Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Preview: Chicago Dancing Festival

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Ben Wardell and Michel Rodriguez

Ben Wardell and Michel Rodriguez

RECOMMENDED

The best time to be in the city is, unquestionably, the summer. These are the months that remind us why we endure such brutal winters (aside from sheer Midwest obstinacy): Chicagoans emerge to reacquaint themselves with the lakefront and parks, drinking in free arts and culture presented outdoors every night of the week. And the end of August means free dance performances—lots of them—thanks to the Chicago Dancing Festival. The festival was founded by native-Chicagoan-turned-New-York-choreographer Lar Lubovitch and dancer Jay Franke, to introduce more people to the pleasures of watching dance. The project has been a success; audiences have turned out in droves the last seven years to see companies from here and around the country. This year’s festival includes three nights of performances: Wednesday at the Harris Theater—which will be simulcast to the big LED screen in the Pritzker Pavilion—a program of duets Friday at the MCA, and the grand finale at the Pritzker Saturday night. Read the rest of this entry »

Heart of the Movement: Dance for Life Dances For A Cause

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In the early nineties, a dancer with the Joseph Holmes Dance Theatre named Keith Elliott was, like many artists of the time, losing friends and colleagues to complications caused by HIV/AIDS. “If you knew Keith, he was the kind of person who couldn’t just not do anything about it,” said Anthony Guerrero, the current producer of Dance For Life. “He was a dancer—he didn’t have money—but he could put on a show.” Elliott invited Chicago’s dance community to participate in a fundraiser performance to fight HIV/AIDS and support artists in need. Four companies immediately got involved: the Joffrey Ballet, Hubbard Street, Giordano Dance and River North Dance, who have remained the partnering companies to this day. The first performance was held in 1992 to a sold-out house. Since then, Dance For Life has raised millions of dollars for HIV/AIDS prevention, care and education. Proceeds also go to The Dancers’ Fund, an emergency fund extended artists, administrators, rehearsal pianists, anyone in the dance profession struggling with life-threatening or debilitating illness. The Dancers’ Fund goes beyond medical treatment, covering rent, utilities, food. Last year’s Dance For Life raised more than $200,000 alone. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Season Four/PRODUCE

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Photo:  Julie Ballard

Photo: Julie Ballard

RECOMMENDED

The fourth and final season of critically acclaimed dance-and-music-improv mashup PRODUCE is a must-see. Hosts Lauren Warnecke, dancer, writer and educator behind Art Intercepts, and Anthony Ingram, member of Signal Ensemble Theatre, lead a cast of dancers, visual artists and musicians through an improvisational odyssey, informed by the creative energy of the moment and audience feedback. The idea behind the series is to not only push the boundaries of the participating artists by radically mixing ingredients and seeing what flavors result, but also to demystify the creative process for the audience, pulling off any veil of intimidation surrounding artists to reveal the playfulness and fun of creative production. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: The Long and Forgotten Winter/RE|Dance

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Photo: Shelby Kroeger

Photo: Shelby Kroeger

RECOMMENDED

The long-distance choreographic team of Lucy Vurusic-Riner and Wisconsin-based Michael Estanich have produced, over the last five years, a body of work that is notably calm and introspective. Perhaps the emotional depth and delicate reflection of pieces like The Attic Room, Inhabitants of Tall Grass and last year’s Homeland can be attributed to their process of generating movement material together, then writing and processing at length separately. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: JUBA! Masters of Tap and Percussive Dance/Chicago Human Rhythm Project

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Photo: Paolo Bernadotti

Photo: Paolo Bernadotti

RECOMMENDED

The only downside to Chicago Human Rhythm Project’s wrap-up performances of their annual Rhythm World festival is trying to decide which show to attend. The series of showcases at the MCA theater are as much party as performance; the audience is always packed with tap dance and percussion enthusiasts—students and teachers of all ages from around the world who come to Chicago to spend the summer teaching, learning and jamming. JUBA! is the closing party—three nights of virtuosic music and rhythmic dance by the best hoofers alive—and the atmosphere is always electric. Read the rest of this entry »

