Category Archives: ballet

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.

Moving Up

Dancers David Schultz & Alice Klock in "I Can See Myself in Your Pupil". Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

For two of the three new dancers added to Hubbard Street Dance Chicago‘s (HSDC) roster this season, it was a new road traveled.  Alice Klock and David Schultz – 23 and 24 respectively – are the first two dancers to move up the HSDC chain from summer intensive students to members of HS2 to being promoted to the main company.  All in two years.

Both dancers hail from Michigan, but the similarities in dance beginnings end there.  Schultz stated dancing at five taking tap (he wanted to be Donald O’Connor), then began taking ballet classes with his older brother Nick.  Once hooked, he took numerous summer workshops that eventually led to an apprenticeship (while still in high school) and then a full-time position with the Grand Rapids Ballet, where he danced for over four years.  Klock didn’t start dancing until age 11 with ballet classes.  She quickly took to the form and three years later attended a summer program at San Francisco Ballet, where she decided she wanted to be a professional dancer.  She went to Interlochen Center for the Arts for high school and after two years at Dominican University, figured it was time to start her professional career.

Here’s where there stories come together.  Both attended the HSDC summer intensive in 2009 and were asked to join the second company HS2.  Landing here happen almost by accident, but now they couldn’t be happier.  “I’d known a little bit about the company, but once I got here, I realized how much I really loved the whole philosophy and the rep,” says Klock.  Schultz agrees.  “Just learning the rep I thought ‘this is it’!  This is what I want to do.”  Their success ties into the larger HSDC mission of nurturing the next generation of artists.  “David and Alice are great examples to a bigger mission of mine, which is to mentor young dancers and prepare them for a profession in dance rather or not they continue with Hubbard Street or not,” says Artistic Director Glenn Edgerton.  “They’ve matured so quickly in all ways, both in their dancing and also in their understanding of how to approach their work creatively and practically.  I feel we have been able to tap into their talents and start to challenge them toward their potential.”  That potential will be challenged this season with having to learn the previous repertoire that includes masters like Ohad Naharin, Nacho Duato and Jirí Kylián, as well as new company works by a range of choreographers from Resident Choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo to the legendary Twyla Tharp (her world premiere hits the stage this Thursday, Oct 13th).

Alice Klock & David Schultz in "Harold and the Purple Crayon". Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

No one is more proud of these two dancers than HS2 Director Taryn Kaschock Russell, “I’m so proud of them!”  After thriving under her guidance in the second company, Klock attributes much of their success to her.  “Taryn is amazing,” she says before class last Tuesday morning.  “She’s such a caring and passionate leader.  Taryn really looks at each dancer in the second company and finds what exactly it is that will take them to the next step.  Because of that, we progressed really quickly.”  With this close bond, Kaschock Russell was the perfect person to ask what it is about these two that impressed her.  On Schultz:  “He is a never-ending ball of energy and curiosity.  He is willing, always.  He has grown exponentially over the course of two years and added texture and versatility to his already dynamic stage presence.  He soaked up every bit of information that he could get his hands on from me and all of the choreographers and colleagues he worked with.  Don’t get me wrong, he’s also a handful – in a wonderful way.  You have to keep your eye on that one.”  On Klock:  “Alice has an intelligence that often stops me in my tracks.  When I first began working with her, I was taken by her physical beauty and long lines.  When she attended the summer program, she was very timid and a bit like a young fawn on those beautiful legs of hers.  During her two years with HS2, she went from that understated shy presence, unsure of her place in the room, to eating up the stage with her every movement.  She commands attention, her stance is strong and her gaze unyielding. ”

Come see Klock, Schultz, along with new HSDC company member Garrett Anderson this week (Oct 13 – 16) at the Harris Theater (205 E. Randolph)as Hubbard Street presents their Fall Series.  On the program, a world premiere SCARLATTI by Twyla Tharp, Nacho Duato’s Archangelo and Walking Mad by Johan Inger.  Tickets can be purchased by calling 312.850.9744, 312.334.7777 or by visiting the Harris Theater box office.

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

Proud Mary

Inaside dancer Mary Williams. Photo by Eddie Eng.

Mary Williams will take her final bow this Saturday night after performing in the one-night-only show Constant Motion at the Harris Theater.  This show is the first in a series of shared performances of Chicago dance companies funded in part by the New Stages for Dance Initiative, a program brought to Chicago through the local dance service organization Audience Architects in partnership with Dance USA and MetLife.   Constant Motion pairs Inaside Chicago Dance* (ICD), where Williams is a dancer and Marketing Director, and  Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre (CRDT) for the evening-length program.

ICD starts the show with four numbers, plus a piece by their Youth Training Program dancers, then CRDT takes the stage with their signature live musicians and both groups participate in a collaborative finale choreographed by Artistic Directors Richard Smith (ICD) and Wilfredo Rivera (CRDT).  Although stylistically different, the two companies come together (with the help of the initiative) to bring their talents to a larger venue than either one could secure alone:  the Harris Theater.  For Williams, it’s a pinnacle moment in her career.

