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New Site!

Hi there!  I won’t be posting any new content at this location.  I truly appreciate your readership and hope you will come check out the new site:  RogueBallerina.com!

Guess What?

Rogue Ballerina has moved to a new location! For new posts and a new look, please go to: rogueballerina.com

Preview: River North Opens Fall Season

Dancers Jessica Wolfrum & Michael Gross in "Al Sur del Sur". Photo by Sandro.

This weekend at the Harris Theater, River North Dance Chicago(RNDC) opens it’s fall season.  Just off a successful international tour (US, Korea, Germany, Switzerland), RNDC is warmed up, employing five new dancers and ready to take the stage with a mixed rep that is sure to dazzle.  Signature group piece by Sherry Zunker, Evolution of a Dream (2009),  is joined by last season hits Al Sur Del Sur choreographed by Sabrina and Rubin Veliz and Artistic Director Frank Chavez’s jazz tribute Simply Miles, Simply Us.  Charles Moulton’s postmodern Nine Person Precision Ball Passing (1980), which the company performed over the summer during the Chicago Dancing Festival (and shall heretofore be known as “the ball piece”), makes it’s Harris stage debut.  Add in an intense solo by Robert Battle from his work Train (2008) and the first duet Chavez every choreographed in 1994, Fixé, and you have the makings for a fantastic and entertaining evening of dance.  But it is the company premiere of Daniel Ezralow’s SUPER STRAIGHT is coming down on the program that is getting all the buzz – and rightly so.

Originally commissioned by Hubbard Street Dance Chicago (HSDC) founder Lou Conte in 1989, SUPER STRAIGHT was a cutting-edge, athletic, dynamic piece that helped change the trajectory of the company from a strong, stellar troupe with a jazz/Broadway-based rep to one of the pioneers of contemporary dance.  Ezralow, an emerging choreographer at the time, took inspiration from a book of black and white photographs by Robert Longo titled Men in the Cities and set it to an original score by Dutch composer Thom Willems.  What came out was a quirky, desperate, intriguing, hyper-physical, 15-minute dance that was like nothing the audience had seen before.  Revolutionary seems trite, but it was.  Five dancers dressed in black and white appear in what look like plastic garment bags hanging from the ceiling.  That image, along with the darkly eerie, industrial score, set the mood for a wonderful and strange adventure.  The original cast of Chavez, Sandi Cooksey, Ron De Jesús, Alberto Arias and Lynn Shepard brought a fierce energy to their talented technical skills and took the stage by storm.  I saw it on tour that season and it blew me away!  (It was one of the reasons I wanted to move to Chicago and why I’m a huge HSDC fan.)  I am so completely STOKED that RNDC is reviving it this weekend.  I spoke with Chavez by phone earlier this week about their upcoming program.

You’ve set quite an eclectic program…Miles, Balls, Tango…

This is our “Tour de Force” program (also the title of the Thursday night gala).  To be able to go from an authentic Argentinian tango to “SUPER STRAIGHT” with a contemporary edge and then go to Miles Davis, as jazzy as you can get…it shows so many different facets of the company and that we can do all of those things really well.

Jessica Wolfrum in Ezralow's "SUPER STRAIGHT is coming down". Photo by Jenifer Girard.

I’m going to cut to the chase.  I really want to focus on SUPER STRAIGHT because it is my favorite piece ever!  I love it, I love it, I love it!  I always wondered when/if Hubbard would bring it back.

(Laughing) We feel the same way.  It’s my favorite Daniel Ezralow piece.  Not just because I had the great opportunity to perform it, but I’ve been thinking about it for quite a while.  I’m always concerned with something that was related to HSDC, that enough time has gone by…we’re careful with all that.  We thought it was such a good fit and it’s such a good piece that it just made sense.  As you say, it’s my favorite piece of Danny’s and it’s been sitting on a shelf for a long time.  It’s so perfect for us.  I honestly didn’t think I’d see HSDC do it again. It just isn’t them any more.  I felt truly it was more appropriate for us these days, so I went for it. 

Are there things he told you, that maybe the audience doesn’t know, that you get to pass down now that you’re resetting it?

