Category Archives: Auditorium Theatre

Joffrey’s Don Q: Q for Questioning

Derrick Agnoletti & Fabrice Calmels in "Don Quixote". Photo by Herbert Migdoll.

The sets were amazing, the costumes stunning, the integration of video/images imaginative, the score fast and flamboyant, the life-size horse puppet fantastic, the choreography ambitious, the characters lovable, so why am I left with the feeling something was off? Last night’s premiere of  Yuri Possoknov’s version of Don Quixote for the Joffrey Ballet at the Auditorium Theatre had all the elements for a spectacular opening night, but it just didn’t quite get there.  That may be a bit harsh.  It was a wonderful show and sure to be a huge hit with audiences, but some of casting and staging were questionable and at times it seemed more like a full dress run and not up to the bar Joffrey has set for themselves.  The show was held for twenty minutes due to a medical emergency (someone slipped and fell in the lobby), which may have had a negative effect on the dancers.  I should also note that I sat in the third row, which was too close for my taste, and the ballet seemed almost too big for the stage.

Victoria Jaiani as Kitri in "Don Quixote". Photo by Herbert Migdoll.

Let’s start with the good stuff – and there was more than plenty.  First, Victoria Jaiani as Kitri was fantastic as we have come to expect.  Her fiery, flirty interpretation seemed second nature (although she seemed uncharacteristically nervous in parts of Act I) and I assume, growing up in Tbilisi, Georgia, she was practically weened on the part.  Her ridiculous flexibility was on full display particularly in Kitri’s Act I solo with Plisetskaya leaps (named after Maya Plisetskaya who made them famous with the Bolshoi) where she literally kicks the back of her head.  But why was she carrying castanets if she wasn’t playing them?  The Act II wedding pas de deux coda famously has a run of thirty-two fouettes.  Jaiani’s was spot on, even tossing in doubles every third turn in the first half.  From my seat, while watching her turn, I could perfectly see her husband Temur Suluashvili’s face behind her beaming with love and pride.  Jaiani’s partner (hired to replace the injured Miguel Angel Blanco), Cuban guest artist Carlos Quenedit, was charming, charismatic and mui talented, although I kept wondering “who is this guy?”  The program only notes (with an asterisk) that he’s a guest artist.  He was great and would be a lovely addition to the Joffrey family, but why hire a guest artist?

Amber Neumann & Anastacia Holden in "Don Quixote". Photo by Herbert Migdoll.

The other star of the show was the puppet.  Crafted by Von Orthal Puppets, Rocinante, Don Q’s faithful companion was fresh and endearing addition to the cast performed by Shane Urton and Alberto Velazquez.  The creation, nicknamed Otis by the company, only appeared in a few scenes which was a shame.  Free Otis!  More of the horse please.  All of the character parts were perfectly played.  Fabrice Calmels as Don Quixote (dashing, distracted), Derrick Agnoletti as Sancho Panza (delightfully bumbling), Willy Shives as Lorenzo (deliciously daft) and Matthew Adamczyk as Gamache (scene-stealingly silly).  Soloists Amber Neumann and Stacia Holden were stand outs as Kitri’s friends.  The corps — toreadors, seguidillas, dryads and bridesmaids — were outstanding and, aside from Kitri, did most of the dancing.  Two female solo variations beautifully danced by Amber Neumann and Jeraldine Mendoza inserted in the middle of the Act II pas de deux seemed out of place and unnecessary.  Equally perplexing was the need for the character Mercedes, a street dancer (Alexis Polito) who danced in the village with the toreadors.  No offense to Polito who danced a lovely solo amidst daggers ingeniously stuck to the floor with frightening intensity, but I failed to see how her character aided the story line.

Victoria Jaiani & Carlos Quenedit in "Don Quixote". Photo by Herbert Migdoll.

The audience at first seemed timid and unsure of how to react to such a bold and ambitious production.  Case in point:  Kitri and Basilio do these amazing one-handed presage lifts about six times.  The first four are done in pairs and in quick succession separated by supported pirouettes.  Fair enough, the lift might not have been held long enough for them to really see what was going on.  The second two are held for a sustained period of time – long enough for Jaiani to hold, look at audience and shake her tambourine before coming down – with the orchestra (Chicago Sinfonietta) holding for effect.  The first lift…nothin’.  The second, held long enough for Quenedit to carry her  – with one hand! –  across the entire stage.  I laughed out loud before obnoxiously clapping, wondering what it was going to take to get these people going.  Luckily, they came around and were clapping to the music enthusiastically during the finale.  Over all, it was a tremendous undertaking that, once a few kinks are figured out (particularly the long, awkward “pause” in Act II), will delight for the entire two week run.  As Artistic Director Ashley Wheater said last week, “I think the company will grow into it.”  I think they will and hope Don Q will be in Joffrey’s rep for a long, long time.

