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.

Luna Negra Dance Theater: Luna Nueva

Luna Negra dancer Eduardo Zuniga in "En Busca de". Photo by Nathan Keay.

Luna Negra Dance Theater opened a run of their Luna Nueva program last night at the MCA.? Fast, frenetic, interesting, architectural, strange, wonderful and expertly danced.? You still have three chances to catch the three new works for the company by talented choreographers Gustavo Ram?rez Sansano, Diana Szeinblum and M?nica Cervantes.

Here are some of the reviews for last night’s performance:

Chicago Sun Times, trailorpilot, Chicago Tribune

Luna Negra Dance Theater presents Luna Nueva at the MCA Stage, 220 E. Chicago Ave., through Sunday, June 10th.? Tickets are $28 ($22 for MCA members).? Call 312.397.4010 or visit

Preview: Luna Nueva

Luna Negra dancer/choreographer M?nica Cervantes. Photo by Jonathan Mackoff.

A man sits on the floor as three women take turns forcing themselves, crawling, pulling and pushing through the space between his body and arms.? Beside him another man sits with his arms overhead as three people crawl over his shoulders and down to the floor like a human waterfall.? This is a glimpse of the early stages (as in day two!) of a world premiere being created on?Luna Negra Dance Theater?(LNDT) by Argentinian choreographer Diana Szeinblum. ?? “Elbow, there, fuerte”, she says from the front of the studio. ?Szeinblum’s new work Brasilia will be featured with a world premiere by Luna Negra dancer/choreographer M?nica Cervantes, Requiem, and the U.S. premiere of Artistic Director Gustavo Ram?rez Sansano’s 2008 work En Busca de (In Search of) at the MCA Stage this weekend as the company presents Lune Nueva, a new initiative exploring unconventional movement styles.

Sansano originally created his work for IT Dansa in Barcelona in honor of one of his teachers that had recently passed away. ?”I learned a lot from her and really experimented in that piece,” he says from LNDT’s State Street studios. ?”You know that feeling when you’re excited of what’s coming, but you don’t know what it is, so you’re anxious? ?She crafted anxious. ?En Busca de is about the momentum of your life.” ? ?Cervantes premiere for six dancers explores the idea ?pathways set to a classical score of Mozart and Shostakovich. ?Read a great preview of her piece ?by Johnny Nevin at

Szeinblum, a dancer/choreographer/actor who started dancing at age six, studied at the Ballet of San ?Martin Theater in Buenos Aries and at the Folkwang Tanz Schule?in Germany under the direction of Pina Bausch. ?She founded her own company – Diana Szeinblum Dance Company – in 2000. ?Sansano helped translate our interview two weeks ago at the beginning of her rehearsal process.

RB: ?What was it like working with Pina?

DS: ?It was so nice. (laughing) Interesting.

GRS: ?What was so impressive for her about Pina, is she’d take every detail like it was the first time.

DS: ?She was incredible. ?I worked with her and Susana Linka…this marked me.

RB: ?I read that you call your dances plays. ?Can you talk about your process?

DS: ?I always take things from the people an dI say that this, for me, gives the truthfulness to the work, my work. ?The thing for me is to find in the dance the kind of truth that actors try to find.

RB: ?Do you stars with a story you want to tell or a concept and give that to the dancers? ?Do you use a lot of improv?

DS: ?Improv. ?Generally, I need to understand where I am. ?To create first a place or atmosphere. ?This gives me my limit to start to put all things in this place. ?For me, this is the most important thing to find.

RB: ?I know you’ve only been here one day, but for this specific piece, did you know what it was going to be or do you need to work with the dancers first?

GRS: ?This is a specific situation, because of time, she has to use a concept.

DS: ?To find it very fast. ?I think I live in a strange place, so I think I can…I will do something personal.

GRS: ?The way she works normally with the dancers…everything comes out of them. ?The story at the end is them, but because it’s such a short time, it’s going to be something personal.

RB: ?You only have two weeks. ?How long do you normally work on a piece?

