the score was yet to be written, so I would be in the studio every day choreographing what I had received the night before basically. I’d meet Elliott after rehearsal and we’d go at it and go at it – he usually had some material for me to listen to. He was a night owl. He’d sit up all night preparing a cd as sort of a base version…a basic version of what the music would be like. I’d get that delivered to me in the morning and then I’d choreograph it that day. So it was a kind of “in the moment” experience.

Then if there were certain images you wanted to create, did you tell him…right here is where I need something…
Yes. It was very specific…when I wrote the storyboard, even dictating how many seconds the scenes would last and what emotions would be conveyed and what physical acts were taking place at that time, so he had a great deal of material with which to illustrate the sound. And in addition, I would work with him and say, “at this moment, they are doing this, can you get this music to turn a little bit in that direction?” So, it was very “close encounters” between two creators.

In almost everything I’ve read about your work, the word fluidity comes up. How did you incorporate fluidity into Othello?

Well, that’s a description of the way that my work physically embodies a dancer. My way of creating movement is to try to create movement that has a feeling of inevitability. It means that whatever step has been done, can only produce a natural step out of it – and a step that must look inevitable, so that the body must easily flow into that next action. And if I’ve accomplished that then the look is very fluid and people have picked up on that and used that word quite a bit. But, more than anything… trying to create a sense of inevitability.

Here in Chicago, we’re familiar with some of your work via Hubbard Street (HSDC) — they have some of your pieces in their repertory. Will our audience recognize some of your movements in the ballet? Are there particular scenes or parts where we’ll be able to recognize, oh that’s definitely a “Lar” kind of movement?

I don’t know. I don’t think I can be the judge of that. I think I can step only so far outside of myself and everything that comes out of me will probably have an air of me that is irrevocable…so probably it’s there, but I think Othello — to me — looks very different than my other work because of its narrative content. And the…um, the passage of time is dealt with a bit differently because it is not abstract in the sense of a abstract dance to music. There are characters; there’s a narrative, but the story isn’t told in a particularly linear fashion. There are three acts in the dance and each act takes another structure. The structure is based on 19th century ballet – the way the time is spent, the particular time-honored structure of story dance that I admire very much. I felt that I could take that structure, move it further and use it with a modern language of movement rather than the archaic kind of…(hard to hear — kid yelling)…language of ballet. So I’m not sure, in the long run, that it looks like my work because of these various ideas…

How instrumental was (Joffrey’s Artistic Director) Ashley Wheater in getting you to come restage Othello?
Absolutely 100% — he was the generator of that possibility. I’m very, very grateful to him. It’s a very big dance and therefore a very expense dance, and for Ashley to take the risk on doing something controversial and risky – particularly at a time when being conservative would be the way to go…is a very uplifting thing and is the correct thing to do. (There’s an) unfortunate move in the arts that when challenges become very…people get very conservative in their art product, so to speak, and the product becomes basically more boring, so the audience begins to drop away. But at a time of very conservative…economic support, it’s a good idea to take risks, so the audience stays engaged and are more willing to support it.

He’s brought back a lot of full-length ballets and classical ballets that we hadn’t…Joffrey hadn’t really done in a long time, so we’re really happy to have Joffrey…to have their base be here. Are you enjoying working with Joffrey dancers?
Very, very much. They’re the top of the heap of dancers in the world. They’re as good as it gets.

What has been challenging or interesting in resetting the ballet on a newer company after so many years of the same companies doing it?
Well, the most wonderful thing is I finally have the opportunity to fix it, basically.

I was going to ask if you changed anything.
I’ve done a lot of altering and additions and subtractions of things that I’ve wanted to do from the time that I finished, but were not possible because of the difficulty of getting a company of this size and the time that it takes to actually improve and revise the work. So there are a lot of things that have been re-examined.

You actually mentioned this earlier and I read it in a New York Times article…you said that when you choreograph you “look for the next inevitable step”. What is your next inevitable step in your career?
Ah…I hope that it’s to become resident company in Chicago. I’ve had my company in New York for 40 years, 41years now actually, and I’ve wanted for some time to have a home in Chicago for the company as well and to be a bi-city company. And we’re in the early stages of finding a way for it to happen, but certain pieces are falling into place that are beginning to make it look more possible or possibly inevitable.

Good for us. And one, final, silly question: If you were a super hero, what would your super power be?
I’m going to have to think about that.

Well, the obvious health and war answers, but I think given…about what I do at this particular moment that I’d say if I had a super power it would be to cause all human brains to understand that art is not a decoration, its an essential expression of our basic humanity and as indispensable as food.

Well, thank you sir. It’s been such a pleasure.
Thank you.