Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Preview: Visceral Dance Chicago/Harris Theater

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There’s a new high-profile contemporary dance company in town. Nick Pupillo’s Visceral Dance Chicago, born of and named after the studio he opened on the Northwest Side, made its debut last fall at the Harris Theater—an ambitious start for an ambitious artistic director. Over the winter the company acquired some strong repertory and their first spring program features works by familiar names. Rising star choreographer Monica Cervantes, the tiny powerhouse who formerly danced with Luna Negra Dance Theater, brings “Changes,” an abstract piece woven through with images of everyday life. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Spring Engagement/River North Dance Chicago

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River North Dance Chicago presents a one-night repertory performance with a diverse and eclectic mix. The night features several pieces by artistic director Frank Chaves. “The Good Goodbyes” reflects on the relationships developed within the dance community; the intense, yet brief bonds that form and their inevitable, bitter-sweet end. The piece is choreographed to original piano music composed by Josephine Lee, artistic director of the Chicago Children’s Choir. “Underground Movements” is set to an original score also performed by the Chicago Children’s Choir. Sung in a made-up language, the music creates a timeless, otherworldly atmosphere. “Underground Movements” is an unfolding of the human journey through awakening, temptations, abysses and, finally, hope and ascension. Beginning with a slow, heavy, sensual beat, the piece moves toward uplifting and lyrical movement. “Stormy Monday,” an excerpt of a longer work set to the music of Eva Cassidy, chronicles the intensity of a tempestuous love. “Dawn,” choreographed by Kevin Iega Jeff, is a dramatic, celebratory piece that brings us from darkness to light, contrasting ancient and contemporary soundscapes. “Contact-Me,” by Mauro Astolfi, highlights beautifully intertwined bodies and powerful yet liquid movement. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Art + Activism/Chicago Danztheatre Ensemble

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What, exactly, is danz theatre? According to modern dance pioneer Rudolf Von Laban, danz theatre seeks “to unite all art media to achieve an all-embracing, radical change in humankind.” Such are the roots of Ellyzabeth Adler’s Chicago Danztheatre Ensemble. As her mission declares, this is “performance with a purpose.”

“The Fluid Flow Fluidly,” choreographed by Brittany Brown, uses a series of mantras and a rich, striking movement vocabulary to invite the audience into a state of flow. Lisa Leszczewicz’s “Penumbra” dances us through the “space between shadow and light” and explores the process of change. Ellyzabeth Adler breathes fresh life into T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland with a haunting mix of dance, physical theater, music and visual art. Following WWI, Eliot’s poem expressed the confusion and longing of a “lost generation.” Adler’s performance sheds light on our own wastelands—those parts of life which are decaying both inside and out, individually and collectively. Her work gives voice to the connection we seek and the beauty that may be found despite, or even because of, the wasteland. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Drift deep, loose/Hedwig Dances

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Photo courtesy Bill Frederking

Photo courtesy Bill Frederking


March is an in-between time. One day we are hopefully braving forty-degree sunshine in sweaters and sunglasses, convincing ourselves of warmth. The next we’re succumbing to parkas and mittens, watching our breath trail out behind us. Spring, growth, warmth, life—it is all so close but still just beyond reach. The turning of seasons has long provided many a rich artistic metaphor. In “Drift deep, loose,” creative director of Hedwig Dances Jan Bartoszek draws her inspiration from these tensions of thawing winter. The piece will debut as part of the spring show, “Markings.”

Simple costumes not only clothe the dancers but serve as props, creating new spaces and opportunities for exploration. The piece is set to classical music interspersed with sounds of nature. The audience is seated on both sides of an uncluttered stage. Like nature herself, the tone is pure and elemental. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Moses(es)/Reggie Wilson/Fist & Heel Performance Group

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Photo courtesy Julieta Cervantes