DS: ?In Argentina, we don’t have money, we don’t have producers, no one will say ‘ok, come on, do it’ ?This is the only thing that is great for us – that we really have time to do our work. ?Sometimes it’s four months, sometimes one year.D

RB: ?How are you changing the way you work to fit the tight time frame?

DS: ?I have a lot of images. ?The thing I have to construct how my images go together in this work. ?The are very nice dancers, very technical dancers. ?I’m not used the having such technical dancers. ?I’d really like to try more technical things, but I don’t have a lot of time.

GRS: ?It’s a different way of working for the company. ?That’s part of this program (Luna ?Nueva), to let the dancers have a completely different experience. ?The were telling me how much fun they had yesterday. ? Every time you have a new choreographer, it’s a different process. ?It’s a wonderful experience for us.

RB: ?How did you find Diana?

GRS: ?My search. (laughing) My encyclopedia of Latino choreographers.

DS: ?Where is this encyclopedia?

GRS: ?I made it!

RB: ?Do you have an idea of what this piece will be about, or is it too soon to talk about it?

DS: ?I’m trying to create things that speaks about layers.

Luna Negra Dance Theater presents Luna Nueva at the MCA, 220 E. Chicago Ave., Thursday-Sunday, June 7-1- at 7:30 p.m. ?Tickets are $28. ?Call the MCA Box Office at 312.397.4010 or visit




She’s Really Gone!

Pointe shoes, electric guitars, muscle and fierce art collide on the MCA Stage this weekend.? Karole Armitage, dubbed the “punk ballerina” in 1984 by Vanity Fair Magazine brings her troupe to Chicago as a compliment to the museum’s exhibition This Will Have Been:? Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s.? After taking a break from her company Armitage Ballet for 15 years while working in Europe, she came back to revive and rename the group Armitage Gone! Dance in 2005.? Why gone?? “One of the early pieces I did, almost my first piece was called Gone (A Real Gone Dance – 1982),” Armitage said.? “I feel like I?m gone from the mainstream, I?m gone from the predictable, I?m often just plain gone.? It?s also a hipster term from the 50?s, like ‘she?s a real gone gal’.? I liked the multiple meanings.? I just didn?t want to take myself so seriously.” This woman that doesn’t take herself seriously, it seems, has done it all.? She’s danced for George Balanchine and Merce Cunningham, started her own company, lived in Europe for 15 years choreographing and directing companies, re-started her own company, worked with Mikhail Baryshnikov, Rudolph Nureyev and Michael Jackson, choreographed Madonna’s Vogue video, received a Tony nomination for choreographing the Broadway revival of Hair and is currently choreographing the newest Cirque du Soleil tent show in Montreal.? “It’s funny.? In my career, I’ve worked with children, singers, dancers a now every kind of acrobat and very shortly I’ll be working with William Wegman on a dog ballet, so I’m adding animals to my list,” she said.? “I’ve covered the spectrum now.”

For the MCA appearance, the company’s first since 2008, AGD revives two of Armitage’s 80’s works -? Drastic-Classicism (1981) and The Watteau Duets (1985) – and her 2011 piece GAGA-Gaku.? The Rogue Ballerina talked with the Punk Ballerina over the phone one Sunday afternoon.? Here are some excerpts from our fascinating conversation.

You were born in Wisconsin and grew up in Kansas and Colorado.? How did you end up in Switzerland for your first job?

I started taking ballet when I was 4 years old in Kansas with a woman from New York City Ballet, so I was bitten by the magic of the art form.? At age 12 or 13, everyone was saying to be really serious, you have to go study full-time, you can?t just take class in Kansas.?? So I went to the School of American Ballet in NY in the summer.? I started going to junior high and high school at the North Carolina School for the Arts.? That was the only school in the U.S. both academics and very serious artistic, performing arts training at the time.? Summers were in NY.? Balanchine fell in love with Suzanne Farrell and she got married to someone else, so he decided to move part-time to Switzerland to escape his lovelorn state and he took all of us from the graduating class with him to Switzerland.? That?s how I got there, by a kind of fluke.?

And then you went to dance with Merce.? What made you want to make that jump?

