Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Review: FlySpace/Jay Pritzker Pavilion

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Photo courtesy William Frederking

Photo courtesy William Frederking

RECOMMENDED

During the intemperate months, the stage of the Pritzker Pavilion is protected from the elements by massive windows spanning the entire proscenium. It allows park visitors to gaze in at the gorgeous wood construction of the stage and yearn for the coming warm weather and free performances. Over two weekends, it is allowing a small audience to gaze back. Four contemporary dance companies—Hedwig Dances, Same Planet/Different World, The Dance COLEctive and Zephyr Dance—are using the enclosed stage as an intimate venue, placing the audience upstage in the choir loft (seats I recommend if you don’t grab the first row on the floor) and dancing with the expansive Pritzker lawn and Art Institute Modern Wing’s gentle glow as backdrop. Two companies share a bill each weekend; last weekend Hedwig and SPDW alternated pieces in a program that shifted moods as frequently as the Chicago spring. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Allowances and Occurrences/Zephyr Dance

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Photo Courtesy Nadio Oussenko

RECOMMENDED

Things that occurred: a group of girls chatting on the street abruptly realized there was a dancer just two feet behind them softly ruffling her nest of paper behind a showcase window; a gaggle of neighborhood kids stood at the door of the Defibrillator Gallery for many minutes, watching three women slowly shift and pose against a gray wall; a few smiling observers snapped pictures of Ayako Kato—the dancer behind the showcase window—giving me, momentarily, the marvelously uncomfortable sense of being at the zoo. The three-hour durational performance by Zephyr Dance invites the visitor to experience the evening as they please, to come and go at will, chat if they like, roam the gallery, sip wine or coffee, and allow themselves to be pulled wherever their attention leads them. And that attention is immediately fine-tuned; the gallery atmosphere hushes the visual noise of Milwaukee Avenue with soft lighting and a grayscale palette. Each chapter of movement, each lighting change stands out like a painting on a wall. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Winter Fire/Joffrey Ballet

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Victoria Jaiani and Fabrice Calmels in "Before the Rain"

RECOMMENDED

Though he collaborated with John Cage, one of the musical titans of the twentieth century, the late choreographer Merce Cunningham famously created his work independent of the music; he believed in chance so much that he once did a piece wherein the audience created individual soundtracks using shuffle mode on their iPods. I thought about this a fair bit during the Joffrey Ballet’s “Winter Fire” program, so forcefully did the music shape my perception of the three pieces being performed. The opener, William Forsythe’s “In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated,” was an abstract work where the thrilling dancing seemed as much to background the harsh cacophony of Thom Willems’ ” dissonant soundtrack. I found myself in an aggressive mood by the end of the piece, in a football state of mind. Christopher Wheeldon’s “After The Rain” could not have offered a sharper contrast. One of the most perfectly beautiful works I’ve ever seen, it features couples dancing in graceful duets to the simple yet lush violin and piano of Arvo Pärt’s “Tabula Rasa” and “Spiegel Im Spiegel.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Factor Ricochet/Synapse Arts Collective

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Photo: William Frederking

Rachel Damon’s project for four dancers, a year in the making with help from a Chicago Dancemakers Forum grant, begins simply enough: a greeting in one-word phrases to the audience (small; capacity is about twenty-five), then Damon and Ni’Ja Whitson roll two of three six-foot square walls to opposite sides of the stage. Behind them is Adriana Durant—dressed, as is the whole cast, in grey with three brown leather belts around the hips—who proceeds to quietly explore short movement phrases to a soundscape of water and wind, mixed live by Russell Weiss. She is soon joined by the compelling Marc Macaranas and the phrases grow longer, broader, more florid. Concepts of echo and amplification are introduced. As the piece unfolds, however, the echo becomes muddied, the message lost in the clamor. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Eclectica/Joffrey Ballet

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"Crossed"/Photo: Herbert Migdoll

RECOMMENDED

With such regular fare as “The Nutcracker” and “Cinderella,” it’s easy to forget that the Joffrey has built its reputation as a contemporary ballet company, one likely to lead audiences into reconsideration of the increasingly flimsy boundaries between dance’s genres. With “Eclectica,” a three-piece repertory now at the Auditorium, we can report that the conversation between ballet and contemporary dance is healthier than ever at Joffrey.

Opener “Reflections” is signature Joffrey work. This 40-year-old creation of co-founder Gerald Arpino (which, in a nice symmetry, had its world premiere in 1971 at this very same theater, though the company was then decades away from moving to Chicago) is stripped-down, simple beauty—dance at its essence. Just a cello and piano, playing Tchaikovsky’s beautiful “Variations on a Rococo Theme” for Violinocello and Orchestra, op. 33, and dancers conducting a master lesson in why ballet is such a beautiful art form.

But young choreographer Jessica Lang’s world premiere, “Crossed,” is the showstopper. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Cinderella/The Joffrey Ballet

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The Joffrey Ballet’s return of Sir Frederick Ashton’s “Cinderella” is well danced but lacks magic. First performed by the company in 2006, this retelling of the classic never gets as dark as the original source material and never gets as frothy and bright as more modern adaptations. The talents of the stepsisters are much appreciated exceptions: hilarious brawling divas so specific in their detail that the fact they are played by men becomes secondary to their comedic ability. Thankfully they dominate a bulk of the ballet. It isn’t until the end of the first act that Joffrey’s female corps takes the stage as fairies and stars and the audience gets a real taste of the magic this company is capable of. When a dozen or so of these remarkable women perfectly execute the quick, intricate formations the power is breathtaking. In act two, the men get a chance to show off their virtuosity at the ball. But these moments aren’t enough to keep the ballet from dragging, and the spectacle (like the rest of the production) is not nearly as exciting as the anticipation it evokes. (William Scott)

At the Auditorium Theater, 50 E. Congress Pkwy, (312)902-1500. Through February 28. $25-$145.

