Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Preview: It’s About Love Again This Year/RE|Dance Group

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REDance Group Its About Love image

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Michael Estanich’s newest creation for RE|Dance glides on gentle waves of sweet nostalgia and romance, ruffled at points by eddies of humor and the chop of desire. Dancers clad in ankle length dresses or button-down shirts and trousers with suspenders travel through scenes of youthful love, or perhaps more accurately, sepia-toned reflections on youthful love to Bach, birdsong and The Magnetic Fields. In the background, a great monument of peeling wallpaper stands as a symbol of memory and quiet reminder of time as the backdrop to fleeting human emotion. 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 »

Muscle Memory: Mad Shak Investigates How We Forget

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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 »

Preview: Dances for the Underground/The Seldoms, Peter Carpenter, Kate Corby & Dancers

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The Seldoms share the bill for two weekends at Links Hall, presenting the first chapter of a new work by the company’s intellectually driven artistic director Carrie Hanson. “RockCitizen” is inspired by the rock-music-driven counterculture movements of the mid-to-late-twentieth century. Hanson seeks to unpack counterculture from social, political and economic perspectives, asking questions about how the phenomenon emerges, the groups it unites, the way it simultaneously questions dominant culture and encourages consumerism, and how it diffuses or fails. Hanson is a great pairing with Peter Carpenter, who last weekend presented the twelfth  iteration of his multi-year, ongoing “Rituals of Abundance for Lean Times,” entitled “Dominant Collapse.” Carpenter is an independent dance-theater maker inspired by many of the same forces that move The Seldoms. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Khecari + Happydog/Links Hall

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Happydog performance company was formed when three artists—Chicago-based designer Annie Novotny, Portland-based choreographer Muffie Connelly and New York dancer Leslie Cuyjet—embarked on a tri-coastal creative project. They founded Happydog Gallery in Wicker Park as incubator space and began a process of creative exchange from afar, crafting performance works that evolve over months of collaboration, unbounded by genre or medium. Their newest work, “LADY PARTS,” is part two in a trilogy about human reproduction from a feminine perspective. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: The Queue/Lucky Plush Productions

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The second collaboration between choreographer Julia Rhoads and Leslie Buxbaum Danzig, co-founder of 500 Clown, earned the creative duo another National Dance Project award. The first, from 2011 and entitled “The Better Half,” blended dance and theater in a thoughtful and funny examination of domesticity—specifically how the characters we play in our daily lives grapple with identity and dance around and with the ones closest to us. “The Queue” takes us to an airport in an exploration of the intersection between private and public spaces. Rhoads and Buxbaum Danzig again use a script as source material—in “The Better Half” it was the 1944 film “Gaslight”—starting with a mid-eighteenth-century farce about a mad scramble for an inheritance as a departure point. The movement material is inspired by farce as well: vaudeville, slapstick and choreography from film’s golden age. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Drift deep, loose/Hedwig Dances

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Photo courtesy Bill Frederking

Photo courtesy Bill Frederking

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March is an in-between time. One day we are hopefully braving forty-degree sunshine in sweaters and sunglasses, convincing ourselves of warmth. The next we’re succumbing to parkas and mittens, watching our breath trail out behind us. Spring, growth, warmth, life—it is all so close but still just beyond reach. The turning of seasons has long provided many a rich artistic metaphor. In “Drift deep, loose,” creative director of Hedwig Dances Jan Bartoszek draws her inspiration from these tensions of thawing winter. The piece will debut as part of the spring show, “Markings.”

Simple costumes not only clothe the dancers but serve as props, creating new spaces and opportunities for exploration. The piece is set to classical music interspersed with sounds of nature. The audience is seated on both sides of an uncluttered stage. Like nature herself, the tone is pure and elemental. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Terms and Conditions/Philip Elson Dance

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We live during the reign of tweets, selfies and Google Chat. We live in a time where ambiguous digital forces know more about the intimate details of your life than your next-door neighbor: from who friended you last night on Facebook to brand of the water filter you ordered from Amazon. Is our privacy being threatened? How do we respond? Are we even aware?

Philip Elson explores these questions of privacy and vulnerability in his debut full-length performance, “Terms and Conditions.” He describes his work as a “dance theater hybrid production.” Performers in everyday clothing dance in front of and among technological visuals to cinematic music composed largely by Elson himself. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Shift/ed/Esoteric Dance Project

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UntitledThe young wife and husband team of Brenna Pierson-Tucker and Christopher Tucker bring their three-year-old company and their conceptual choreography to the new Links Hall. Four short pieces by the couple touch on topics as divergent as the lives of vaudevillian peep-show performers and string theory. “Chiaroscuro” takes inspiration from works by Chicago-based artist Lauren Wilk, but ultimately seeks to use light and dark as a metaphor for internal duality. “After the Nickel Runs Out” draws a parallel between primitive motion picture kinetoscopes and the objectification of performers, and “Em-Em-Dubs” toys around with the underlying ideas behind quantum mechanics and jazz. The intent of “Translate to 2” is more a pure exploration of movement, with the introduction of physical constraints and how those constraints resonate after they’re removed. Read the rest of this entry »

Digging Deeper: Lucky Plush Revisits Works for a Double Feature

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Cinderbox 2.0

Cinderbox 2.0

By Sharon Hoyer

Julia Rhoads and her thoughtful dance theater company Lucky Plush have been on the road and in residency for the last two years, revising and rebuilding two evening-length pieces, “Cinderbox 2.0″ and “The Better Half.” Both works—one inspired by reality TV, the other by the complexities of identity and role expectations in marriage, as framed by the 1944 film “Gaslight”—will enjoy a two-week run at the new Links Hall, all leading up to the premiere of a brand-new piece in May. Rhoads spoke with me about the evolution of these works and the importance of revision.

How did the reboot of “Cinderbox 18″ come about?
“Cinderbox 18” was a big change in my process. We had finished the structure of the work pretty quickly and had three months to live inside it before showing it at the MCA. We really opened it up in terms of what was the environment, what were the relationships between the people. The work was loosely based on my preoccupation with bad reality TV at the time. Read the rest of this entry »

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