I always loved doing the leotard ballets by Balanchine ( “Agon”, “The Four Temperaments”) that were really more modern.? Psychologically, I was a modern woman. I never felt comfortable, at that age, putting on a tutu and being kind of European.? It didn?t make sense to me, so why not do something even more modern, more of my time.? I?d never seen Cunningham, I?d never studied modern dance.? I went and took a class and I just loved it.? It used all of the technique you have in ballet, plus new thinking about movement and music.? It was a very exciting place to confront ideas.

Had you always been interested in choreography?

I never really thought about becoming a choreographer or anything.? I just thought there was no one doing what I imagined dance to be.? There was this oozing gap and I just decided to try and people really liked it.? I thought I?d probably only do one piece.? It was just an experiment and it just kind of snowballed.? I was asked to another piece and another piece, then Paris Opera asked me?it all happened in an organic, unexpected way.?

What do you look for in a dancer?

I do love technique.? The more skill that way, the better because I think it gives you freedom. ?You can just carve it and not even think about it.? I like virtuosity. I like being able to see the body go to the absolute with new dimensions of movement.? Technique is important for that freedom, but only if it is a real person living inside that body that has something to say.? I?m not interested in virtuosity for virtuosity?s sake.? I really look for personality and imagination.? People who are daring, who are willing to participate in a the creative process that the rules are unknown?it takes people who really have courage and are willing to go down these unknown paths.? It?s very hard to find dancers who combine all of those qualities.? Looking at the whole company, it?s like each person is a different spice and I?m always trying to make a beautiful meal.? I don?t want two people that are alike.? I want people who are different.

Everything I’ve been reading about Drastic-Classicism says it is an iconic work.? Why was it such a big deal in 1981?

There are electric guitars on stage. It used Cunningham technique in the model of Balanchine, so a new vocabulary was born.? In addition to that, it really had this raw, theatricality and wildness and jubilation of destruction.? That punk feeling.? It?s a very youthful piece.? It?s very free-spirited.? Sometimes the guitars are used as partners.? It really was punk, modern dance and ballet put together.? That was a very new idea.?

With the two revivals, did you change anything?

?There?s not a great video, so every step isn?t exactly as it used to be.? The dancers in my company weren?t even born yet!? That was about the spirit of counter-culture and the joy of being marginal.? There is no counter-culture now.? Their inner life is different.? I don?t know how to recreate literally that spirit and put it into people.? They?re different people, so it?s somewhat different.? That?s one of the extraordinary things about dance, it?s so of its moment. That?s a great part of its power.? It gets you in touch with now.? Being in the moment and feeling our time. We change ? even though the notes are the same, it comes out different.? It?s as close as I knew how to do it.? The Watteau Duets is a little easier to revive.? It was me and one partner, so it?s quite the same.? It?s a relationship from attraction to romance to erotic complicity to neurosis.? It?s been fascinating to work with my dancers who technically they?re better than I was on pointe.? When they put on their pointe shoes and dance a duet, they take on this ?I have to be perfect? ballet mentality.? To free them from that and get them to be completely comfortable with who they are and show who they are rather than trying to conform to an idea of what ballet looks like, which was a big process.? It?s fascinating to me that it wouldn?t be completely natural to them.

How did you get them to not think that way?

A lot of rehearsal and talking about it from lots of different points of view to help them find it for themselves.? It needs a sense of irony and freedom that takes a lot of work to get to be so comfortable and confident and secure in their sense of being a woman.? It?s a complicated thing to demand of them.? It took quite a bit of work to have them break free from the mold and become completely themselves.?

When Vanity Fair dubbed you the ?punk ballerina?, what was your initial reaction?? Was your career helped by the exposure or did you not want to be labeled??

I think I liked the label.? To me it really captured that I was interested in the most fine articulate balletic side of dance, but also the raw, visceral and unpredictable side that comes from rock-and-roll culture.? I thought it summed up the spirit of my work in a great way.? Honestly, I think it caused a lot of jealousy. I wasn?t in the ballet world, I wasn?t in the modern world and I think it was disturbing to the traditional dance world.? But, of course, that?s who I was and who I think I still am.? I don?t really fit into these categories.? It?s some other different kind of thing.? I?m still this odd-ball person.? Of course, the publicity was fantastic.? If only Vanity Fair was doing more dance.? Dance has become more marginalized in mainstream America.? It?s just not part of mass culture.? We need that exposure.? I wish there was more of it.