Photo: Julieta Cervantes


Like so many experiences in life, the profundity of performance is in simple, honest moments—a gesture, the repetition of a phrase physical or sung, courageous silences—and there is no question: the work of Reggie Wilson resonates deep. Wilson’s work, inspired by the spirituality of the African Diaspora, seems raw on the surface, but the precise craft of his movement language, use of music, staging and light come together with a specificity that strips away anything extra and distills the performance down to its very soul. His most recent piece, “Moses(es),” is a visual poem on migration and culture, inspired by Zora Neale Hurston’s novel “Moses, Man of the Mountains.” Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: The Vinegar Works: Four Dances of Moral Instruction/Trey McIntyre Project

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Photo courtesy Trey McIntyre


Looking at the ten-year catalog of Boise-based Trey McIntyre Project—which includes dance repertory, short films, spontaneous public performances and community-based collaborations—the old saying about artists being adults who never forgot how to play comes to mind. Technical virtuosity, athleticism, curiosity, humor and cultural reference meet in McIntyre’s work, which has been inspired by the music of Queen, the majesty of Glacier National Park, the Basque population of Boise, and the iconic children’s album from 1972, “Free to Be…You and Me.” TMP’s most recent—and final work as a full-time dance company—is inspired by the illustrations of Edward Gorey. McIntyre said he was drawn to the challenge of presenting surrealist story lines in a story ballet format. “Trying to make an engaging path to move through, when these particular stories don’t follow a traditional story arc, was really fun for me.” Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Witness/The Space Movement Project and The Leopold Group

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Lizzie Leopold announced this to be a year of collaboration, starting in January with a collection of short works by Chicago-based artists entitled “Archipelago.” This next shared program pairs The Leopold Group with The Space Movement Project in an evening that asks the viewer to consider their own spectatorship. A portion of the audience will be seated on the Ruth Page Center stage, split into two groups facing one another. The Space Movement Project will perform “The Dismantlers,” a look at natural elements in manmade environments. The Leopold Group brings a restaging of “Lips of Their Fingers,” a dance about dance and very much in keeping with the theme of the evening. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Escape Ordinary/Experience Extraordinary/Giordano Dance Chicago

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GDC Sabroso Rockwood Rozanski Cook Photo Harris 2014 rawRECOMMENDED

Experience extraordinary. It’s a phrase that catapults us out of closed doors and the daily grind. It’s a phrase that reminds us of what possibility waits to be scratched beneath the surface. It’s a phrase that reminds us of our passion. Giordano Dance Chicago’s spring show promises to do just that.

Nothing inspires an awareness of our humanity quite like the passing of somebody we hold dear. Assistant artistic director Autumn Eckman debuts “mist”—a full-company work honoring the life and spirit of Kevin Flynn, recently deceased husband of Giordano board vice president Susan Flynn. Eckman describes the piece as “softer, adagio, beautiful.” Minimal costumes showcase the purity of a body in movement. Chicago’s Bella Voce accompanies the dancers with live a cappella music composed by Eric Whitacre. It is, in Eckman’s words, “a musical and visual journey—a visceral experience.” Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Aladdin/Houston Ballet

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In the midst of a spring dance season marked by contemporary minimalism and abstraction comes Houston Ballet with an old-fashioned, family-friendly, evening-length story ballet with costumes, sets and spectacle to rival the “Nutcracker.” Choreographer David Bintley tells the story of the poor boy who finds adventure, riches and romance via a magic lamp with classical ballet vocabulary, theatrical staging and gesture, as well as dazzling, Hollywood-scale sets by Dick Bird and Sue Blane’s lavish, shimmering costuming, fit for a raja. Completing the sensory feast is the Chicago Philharmonic, which will perform Carl Davis’ score live. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Terms and Conditions/Philip Elson Dance

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We live during the reign of tweets, selfies and Google Chat. We live in a time where ambiguous digital forces know more about the intimate details of your life than your next-door neighbor: from who friended you last night on Facebook to brand of the water filter you ordered from Amazon. Is our privacy being threatened? How do we respond? Are we even aware?

Philip Elson explores these questions of privacy and vulnerability in his debut full-length performance, “Terms and Conditions.” He describes his work as a “dance theater hybrid production.” Performers in everyday clothing dance in front of and among technological visuals to cinematic music composed largely by Elson himself. Read the rest of this entry »