Category Archives: modern

Happy Halloween!

RB as the Evil Queen in "Snow White". Typecasting?

Dance this weekend:  Check out Lucky Plush Productions at the MCA tonight or Saturday, Could Gate Dance Theatre at the Harris this weekend, Synapse Arts tonight at Holstein Park or Ailey II tonight at Governors State University.  I’m going to Cloud Gate tonight and  the Zombie Revolution at House of Blues tomorrow.  Merde to my zombie dancers!  Have a fun and safe weekend!

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

Henry V Delights at Dance Center

Post modern guru David Gordon has a way with words.  He uses them as a structure, a starting point, an inspiration and then turns them into a complex living creative act right before your eyes on the stage.  So it is with his Pick Up Performance Co(s)‘ presentation of Dancing Henry Five this weekend at The Dance Center of Columbia College.  This 2004 revival is part theater, part performance art, part dance, part music collage.  A deconstructed take on Shakespeare’s Henry V, it not only entertains, but offers a commentary on war that still resonates today.

The program calls it a “reduction” of Shakespeare’s work.  Once in the theater, the stage shows what Gordon has reduced it down to – the bare necessities.  Everything for the performance is on the stage in plain view.  No wings, props strewn about the stage and performers standing around the edges waiting.  Costumes of colorful, but faded rugby shirts with shorts suggest uniforms of a different kind of battle, rather than the 1415 Battle of Agincourt that they are about to partially recreate.  The performers walk around the stage carrying signs with pertinent information (title, names, please turn off cell phones) passing by like the opening credits of a movie.  Valda Setterfield (Gordon’s wife and former dancer with Merce Cunningham) acts as narrator and chorus moving the action along and adding sly, sometimes biting commentary – Gordon’s,  not her own, she states – as well as joining in the dance.  At 77, she’s still a dynamic performer with impeccable timing.  (Go on with your bad self, Valda!)

Dancing Henry Five incorporates spoken word along with audio excerpts from the stage and movie versions of Henry V with musical interjections of William Walton’s score from the film.  The first Shakespeare quote heard is “a kingdom for a stage” and Gordon transforms this stage into a kingdom, ocean and battlefield.  At times funny, poignant, sad and moving, the one-hour production is a creative, quirky take on a classic historical poem.  Shakespeare through the looking glass.  Seven dancers make the action happen, most notable former American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet star Robert La Fosse.  His trademark mole on his left cheek is barely visible through his make up, but watching him do a low quick jeté shows the technique, if not the flexibility, is still there.

As the plot takes us to war against the French, one can’t help but be reminded of more current events.  “War takes minds off deficits”, says the narrator.  Indeed.  Originally choreographed in 2004, a year after we began the war in Iraq, the words bring a poignant pause to the audience.  A quilt carried across the “water” includes an American flag, even though Columbus wouldn’t discover America for another 77 years.  One image that sticks is dancers standing on sheets of material being slowly pulled across the stage like ships.

There is one performance left of this interesting post modern take on Shakespeare’s play.  Tickets are still available.

Pick Up Performance Co(s) – Dancing Henry Five

The Dance Center at Columbia College, 1306 S, Michigan, 312.369.8330

Leopold Group is dancing

Dancers Melissa Claire Block & Nicole Romano Uribarri in "une elephante". Photo by John W. Sisson Jr.

This weekend (Aug 26 – 28), the Leopold Group presents dancing, three days of dance with a different guest company performing at each show.  Artistic Director Lizzie Leopold takes the shared community one step further.  “By inviting guests to perform, you get a a cross-pollination of audiences,” she says.  The company will present two works, Lips of Their Fingers, a 25-minute piece for five women set to music from the Beastie Boys and une elephante, a 30-minute duet for two women to John Adams’ Johns Book of Alleged Dances.  Joining Leopold and her dancers this weekend are Theater Unspeakable Clowns (Fri), Winifred Haun and Dancers (Sat) and CCBdance Project (Sun).  Leopold is generous like that, constantly offering her ideas and knowledge and anxious to keep the conversation going.  With a BFA in dance from University of Michigan, a Masters in Performance Studies from New York University, and a Broadway show she produced her belt, she has a lot to say.  She’s smart, driven and still thirsty for more knowledge.  It’s refreshing.  This fall, Leopold heads back to school at Northwestern University to get a PhD in Interdisciplinary Theater and Drama Studies.  But first, her company has a show to put on.