Armitage Gone! Dance at the MCA Stage, 220 E. Chicago Ave.? April 26 – 28 at 7:30 p.m.? Tickets are $35.? Call 312.397.4010 or visit


Thoughts on HSDC’s danc(e)volve – for real!

Johnny McMillan in "Never was" by Alejandro Cerrudo. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

Over the weekend on the MCA Stage, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago (HSDC) presented nine new works created by HSDC dancers/choreographers and the winners of HSDC’s 2010 National Choreographic Competition. danc(e)volve – preview here – proved to be an interesting and intimate look into what makes HSDC tick: its artists. ?Tickets for the four shows were sold out early, but there are tickets still available for the upcoming shows this weekend except for Saturday, which is already sold out. ?(Hint: get your tickets now!)

Unlike most HSDC programs, this new works festival serves up multiple shorter pieces averaging 15-minutes a pop. ?It’s like going to your favorite restaurant for a five-course chef tasting. ?You aren’t sure what you’re going to get, but you’re confident you’re going to like it. ?Unlike a big, gluttonous meal like an Ohad Naharin work, with a number of smaller pieces, you get varying tastes: ?an amuse bouche, a palette cleanser, complex notes, sweet and light and the one course that wow’s you. ?If you don’t like one course, something completely different is coming next. ?(Hmm…note to self: ?remember to eat before the show!)

Each work in danc(e)volve looked remarkably like the dancers that choreographed them, which is testament to their honesty as an artist. ?The natural way they move embedding itself into their art. ?Many took the opportunity to?play with traditional conventions, pushing the definition of what the audience is used to seeing. ?Lighting effects – shout out to lighting designer Matt Miller! – (downstage footlights creating shadows on the back wall), entrances and exits (utilizing the side door in the audience), even starting/ending points (music beginning in darkness or the dance ending in darkness, while the music still plays). ?Some were greeted with tentative applause (is it over?), others with a murmur of surprised approval.

Resident Choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo’s duet?Never was,?at seven minutes one of the shortest pieces, served as the main course of each program. ? ?Placed in the middle of Programs A and B, his newest work takes trademark moves (a quick saut? in second, a perky parallel pop up like a pencil, a partnered promenade slide in pli?) and distills them into their purest essence. ?You see moments of Cerrudo’s previous works woven in and watch as he hones his craft before your eyes. ?Straight up props to Emile Leriche and Johnny McMillan (two of the younger dancers in HS2) for their strong showing in this dense, intense piece.

Other pieces of note: ?Robyn Mineko Williams’ Recall, ?a techno-infused meditation on memory with some breaking tossed in for fun;?Penny Saunder’s humorous and slightly creepy Vaudevillian ?Bonobo; and Terry Marling’s thrice, which completely transformed from its previous incarnation, twice (once) that premiered last December. ??Many of the works used the dancers from HS2. ?It was nice to see the younger dancers perform at home (they tour a LOT) and in challenging works made by their HSDC mentors.

Hubbard Street presents danc(e)volve, Jan 26 – 29

MCA Stage, 220 E Chicago, 312.397.4010

Hubbard Street Evolving

HS2 dancers Johnny McMIllan & Nicholas Korkos in Cl?bio Oliveira's "The Fantastic Escape of the Little Buffalo". Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

The West Loop studios housing Hubbard Street Dance Chicago (HSDC) were bustling last week when I stopped by in preparation for dance(e)volve, a two-program, two-weekend set of performances showcasing in-house choreography opening tonight on the MCA Stage.? Bad news up front: ? this weekend’s show are already SOLD OUT!? Tickets are still available, but going at lightening speed, for next week’s run (Jan 26 – 29).

