Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Preview: Romeo and Juliet/Joffrey Ballet

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Photo: Herbert Migdoll

Photo: Herbert Migdoll

RECOMMENDED

Placing Shakespeare’s plays in different historical contexts is a longstanding tradition for theater companies and filmmakers: modern dress and settings are used to both illustrate universality of themes and to make Elizabethan language a little less intimidating to contemporary audiences. Krzysztof Pastor, director of the Polish National Ballet, places the tale of the ill-fated young lovers across not one, but three time periods. In the case of ballet, iambic pentameter is no barrier to comprehension; Pastor uses moments in twentieth-century Europe to illustrate the power of politics to destroy individual lives. As in Shakespeare’s play, the setting is Italy: Act I takes place in the 1930s, at the rise of Mussolini. Act II travels forward in time to the 1950s and the violent turmoil incited by the Red Brigades. The final act takes us to Berlusconi’s Italy, a place of increasing wealth disparity and social unrest. 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 »

Deck the Sets: Chicago Stages Go Holiday Crazy

-News etc., Christmas, Comedy, Dance, Holiday, Musicals, Performance, Theater No Comments »
santaland

The Santaland Diaries at Theater Wit

By Zach Freeman

As any denizen of the theater who’s been in this town for any amount of time knows, Chicago DOES theater. With more than 250 active theater companies and a constantly growing number of venues, if you can’t find a good show to attend on any given night, you’re just doing it wrong. And this holiday season Chicago is really throwing down the gauntlet of performance options with more than forty (yes, you read that right) holiday shows. And yes, almost all of them are Christmas-related. In fact, there are almost a dozen versions of “A Christmas Carol” alone.

But Chicago is a diverse city and our theater companies reflect that. We’re not talking about several dozen versions of the same old stuff, we’re talking about more than forty completely different takes on the holiday season. It’s a lot for any one person to take in, so we thought we’d help you determine which show (or shows) you should be seeing over the next month or so to get yourself into the appropriate holiday mood (whatever that means for you).

We can’t list them all, but here are twenty to get you started. Here we go… 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: Joffrey Ballet/Othello

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Photo courtesy Herbert Migdoll

Photo courtesy Herbert Migdoll

RECOMMENDED

The Joffrey reprises Lar Lubovitch’s evening-length interpretation of the famous tale—a theme of Chicago stages this year; the Chicago Shakespeare Theater and Lyric Opera are also staging productions of the tragedy of the Moor. The Joffrey first performed Lubovitch’s high-drama story ballet in 2009 and many of the same dancers can be seen in title roles many nights: willowy, girlish April Daly as Desdemona, Matthew Adamczyk a perfectly arch and seething Iago, and towering Fabrice Calmels the quintessential Othello, a great warrior carved from stone. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: American Legends/Joffrey Ballet

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Photo courtesy Christopher Duggan

Photo: Christopher Duggan

RECOMMENDED

The Joffrey Ballet winter program features work by four American choreographers, representing three generations and four decades of repertory. The company revives Jerome Robbins’ vibrant “Interplay,” last performed in 1972, and Gerald Arpino’s “Sea Shadow,” in honor of what would have been Arpino’s ninetieth birthday. Premieres include the romantic, sassy “Nine Sinatra Songs” by Twyla Tharp with elegant costuming by Oscar de la Renta—a charming blend of ballet and ballroom to some of Sinatra’s biggest pop hits—and a new work by Houston Ballet director Stanton Welch—“Son of Chamber Symphony,” titled after the score by John Adams and given a world premiere by the Joffrey at the Jacob’s Pillow festival in Massachusetts last August. It’s a lighthearted, optimistic evening in the coldest weeks of winter. (Sharon Hoyer) Read the rest of this entry »

The Players 2013: The 50 People Who Really Perform in Chicago

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PLAYERSThough we publish a list of “players” every year, we alternate between those whose accomplishments are most visible on-stage (the artists, last year) and those who wield their influence behind the curtain (this year). Not only does this allow us to consider twice as many people, but it also puts some temporal distance between the lists. So, the last time we visited this cast of characters, two years ago, we were celebrating the end of the Richard M. Daley years in Chicago, fretting over a nation seemingly in the mood for a Tea Party and contemplating the possibility of a Latter Day Saint in the White House. Today, we’ve got a dancer in the mayor’s office, the most prominent Mormons are in a chorus line at the Bank of America Theatre and the Tea Cup runneth dry. Call us cockeyed optimists, but things sure look better from here. And so, meet the folks who, today, bring us the best theater, dance, comedy and opera in the nation.

Written by Zach Freeman, Brian Hieggelke, Sharon Hoyer and Johnny Oleksinski
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Looking Back to Move Forward: the Joffrey Ballet restages “The Green Table”

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Photo courtesy Herbert Migdoll

In 1932, German choreographer Kurt Jooss crafted a scathing invective of war in the language of ballet. “The Green Table” opens and closes on those distinguished men in suits who decide the fate of millions, and traces the path of destruction in the chapters between, the specter of death always hovering nearby. The Joffrey Ballet was the first American company to dance it in 1967 and presents it again this week as part of a thought-provoking program well-timed in an election year. I spoke with the Joffrey’s artistic director Ashley Wheater and Jeanette Vondersaar, repetiteur for “The Green Table,”  in town to work with the company.

How does the aesthetic of The Green Table translate to your dancers today?
Wheater: The aesthetic is very specific and I feel the company has grown so much working in it. For this generation of dancers, I feel it’s very, very important for them to understand why this piece is so seminal. For some it’s much harder than others. Inside, they have to believe the movement; you have to be inside it one-hundred percent. Read the rest of this entry »