I spoke with her just after the Dance/USA conference this summer and right after she left her gig at Audience Architects to prepare for the concert and school.

First, tell me about the Broadway musical experience.

My undergraduate degree is in dance, but my husband (he’s a musician in the rock band “I Fight Dragons”) and our best friend, they both studied musical theater.  We stared working on a show when we were in college.  We were going to put on a show in a barn.  Three years later, someone said to us, “You should put it on Broadway.”  We were 23, so we weren’t going to say no.  We probably should’ve said no.  We weren’t ready.  Someone gave us an opportunity and we ran with it.  The show had a pretty successful regional run in DC.  Some of our producers saw it and thought it was cheap and they could make money off of it.  We kind of got swept up in the glitz and glamour.  We were open for one night.  We had sixteen previews and a one-night run.  We are a trivia question.  (It was called) “Glory Days”.  We call it glory night.  It was wonderful and I learned more about the business of making art in that one day than I have learned in the other 27 years of my life.  It was a lesson in show making and money-making and how those things crash and burn and intersect.  I had always worked in modern dance, which is explicitly non-for-profit and the Broadway world is out to make a profit.  That’s not a secret.  It’s a different beast.  It was a spectacular night.

When and why did you decide to start a company?

I was in college.  I think it was one of those situations where somebody tells you that you’re good at something and you’re like, “oh yeah!”  I’ve never been a very technical dancer.  I work really hard, but I didn’t feel it was ever going to happen for me.  I love dance and I was doing lighting design and stage management and choreography.  I was trying to figure out how to stay in this world, because I wasn’t a good enough dancer.

So, you don’t dance in your company?

No.   I used to, but I think dancing and choreographing are both full-time pursuits and I couldn’t do both.  I made a dance and my professor said, “You’re really good.  This is what you do.”  And I thought, “ok this is what I do.” I finished college early and came back to Chicago and started the legalese of starting the company.  Then my classmates followed me, so I sort of had a ready-made group of dancers who wanted to be dancers.  Two of them are still here six years later.

What do you find the most difficult part of running a company?

In Chicago, and this is probably true of lots of cities, if you aren’t going to be a dancer for a company, people don’t treat you seriously as a choreographer.  I don’t have the street cred.  I have some now.  It’s been hard…you can be 21 and be a professional dancer and everyone thinks that’s alright, but you can’t be that age and be an artistic director.  That’s been hard to figure out how to navigate that divide and how to get myself involved in this community when I wasn’t ever going to dance for one of those companies.  I think I lived and made dances in Chicago (during the three years in between Michigan and going to NYC) pretty unsuccessfully.  I think it was important, but I think it was more insular than it should’ve been.  Since I moved back from New York, I’ve been braver.  I’ve learned that people are people.  I’m less afraid to ask them if I can have a seat at the table.

What did you learn at NYU that made that shift?

I learned that everyone’s point of view is important.  The companies that I looked up to in Chicago looked a certain way.  Like Hubbard Street, Luna Negra, Lucky Plush.  When I think about Hubbard Street, those dancers look a certain way – and I don’t look that way.  I had to learn that what I had to contribute to the conversation was just as important as those companies.  Scale is confusing.  Bigger is always better, or it looks that way.  Also, I learned that anyone who grows up and trains as a dancers spends a lot of time in a room filled with mirrors staring at themselves, which is a terrifying way to grow up.  I went to NYU, I didn’t study dance; I studied theory.  Most of the time they were talking about performance as a frame, not as a thing that happens.  Like to look at the guy on the street selling a newspaper as a performance.  Performance art was a big part of that.  So I got to take my blinders off and stop staring at myself in a mirror and I think that has helped me in a big way in both what I’m creating as a choreographer and how I view myself in this community.

What is an Interdisciplinary PhD in Theater and Drama Studies?

