Ten Top Performances of the Decade (or so…)

For a fun end-of-the-year post (well, I started it at the end of last year), I thought I would list some of my favorite performances I saw in Chicago in the last 10-12 years. I say “Ten Top” — not “Top Ten”, because they are listed in no particular order (as I would surely have a most difficult time deciding which was my favorite).

  • Love Poems” – Jan Erkert & Dancers, premiere 1998 – a work for 6 dancers incorporating spoken and written word. I normally don’t like the mix of spoken word with dance, but this piece was so beautifully created and executed that I didn’t mind as much. It also ended with the dancers handing out little poems (japanese?) to the audience, so you took home the mood and feel of the dance and a little inspiration. *Full disclosure (FD): two of my favorite people in the world were in this dance.
  • Lil Roy and the Wierd Sisters” – The Seldoms, premiere 2004 – a nerdy 9-year-old imagines three distictly different sisters after a tragic accident at a carnival. The 3 sister solos, all performed by Artistic Director Carrie Hanson (and originally created in 1997), were creative, quirky and cotton candy cool! This epic piece, set in the cavernous space at Architectural Artifacts, was a fun carny romp with some amazing dancing thrown in (not to mention some big wigs!). A departure from the troupe’s normally more somber themes, Lil Roy was pure fun and entertainment.
  • Concerto Six Twenty Two” – choreography by Lar Lubovitch, danced by Tobin Del Coure and Jamy Meek at Dance for Life (2005??) – a love duet for two men. Set to a beautiful Mozart score, the duet shows the strength and softness of the couple’s love. I think the entire audience was crying by the end of this haunting, gorgeous dance.
  • Giselle” – American Ballet Theatre tour (2006-2007 season), Julie Kent and Jose’ Manuel Carrera. My favorite ballet. Julie Kent literally floated across the stage, so ghost-like (and skinny!) and perfect and Jose’ brought down the house with his Act Two death dance. (He even had to “wake up” after his variation to acknowledge the audience before the show could go on.) Goose bumps, tears, all of it. Brava!
  • Are You Satisfied” – Circuit Mom in Concert, Park West Chicago, 2001, choreography by Todd Michael Kiech, dancers: Tony Peyla, Ruedi Arnold, Francisco Avina, Mark Schulze and Matthew Harvat. This fundraiser/circuit party/dance performance, in its 2nd year was so much fun! This final dance was hot, hot, hot! 5 hot guys dressed all in black a la Matrix, a hot song by Deborah Cooper and a great crowd made for the end of a fantastic night of dancing, charity and love. *FD: again, some of my fave peeps!
  • Surrealium” – Lucky Plush Productions, premiere 2005, choreography Julia Rhoades and Krenly Guzman. This multi-media production is based on a child’s fascination with a helium balloon. It was one of the first perfomances that made me think “outside of the box” dance-wise and like it!  Moving set pieces (a dancer slowly climbing up and rolling down a moving staircase), exotic costumes, balloons and a tricycle…oh my!  *FD:  peep.
  • Joffrey Ballet’s Nutcracker – choreography:  Robert Joffrey & Gerald Arpino.  My favorite version of this holiday classic.  The Sugar Plum Pas duo of Maia Wilkins and Willy Shives was a delight to see.  I used to go every year when they were cast to see what they would change or add.
    What a wonderful partnership.  And, of course, the incomparable Calvin Kitten as Frtiz/Snow Prince/Chinese.  His playful, spoiled child antics as Fritz, his quick beats and soaring jumps in Snow(which always got Arpino to yell Bravo!) and his crazy split jumps in Chinese made the show.  This was his final Nutcracker…he will be missed!  And the Waltz of the Flowers – absolutely lovely.
  • Hubbard Street Dance Chicago – Oct 2007.  This was company dancer Cheryl Mann’s last performance.  An audience and critic favorite, Ms. Mann was always the epitome of grace, beauty and strength.  Her ten-year career with HSDC ended with a wonderful Sunday afternoon performance followed by a long standing ovation, flowers and tears.  The accolades went on so long that she seemed embarassed, but it was well deserved.  I’m glad I was there to experience it.

The final two performances were so new and amazing to me that I’m not sure I can describe them.  It was my first encounter with both companies and they blew me away.

  • Nederlands Dans Theater, June 2009:  The Holland-based company presented three works for their first performance in the States since the ’70s.  Wow!  And double Wow!  Incredible sets (a moving house broken into two stories and three rooms and a huge tree hanging upside down center stage!), beautiful music (one piece to the haunting Phillip Glass), passionate, strong and amazing dancing (NDT’s technique and style is unique and unsurpassed) showed why this troupe is loved world-wide.
  • Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company – Sept 2009:  “Fondly We Hope…Fervently Do We Pray” was commissioned by the Ravinia Festival to celebrate the bicentennial of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday.  Combining dance, live music, spoken text, video, a circular gauze curtain, audio from speeches and debates this mutlidimensional artform was at some points too much to take in, but it was poignant, fascinating and brilliantly performed all around.  The Metra train stopping on the nearby tracks added a live element that perfectly matched the tone and spirit of what the Trib’s Sid Smith called a “monumentally ambitious” work that meditated on teh perks and flaws of our democracy throughout Lincoln’s era to today (there were a few shout outs to our newly elected Pres).  I hope they tour with it.  It was amazing and thought-provoking.  Here is a link to an interview Mr. Jones did with Bill Moyers:  Interview with Bill Moyers

As an honorable mention, I’d like to include what is probably my favorite piece.  “SUPER STRAIGHT is coming down” by Daniel Ezralow, performed by Hubbard StreetDance Chicago.  When I first saw it, the all-star (now alumni) cast included Alberto Arias, Sandi Cooksey, Ron de Jesus and Shan Bai.  The cast was stellar!  They did this crazy horizontal flip-turn thing off the floor and a sort of sideways, flat leap frog sequence…the women too!  I saw it while they were on tour down state and had never seen anything like it and it made me want to be in Chicago to see what else was going on in the dance world here.

*Amendment!  I can’t believe I forgot this one…so make it 12.  Last September, I had the privilege of seeing Mikhail Baryshnikov at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance:  “Three Solos and a Duet“.  Misha!  He could stand on stand and do nothing (which isn’t far from what he did in the first piece – heavy on the pantomime and charm) and I would swoon.  They nailed his first entrance.  No music, just him…HIM, walking out to center stage.  It let the audience get that initial explosion of nerves, excitement and awe out, so he could go on to perform.  The second piece was a mix of him live juxtaposed with video of him dancing in his youth.  Just watching the video of him was worth the price of admission.  On a note of humor they had him prepping for a turn — live — and showed the video of him doing multiple pirouettes.  The real Misha, just shook his head and walked away, while the video sped up and had him turning and turning and turning.  The woman he performed with, Ana Laguna, was a beautiful and unique mover.

3 thoughts on “Ten Top Performances of the Decade (or so…)

  1. We’re so excited that you liked Bill T. Jones Ravinia-commissioned dance theater work! It was a great way to end our summer season, something all of us we’re really looking forward to. Jones recently appeared on Bill Moyers Journal as well, it was really interesting interview about Lincoln and creating the piece. Check it out here.

    We are also thrilled that the work is moving forward and touring around the country. Here’s a link to the performance schedule.


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