Joffrey Waxes Quixotic

Joffrey dancers Victoria Jaiani & Miguel Angel Blanco. Photo by Sandro.

This Wednesday, October 12th, Joffrey Ballet premieres a new version of Don Quixote at the Auditorium Theatre. The two act re-envisioning of Cervantes classic literary tale brings humor, drama and love to life with bravura dancing and a dash of horseplay.  Choreographed by Yuri Possokhov (former star of the Bolshoi Ballet and current resident choreographer at San Francisco Ballet), the ballet promises to continue the Russian classical traditions, while adding in his charismatic flair.  Possokhov delighted Chicago audiences last spring with Joffrey’s premiere of his commissioned work Bells.  His history with Don Q is long.  “I was ten years old first time I dance in this ballet,” he says in halted English at an Artists Talk Series lecture hosted by Instituto Cervantes last week.  The Bolshoi is the only company to keep Don Q “alive” in it’s rep with every generation passing  it on to the next.  “It’s a gift for him to pass onto this generations of Joffrey dancers,”  says Artistic Director Ashley Wheater of Possokhov’s vast base of knowledge with this ballet.  “I think the company will grow into it.”

How do you take a classic that’s over 140 years old and make it fresh?  “I had to make some twist, something that belongs to this city, this company,” says Possokhov.  That twist includes a more dancing for Don Quixote, which is traditionally more a character role, projections and video by Wendall Harrington integrated to help particularly in the dream sequences, plus a life-size horse puppet created by Von Orthal Puppets operated by male dancers in the company (insert horse’s ass joke here).  Along with the lively score by Ludwig Minkus (played live by the Chicago Sinfonietta, the Joffrey-ized Don Q will surely keep you on the edge of your seat.  Shortly before Possokhov was set to come to Chicago to set the ballet, the Golden Gate Park Windmills, which had been under restorative construction for years, began to spin.  “Is good sign.”

Joffrey Ballet presents Don Quixote, Oct 12th – 23rd

Auditorium Theatre, 50 E Congress

Tickets:  800.982.2787 or 312.386.8905

The Joffrey Academy of Dance, the Official School of the Joffrey Ballet, is offering a Don Quixote-themed master class next Monday, October 17th at 5:30 pm.  Taught by dancer Ericka Mac, the class gives a brief history of the story and choreography, as well as giving a fun barre warm up and teaching the steps of Kitri’s (the female lead) solo.  The class is for students of all levels and ages.

Joffrey Tower, 10 E Randolph, $15, or $10 with a valid college ID.

Reservations:  reception@joffrey.org or 312.784.4600

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!

DFL Last Dance

Last night I got to watch a run-thru of this year’s Dance For Life (DFL) finale at the Lou Conte Dance Studios.   DFL is the hugely-popular annual concert benefiting the AIDS Foundation of Chicago and the Dance For Life Fund.  Five top local companies share the stage for a one-night-only dance extravaganza in honor of the 20th year of this charity event.  Once again, Randy Duncan will be choreographing the grand finale incorporating dancers from diverse companies across the city. His DFL finales from the past two decades are the stuff of Chicago dance legend (and his notoriously difficult and fast choreography!) and are one of the many reasons people keep coming back every year.  Harrison McEldowney took over finale duties last year, while Duncan was out of the country, so this year both choreographers created pieces for the show.  Along with these two multi-company collaborations, the performance will include performances by Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Joffrey Ballet (a solo by new company member Rory Hohenstein),  River North Dance Chicago (Sherry Zunker’s Evolution of a Dream) and Ron De Jesús Dance.

Last night’s preview was attended by a small group of donors, collaborators, board members, dancers, special guests…and me!  I had the luck to sit in between the fantastic Jeff Hancock (who designed the barely there costumes for the finale) and the fabulous McEldowney (they had a preview of his piece the night before).  Duncan greeted everyone and said a few words before the run, mentioning that the Auditorium Theatre – where DFL will be held this year for the first time – is his favorite theater.  The theater has 4,000 seats and almost 3,000 tickets have been sold, so tickets are still available ($50)!  Then the eclectic group of dancers took over.  Representing Giordano, Ron De Jesus Dance, River North, Same Planet Different World, Milwaukee Ballet with a number of freelance/independent artists, the group had one thing in common besides being terrific dancers.  The majority of them were graduates from the Chicago Academy of the Arts, where Duncan is the Chair of the Dance Department.  A talented group!  Set to an interesting interpretation of Stand By Me, the music has a section where there is parts of an inspirational speech overlaid saying “many of them asked, why me?” and “together, yes, we can move mountains”.  The dancing and the choreography are both motivational and moving.  That’s all I’m going to tell you for now, because I want you to GO SEE IT!  Great show + great cause = great evening of entertainment.  This is a chance to see some of the top dancers and companies in Chicago on one stage together.  Do it!  Buy your tickets now 🙂

CDF Sneak Peek 1

Joffrey's April Daly & Miguel Blanco in Balanchine's "Stravinsky". Photo by Herbert Migdoll.