The way I’ve been explaining it is it’s kind of a “choose your own adventure” PhD.  There a very few dance-related PhD programs.  I knew when I went back for my Masters that I didn’t want an MFA because I wasn’t going to be a dancer.  To go back into the studio and take technique class wasn’t going to benefit me.  That’s not what I need.  I see a whole and I think I can fill it with research and writing.  My thesis…I can give you the stupid academic jargon version.  Something about the intersection of American Modern dance and the organizational structures, theoretically and historically…basically dance and business and how those things intersection, the growth of the non-profit and the journey from dance piece to product of a corporation.  That history.  It goes back to the whole Broadway dance thing and the intersection of dance and money.  Mostly because it makes me want to vomit.  It makes me super uncomfortable, but you can’t just do dance to do dance.  It’s not just this fantastically pure art form.  You have to make money to succeed.  You have to make choices that aren’t purely artistic.  I want to look at that.  I’m pretty sure I’m going to find that was never the case, but I need to know that.

Tell me about the upcoming show and une elephante.

Two dances, both new.  The full show is a dance show about dance.  It’s supposed to be redundant.  I’ve said that I want to make modern dance more accessible.  I know a lot of people have said that, but I’ve been saying it for a long time and had never really done anything about it.  This is the first blatant attempt to demystify modern dance in that the dances are about dance.  We’re using QR codes in our program to link to our extensive program notes, so giving people the option of watching the dance then reading about it or read about it, then watch the dance, or none of the above.  If you want all the answers, you can have them.   It’s not some oblique reference, it’s here are the questions I’m asking about dance.  The first piece is the duet.  We made it because we got a Dance Bridge residency at the Cultural Center.  It’s basically a free space.  You propose a piece to them and they give you free space and then you do a showing.  I told them that I wanted to try and draw parallels between dance and portraiture and the idea of duration.  One of the big things I dealt with at NYU was about how dance is ephemeral.  As soon as you dance, it’s gone.  Every time you do a step, it’s over.  There’s no way to stop it. We made this duet trying to figure out ways to slow down time.  The way you can sit and look at a painting for five minutes, how can you have that same experience with dance.  We started making task-based choreography.  I usually make up steps and people learn them and I put them together.  This was more like – spin in a circle for five minutes, we played games – it wasn’t based on a step, but on an idea, so I could watch it develop a little more.  What came out of it was this really strange, intense relationship.  The physical movements themselves had an emotional element that I would have never known if I hadn’t looked at it for two minutes straight.  The duration allowed me to think about what the actual step meant.  It’s a challenge, both for the dancers and for the audience.  It’s super easy to get bored and say “I get it” and move on.  Most of us that have seen dance are used to it moving quick.  I almost think it’s long enough that you can watch it, be bored, get unbored, go back to watching it.  We’ve been building pieces of it since March.  There’s a very clear relationship that came out that I had not intended.  One of the things that bothers me about dance is that it happens so quickly.  The reason people are confused or afraid of it is because you don’t have time to digest.  How do I tell you – here are the things you think you don’t know about dance, but you know them already.  You think there’s a secret.  If you’ve every done the YMCA, you’ve already accepted the fact that you can communicate with your body.  That’s all you need to get.  If you can do the YMCA, you get modern dance.  There is no secret.

Leopold Group dancing, August 26&27 @ 8pm, Aug 28 @ 5pm

The Drucker Center, 1535 N Dayton, Chicago

Tickets:  www.brownpapertickets.com, $20

CDF11 Moderns Program

Aspen Santa Fe Ballet in "Uneven". Photo by Rosalie O'Connor.

Tonight was the Chicago Dancing Festival‘s (CDF) Moderns program at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance.  The packed house was ready for a great show and CDF didn’t disappoint.  Opening with Aspen Santa Fe Ballets commissioned work by Spanish choreographer Cayetano Soto Uneven (2010) set the bar high.  There was nothing uneven about it.  The local audience (and Hubbard St fans) might have noticed some hints of Nacho Duato, Ohad Naharin and Jirí Kylían in this work, as Soto performed some of their works as a dancer.  It obviously had a very contemporary European flavor and the ASFB dancers were on top of their game tonight (although it looked like the floor was slippery) as cellist Kimberly Patterson played live on stage.

