Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Heart of the Movement: Dance for Life Dances For A Cause

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In the early nineties, a dancer with the Joseph Holmes Dance Theatre named Keith Elliott was, like many artists of the time, losing friends and colleagues to complications caused by HIV/AIDS. “If you knew Keith, he was the kind of person who couldn’t just not do anything about it,” said Anthony Guerrero, the current producer of Dance For Life. “He was a dancer—he didn’t have money—but he could put on a show.” Elliott invited Chicago’s dance community to participate in a fundraiser performance to fight HIV/AIDS and support artists in need. Four companies immediately got involved: the Joffrey Ballet, Hubbard Street, Giordano Dance and River North Dance, who have remained the partnering companies to this day. The first performance was held in 1992 to a sold-out house. Since then, Dance For Life has raised millions of dollars for HIV/AIDS prevention, care and education. Proceeds also go to The Dancers’ Fund, an emergency fund extended artists, administrators, rehearsal pianists, anyone in the dance profession struggling with life-threatening or debilitating illness. The Dancers’ Fund goes beyond medical treatment, covering rent, utilities, food. Last year’s Dance For Life raised more than $200,000 alone. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Spring Engagement/River North Dance Chicago

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RECOMMENDED

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: Aladdin/Houston Ballet

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HoustonBallet_Aladdin_02RECOMMENDED

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: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater/Auditorium Theatre

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Photo courtesy Paul Kolnik

Photo: Paul Kolnik

RECOMMENDED

In his third year at the helm of Alvin Ailey’s renowned troupe, Robert Battle has admirably continued to honor the tradition and ethos of the company while challenging its boundaries with relevant and unexpected new works. The new pieces presented in Ailey’s two-week run at the Auditorium Theatre strike a complementary contrast in both aesthetic and approach. Wayne McGregor’s “Chroma” is a sleek, high-speed, minimalist ballet demanding contortionist flexibility and razor-sharp precision. Contrast that to Aszure Barton, who didn’t begin choreographing her commissioned “LIFT” until she had met and observed the dancers for a few days in the studio. Both music, by Barton’s collaborator Curtis Macdonald, and the joyful choreography were built for and inspired by the dancers. Read the rest of this entry »

New Works, New Challenges: The Joffrey Ballet Tackles the Contemporary

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Photo courtesy Christopher Duggan

Photo: Christopher Duggan

The Joffrey dancers are posed with new challenges this winter as the company presents a program of all twenty-first-century works, including a piece by a Chicagoan for the first time in a decade. Brock Clawson is an ex-Thodos dancer-turned-choreographer who has created work for Giordano Dance, the Eisenhower Dance Ensemble in Detroit and the Houston Metropolitan Dance Company. Last year he created a commission for the Milwaukee Ballet entitled “Crossing Ashland.” The piece caught the attention of Ashley Wheater, the Joffrey’s artistic director, and now the company’s at work on Clawson’s choreography, which is as informed by modern and contemporary vocabularies as it is by ballet. “Crossing Ashland” is a tender look at human connection and vulnerability; it spans the space from earth to sky, considering both the ground that claims us and the heavens we reach for. Dancers in street clothes walk, run, embrace behind other dancers in minimal costumes, who create visual amplification of our internal worlds. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Nutcracker/Joffrey Ballet

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Photo courtesy Herbert Migdoll

Photo: Herbert Migdoll

RECOMMENDED

The first images that spring to mind with The Nutcracker Ballet are usually lavish costumes, plentiful fake, glittering snow and a rousing sword fight between a wooden toy and a giant mouse—not necessarily explosive leaps or masterful ensemble staging. And, with well over 100 youth dancers, singers from five different children’s choirs, a massive tree and a two-story Mother Ginger puppet, the Joffrey Ballet’s version of the holiday classic doesn’t disappoint for razzle-dazzle. But despite the parade of lavish sets and spectacular on-stage snowfalls, the real centerpiece of Robert Joffrey and Gerald Arpino’s most-staged ballet is the dancing. Read the rest of this entry »

New Take on an Old Classic: Adam Sklute and Ballet West Re-imagine “The Sleeping Beauty”

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BalletWest_SleepingBeauty2011_4Before moving to Salt Lake City to take the helm of Ballet West, Adam Sklute spent twenty-three years with the Joffrey Ballet, as dancer, Ballet Master, and Associate Artistic Director. Sklute returns to Chicago this weekend, bringing Ballet West for three nights at the Auditorium Theatre. The company performs Sklute’s take on “The Sleeping Beauty” Friday and Saturday, and a program of contemporary mixed rep Sunday.

What attracted you to the story of Sleeping Beauty?
I’ve been long fascinated with the classics. When I came to Ballet West, one of the things I loved best was our history with the classics. I’m in fact doing “Sleeping Beauty”this year as a tribute to our fiftieth anniversary, as we’ve had “The Sleeping Beauty” in a number of incarnations over our company’s history. I personally liked this work because, to me, it’s about the music and I think of this as Tchaikovsky’s greatest score for ballet. I was excited to produce my own take on it—which is truly a classical version; it’s very much based on the Marius Petipa original. I put my own spin on it, edit it down, make it more palatable for twentieth-century audiences. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Russian Masters/Joffrey Ballet

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Photo courtesy Herbert Migdoll

Photo: Herbert Migdoll

RECOMMENDED

The Joffrey calls upon all their considerable resources to stage massive, demanding works by three Russian greats. The centerpiece of the evening is the company’s authoritative reconstruction of Nijinsky’s legendary, riot-inducing “Le Sacre du Printemps,” which still feels absolutely raw and primal even 100 years after its premiere. The rest of the program holds strong with Balanchine’s “Allegro Brillante”—a sweeping full-company piece featuring bearishly difficult solo sections for the principal ballerina—and two works by Yuri Possokhov. “Bells” is a gorgeous half-hour work set to seven Rachmaninoff compositions that move sweetly through moods and images, and a real treat will be Possokhov’s duet “Adagio,” created expressly for the Joffrey’s remarkable husband and wife team Temur Suluashvili and Victoria Jaiani. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Chicago Dancing Festival

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Photo courtesy Lois Greenfield

Photo courtesy Lois Greenfield

RECOMMENDED

The free, weeklong festival that has made Chicago a national dance destination even in the off-season now “sells out” its three indoor events in minutes. But don’t worry; tickets can still be had for the shows at the Harris, the Auditorium Theatre and the MCA on standby. I recommend getting there early. What’s in the lineup this year? Hit pieces from favorite Chicago companies—Hubbard Street, Chicago Human Rhythm Project, Giordano, the Joffrey and the addition of Natya and Ensemble Español—and guest companies from around the country, including Alvin Ailey, Brian Brooks, The Washington Ballet, founder Lar Lubovitch’s San Francisco-based company, plus about a half dozen more. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Rodin/Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg

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Photo courtesy Nikolay Krusser

Photo courtesy Nikolay Krusser

RECOMMENDED

Boris Eifman is the writer’s choreographer; his muse is the figure of the artist, the genius, the madman. His theatrical ballets have emerged from the real and imagined psyches of Don Quixote, Hamlet, Anna Karenina, the Karamazovs, Tchaikovsky and, most recently, Auguste Rodin and his tumultuous relationship with his colleague, muse and lover Camille Claudel. Eifman’s “Rodin” opens with Claudel in the asylum (where she spent out the last thirty years of her life), then travels back in time through Rodin’s memory—meeting his young student turned lover, co-author of his works, subject and object of creative jealousy. Read the rest of this entry »