Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Imagination at Dusk: Nicolas Blanc Finds his Language For the Joffrey

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Photo: Cheryl Mann

Photo: Cheryl Mann

Soft-spoken and self-effacing, Nicolas Blanc sits in a folding chair in a sunny studio room of the Joffrey tower, gently cueing the entrances and changes for five dancers in his short ballet entitled “Evenfall,” uttering the occasional, supportive “good” or “nice” for a well-landed movement. Ballet Master for the Joffrey since 2011, Blanc is about to add his own choreography to the company repertory for the first time, which appears in a “New Works” program alongside household name Christopher Wheeldon and rising-star resident choreographer of the New York City Ballet Justin Peck.

“I’ve wanted to choreograph a long time…since I was a child,” Blanc said. “And I think there are parallels with being a Ballet Master. That parallel is about how you move people in a room; you’re a bit like a conductor. I’ve been in charge of so many choreographers’ work—Nijinsky’s ‘Rite of Spring’ was on my shoulders, I recently reset ‘Incantations’—and that helps me; their work informs me about their creative process. I’m learning from what has come before. I’m in the process of creating my own language.” Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Stomping Grounds/Chicago Human Rhythm Project

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RECOMMENDED

We usually have to wait till June and bus, bike or train down to the Loop to see great free performances but, thanks to the Chicago Human Rhythm Project—that mighty advocate of the original musical instrument—festival season starts early this year. And it’s coming to you. CHRP tours the neighborhoods this month with a series of free performances by hometown companies that celebrate five different heritages: Trinity Irish Dance Company, Mexican Dance Ensemble, Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Theatre, Muntu Dance Theatre and CHRP’s resident tap company BAM!. Two companies host each show, with cameo appearances by the other three. The series kicks off with a panel discussion with the artistic directors of the five companies at the Cultural Center, moderated by Audience Architects—the dance promotion organization that recently dubbed April Chicago Dance Month. Read the rest of this entry »

Breaking Bounds: River North Dance Chicago’s Hanna Brictson Pushes the Limits

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Hanna BrictonHanna Brictson grew up in River North Dance Chicago, first as a student, starting at the age of twelve, then as a company member straight out of high school, eventually working her way up to rehearsal assistant. This week, the Elgin native and Princess Grace Award nominee makes her choreographic debut with the company, which premieres as part of the Auditorium Theatre’s “Made in Chicago” series, in honor of its 125th anniversary season.

Many dancers move from company to company. What has kept you at River North?
There has always been a build happening. It’s never been stagnant on the artistic side. As a dancer you’re always searching for a challenge; [artistic director] Frank Chaves is always bringing in new choreographers and challenging the dancers in new ways. There’s also the jazz style, which we’re now getting away from with contemporary work, but it will always be our foundation. Jazz is my background so the environment is comfortable and still challenging.

Tell me a little about your new work, “Beast.”
The piece is danced by all the women in the company. I’m also dancing in it which is a challenge in and of itself. It’s based around my life experiences that have pushed me to have the personality I have. It’s about pushing the limits of what we think we can do. We all believe we can handle only so much; it’s about pushing beyond the walls we set up for ourselves. When we break through these walls, we sometimes discover the alter ego we have as females, our inner beast.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Just that to choreograph on friends has been the most special opportunity, because I know these people inside and out. Which is what River North is all about; we’re a family. (Sharon Hoyer)

At the Auditorium Theatre, 50 East Congress, (800)982-2787. Saturday, March 28 at 7:30pm.

Critic’s Postcard: Fairies and Snakes at Moulin Rouge

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Photo: S. Bertrand

Photo: S. Bertrand

By Zach Freeman

There are very few theatrical venues in the world that can boast anything like the history, cachet and all-around tourist-centric sexiness of Moulin Rouge, now celebrating its 125th (!) anniversary. With that in mind my wife and I made our way to the iconic red windmill at the intersection of Rue Lepic and Boulevard de Clichy in the Montmarte district a few weeks ago, expanding our trip to Paris to include the latest offering from “the most famous cabaret in the world.”

Entitled simply “Féerie” (Fairy), it turns out that this production—which has been running since the end of 1999—is every bit as flashy, ephemeral, evocative and simple as the name implies. For clarity’s sake I should add that by “simple” I just mean “nearly plotless”—with 1,000 costumes, eighty dancers, six horses and five pythons (yes, you read those last two correctly)—this show is anything but simple in the technical sense. But more on that in a bit.

