Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Muscle Memory: Mad Shak Investigates How We Forget

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Molly Shanahan/Mad Shak’s ongoing “Stamina of Curiosity” project dives deep into the underwater caves that form when one person performs for another, and her curiosity uncovers phenomena at the microscopic level. “There’s something that takes over before a performance,” Shanahan says, describing the inspiration for the current iteration of “Stamina,” entitled “Virtuosity of Forgetting.” “No matter how much we welcome vulnerability, a change takes place in the body when you consider being witnessed—a cross section of exhilaration and panic. In rehearsal, there’s always the presence of the infinite ways a movement can be done and openness to the reality that anything could happen. In performance, this collapses down to the sense of ‘one right way’ and that we’ll get it right or wrong. When performance is reduced to a binary, we experience loss, because we’re keeping something from the witness.” Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Dances for the Underground/The Seldoms, Peter Carpenter, Kate Corby & Dancers

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RECOMMENDED

The Seldoms share the bill for two weekends at Links Hall, presenting the first chapter of a new work by the company’s intellectually driven artistic director Carrie Hanson. “RockCitizen” is inspired by the rock-music-driven counterculture movements of the mid-to-late-twentieth century. Hanson seeks to unpack counterculture from social, political and economic perspectives, asking questions about how the phenomenon emerges, the groups it unites, the way it simultaneously questions dominant culture and encourages consumerism, and how it diffuses or fails. Hanson is a great pairing with Peter Carpenter, who last weekend presented the twelfth  iteration of his multi-year, ongoing “Rituals of Abundance for Lean Times,” entitled “Dominant Collapse.” Carpenter is an independent dance-theater maker inspired by many of the same forces that move The Seldoms. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Nutcracker/Joffrey Ballet

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image002RECOMMENDED

The Joffrey presents five programs throughout their season, showing works by about a dozen leading choreographers of past and present, but there’s one show that keeps the lights on: twenty-four performances of “The Nutcracker” account for the bulk of Joffrey ticket sales, pulling non-regular dance attendees (and their visitors) into the Auditorium Theatre for a holiday tradition and, in many ways, helping to fund the rest of programming. Robert Joffrey’s vision of the Christmastime confection is a shimmering spectacle, heightened by the additions of the two-story Mother Ginger puppet by Kermit Love and an ensemble of more than one-hundred young dancers. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Princess Grace Awards: New Works/Hubbard Street Dance

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Photo: Todd Rosenberg

Photo: Todd Rosenberg

RECOMMENDED

Princess Grace Awards are distributed each year to emerging artists of formidable talent in the fields of dance, film and theater (one measure of Chicago’s strong and growing dance scene is the considerable number of Princess Grace winners living and dancing in our city). Winners of Princess Grace choreography awards is the unifying theme of Hubbard Street’s two-weekend run at the MCA, but the choreographers in question have plenty more noteworthy lines on their CVs, too. The most recognizable name—certainly on a national level—is Kyle Abraham who, on top of the Princess Grace, has won a Bessie and a MacArthur fellowship, choreographing for the likes of Alvin Ailey and New York City Ballet’s Wendy Whelan (the performance, which includes a duet by HS’s resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo, is this January at the Harris). The Chicago Dancing Festival commissioned a new work from Abraham for Hubbard Street last fall, which is now reprised on the smaller MCA stage. Abraham’s gorgeous, detailed “Counterpoint” will be a treat to see in a more intimate setting. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Made in Chicago/Thodos Dance Chicago

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Photo courtesy Cheryl Mann

Photo courtesy Cheryl Mann

RECOMMENDED

Adler and Sullivan’s dazzling landmark Auditorium Theatre turns 125 this year, and part of the celebratory programming is a welcome “Made in Chicago” music and dance series. Melissa Thodos’ company will perform on the Auditorium Theatre’s boards for the first time—an apropos choice seeing as Thodos is Chicago-made herself: Evanston-born, training, performing and founding her own company in the city by the lake. Thodos Dance reprises their acclaimed hour-long theatrical piece of Chicago history, “The White City: Chicago’s Columbian Exposition of 1893,” based on Erik Larson’s famous book.  Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Bread & Butter/Cristina Tadeo and Nicholas Davio

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Photo: Katie Graves

Photo: Katie Graves

RECOMMENDED

The collaboration between dancer Cristina Tadeo and sound designer Nicholas Davio openly discusses the invisible hand in the arts that dictates whose work is seen, where and by whom: money. Tadeo interviewed Chicagoans working in the arts across all sectors—musicians, dancers, designers, administrators—about creative production, collaboration and risk, their choice to live and work here instead of New York or L.A. (though if we’re talking about monetary support for the arts, a better question might be why the U.S. and not Germany), measures of artistic value, and how they perceive success. There’s no way around the relationship between these questions and the root of all evil (though it often goes by softer euphemisms in arts circles: funding, patronage, the vaguely soothing “support”) and Tadeo is interested in talking frankly about just what that means for working artists. Read the rest of this entry »

