Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Review: The Salts/The Inconvenience

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The Salts - 3

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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 »

Critic’s Postcard: Fairies and Snakes at Moulin Rouge

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Photo: S. Bertrand

Photo: S. Bertrand

By Zach Freeman

There are very few theatrical venues in the world that can boast anything like the history, cachet and all-around tourist-centric sexiness of Moulin Rouge, now celebrating its 125th (!) anniversary. With that in mind my wife and I made our way to the iconic red windmill at the intersection of Rue Lepic and Boulevard de Clichy in the Montmarte district a few weeks ago, expanding our trip to Paris to include the latest offering from “the most famous cabaret in the world.”

Entitled simply “Féerie” (Fairy), it turns out that this production—which has been running since the end of 1999—is every bit as flashy, ephemeral, evocative and simple as the name implies. For clarity’s sake I should add that by “simple” I just mean “nearly plotless”—with 1,000 costumes, eighty dancers, six horses and five pythons (yes, you read those last two correctly)—this show is anything but simple in the technical sense. But more on that in a bit.

Entering the historical eighteenth arrondissement theater through a throng of camera-toting tourists and fellow attendees is a theatrical experience in itself. The bright red carpet and brighter lights successfully immerse you as you check in and are guided to your table. (With 900 seats, it’s no surprise that they don’t trust you to find your way alone.) The space is set up like a massive, two-story restaurant, allowing for customers booking 7pm tickets to eat dinner before the 9pm show. Since we opted for the 9pm show, we arrived at our table post-dinner and were promptly greeted with glasses of champagne. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Unique Voices/Joffrey Ballet

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The Man in Black_Edson Barbosa_Joanna Wozniak_Fernando Duarte_Derrick Agnoletti
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“Unique Voices,” at the Auditorium Theatre, adds three strong contemporary pieces to the Joffrey rep in a program that strikes a gratifying balance between classicism and risk. The curtain opens on Stanton Welch’s “Maninyas”—a small ensemble piece that moves from strong, sculptural shapes to whirling abandon as it traces the path of growing emotional intimacy. The second section features a series of challenging lifts that hover in the protracted silence between chords in Ross Edwards’ “Maninyas Concerto for Violin and Orchestra.” Lighting by Lisa Pinkham ripples over the women’s ankle-length dresses and massive “veils” hanging upstage. The fabrics in both costume and set are active characters in Welch’s piece. As dancers burst into dervish spins and restless pony steps in the third movement, shafts of light descend on them from above and the veils fall. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Adventures of Tapman/Tapman Productions

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(L-R) Kate O'Hanlon and Tristan Bruns/Photo: Javier Villamil

Kate O’Hanlon and Tristan Bruns/Photo: Javier Villamil

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Tristan Bruns can tap dance like nobody’s business, which I imagine is why he founded Tapman Productions, LLC. It is also clearly why he is the star of “The Adventures of Tapman,” a one-hour playlet about a superhero that defeats his foes through fancy footwork.

There is a lot to like about “The Adventures of Tapman.” More than anything it is a fun time. Bruns is often on stage alone performing well-timed choreography that mimics fighting. The clicks, clacks and stomps hit at just the right moments to add sound effects to what otherwise would be elaborate shadowboxing.

At other times Bruns is joined on stage by other dancers. Kate O’Hanlon, as Modern Marvel, is a modern dancer who does more than hold her own, with taps on her feet too. The kids from M.A.D.D. Rhythms Junior Squad are featured as sidekicks to the show’s villain, the MADD Tapper (Kelsey Schlabaugh). While clearly student tappers, the kids are better than many I’ve seen over the years. The MADD Tapper confrontations, sadly, are the only times that the dancing is distracting, largely because the precision present elsewhere seems to be lacking. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Giordano Dance Chicago/Harris Theater

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Photo: Gorman Cook Photography

Photo: Gorman Cook Photography

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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 »

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

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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"

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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 »

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