Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Bringing It All Back Home: After a Neighborhood Tour, “Stomping Grounds” Dances its Way Downtown

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The Chicago Human Rhythm Project is a cultural magnet; the organization pulls percussive and folkloric dancers—along with a good number of drummers—from around the world to collaborate, teach and perform in big celebratory events, like the annual Global Rhythms Festival at the MCA. Lane Alexander, the visionary founder of CHRP, has dedicated a career to the idea that art can unify people across lines of difference, and that rhythmic dance, like traditional food and music, is something all cultures share. “Percussive and sacred dance goes back ten thousand years,” he says. “And four thousand to ten thousand years ago, people who stomped on the ground were shamans and leaders. We might see these people take that place as leaders in our community, toward peaceful reconciliation.” Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Stomping Grounds/Chicago Human Rhythm Project

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We usually have to wait till June and bus, bike or train down to the Loop to see great free performances but, thanks to the Chicago Human Rhythm Project—that mighty advocate of the original musical instrument—festival season starts early this year. And it’s coming to you. CHRP tours the neighborhoods this month with a series of free performances by hometown companies that celebrate five different heritages: Trinity Irish Dance Company, Mexican Dance Ensemble, Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Theatre, Muntu Dance Theatre and CHRP’s resident tap company BAM!. Two companies host each show, with cameo appearances by the other three. The series kicks off with a panel discussion with the artistic directors of the five companies at the Cultural Center, moderated by Audience Architects—the dance promotion organization that recently dubbed April Chicago Dance Month. Read the rest of this entry »

Breaking Bounds: River North Dance Chicago’s Hanna Brictson Pushes the Limits

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Hanna BrictonHanna Brictson grew up in River North Dance Chicago, first as a student, starting at the age of twelve, then as a company member straight out of high school, eventually working her way up to rehearsal assistant. This week, the Elgin native and Princess Grace Award nominee makes her choreographic debut with the company, which premieres as part of the Auditorium Theatre’s “Made in Chicago” series, in honor of its 125th anniversary season.

Many dancers move from company to company. What has kept you at River North?
There has always been a build happening. It’s never been stagnant on the artistic side. As a dancer you’re always searching for a challenge; [artistic director] Frank Chaves is always bringing in new choreographers and challenging the dancers in new ways. There’s also the jazz style, which we’re now getting away from with contemporary work, but it will always be our foundation. Jazz is my background so the environment is comfortable and still challenging.

Tell me a little about your new work, “Beast.”
The piece is danced by all the women in the company. I’m also dancing in it which is a challenge in and of itself. It’s based around my life experiences that have pushed me to have the personality I have. It’s about pushing the limits of what we think we can do. We all believe we can handle only so much; it’s about pushing beyond the walls we set up for ourselves. When we break through these walls, we sometimes discover the alter ego we have as females, our inner beast.

Is there anything else you’d like to add?
Just that to choreograph on friends has been the most special opportunity, because I know these people inside and out. Which is what River North is all about; we’re a family. (Sharon Hoyer)

At the Auditorium Theatre, 50 East Congress, (800)982-2787. Saturday, March 28 at 7:30pm.

Review: Unique Voices/Joffrey Ballet

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The Man in Black_Edson Barbosa_Joanna Wozniak_Fernando Duarte_Derrick Agnoletti

“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: Giordano Dance Chicago/Auditorium Theatre

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Photo courtesy Gorman Cook

Photo courtesy Gorman Cook


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 »

Players 2015: The Fifty People Who Really Perform for Chicago

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The steady expansion of the performing arts in Chicago continues its marvelous pace, with more and better theater, dance, comedy and opera gracing more and better stages each passing year. The upward progression is so steady that epic undertakings—a new campus at Steppenwolf, a bigger chunk of Navy Pier for Chicago Shakes—seem almost business as usual these days. And that is a marvelous thing. This year we again celebrate the lesser-sung heroes offstage who deal with the less glamorous things like building those new stages, and paying those expanding payrolls without which the stars would have nowhere to shine.

Tragedy has been central to theater since the ancient Greeks first staged it, but the last year has brought a disproportionate volume of real-life tragedy to our community. No doubt, the expanding and maturing performing arts universe means that more members of its community will pass on each year, but the number of those struck down long before their expected hour was overwhelming these last twelve months and struck every corner of performing arts, from theater, to dance, to comedy, to opera. Molly Glynn, Jason Chin, Eric Eatherly, Bernie Yvon, Johan Engels, Julia Neary—and others we’ve unintentionally overlooked—we dim our collective marquee for you. (Brian Hieggelke)

Players was written by Zach Freeman and Sharon Hoyer
With additional contributions by Brian Hieggelke, Alex Huntsberger, Aaron Hunt, Hugh Iglarsh and Loy Webb

All photos by Joe Mazza/Brave-Lux, taken on location at Steppenwolf Theatre, Goodman Theatre, Lyric Opera of Chicago and Brave-Lux Studio Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Song of Eva Peron/Tango Buenos Aires

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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 »

Preview: Nutcracker/Joffrey Ballet

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The Joffrey presents five programs throughout their season, showing works by about a dozen leading choreographers of past and present, but there’s one show that keeps the lights on: twenty-four performances of “The Nutcracker” account for the bulk of Joffrey ticket sales, pulling non-regular dance attendees (and their visitors) into the Auditorium Theatre for a holiday tradition and, in many ways, helping to fund the rest of programming. Robert Joffrey’s vision of the Christmastime confection is a shimmering spectacle, heightened by the additions of the two-story Mother Ginger puppet by Kermit Love and an ensemble of more than one-hundred young dancers. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Made in Chicago/Thodos Dance Chicago

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Photo courtesy Cheryl Mann

Photo courtesy Cheryl Mann


Adler and Sullivan’s dazzling landmark Auditorium Theatre turns 125 this year, and part of the celebratory programming is a welcome “Made in Chicago” music and dance series. Melissa Thodos’ company will perform on the Auditorium Theatre’s boards for the first time—an apropos choice seeing as Thodos is Chicago-made herself: Evanston-born, training, performing and founding her own company in the city by the lake. Thodos Dance reprises their acclaimed hour-long theatrical piece of Chicago history, “The White City: Chicago’s Columbian Exposition of 1893,” based on Erik Larson’s famous book.  Read the rest of this entry »

Americans on the Stage: Dance Theatre of Harlem Returns to Chicago

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By Sharon Hoyer

The Dance Theatre of Harlem was established in 1969, following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King. Arthur Mitchell, the first black principal dancer with the New York City Ballet, founded the company and ballet school in his home neighborhood, believing that access to and education in the arts enriches and empowers communities. From then on, DTH has led the way for inclusiveness in classical dance, demonstrating the richness and expressive possibilities of an art form that had been (and many still perceive to be—see captivating 2011 documentary “First Position”) almost exclusively white and Eurocentric. It’s been sixteen years since the Dance Theatre of Harlem performed in Chicago—financial hardship forced DTH to suspend the touring company in the interest of preserving their school and public programming, a hiatus planned for six months that stretched into eight years. Happily, the touring company was revived in 2012 and comes to the Auditorium Theatre as part of its 125th-anniversary season. I spoke with artistic director Virginia Johnson about the upcoming program. Read the rest of this entry »

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