River North Dance Chicago followed up with Charles Moulton’s Nine Person Precision Ball Passing (1980).   I sat in on rehearsals last week after the company spent two days learning it.  This speedy coordination game drew giggles and then awe as the dancers kept the balls in sequence for the seven-minute duration.  The  program notes call it “community art in the form of a living Rubik’s Cube” and that mistakes are inevitable.  Leave it to the perfectionists at Rivno to not make a mistake.   Doug Varone and Dancers finished up the first act with Varone’s Lux (2006).  I really enjoyed this piece.  I hadn’t seen Varone’s work or company before and wasn’t sure what to expect.  When the announcer said it was set to the music of Philip Glass, the two ladies next to me said, “oh”.  I’m not sure if it was meant to be good or bad, but it turned out (for me) to be good.  The dancers’ movement quality was luscious and it just looked like it would be fun to dance.  With a slowly rising moon on the back drop center stage, it was like a midnight frolic in the moonlight.

Adam Barruch in "Worst Pies in London". Photo by Christopher Duggan.

Adam Barruch‘s solo Worst Pies in London (2008) opened the second act.  Set to music of the same name from Stephen Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd, this was really duet between Barruch and Angela Lansbury singing the vocals on track.  Short, sweet and funny, Barruch looked like a young Jim Carrey with rubbery facial expressions and the flexible body to match.  Closing the show was Hubbard Street Dance Chicago (HSDC) performing Sharon Eyal’s Too Beaucoup (2011).  This was one of my favorite works from their last season.  Androgynously clad in flesh-toned body suits with white make up, wigs and contacts, the dancers look like a group of aliens that stumbled upon a mixed cd from earth and decided to have a dance party.  Weird, kooky, cool.   A fun, entertaining evening.  The appreciative audience agreed.

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 2

RNDC dancer Cassandra Porter. Photography by Sandro.

Today I sat in on a rehearsal with River North Dance Chicago (RNDC) to watch them prep for the Chicago Dancing Festival next week.  RNDC  will be performing Charles Moulton‘s Nine Person Precision Ball Passing for the Moderns program at the Harris Theater on Aug 23rd and the Celebration of Dance performance at Pritzker Pavilion on Aug 27th.  Moulton has been working with the dancers since Monday to set his 1980 postmodern piece for nine dancers (the original was for just three dancers and premiered in 1979).  One would think the title says it all, but there is more going here on than just precise handling of spheres.

When you think of postmodern dance, RNDC is not the first company that comes to mind.  Known more for their fast, athletic, emotive style, this “departure” is an interesting switch in process and a welcome challenge.  The dancers are on risers with three on each level – the bottom sitting, while the top two stand.  They do not deviate from these spots for the entire seven-minute piece.  What does happen is an ingenious exercise in brain power, counting, intricate patterns and hand-eye coordination.  Oh yeah, and there are balls passed.  Fast, slow, up, down, over, under, and in patterns with names like “waterfall” and “jaws”.  It is like a crazy puzzle come to life.

Understandably, the dancers are still trying to get the movement patterns into their bodies, while staying relaxed and focused.  “Keep the playfulness from the beginning,” Moulton instructs.  “The playfulness allows us to see the humanness.”  That humanness is the essential ingredient in the work.  What does one do when faced with an impossible task?  It is the reaction to that challenge that is the core of it.  “Mistakes are part of it, but it’s how you react,” he says.  “It speaks to the absurdity of systems and the human tendency to obsess, to perfect.”

I was thrown off when Mariah Carey’s cover of I Still Believe came on for the first run.  What?  This was just for a slower tempo to get the flow going at a friendlier pace.  Eventually, they upped the speed a bit to Barry White’s Never Gonna Give You Up with mixed (and sometimes funny) results.  The actual score by A. Leroy is faster and follows the choreography exactly.  “Speed is in your mind,” Moulton says.  “If you can do it slow, you can do it fast.”  This social experiment using movement (“We haven’t defined it yet.  Is it a dance, a game, a metaphor?”) has been reproduced over the years with ballet companies, children and non dancers.  I find it interesting to see how it evolves when performed by talented, technically trained dancers that weren’t even born when this project started.