I sat in on rehearsal this morning at Joffrey Tower. The world-renown ballet troupe, which just came back after their summer hiatus (and a nail-biting mini labor dispute) and is getting ready for a number of upcoming gigs including the Chicago Dancing Festival (CDF).  The fest runs August 23 – 27 at various Chicago venues (with a Gala fundraiser opening the week on Monday, August 22).  Joffrey will be represented at three of CDF’s evening concerts.

This morning, they were rehearsing Balachine’s Stravinsky Violin Concerto, which they performed last fall as an opener for the All Stars program.  It’s difficult.  It’s hard to count (Artistic Director Ashley Wheater:  “Just keep counting!  It’s a six.”), most of it is lightning fast and some of the movements are awkward , but the dancers tackled it with smiles and verve.  The company has been back in the studio since July 25th and there is definitely still an air of back-to-school excitement, most noted in the energetic applause for the violinist playing in rehearsal and a few silly faces aimed at partners.  (Nice jazz hands M.A.)

The Joffrey will be performing Stravinsky at the Celebration of Dance show at Pritzker Pavilion on Saturday, August 27th, as well as this weekend at the Blossom Festival in Ohio.  Dancers Victoria Jaiani and Temur Suluashvili will also be performing the White Swan pas from Swan Lake for CDF’s opening night gala.

UPDATE:  I just got confirmation that Jaiani and Suluashvili will be performing the Act II pas from Giselle for the Masters program on August 25th.  Tickets (free) are still available.

Straight Guy Talking

Scott Silberstein of HMS Media.

Even if you’ve never heard of HMS Media, if you’ve watched Chicago dance footage in the last 20 or so years, you’ve definitely seen their work.   With 15 Emmy Awards and 23 Emmy nominations for their work creating arts-based, engaging programs for public tv, these media gurus have shown an instinctual talent for theatrical production and an affinity for filming dance.  Lucky us.  Their first project, the PBS documentary Why Am I Hiding, a barrier-breaking inside look at Rape Victim Advocates, won them their first Emmy Award (1989) and even had Oprah calling for a copy.  Co-founder Scott Silberstein — writer, producer, composer, director, musician, blogger, dance-lover, music aficionado and straight guy — is the S in HMS.

A classically trained pianist, Silberstein has always had the arts in his blood.    Passion, compassion and a bit of genius led him and HMS co-founder (and band mate – they met at summer camp!) Matt Hoffman to film dance.  “I got fixed up with a dancer in the Lynda Martha Dance Company,” Silberstein remembers.  He went to see her in a show and fell in love.  “The date didn’t go well, but I like to think of it as I got fixed up with dance.”  Much like their experience with the rape documentary, pretty much everything they did struck gold.  Starting out with clients like Mordine & Co, Hubbard Street and Joseph Holmes Dance Theatre and after winning two Ruth Page awards (and two more nominations) they quickly became the go-to guys for the Chicago dance community.

The next big project was another PBS documentary on a small, new company called River North.  With a show quickly approaching, they were struggling to sell tickets.  HMS convinced PBS to air the special a few days prior to the show as advertising and by the next morning they had sold out.  “That was two shows in a row that we’d been able to make and team up with WTTW and see the world change a little bit,” says Silberstein.  “The first, I really think some people got help and the second, a dance company survived.  You start to feel a little powerful, like you can do something to help.  It was powerful, but humble.  It always needs to be about their work or cause first.”

Around this time, Dance for Life (DFL) was in its third year and really starting to take off.  The brainchild of dancers Keith Elliott and Todd Keich, DFL is an annual one-night gathering of the top local dance companies for a performance to raise money for HIV/AIDS awareness, care and prevention.  Silberstein got together with Elliott and Harriet Ross to talk about making a documentary for DFL.  The same conversation continued for 15 years, but the stars never aligned.  Fast forward to present.  For the 20th anniversary of DFL, HMS Media’s Dance For Life:  The Documentarywill air on WTTW 11 tomorrow night (details below).  “This is exactly the right time, because it fell into place so easily and so quickly,” he says.  “Going into the 20th, a great milestone, and giving an opportunity to tell their story again through the eyes of survivors, beneficiaries, and people that have lost someone…it was the right time.  Almost now more than ever.  With all the advances in treatment and medication, now no one is talking about it.  The gay community is finally getting some recognition and receiving rights that are long overdue, but there is some push back.  It’s subtle and that’s what is scary.  Maybe now the need is stronger than ever.”