As I did it, I brought Sandi and Berto in to help with rehearsal and some tidbits here and there.  It was really based on a book of photographs by Robert Longo. The costumes, the look of the piece…everything came from this book.  It was very interesting.  He took a bunch of pictures of men and women in cityscapes. The idea behind it was that they were having things thrown at them and they were dodging.  They were all sort of action/motion shots, but very quirky.  They were pedestrians.  There were a lot of images that ended up being translated off the page and into the piece.  That was the initial jist of it.  I’ve described it as sort of an urban meltdown.  It’s like these people have been dropped down from some other space.  The bags…do you remember?  These big huge ice cubes that they melt out of.  I remember Danny saying things like, “Your first step out of that bag is like you’re stepping on to black ice.”  You can’t see it. You don’t know if it’s going to hold you.  There’s so much uncertainty in the piece, which created a great deal of tension.  There was a lot of tension in the creative process too.  Danny likes to stir the pit a little bit.  He does a lot of improv and then puts the piece together.  That’s his process.  He feeds off of whatever is happening. If somebody is pissed off and walking around a corner, he’ll use that in the piece.  He really wanted to shock the audience.  I remember this original composition, he wanted that first note to come in really strong and jolt the audience.  You’d hear a collective “ah” – it scared them.  It transcends you to another place and you’re not sure what’s going on.  He said that it was very abstract for him.  There was no real meaning behind it for him.  There was no story behind it.  He wanted to create this tense atmosphere that kept people on the edge of their seats and uncertain.  It does that well.  So many people wrote it was about AIDS, disease, a takeover, aliens…it had a million different interpretations of what it was.  Danny likes to do that.  He likes to leave it up to the audience, however they see it, whatever they’re feeling…that was a big part of it.

I definitely got an alien vibe and just kept wonder what was up with the bags? 

He likes to make people question a lot.  Are they aliens?  Are they just arriving here?  Were they quarantined?  All these speculations came about where these bags came from and then they just float off the stage. These five people are just dropped off somewhere.  They have no idea where they are.  You can say they’re from a different planet.  They don’t even know why they’re there, but they need to go explore.  If they are to go on in any way, they need to get out of those bags and find out where they are.  It’s a bit of a discovery.  The silent section in the middle was very interesting.  There are two musical cues in the musical section and other than that it was timing and breath and feeling each other, commanding and finding the silence and doing something with it and translating that into a very tense atmosphere.  Again, the uncertainty is what creates this tension.  Initially the piece wasn’t counted at all.  We just followed each other.  For dancers…everybody wants to know what they’re doing at every moment.  That was a really interesting part about the piece.  I think it keeps it really interesting and relevant.  There’s nothing to me that’s dated to me about the piece.  It’s still so relevant in so many ways.

The silent section, the improv and keeping it real on stage…was that a new way of working for you guys back then?  Or had you already been through that type of process before?

No.  I think it was new for a lot of us.  Danny was just starting out as a choreographer at that time, aside from what he did for his own company.  I think for us, and for that time at HSDC, it was pretty new.  It was fantastic.  What came out of that process was pretty special.  Sometimes it all just works.  I think “SUPER STRAIGHT” is a great example of when everything really comes together.

River North Dance Chicago, Nov 4&5 at 8pm

Tickets:  $30-$75, Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph, 312.334.7777

Shout Out (MD)

I wanted to give a shout out to Dr. Daniel Adair. Seventeen years ago today, he repaired my torn ACL and meniscus.
Thanks Dr Adair!

Breaking News

Yesterday evening it was announced that Paul Lightfoot is the new Artistic Director at Nederlands Dans Theater, replacing Jim Vincent (former AD at Hubbard Street). Citing severe budget cuts, the NDT site has a short statement about the switch up and notes that Vincent will stay on as an Artistic Adviser through the rest of the 2011-2012 season.

Thoughts?

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!

On Her Way

Cecily showing how it's done at the James R. Thompson Center. Photo by Dennis Peralta.

At 16, Cecily Romaynne Shives knows what she wants to do with her life…dance!  In fact, she’s known that she wanted to be a dancer since she was 10-years-old.  Luckily, she is blessed with strong feet, innate talent and some fantastic genes (her parents are Evie Peña Shives, former ballerina at Tulsa Ballet Theatre and teacher at Chicago Ballet Arts and Willy Shives, former dancer and current Ballet Master at Joffrey Ballet).  Add to the mix her love of the art form and spirited determination and you have a young artist ready to learn it all.

