Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Preview: Grupo Corpo/Auditorium Theatre

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Photo:  Jose Luiz Pederneiras

Photo: Jose Luiz Pederneiras

RECOMMENDED

Brazil’s Grupo Corpo visits Chicago for the first time, adding some welcome fire to our cold winter months. The brothers Rodrigo and Paulo Pederneiras have created a muscular movement language influenced by modern, ballet, contemporary and traditional Brazilian dances that is entirely unique. The extraordinarily lithe dancers of Grupo Corpo use the ground with the power of rhythmic gymnasts, falling into the floor with their full length as though it were a trampoline, or laterally exploding from it in too-fast-for-film switch kicks. Their physicality is virtuosic and precise, and aggression, eroticism and joy weave through the two pieces on the program. 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 »

Preview: Stardust/David Roussève/REALITY

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Photo: Yi Chun

Photo: Yi Chun

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In David Roussève’s tender new work, the fragmented, abbreviated language of texting becomes the building material of a story that is at once funny, sad and deeply humane. The hopes and frustrations of a young, unseen protagonist are splashed large on the back wall—emphasized with plentiful punctuation and emoticons—like a digital diary kept in Twitter. In the foreground, the ten members of REALITY give physical expression to his emotional life, dancing out the frustrations, drives, joys and fears of a black gay teenager navigating an inner-city world that is at once hostile and beautiful. 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/Auditorium Theatre

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Photo courtesy Gorman Cook

Photo courtesy Gorman Cook

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The Auditorium Theatre’s “Made in Chicago” series—part of the programing for the 125th anniversary season—has opened the historic, gold-rimmed stage to a couple hometown companies for the first time; to Thodos Dance last fall and, this month, to Giordano Dance Chicago, a company that has been performing high-octane jazz dance for almost half as long as the Adler and Sullivan treasure has been standing. The one-night program includes several pieces from Giordano’s fall program—resident choreographer Autumn Eckman’s sexy, finely honed duet “Alloy,” Roni Koresh’s hard driving, militant “Exit4,” and Ray Leeper’s big Broadway-esque show stopper “Feelin’ Good Sweet”—along with a premiere of a new work by Ray Mercer, former dancer with Deeply Rooted and winner of the Joffrey’s Choreographers of Color Award. Mercer’s full company work, entitled “Shirt Off My Back,” explores how we sometimes give too much in our relationships, be they intimate, platonic or filial. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Song of Eva Peron/Tango Buenos Aires

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Tango Image 4RECOMMENDED

As a dance form based on the most subtle, understated, imperceptibly small communication between lead and follow, Argentine tango doesn’t necessarily lend itself to performance on big stages. Traditionally, couples dance in a close embrace, communicating through small movements of the torso; most of the action is in the legs, in long strides or quick, precise flashes of feet that flirt, tap, circle and caress each other. The infinite complexity and nuance that make tango so rewarding to dance are difficult to translate and amplify for the stage, even when spiced up with slick turns, lifts and high kicks.

Tango Buenos Aires does justice to Argentina’s national dance, keeping true to the intimacy and lightning-quick, complex footwork that characterize tango, while amping up dances with flashier movements that play to the back row. Read the rest of this entry »

Voices Through Time: Erica Mott Gives a Multimedia History Lesson on Female Worker Rights

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Photo: StudioFilmLove

Photo: StudioFilmLove

Erica Mott’s love for performance blossomed from her work in international development and foreign diplomacy. “I was working on microeconomics and microlending in Latin America,” she says. “I found women at the forefront of both cultural and economic production. But cultural production was the driver to bringing people together. It’s what led me back to the arts.”

This background speaks to the intellectual rigor Mott applies to crafting performances; questions around politics, gender and the female body drive Mott’s work, including her most recent and ambitious vision, “3 Singers”—the title refers to both the cast members and three vintage sewing machines with which they share the stage. Mott collaborated with an impressive team to pull together sound design, video work, voice coaching and dramaturgy into a “technopera” that explores the struggle for rights of female textile workers in the pre-Civil War era, the Industrial Revolution and the present day. When asked about the subject, Mott says, “As dancers we constantly ask questions about the body. But every day I wake up and don’t ask questions about this thing I put on my body that passed through the hands of someone else. I got curious about this world that is invisible. And women are often invisible.” Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Nexus Project with Ben and Michel/Dovetail Studios

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NexusRECOMMENDED

When asked how Nexus Project performances are structured, Ben Wardell pulls a stack of little, hand-torn slips of paper from his pocket. On the floor of the rehearsal studio, he begins laying them out in a flow chart. Which short segments flow into what hinge on the audience: if they’re a little peppier and willing to participate, there might be a short salsa lesson; if they’re more passive and sedate, Ben and Michel will go into their Butoh section. Dozens of possible combinations spread across the floor in a choose-your-own-adventure of dance and storytelling. Past Nexus audiences have become hooked and returned a second or third time to catch gems they might have missed in a prior show. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Restless Creature/Wendy Whelan

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Photo courtesy Christopher Duggan

Photo: Christopher Duggan

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Two years ago, in an extended interview with Alejandro Cerrudo about the premiere of his first evening-length work, the conversation momentarily turned to a side project he had been invited to choreograph for. The Chicago performance wasn’t yet announced so Cerrudo asked me to keep it quiet, but the resident choreographer for Hubbard Street couldn’t help but gush a little with excitement; he was clearly starstruck. “She’s so incredibly nice and down to earth,” he said. “And, I mean, she’s Wendy Whelan.” Read the rest of this entry »

Muscle Memory: Mad Shak Investigates How We Forget

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Untitled

Molly Shanahan/Mad Shak’s ongoing “Stamina of Curiosity” project dives deep into the underwater caves that form when one person performs for another, and her curiosity uncovers phenomena at the microscopic level. “There’s something that takes over before a performance,” Shanahan says, describing the inspiration for the current iteration of “Stamina,” entitled “Virtuosity of Forgetting.” “No matter how much we welcome vulnerability, a change takes place in the body when you consider being witnessed—a cross section of exhilaration and panic. In rehearsal, there’s always the presence of the infinite ways a movement can be done and openness to the reality that anything could happen. In performance, this collapses down to the sense of ‘one right way’ and that we’ll get it right or wrong. When performance is reduced to a binary, we experience loss, because we’re keeping something from the witness.” Read the rest of this entry »