The will, the need, the funding and the desire was there.  Now came time to film.  “All of the dance had to be shot in one day at the Harris,” says Silberstein.  “Instead of a half hour to space and check lighting, we’re going to dedicate that half hour to a full out performance and then we’re going to do it exactly the same way in a few hours.  One day of live performance.  No camera rehearsal.  It was an intense day.”  That intensity paid off.  The documentary is a stunningly accurate presentation of last year’s live performance (I was there) technically and emotionally.  It opens with shots cutting from Joffrey Artistic Director Ashley Wheater teaching warm-up on stage to people standing in line to get into the Harris Theatre to dancers rehearsing backstage to the audience finding their seats.  The effect is an insider’s look to everything that is happening in real time.  The into ends with Margaret Nelson calling the first cues, a quick peek at the dancers taking their places for the first number and the opening announcement.  It’s like you’re there.

Then the show starts.  While you do get to see a majority of the beautiful dancing, it is the interspersed interviews that really steal the spotlight.  Personal accounts and memories tell the story of the devastating disease and the impact it has had on the dance community.  “We wanted to make it look like the dances were created to tell the story,” Silberstein says.  “The movement would complement the story.  We got chills in the edit room, when we would line a shot up that would fit perfectly.  I knew Matt Hoffman was doing some genius editing.  He’s the best there is.”  Gorgeous, heart-wrenching, poignant, hopeful, joyous and brilliant.  I smell another Emmy.

Dance For Life documentary broadcast premiere:  Thurs, Aug 11 at 10pm on WTTW11 with a rebroadcast on Sat, Aug 13th at 4am and on WTTWPRime on Fri, Aug 12th at 4pm.  The program will also be available through Aug 31st at Comcast OnDemand.  You can watch preview clips on the Dance For Life Facebook page. 

CDF Tix Info & New Blogger Initiative

Richard Move as Martha Graham. Photo by Josef Astor.

The Chicago Dancing Festival (CDF) is taking it up a notch!  This year, celebrating its 5th anniversary, the fest not only expands to five days of free dance events, but they’ve added a blogger outreach program and Foursquare initiative (more info to come) to get the word out.  RB is proud and excited to be a part of this new blogger program!  Check out the CDF widget on the upper right side of this blog page.  This icon (click on it!) will take you directly to the CDF blog that talks about the new initiative and introduces you to the other bloggers involved.  (A big thanks to Rachel and Tom at Astek for all of their help with this!)

For my part, I will be focusing on the dance/performance angle with previews, interviews with dancers and choreographers, behind-the-scenes tidbits and rehearsal viewings.  I’m particularly excited to talk with Richard Move, a multi-talented artist who has won awards for his portrayal of Martha Graham.  Move will be hosting the MCA Moves program on Wednesday, August 24th.  “It’s quite a coup for us to have him this summer,” says CDF co-founder Jay Franke.  “Especially for us forging into this new territory for the festival with kind of more avant garde work, we thought it was really important  to have him because he’s kind of the glue that keeps it all together and will be able to narrate it for the audience.  He’s basically narrating the evening.  The way we’re setting it up is almost a vaudeville style.  The beginning he will be giving kind of a tutorial on the Graham technique, then the various performances he will introduce  and he finishes by doing his version of Lamentation.  He’s brilliant.”  I can’t wait to hear how his obsession with Martha began.

To see Move and the other artists performing throughout the festival, first, you have to get tickets.  Tickets for all venues are general admission and limited to two (2) tickets per order.  Yes, they are FREE!, but it will take fortitude and a bit of luck to get them.  Here’s how:

Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) tickets – this includes the MCA Moves (Aug 24) and Moderns program (Aug 26) – to be released (while available) at 10:00 am on Tuesday, July 19th.  You can get them in person at the MCA Box Office (220 E Chicago Ave), by calling 312.397.4010 or going to http://www.mcachicago.org.  You are limited to two tickers per order and any unclaimed tickets will be released 15 minutes before curtain time for the wait list, which begins one-hour before the performance.  (*You must be in line, in person.)  All tickets to be held at Will Call.

Harris Theater tickets for the Moderns programs (Aug 23 & 24) to be released on Wednesday, July 20 at noon at the theater box office (205 E. Randolph) or by phone at 312.334.7777.

Auditorium Theatre tickets  for the Masters program (Aug 25) will be released Thursday, July 21st at 11:00 am and will be available at the theater box office (50 E Congress), at 1.800.982.ARTS or by visiting this Ticketmaster web page.

Tickets for the Movies program (Aug 26) and the festival finale Celebration of Dance performance at Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park are first-come, first-serve with no tickets required.  Past seasons have “sold out” extremely fast.  Good Luck!