As a natural evolutionary step from HSDC’s Inside/Out Choreographic Workshop that is held every summer, Artistic Director Glenn Edgerton picked certain pieces from last year to be expanded, reworked and presented in the MCA’s intimate theater.? Along with the HSDC and HS2 choreographers, two National Choreographic Competition winners from 2011 will show new works.? HSDC company member Penny Saunders takes inspiration from Vaudeville traveling shows, while Cl?bio Oliveira ponders the human/animal connection.? New dances from Jonathan Fredrickson, Alice Klock, Johnny McMillan, Robyn Mineko Williams, Taryn Kaschock Russell, Terence Marling as well as a duet by HSDC Resident Choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo also appear on the programs.

Williams’ and McMillan’s works are featured on Program A (Jan 19,20 & 28,29).? I sat in on rehearsals for these very different pieces.? Williams showed her choreographic chops by teaming up with Marling for last year’s hit Harold and the Purple Crayon.? Her new work, Recall stems off the concept of memory.? “I’m fascinated by how different memories work and from one scene people have a similar memory, but a different perspective.”? Set to a driving beat by The Chromatics and an original score by Chris Menth (parts are reminiscent of Canadian band Men Without Hats classic song Safety Dance), the 15-minute piece combines walking in a maze-like patterns and shifts in tempo where some dancers move in slow motion.? It reminded me of the inner workings of a clock, only with Williams’ smooth dance style and personality showing through.? “Glenn wanted me to try something different from Inside/Out,” she says.? “I walked into the studio with no ideas, no music…nothing.? I worked like that for three days.? It’s amazing what starts to develop in such a short time.? With these dancers, they bring so much to the table that it’s much easier for the choreographer.”? Williams’ piece has a techno rewind vibe, but McMillan’s new work Path and Observations takes a more earthy, grounded path.? With a soundscape of Sami folkloric music (Pekka Lehti, Mari Boine), he incorporates autumnal leaves and emotional movement with moments of stillness.? “The first 40 seconds of the piece are two people on stage in stillness,” McMillan (who just turned 20 on Tuesday) tell me.? “It allows the audience to take in everything, to sit there and think, maybe go off in their own thoughts before they have to watch the dancing.”? Promoted from apprentice to HS2 this season, he’s always been interested in choreography and created his first dance at age 16.? “It was a ballet piece with 21 girls.? It wasn’t very good.? There were a lot of bourr?s.”? He’s excited to see his new work on the stage this week and is a perfect example of the creative evolution from Inside/Out to danc(e)volve.

Hubbard Street presents danc(e)volve: Jan 19-22 & 26-29

MCA Stage, 220 E. Chicago, 312.397.4010, Tickets are $35



Preview: Lucky Plush’s The Better Half

The cast of "The Better Half". Photo by Cheryl Mann.

Tonight at the MCA Stage, Lucky Plush Productions (LPP) opens a two weekend run of its new production The Better Half.? A 75-minute collaboration between LLP Artistic Director Julia Rhoads and physical theater troupe 500 Clown Co-Founder Leslie Buxbaum Danzig, this new work puts a modern, interactive twist on the psychological thriller Gaslight (1944 movie based on the Patrick Hamilton play Angel Street) where a husband tries to make his wife believe she’s losing her mind.? The Better Half incorporates characters, text, lighting (Heather Gilbert) and sound (Mikhail Fiksel) cues and a heave dose of reality to keep the story evolving in real time on stage.? Add in costumes by Jeff Hancock and you have the setting for a fun, creative collaboration living inside a live, artistic whodunit?

I spoke with Rhoads earlier this week about her process and the new work.

I’m embarrassed to say, I think the last thing I saw Lucky Plush perform was Lulu Sleeps (2005). (*Side note:? After viewing the repertoire on LPP’s website, I’m happy to say I have seen most of the recent work, although I did miss last year’s hit Punk Yankees.) ?? Back then, you were incorporating theatrical elements, but recently you seem to be adding even more theatrics and humor.? Is that a different direction you’ve taken over the years, or is it just because I’ve missed some of your work?

