Considering how flawless all performances were in the two of four days of the Chicago Dancing Festival we saw, it’s no small thing to say the choreography stole the show.
This was especially true of the finale performance at the Auditorium Theatre, “Episode 31” by Swedish choreographer Alexander Ekman, a work commissioned by the Chicago Dancing Festival by The Joffrey Ballet. This work showcased the energy of the black and white clad Joffrey troupe in a canvass of dancers as shifting images moving at different paces. One tall suit-clad dancer walks slowly around the perimeter, another ballerina drifts in and out on toe, while the remainder of the dancers sometimes appear to be a streaking flash mob a la Harlem Shake.
Episode 31 was originally developed by Eckman during his tenure at Julliard, where he created a video pastiche prelude to their performance highlighting New York City landmarks similar to the humorous video clips showing the Joffrey doing unexpected dances on Chicago trains, bridges, and other recognizable Chicago places.
Here is a clip of the Julliard video that preceded the Episode 31 performance when it was in development in NY.
The costumes suggested a deconstruction, or more aptly put, a disrobing of a Magritte. The humorous self-consciousness of a placard carried by a dancer midway that only said “Beauty” made me smile and think this was a dancing e.e. Cummings poem, though that poet likely has not made it into Swedish translation.
On Thursday the Joffrey also performed George Balanchine’s “Tarantella”, a pas de deux performed with tambourines like the folk dances of the same name. This was a strong performance with the couple ably making swift changes in direction both when dancing singly or as a duet.
The Joffrey Ballet’s finale at the Tuesday Harris Theater performance was “Son of Chamber Symphony”, choreographed by Australian Stanton Welch with music by the contemporary composer John Adams.
The ballerinas wore stiff platter tutus that were often unexpectedly folded by their dancing partners.
This dance created dazzling geometric patterns
with quirky movements rendered elegant by the dancers in keeping with the composition itself, which you can hear here—
Hubbard Street Dance Company (founded originally by Lou Conte and now under the artistic direction of Glenn Edgerton) performed “Little mortal jump”,
choreographed by Alejandro Cerrudo, which had numerous humorous touches including a performer literally making that mortal jump into an offstage abyss early in the piece and continuing from there.
Thursday’s Auditorium Theatre performance of Swedish choreographer Mats Ek’s “Casi-Casa” (translated—Almost Home) was danced to a spare set of stove, chair and door.
Three men started off the selections shown, but the humor really kicked in when an ensemble of women streak across the stage with vacuum cleaner props that become their partners in a frenetic pace.
Here is a snippet of the longer Casi-Casa by Hubbard Street Dance—
In contrast to the other choreographers, Lar Lubovitch’s imprimatur of large arm flowing movements and ensemble making, breaking and re-making was seen in both Tuesday’s performance of “Crisis Variations”
and Thursday’s performance of “Transparent Things”.
“Transparent Things” was noted in the program as being inspired by Picasso’s painting of “Saltimbanques” (street performers) in homage to the uncertainty they allow into their lives in devotion to “an art so ephemeral, that it exists only when it is actually happening and then vanishes before our eyes, remaining only in the transparent realm of memory”.
The Lar Lubovitch Dance Company performances had the added excitement and stimulation of live musicians performing on the stage with the dancers.
On Thursday for “Transparent Things” this was The Bryant Park Quartet (two violins, viola and cello). Tuesday’s Le Train Bleu (violin, flute, saxophone, double bass, keyboard) performance of Yevgeniy Sharlat’s “Crisis Variations” based on a Liszt’s “Transcendental Etudes” was so intriguing that it could have filled the stage in its own right.
On two nights of the festival, including Tuesday’s Harris Theater performance, audience were treated to seeing two up and coming ballet stars, Brooklyn Mack and Tamako Miyazaki perform “Diana and Actaeon pas de deus”, with classic 1935 choreography by Vaganova/Alonso.
At times Mack’s strong moves had him appear almost as if he were a horizontal missile across the stage. That Miyazaki had strength to match him was no accident. Mack shared, “We met a few summers ago when we were both attending the International Ballet Gala of Stars in South Africa. A performer who was scheduled to dance had to leave because here father was dying and I was asked to fill in. I had seen Tamako dance and I knew she was strong. That’s when and how we started dancing together.” Even more accidental was that Brooklyn Mack was dancing in the first place, as that only happened because he wanted “in” on football and promised his mother that he’d try ballet if she would acquiesce to his chosen sport. As it turned out he loved everything ballet, so football reportedly fell by the wayside.
Brian Brooks both choreographed and performed his solo piece called, “I’m Going to Explode”.
At first we see a businessman in suit who very neatly takes off his shoes and puts them under his chair and then begins his dance to abandon across the stage as if screaming the title of the piece.
How funny that as the dance concludes the businessman resumes his seat in the chair and replaces his shoes on his feet as if to say, “You wouldn’t have a clue of the firestorm within, would you?”
Chicago Human Rhythm Project, in contrast to its many jazz improvisations during its recent Juba! Celebration performed first and foremost “as dancing drummers..” The program notes, “In the beginning’…there was rhythm, and that was the title of this piece that kicked off and stomped off the Harris Theater performances on Tuesday.
Choreography aside, it was Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Theater’s selecton of the haunting “Bolero” by Ravel for their performance opening the evening at the Auditorium that was singing in my head that next morning.
Starting slowly and subtly like the melody, we first only see the backs of seated women in bright red long dresses beginning to sway and move their hands with Flamenco flourishes.
From there as the melody gains in steam so do the dancers, until the entire troupe is providing flamenco poses and dramatic moves in front of an ever changing landscape of Picasso image projections.
All in all these were life-memorable evenings saturating audiences in a wide range of dance styles. Chicago Dancing Festival was founding in 2007 with the reported aim of heightening awareness of Dance in Chicago, increasing accessibility to the art form and to provide inspiration for local artists. It aims to enrich our lives. Mission accomplished.
Word to the wise—these are free tickets but they go fast. The waiters at the Artists Café on Michigan who had their patio sealed off by a line swooping past their door from the Auditorium’s doors on Congress said they had never seen anything like this. You can keep track of the Chicago Dancing Festivals to come and learn more about it at www.chicagodancingfestival.com. Plugging in early and paying attention may be the only way to assure you’ll get to see it next year.