“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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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.
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.