I think it?s both.? One of our first works has been our longest standing work which we?ve done over and over is Endplay (2003).? That work has a (Samuel) Beckett play inside of it and is very much about human relationships and about the performers on stage and how they?re interacting and negotiating with each other.? I think that piece had a real liveliness to it that I?m interested in now in my work.? One thing that was a big game-changer for me was Cinderbox 18 (2007).? It just was kind of a magical process.? That was a process in which I started to think more about the liveness, the immediacy of being in performance and having the performers be in a state of response to each other, so it?s less like every move and detail is set and choreographed?there was a real openness.? I did this thing back then where I?d write a little note down for each of them some unknown element that they had to accomplish during the run.? Some of them ended up being in the show in a fantastic way and some of them miserably failed, but the best thing is it wasn?t really meant to find new things to add to the show, it was just a bonus if something really landed.? What it did was put the performers in a constant state of presence because they had no idea what the changes were going to be and what someone might do to change the game.? Even though the sections and the structure and the movement was set, there were things that would happen that they would have to deal with and respond in a very real-time way.? It was just such an exciting process for me.? Since 2007, and really going back to Endplay, I really want the audience to feel like they are knowing the performer, that it was really about the people and not just the dancers being sort of a non-subjective entity.?

This process in The Better Half is even going more in that direction.? Accessibility is really important.? I think it?s sometimes perceived as a dirty word.? I think accessibility is great.? You can be incredibly intelligent and accessible.? It doesn?t mean you?re diluting the content, it just means you?re allowing the audience to enter into it and to maybe laugh or maybe feel like they?re included.? This process has moved more into the dialogue…it?s more narrative.? The dialogue is in service to character development. Narrative, at the same time, we?re doing something very familiar to LPP?s body of work.? We?re also the performers that arrive at the MCA when we start.? We all show up and we get a name of a character.? We get character descriptions.? We hear this vague synopsis of a play.? My character, Mrs. Manningham hears that another person is called Mr. Manningham, so really all we know is presumably, we?re married, so we start to negotiate having a relationship in real time.? Things start to happen.? There?s kind of a loop structure, like reset button, but each time, the consequences change?grows more into the Gaslight story.? The way we hope the work is going to land is kind of fun look at contemporary domestic relationships.? It?s about the five of us being in the space together and negotiating roles that we?ve taken on or that have been imposed on us…how we grow into them.? The loop structure is about routinization that happens in relationships, sometimes how we bring our habits and our role to a relationship and then it?s like that forever.? You can recast yourself in a relationship, but it?s going to take a lot of work.? The piece wants to speak to all of those things, how you want to jump script sometimes and how you find the resilience within a marriage or a domestic relationship.? It?s fun and it?s funny and it has all of those elements, but it also lands with a real resonance about the question of can two people spend their lives together?

When the characters are getting the descriptions, is someone on stage telling them? How is that interacting happening?

In the beginning we?re sort of being directed by light.? Light plays a really important role, light and sound, and we?re directed to a place on stage and one of the characters is directed to a place in the audience where there?s a podium with a binder that has the Gaslight synopsis.? He?s privy to information that he?s one of us too.? It says there?s another character and he gives himself the role of detective.? He comes into the story and is in it for the remaining?being with us on stage as new narratives are proposed.? There are about five or six scripts that we?re sort of navigating through.? There are real time consequences for introducing those scripts and being inside of them and how it ultimately lands back in this central marriage.

How did the collaboration with Leslie come about?? Have you worked together before?

We?ve known each other for a while.? The thing that really drew us to each other is that she?s also interested in the immediacy of presence with the audience and having a real time experience.? She?s also interested in humor.? We?re a really good fit for each other. ?She came in during Cinderbox 18.? I asked her to come in to give feedback to the process.? I liked her language and I was really excited by her point of view.? She had seen my work and I think she felt the same way.? She?s really drawn to physicality.? Her work is physical theater and she?s really drawn to dance and physical vocabulary as a way to move a story forward.? We started talking about doing something together a couple of years ago. We’re both really excited about this work.

Lucky Plush Productions’ The Better Half, Oct 27-29 & Nov 3, 5, 6

MCA Stage, 220 E. Chicago, 312.397.4010

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 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!