Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

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 »

Preview: All-American Celebration/American Ballet Theatre

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Our country’s highest-profile ballet company returns to the Auditorium Theatre with a performance of works by American choreographers from the American century. Two pieces by Twyla Tharp are on the program: her elegantly classical group work set to Bach’s Partita No. 2 for solo violin, and a black-tie-and-tails duet to six Sinatra standards. We’ll also see Jerome Robbins’ iconic “Fancy Free”—Robbins’ first work—the story ballet about the adventures of three strutting, tumbling, white-suited, WWII-era sailors on shore leave, set to the music of Leonard Bernstein. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Stories in Motion/Joffrey Ballet

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image001 (1)RECOMMENDED

To whet audience appetites for the fall season, the Joffrey presents a special one-weekend amuse of short narrative ballets. Two pieces are from the Joffrey rep: Antony Tudor’s 1936 “Lilac Garden,” a moonlit tale of quiet longing set in the Edwardian era, and George Balanchine’s take on the parable of the Prodigal Son, set to the music of Prokofiev. The company will also premiere “RAkU,” by San Francisco Ballet’s resident choreographer Yuri Possokhov, and inspired by the true story of a Buddhist monk who burned down the Kyoto Temple of the Golden Pavilion. Read the rest of this entry »

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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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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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


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


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 »