Growing up in a small Michigan town, she started taking ballet class at age three and then got into Jazzersize (hilarious, but no joke).  When a new dance school opened in town, she began taking classes and eventually danced competitively.  College studies followed at Western Michigan University, with a double major in Dance and English.  Williams had her heart set on moving to New York City, but landed a scholarship at Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago and moved here instead.  During that first summer on scholarship, a fellow dancer asked her if she wanted to come with her to an audition.  Of course, the energetic 23-year-old said yes and was asked to be an apprentice with Inaside.  She’s been there ever since.  Now, at 30, she’s decided it’s time to take a break from dancing and focus on other aspects of her career.  I chatted with Williams last week around 10:30 pm, after she spent a long day (12 hours to be exact) rehearsing and teaching.

Inaside dancer Mary Williams. Photo by Eddie Eng.

Tell me about the show and the collaboration. 

Some of the great things about this collaboration, from a marketing aspect and as a behind-the-scenes person, we’ve been able to see a whole other group just like us…their system…how they do it, how they work together compared to how we work together…tricks of the trade.  I know a lot of their dancers, so it’s been fun.  It’s hard because we’re putting together two companies.  I think we’ve had four rehearsals.  It’s so fun when we get to do Wilfredo’s choreography.  I think the dancers on both sides really liked it.  It’s like having a guest artist come in.

CRDT dances to live music.  How was it adjusting to dancing to live music for the final piece?

We have our first rehearsal with live music on Sunday!  We’ve been working off of a recording.  I think it will be exciting.  It brings an element of surprise and almost improv into it.

Why did you decide to retire now?

I feel like dancing-wise I’m doing really great.  I know the young talent that is coming up is exceptional.  Right now, when I’m at my peak is a great time to stop dancing.  Other than that, it’s very consuming.  It consumes your life.  Especially with the marketing…having these twelve hour days…they’re brutal and you start to feel it after a while.  It’s been a hard decision to make, but I’m kind of excited to take the next step in my life and career.

What’s next?

I’m staying on as Marketing Director and I hope I can still come take class and keep up with my craft.  I’m still teaching kids, but I want to be able to take class.  I was recently named Dance Coordinator at Des Plaines Park District.  I’ll be working in the dance office, getting to know the program, talking to parents, etc…kind of like my office job.  I just won’t be a dancer on stage.

Since your last show is next week, what are you feeling? 

I have so many different things going on.  I’m excited about the show.  It’s this huge, awesome event.  It’s not going to hit me that I’m not going to be dancing with the company anymore until I sit in the audience and watch them perform.  I feel like I should be focusing on the show more now, but you’ve gotta work, do the marketing…all this other stuff in life.  Right now, I’m being pulled in a lot of different directions, which I think is distracting me from the reality that I’m not going to be a dancer any more.

The day after the show might not be so fun.

I’m probably going to cry a lot.  I’m very emotional.

But, what a way to go out!

I can leave with a great sense of accomplishment.  I set out to be a dancer and I did it!  I followed my dreams.  It’s so cheesy, but it’s true.

Are you looking forward to a little bit of a break?

Yes.  I’ll get to eat.  I’m kind of excited about that.  I never starve myself, but you watch what you do.  I’m looking forward to some free time and spending time with my husband.  That will be nice.

Constant Motion: Inaside Chicago Dance & Cerqua Rivera Dance Theatre – Saturday, September 24th, featuring choreography by Harrison McEldowney and Tony Savino, Autumn Eckman, Eddy O’Campo, Richard Smith and Wilfredo Rivera.

Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph, 312.334.2400, Tickets: $25-40,

*Disclosure:  I’m a former board member for ICD and currently serve in an advisory capacity and with special projects.

Joffrey Nutcracker Children’s Audition

Anastacia Holden as Clara in Joffrey's "The Nutcracker". Photo by Herbert Migdoll.

This Sunday, September 18th the Joffrey Academy of Dance is holding a children’s audition for the Joffrey‘s 2011 production of The Nutcracker.  If you are between the ages of 9 and 14 (as of this Sunday) and between 4′ and 5′ tall, you could be a part of this wonderful holiday classic.  For the children’s cast, rehearsals will be held throughout the months of October, November and December and you must be available for performances between December 9th and 27th, 2011.

The audition will be held at Joffrey Tower (10 East Randolph).  All participants must bring a completed audition form (available here) and a photo or headshot.  There are three audition times with registration being open for one hour prior to the audition.  Here’s the breakdown:

1st audition time:  10-11:30am, 4′ – 4’5″, ages 9 – 11

2nd audition time:  12- 2:30pm, 4’5″ – 5′, ages 10-14

3rd audition time:  3-4:30pm, 4’5″ – 5′, ages 9-10

All dancer should be prepared to stay until 5:00pm!  For more information:  312.784.4600 or email reception@joffrey.org

Break

RB took a little time off after the Chicago Dancing Festival (CDF), but now I’m back and ready to go!  Coming up: interviews/previews with Luna Negra (Veronica Guadalupe), Inaside Chicago Dance (Mary Williams), Joffrey Ballet (Michael Smith), Hubbard Street (David Schultz) , Smuin Ballet (Jonathan David Dummar) and even a little chat with Twyla Tharp!

Keep a look out for changes/additions to the blog in the coming weeks, but in the meantime, here are some beautiful pics from CDF finale by the gorgeous and gracious mama-to-be Cheryl Mann.

Michelle Fleet and the Paul Taylor Dance Co in "Esplanade".

NYC Ballet dancers Tiler Peck & Gonzalo Garcia in "Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux".

Martha Graham dancer Xiaochuan Xie in "Diversion of Angels".

Joffrey's Temur Suluashvili & Victoria Jaiani in "Stravinsky Violin Concerto".

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.

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!

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.