A Peek at the Process: In the Studio with Thodos’ Budding Choreographers

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Photo: Cheryl Mann

Photo: Cheryl Mann

By Sharon Hoyer

For dancers, summer is a season of creative experimentation and growth, with ample opportunities to participate in residencies and intensive classes both in the city and without. Summer is also the time when a few dance companies become incubators for new choreographic talent within their ranks. Thodos Dance Chicago was among the first in the city to offer budding choreographers in the company the opportunity to practice the craft backed by extensive resources, and to have the resulting works performed on a main stage. Melissa Thodos provides her company members audition and rehearsal space, a budget, a lighting designer and a panel of experts to provide feedback both early in the process and close to the performance. They get a taste of artistic production in the big leagues: auditioning, creating work, running rehearsals, gathering collegial feedback. I sat in on the second panel showing at the Drucker Center and got a glimpse of how seasoned dance professionals nurture and challenge the next generation of artists. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Summer Intensive Performance/Deeply Rooted Dance Theater

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Photo courtesy Sandro

Photo: Sandro

RECOMMENDED

This summer marks the second year of a three-year collaboration between Deeply Rooted Dance Theater and the South Africa-based Flatfoot Dance Company, entitled the JOMBA! Initiative. Both companies have a strong focus on diversity and how art impacts social change and, with funding from the MacArthur Foundation, Deeply Rooted’s artistic director Kevin Iega Jeff traveled to Durban in the spring to serve as artist in residence. Over the summer Flatfoot Dance visited Chicago, engaging in creative work and discussion with Deeply Rooted about cultural exchange between the U.S. and South Africa, and what’s to be learned from the racial history of each country. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Chicago’s Watershed: A 156 Mile Choreography/Clinard Dance

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watershedRECOMMENDED

Amidst concrete and apartment complexes, skyscrapers and trains, our interconnectedness with nature may not be immediately apparent. Wendy Clinard’s “Watershed” is fuel for the fire of remembering that we are all still part of a living, breathing whole. The piece traces the history of the Chicago River: everything from the train tracks that grew alongside, to the shapes and movement of the water itself, to its microscopic bacterial contents. Read the rest of this entry »

A Little Ripple: Ron De Jesus Returns to his Flamenco Roots with Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Theater

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Ron De Jesus in rehearsal with Ensemble Español

Ron De Jesus in rehearsal with Ensemble Español

By Sharon Hoyer

Choreographer Ron De Jesus returns to his roots in a collaboration with Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Theater, the company that introduced him to a career he never planned on. Ensemble Español, lead by Dame Libby Komaiko, is the resident company at Northeastern Illinois University, and Chicago’s steward of flamenco dance. De Jesus’ piece, entitled “Mil Clavos” (1,000 Nails), is a fiery, dynamic blend of the modern/contemporary shapes and staging that are now his forte, and the rapid-fire footwork and passionate character of flamenco. De Jesus spoke with me about the creation of the piece and his own personal history.

What were the challenges of interweaving contemporary and flamenco vocabularies?
Well, I hadn’t put on flamenco shoes in, oh…let’s be nice, thirty-five years. I was surprised how much was still there. But the next day my toes were black and blue. Two of my toenails fell off. You’ll see photos of me in rehearsal in socks from then on. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Flying Bach/Civic Opera House

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RECOMMENDED

When it comes to courting crossover audiences, one most often sees dance companies trying to convince mass audiences that the art form isn’t just for the champagne-sipping opera-house set. In this case, the Berlin-based Flying Steps crew is showing opera-house season-ticket holders that breaking is an art form as worthy of attention from the butts in the red velour seats as the circle standing on the corner. In a world tour funded (handsomely, I’d judge from the preponderance of advertising on billboards, bus stops and internet ads) by Red Bull, the world champion b-boys (along with one cheeky ballet dancer from Sweden) pop and lock to Bach’s “Well-Tempered Clavier,” performed live by Christoph Hagel—a former student of Leonard Bernstein—in major concert venues around the world. Read the rest of this entry »