Preview: Joffrey Ballet/Cinderella

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Mauro Villanueva and Victoria Jaiani/Photo: Herbert Migdoll

RECOMMENDED

The Joffrey Ballet stays true to Sir Frederick Ashton’s definitive version of the world’s best-known fairy tale with plenty of frills and spectacle, including a life-sized pumpkin coach. The wicked stepsisters, played by men, lend a slapstick edge to the saccharine tale. Wendy Ellis Somes, a former dancer with the Royal Ballet, staged this production for the Joffrey, ensuring the piece, already familiar to the Joffrey, resonates with the grace and charm of the original, first produced in 1948, restaged in ‘65. Score by Prokofiev, splendorous sets—this one is for lovers of the classics. (Sharon Hoyer)

At the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E Congress Pkwy, (800)982-2787. February 17-28, $25-145.

Review: Othello/Joffrey Ballet

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othello3RECOMMENDED

It has been quite some time since Joffrey Ballet gave Chicago a full-length narrative ballet, but the company opens its new season with the premiere of  Lar Lubovitch’s “Othello.” The story of the ill-fated Venetian general dates back well before Shakespeare’s telling to Giraldo Cintio’s original legend published in 1566.  Lubovitch’s adaptation uses strong moving images to paint an impression of the classic tale with a definite modern brush. This rendering of these characters gives the Joffrey dancers the opportunity to  show exactly why they are known for elegance, grace, power, strength and athleticism. Desdemona is light and lovely and heartbreakingly tragic in her final moments as danced by April Daly. Fabrice Calmel’s Othello is a masculine presence commanding the stage. Though Lubovitch’s choreography  infuses a contemporary aesthetic into the classical, I must admit that at times the modern movement feels forced when he works with a single dancer or a group.  However, none of that matters when he turns his attention to amazingly crafted duets. Dance after dance, when Lubovitch works with two dancers magic happens; he creates movement that flows from a deeply rooted tradition and wakes it up. Iago (Matthew Adamczyk) and his wife Emilia (Valerie Robin) embody this meeting of styles in angular and angry moments of dance that transcend everything else in this already powerful ballet.  (William Scott)

At the Auditorium Theater, 50 E. Congress Pkwy, (312)902-1500. Through October 25. $25-$145.

Review: Stridulate: Hybrid Forms in Voice and Movement/Synapse Arts Collective

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stridulate-lilyRECOMMENDED

Stridulation is the production of sound achieved by rubbing two body parts together. One of the opening—and most stunning—moments of the new collaborative work by choreographer Rachel Damon and voice artist Dan Mohr casts a spot on two humming dancers, stacked back-to-back and rotating like a giant nocturnal insect inspected under a flashlight. Stridulate is divided into numerous such segments by blackouts; sound generates all movement in these little chapters and the performers generate all sound: hums, croaks, snippets of invented language and rich, major chords. Damon and Mohr explore a wide range of ways to embody the versatile voice over an hour, from gestural, improvisational movement fueled by playful grunts to the meditative stillness achieved by a sustained hum. The press release notes that this is an exercise in formalism and (like many such exercises) it feels lacking in content at moments, like when sounds are coded directly to movements and repeated in fugue. But this isn’t to say exercise doesn’t yield fruit. One example: when a kneeling Jeff Harms—who inhabits the sounds he creates with his entire being, thin body vibrating as if hewn from wood—emits a disturbingly hypnotic croaking while the supine ensemble members arch and writhe as though shaken in their graves. (Sharon Hoyer)

At Galaxie, 2603 W. Barry. June 12 and 13, 19 and 20. Friday shows at 8pm, Saturday shows at 4pm and 8pm. www.brownpapertickets.com/event/59695 for tickets. $15

Review: Distance Forward/Same Planet Different World

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RECOMMENDED

The distance in this case is measured with rigor, in potent, disciplined strokes. Two new pieces, each fueled by near uninterrupted momentum, stand in bold yet harmonious contrast. In Ashleigh Leite’s “I Live in Perfect,” limbs seem to reach beyond their physical limits to slice massive curves across the stage; straightened arms push aside the air or manipulate limbs of fellow dancers with an urgency evident on each face. Place this beside Molly Shanahan’s undulating, qi-driven “Stamina of Curiosity: Everywhen” and you have two poles of contemporary choreography: dancerly extension and precision of form versus profoundly organic, internally generated movement. Shanahan’s gorgeously personal choreography sits well on this company; rippling spines move from floor to the air to the backs of others on waves of palpable energy, bodies weaving intricate jungle patterns with orgasmic reverie. Conspicuous nods to Eastern forms (like when the cast holds warrior II pose in unison as though suddenly in yoga class) could easily fail but, thanks to the unflagging physical focus of the company, fit in the piece with convincing sincerity. The momentum is maintained with Shapiro and Smith’s spellbinding, sensuous and witty “To Have and to Hold,” which uses three parallel benches to play with shifting horizontal levels and chain reactions of cartwheels, log rolls and somersaults, reveling in the sheer joy of movement. (Sharon Hoyer)

At the Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn Pkwy. (773)506-8730. Fri & Sat. 8pm, Sun 2pm. $20. November 14-16.