Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Preview: JUBA!/Chicago Human Rhythm Project

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CHRP founder Lane Alexander. Photo Noah Stern Weber

CHRP founder Lane Alexander/Photo: Noah Stern Weber


The Chicago Human Rhythm Project’s annual summer summit of tap and percussive dance classes, workshops and performances culminates this weekend when the masters strut their stuff in JUBA!, a boisterous, joyful, two-night showcase of dancers from here and abroad. Each year JUBA! wraps up CHRP’s month-long Rhythm World festival, and the audience is packed with amped-up young dancers cheering their teachers on. Read the rest of this entry »

In the Belly of the Beast: Ahmad Simmons and Kacie Smith Slay Fear in “THEM”

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By Sharon Hoyer

Ahmad Simmons and Kacie Smith are the recipients of the Chicago Dancemakers Forum Lab Grant. Their project, “THEM” is a dance theater exploration of fear, love and the barriers we create for ourselves inspired by a quote from Rilke: “Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.” Ahmad and Kacie spoke about the evolution of “THEM” two weeks before the premiere.

A: These questions have been brewing in my mind for the last two years: themes of self-segregation and feeling like you don’t belong. I wondered if we could deal with these topics in movement and dance. We held a workshop in 2013 to see if I could put it in bodies on stage and not make it so abstract that it was impossible to tell what I was trying to say. Kacie wanted to add layers to make it more universal.

K: Ahmad’s perspective was personal and I had a bigger picture of how these issues affect the group and larger society. I’m interested not in presenting solutions, but finding the common ground of all of us grappling and feeling frustrated no matter what their perspective. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Don Quixote/Royal Ballet

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Photo:  Johan Persson

Photo: Johan Persson


It’s been nearly forty years since England’s Royal Ballet visited Chicago, and its production of principal dancer (and budding author) Carlos Acosta’s “Don Quixote” is being met with a bit of fanfare as a final feather in the cap of the Auditorium Theatre’s 125th anniversary season. The Cuban-born Acosta—still performing classical ballet at forty—has a devoted following in the UK, and spices up Marius Petipa’s iconic story ballet with fresh choreography and vivacious staging that highlights the humor of the title character and his cohort. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Cowboys and Vikings Trilogy/Erica Mott Productions

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IN>TIME 13 - Erica Mott: Wastelands, Waters and Words


While appropriate, the term “layered” is a bit of an understatement when applied to the dance theater creations of Erica Mott. Meanings, ideas and historical references intersect, merge, pile and weave through a fabric of sound, movement, sculpture and projection created by Mott and her collaborators. And Mott’s 2012 exploration of masculinity is given yet another layer of meaning this summer, when it will be restaged as part of the Chicago Park District’s Night Out in the Parks Festival. The first part of the trilogy, “Five Gaits, Four Walls, Fourteen Knots” loses the walls in an outdoor presentation at Indian Boundary Park—the site named in the 1816 Treaty of St. Louis. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Salts/The Inconvenience

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The Salts - 3


Those who say punk rock is dead have been spending too much time at the Wicker Park Urban Outfitters and not enough time right down the street at the Flatiron Arts Building, where the spirit of ’77 is alive and well. Flatiron is the temporary home of The Inconvenience, an interdisciplinary company that takes all the pretension out of the term “interdisciplinary.”

The Inconvenience kicks off their promising 2015 season with a dynamic evening of dance billed simply as “The Salts.” As a collaboration between Erin Kilmurray (who also performs) and Molly Brennan, the performance’s reference points are intentionally iconic: Iggy Pop, Velvet Underground, Patti Smith, Talking Heads. Yet the take is refreshingly modern, with frenetic choreography broken up by humorous interjections and politically charged vignettes. The routines themselves celebrate the spirit of punk: loose yet taut, zealous yet highly accessible. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: One Grand Dance/Hedwig Dances

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Eileen Ryan Photography

Photo: Eileen Ryan


To create a concert celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of Hedwig Dances, founder and artistic director Jan Bartoszek turned to her earliest works. “I think I’ve grown as a choreographer over the years,” Bartoszek says, “but the reasons I wanted to make dance are in these works—ideas about dependence and independence—things I was grappling with in my life. I feel fortunate that I’ve been doing this long enough to look back.” The title piece of the show weaves together reworked excerpts from Bartoszek’s early pieces based in social dance—waltz, polka and tango—in a dialogue about human relationships. The waltz section is a reflection on courtship, and has text taken from a 1950s manual on social dance etiquette. The tango represents fierce independence, dancers who pivot around each other’s axes, but share little weight. And the polka…” One of my earliest memories of dance was of the polka. I grew up in a small rural community; that’s what people did at church and social gatherings.” For Bartoszek, a unifying thread runs from her earliest memories of dance through thirty years of work with her Chicago-based modern company. “Works are connected by the ideas of an author,” she said. “All things I’ve done are essentially one grand dance.” Read the rest of this entry »

Bringing It All Back Home: After a Neighborhood Tour, “Stomping Grounds” Dances its Way Downtown

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The Chicago Human Rhythm Project is a cultural magnet; the organization pulls percussive and folkloric dancers—along with a good number of drummers—from around the world to collaborate, teach and perform in big celebratory events, like the annual Global Rhythms Festival at the MCA. Lane Alexander, the visionary founder of CHRP, has dedicated a career to the idea that art can unify people across lines of difference, and that rhythmic dance, like traditional food and music, is something all cultures share. “Percussive and sacred dance goes back ten thousand years,” he says. “And four thousand to ten thousand years ago, people who stomped on the ground were shamans and leaders. We might see these people take that place as leaders in our community, toward peaceful reconciliation.” Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: A Streetcar Named Desire/Scottish Ballet

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Scottish Ballet


If one had to select the work of a single twentieth-century playwright for translation from spoken language to dance, Tennessee Williams would likely top the list. Brooding, swaggering brutes, swooning waifs, sweltering, grimy back alleys: Williams’ plays seethe with a physicality that draws its characters’ inner life into a world of flesh and sweat. Scottish Ballet, the national ballet company of Scotland, commissioned theater and film director Nancy Meckler and the brilliant choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa as equal collaborators on an evening-length dance interpretation of “Streetcar” that comes to the Harris this May. Dancers learned characterization first and choreography second, building movement from deeply studied motivation. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Rituals of Abundance for Lean Times #14: Curious Reinventions/Dance COLEctive and Peter Carpenter Performance Project

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Independent choreographer Peter Carpenter teams with Margi Cole and her company The Dance COLEctive to write the fourteenth chapter in his ongoing dance serial that puts a critical and compassionate magnifying glass to the social constructs and political systems that move our lives. “Curious Reinventions” looks at mimicry: how we use it to construct our identities, the power of parody, how imitation can disrupt the status quo. Read the rest of this entry »

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 »

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