Shives gets up at 5:00 am to prepare for her days as an honor student at the Chicago High School for the Arts (ChiArts) where she takes academic classes in the mornings and dance classes at the conservatory in the afternoons.  “It’s a very long day,” she says and admits to sometimes doing homework during her commute on the Red Line.  Growing up in Pittsburgh, she remembers her first ballet class was actually the family living room where her Mom would teach her terminology.  At 2, she got her first taste of studying at a local studio and was hooked, but didn’t get serious in her training until the family moved to Chicago.  “My parents gave me a choice to keep dancing and I haven’t regretted the choice I made since,” says Shives.

Right now, she’s in Texas attending an American Ballet Theatre (ABT) summer intensive workshop for a month.  She auditioned at the request of a friend (who didn’t want to go alone) and didn’t expect anything to come of it.  “All the other girls were twice my height and had so much flexibility,” she recalls.  “I was really nervous.”  After the initial shock wore off, Shives let the excitement hit her.  RB asked her a few questions as she packed for her ABT summer adventure.

What are your goals?  Do you want to be a professional ballerina or would you consider other genres?

I want to become a professional dancer when I’m older.  I think when dancing professionally you must know about other genres of dance because most companies don’t just have one in the repertoire.  I feel that professionals don’t get anywhere unless they are well-rounded at all types of dance.  I want to finish college at some point in my life, whether it’s before or after my dance career.  I would eventually like to go to law school and follow in my grandfather’s footsteps.  I have always been intrigued with the law and standing up for justice.

Which style do you like the most and in which are you the strongest?

I am best at contemporary ballet.  I love classical ballet, but like to branch out of that.  I love being off my leg and allowing gravity to take its course.  Pointe/Variations class has been a lot of fun for me because of my strength on pointe and my understanding of each balletAt Chiarts, we have learned some of Gerald Arpino’s works and variations from Paquita and Raymonda.

What’s your favorite role danced so far?

Peasant Pas de Deux from Giselle.  The first time I performed it I was 12 and it was one of the best experiences of my career.  I felt so strong and it improved my self-confidence. 

What’s the best advice your parents have given you?

The best thing they told me was to learn every single part whether it was boys or girls.  They told me to learn it and write it down, so in case someone is injured I know the part.  This has paid off greatly.

Are you proud to be following in their footsteps?

I don’t think I’m exactly following in their footsteps.  They both had great careers, but that was their own thing.  I want to carve my own way in the dance world.  I’m proud to have them as my mentors and I love that I have people who support my decision in becoming an artist.


ACTION!

The U.S. House of Representatives is set to vote on more cuts to the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) this week, however, Congresswoman Louse Slaughter and Congressman Todd Platts (sounds like a heavy metal band, no?), who co-chair the Congressional Arts Caucus have started a “Strike the Last Word” effort  – or pro-forma amendment – in the House in the hopes of securing time to speak or submit a statement before the vote.  Please let your representative(s) know how you feel about arts funding and urge them to join this effort.

For more information on what you can do, go to The Performing Arts Alliance.  Click on “Take Action” on the left of the screen.  On the next page (right-hand side) click “Find Your Representative”.  The site will give you contact information for all of your district reps.   You will find more advocacy info at Dance/USA.org.

Shows, Auditons, etc.

Aerial Dance Chicago (formerly AMEBA) performs Unearthed this weekend at the Ruth Page Center, 1016 N. Dearborn. July 22 & 23 @ 7pm. Tickets: $25 online, $30 at door, $20 for students and seniors.

The Seldoms are holding auditions for male and female dancers to perform in a special project in Feb 2012. Saturday, July 23 @ 10:00 am, Pilsen East Arts Center, 1945 S. Halsted, 4th floor.

The Dance COLEctive is holding auditions on Saturday, Aug 6th from 10:00 am – 1:00 pm at the Drucker Center, 1535 N. Dayton. Audition fee: $10.

Synapse Arts Collective is holding auditions on Saturday, Aug 30th from 12:00 – 2:00 pm (check-ins begin at 11:30) at the Menomonee Club, 1535 N. Dayton. Two paid company member positions are open.

Spam-A-Lot!

It seems a spam bot wiggled its way into my Twitter account. My apologies to anyone who is receiving spam tweets from RB! Apparently it’s widespread and they haven’t figured out how to stop it yet 😦