Americans on the Stage: Dance Theatre of Harlem Returns to Chicago

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By Sharon Hoyer

The Dance Theatre of Harlem was established in 1969, following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. Arthur Mitchell, the first black principal dancer with the New York City Ballet, founded the company and ballet school in his home neighborhood, believing that access to and education in the arts enriches and empowers communities. From then on, DTH has led the way for inclusiveness in classical dance, demonstrating the richness and expressive possibilities of an art form that had been (and many still perceive to be—see captivating 2011 documentary “First Position”) almost exclusively white and Eurocentric. It’s been sixteen years since the Dance Theatre of Harlem performed in Chicago—financial hardship forced DTH to suspend the touring company in the interest of preserving their school and public programming, a hiatus planned for six months that stretched into eight years. Happily, the touring company was revived in 2012 and comes to the Auditorium Theatre as part of its 125th-anniversary season. I spoke with artistic director Virginia Johnson about the upcoming program. Read the rest of this entry »

Beauty in Difference: Heidi Latsky Dance Returns to Chicago

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Photo: Darial Sneed

Photo: Darial Sneed

By Sharon Hoyer

Heidi Latsky is a New York-based modern choreographer who works with mixed-ability dancers to create pieces that investigate and celebrate the beauty and uniqueness of the individual. Her work was last presented in Chicago as part of the 2010 Chicago Humanities Festival. Heidi Latsky Dance comes to the Dance Center next week with two works: “Solo Countersolo” and “Somewhere.”

How did you become interested in working with differently abled dancers?
I became friends with a presenter at Dance Umbrella in Boston back when I was dancing with Bill T. Jones. He had a wheelchair festival and wanted me to come and see it with him and I had no interest. There was a part of me that said “I spend all my days training as a dancer, why would I want to see people in wheelchairs dancing around? I want to see very athletic, virtuosic dancing.” So I had a very ignorant perception. Then he introduced me to Lisa Bufano, who had received a grant. She was a visual artist and bilateral amputee. He mentioned me as a choreographer who might want to work with her. I had no idea this incredible woman would become my muse; because of her fierceness, her vulnerability and her availability my whole life changed. I thought because I love what I’m doing with Lisa, could I do it again? Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: 25th Anniversary Season/Jump Rhythm Jazz Project

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Movement is personal. Our bodies and the way we inhabit them is integral to our identity, our sense of self. And for Billy Siegenfeld, founder of the Jump Rhythm Jazz Project, personal movement is tied up in most meaningful aspects of how we live in the world. Talk with Siegenfeld for a half hour and you’ll probably start to see the relationships between skeletal alignment and psycho-spiritual wellbeing, between muscular tension and emotional repression, between rigidity and imperialism, between the physical body and the natural world. Siegenfeld created Jump Rhythm—a blend of tap, jazz and eruptive vocalizations, using the entire body as a rhythmic instrument—as a vehicle to explore his philosophy of movement twenty-five years ago and, for the anniversary performance, has created a semi-autobiographical piece about the birth of the technique. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Giordano Dance Chicago/Harris Theater

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Photo: Gorman Cook Photography

Photo: Gorman Cook Photography

RECOMMENDED

The headlining piece in Giordano’s fall program is a commission from Broadway and television choreographer Ray Leeper. Leeper makes commercial dances for music videos and TV dance competitions—big show-stoppers full of flash and fun, dance that’s about pure entertainment. “I’m totally okay with entertainment,” artistic director Nan Giordano said. “It’s a big part of what our company does. There’s plenty of dark dance out there. I want the audience to walk out feeling great.” And feeling great is the theme of the number, set to three iconic songs on the subject. It opens to Michael Buble’s brassy, slinky rendition of “Feeling Good” and explodes across the stage in full-on Broadway style, complete with Fosse arms and black fedoras. Part two centers around sexy, bluesy partner work set to “Dr. Feelgood” and the big finish is to a rearrangement of Harold Arlen’s “Get Happy,” (made famous by Judy Garland in “Summer Stock”). The updated version of the tune provides space for a big buildup, not identifiably reaching the main theme till about halfway through the song. Leeper uses expansive traveling patterns and crossing lines of dancers to great effect; as he told me, “We break the fourth wall a lot.” The stage seems to triple in size with the exuberant energy of the Giordano dancers. This is the kind of smile-inducing number that lets you know where to clap, that inspired my three-year-old self to jump out of theater seats and dance in aisles. Read the rest of this entry »