Category Archives: MCA

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

CDF11 Wrap Up

Aspen Santa Fe Ballet in "Uneven". Photo by Cheryl Mann.

Last week was quite a week for dance in Chicago.  The Chicago Dancing Festival (CDF) presented five free nights of dance to eager audiences with an estimated 19,000 in attendance over the course of the week.  Many thanks and much gratitude to the CDF staff – Evin Eubanks (Executive Director), Todd Clark (Director of Production), Natalie Williams (Admin Assistant) and of course co-founders/Artistic Directors Lar Lubovitch and Jay Franke for showcasing such phenomenal talent and giving the city another chance to shine.  Mayor Emanuel attending three nights of dance has secured his place as dance in Chicago’s biggest fan.  I was lucky to be able to attend each night of the fest (I missed the free dance movies day) and I have to admit I was a little disappointed this Monday night when there wasn’t a kick ass show to go see.  Spoiled, but grateful.

Here are links to my coverage of the CDF events:  Opening Night Gala, Moderns, MCA Moves, Masters, Muses and Celebration of Dance.  Some of the highlights for me were Richard Move, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago (Too Beaucoup, Petite Mort), Lar Lubovitch Dance Company (The Legend of Ten), Paul Taylor Dance Company (Eplanade) and New York City Ballet artists Tiler Peck and Gonzalo Garcia (Tchaikovsky Pas De Deux).  I was surprised how much I enjoyed the Martha Graham Dance Company, Doug Varone and Dancers and Walter Dundervill’s work.  I can’t wait to see who CDF will bring in to perform next year.  Plan ahead: you won’t want to miss CDF2012!

Let me know what you think!  Did you go to any of the CDF shows?  What was your favorite?  Are you now a fan of a company you’d never seen before?  What would you like them to do differently next year?  What companies would you like to see at CDF 2012?

CDF11 MCA Moves

Richard Move as Martha Graham. Photo by Josef Astor.

Foreshadowing the evening to come, the title of the Chicago Dancing Festival‘s second consecutive free night of dance, MCA Moves, proved to be right.  The night was Move’s.  Richard Move, Artistic Director of Moveopolis!, TEDGlobal 2011 Oxford Fellow and impersonator of the iconic Martha Graham, hosted the program as Graham.  With costume changes, quips and quotes, he offered insights littered with history into her persona by becoming – in spirit, cadence and mannerisms – Martha. Joined by two young dancers (Deborah Goodman and Sandra Kaufman), he/she led a class Graham technique mini-class (“contract, release, repose”) and later performed his solo Lamentation Variation, an homage to Graham’s version commissioned by her company in 2007.  Quite frankly, he stole the show. (Honestly, any show that starts with a dude in drag as emcee – I’m in!)

There were two shows this evening at 6pm and 8pm.  I attended the second showing.  Two pieces from Monday night’s opening gala performance were on the program – Shaker Interior from Snow on the Mesa (1995) by artist from Martha Graham Dance Company and Brian Brooks Moving Company‘s duet from MOTOR (2010).  One I liked more the second time around and the other less.  The precision athleticism of MOTOR that enthralled on Monday wasn’t there.  The men were out of sync and looked tired.  Perhaps, two shows back-to-back for this number was too much.  Shaker Interior, by contrast, seemed more subtle and fragile this time.  The female dancer (Xiaochuan Xie) performed the piece topless, which made more sense contextually than the white leotard she wore on Monday.  There is a moment when she is kneeling on the floor with the man (Tadej Brdnik) sitting on a bench next to her and she slowly lifts her hand up so the back of it lightly touches his back and he moves ever so slightly in acknowledgement…it’s breathtaking.

Lucky Plush Productions piece Habituation (2010) incorporated everyday gestures and humor to deliver a clever dance about how they make dances. Faye Driscoll‘s If you pretend you are drowning I’ll pretend I am saving you is an excerpt of a work-in-progess not…not (2011).  More performance art than technical dancing, she and Jesse Zaritt tackle the strange and sometimes awkward developments in a male/female relationship.  Using their breath as music and a triangle of hot pink duct tape (did anyone else think this was a sexual reference?) as the stage parameters, they flirted, climbed, humped, bumped and writhed through their quirky attempt at a sexual bond.  Sometimes funny, sometimes wtf?  I’m not sure about this one.  I’d like to see it again in the context of the entire work.

CDF Opening Gala

Joffrey Ballet's Victoria Jaiani & Temur Suluashvili in White Swan pas. Photo by Cheryl Mann.

Last night was the opening night gala kicking off the fifth year of the Chicago Dancing Festival (CDF). A short 5-piece program on the MCA Stage was followed by cocktails, a buffet with three ballroom dance couples interspersed upstairs at Puck’s Restaurant and outside on the terrace.  The $250-a-head evening was co-chaired by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who stayed to mingle after the show along with his wife and daughter.  A few short speeches preceded the performance. MCA Director of Performance Programs Peter Taub opened the fest saying, “We are here to celebrate the best of dance from across the country”.  CDF co-founder Jay Franke gave some impressive stats including that in the past five years the festival has presented over 35 companies and over 400 dancers and proudly announced that this year CDF sold out approximately 10,000 seats for this week’s performances.  Franke turned over the mic to Mayor Emanuel, who celebrated his 100th day in office by attending the gala.  The Mayor, a former dancer and huge fan, declared that he wants to double the size of the fest and make sure Chicago is the dance destination for the entire country. He added there are 19 companies performing this week to an estimated 19,000 audience members.  Co-founder Lar Lubovitch said, “One cannot describe dance in words, no matter how eloquent,” but then went on to read the most eloquent essay (written by him) on duets, five of which we were about to see.

HSDC's Penny Saunders & Alejandro Cerrudo in Following the Subtle Current Upstream. Photo by Cheryl Mann.

The program of duets featured choreography from 1895 to present and while they represented divergent styles, there was a through-line of choreographic evolution.  A pristine classical white ballet to a fluid neoclassical ballet with a contemporary twist.  An emotive classic modern offering to a postmodern minimal feat.  Then an avant garde performance art work that evoked musical and choreographic themes from the first duet.  A mini-history of dance in 60 minutes or less…sort of.  Joffrey Ballet‘s husband and wife team, Victoria Jaiani and Temur Suluashvili began with Lev Ivanov’s traditional White Swan pas (1895) from Swan Lake.  On a small, bare stage it is difficult to bring the audience into the magical place that is needed for the dance, but what it lacked in mood and setting was made up for by technique.  Jaiani’s extraordinary extensions and limberness were on full display.  (I’m fairly certain her back is made of a flexible pipe cleaner.)  Just as they disappeared into the wings, Hubbard Street‘s (HSDC) Penny Saunders and Alejandro Cerrudo oozed onto the stage in an excerpt from Alonzo King’s Following the Subtle Current Upstream (2000).  While similar to the previous pas in technique, flexibility and master partnering (and similar promenades in 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!

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!