Entering the historical eighteenth arrondissement theater through a throng of camera-toting tourists and fellow attendees is a theatrical experience in itself. The bright red carpet and brighter lights successfully immerse you as you check in and are guided to your table. (With 900 seats, it’s no surprise that they don’t trust you to find your way alone.) The space is set up like a massive, two-story restaurant, allowing for customers booking 7pm tickets to eat dinner before the 9pm show. Since we opted for the 9pm show, we arrived at our table post-dinner and were promptly greeted with glasses of champagne. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Urban Bush Women/Dance Center of Columbia College

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Photo: Rick McCullough

Photo: Rick McCullough

RECOMMENDED

Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, inspired by her upbringing in an African-American neighborhood of Kansas City, founded her all-female company to give voice to the disenfranchised, particularly women of the African Diaspora. Urban Bush Women now marks thirty years of impassioned dance making for social change and comes to the Dance Center of Columbia College as part of the celebration. Two pieces are on the program: Zollar’s “Hep Hep Sweet Sweet,” a personal memoir and homage to music and culture of her youth. We’re taken to Kansas City via song, and welcomed into a nightclub scene swinging with jazz and blues—right after the narrative voice tells us that her reflections are “part truth, part memory, part rumor, part nostalgia and part myth.” Read the rest of this entry »

Mapping Power: Carrie Hanson and The Seldoms Unpack Postures of Dominance in “Power Goes”

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Photo: William Frederking

Photo: William Frederking

By Sharon Hoyer

Whether addressing climate crisis, as in the 2012 “Exit Disclaimer: Science and Fiction Ahead,” the economic meltdown and Keynesian theory, as in the 2011 “Stupormarket,” or consumerism and the resultant landfills, as in the 2008 “Monument,” Carrie Hanson and her company The Seldoms turn scholarship, politics and issues most pressing our national consciousness into smart, funny, thought provoking dance theater. Their newest work, “Power Goes,” draws 1960s politics and the persona of Lyndon B. Johnson to our current Congressional malaise and explores the way power moves through individuals, groups and nations. Hanson spoke about the work via phone. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Hubbard Street Dance/Harris Theater

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The name Gustavo Ramirez Sansano can bring pangs to those who were busy developing an addiction to his work at the helm of Luna Negra Dance Theater, both as artistic director—introducing us to brilliant young voices from Europe—and as choreographer (notably his epic and dreamlike dance interpretation of Bizet’s “Carmen”) when the company regrettably folded in 2013. Happily, Ramirez Sansano has been invited to create a new piece for Hubbard Street’s spring program, a tribute to George Balanchine set to the same Tchaikovsky suite as Balanchine’s famous “Theme and Variations.” Another premiere on the program comes from Crystal Pite, founder and director of Vancouver-based Kidd Pivot. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Chicago Inspired/Thodos Dance Chicago

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Photo: Cheryl Mann

Photo: Cheryl Mann

RECOMMENDED

Thodos Dance’s winter concert at the Harris gathers short rep pieces from a half dozen Chicago-based choreographers, including a new work by founder Melissa Thodos. The program includes Brian Enos’ “Lullaby,” “A Salute to Old Friends” by the iconic and groundbreaking Chicago legend Sybil Shearer, plus new works by company members John Cartwright and Tenley Dorrill. There’s also a new full company piece commissioned from Garfield Lemonius. Top billing goes to a trilogy of rarely performed short, sassy pieces by Bob Fosse, originally created for television variety shows in the 1960s. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: It’s About Love Again This Year/RE|Dance Group

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Michael Estanich’s newest creation for RE|Dance glides on gentle waves of sweet nostalgia and romance, ruffled at points by eddies of humor and the chop of desire. Dancers clad in ankle length dresses or button-down shirts and trousers with suspenders travel through scenes of youthful love, or perhaps more accurately, sepia-toned reflections on youthful love to Bach, birdsong and The Magnetic Fields. In the background, a great monument of peeling wallpaper stands as a symbol of memory and quiet reminder of time as the backdrop to fleeting human emotion. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Alonzo King LINES Ballet/Harris Theater

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LINES-Meyer

RECOMMENDED

The power, reedy elegance and remarkable precision of LINES Ballet returns to the Harris in two weeknight programs. On Wednesday, the San Francisco-based company participates in the Harris’ wallet-friendly happy-hour series Eat + Drink to the Beat, performing King’s nod to ballet history and the emergence of neoclassicism, “Concerto for Two Violins,” along with his newest work “Shostakovich.” Thursday evening is a full program that includes the gorgeous, technically intricate and emotionally transcendent “Writing Ground,” set to music from various religious traditions and inspired by the poetry of Colum McCann. Read the rest of this entry »

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