Why do I love living in Chicago? Because with all its problems it is still a city that works, and one of the best ways that is shown is in the FREE cultural activities that take place every summer. This year, Chicago Shakespeare Theater presented ‘Shakespeare in the Parks’, the 77th Grant Park Music Festival took place in Millenium Park, and this week, August 20-25, The Chicago Dancing Festival appears across downtown Chicago.
Since its inaugural event 6 years ago, more than 40 different companies have performed for 50,000+ audience members — growing from 8,500 in 2006 to more than 18,000 in 2011. The Festival, co-produced by renowned choreographer/Chicago native Lar Lubovitch and esteemed Chicago dancer Jay Franke, expanded this year to six consecutive days of dance events at venues across the center of the city. Every performance is completely free.
Opening night, which took place at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance at Millennium Park, was Chicago-centered. The program began with students from After School Matters’ Hip Hop Culture Dance Ensemble performing Touch of Soul, a new work by contemporary choreographer Nicholas Leichter, commissioned by the Festival to honor the memory and legacy of arts champion and former Chicago First Lady, Maggie Daley. The dancers, dressed in a variety of white jeans and tops and using the angular, quick movements of hip-hop dance, set the energetic tone of the evening, using the stage as a thoroughfare, disappearing into the wings and suddenly reappearing in varied groups.
Hubbard Street Dance Chicago upped the energy level in Scarlatti, choreographed by Twyla Tharp and set to seven sonatas and one fugue by Domenico Scarlatti. The amazingly quick movements were closely linked to ballet, but sudden angular movements of feet or elbows and Tharp’s groupings and use of the wings also connected Scarlatti to the hip-hop of Touch of Soul. The stamina needed for this fast-paced performance was underlined by two dancers, Quinn Wharton and Pablo Piantino, taking the place of the injured David Schultz.
The common wish to know the story behind the dance is addressed in Giordano Dance Chicago’s Two Become Three, choreographed by Alexander Ekman. We hear the story in a voice-over as we see it (“Is my walk cool?” “Was my laugh too loud?”) – lots of fun, a little sad and a fine medium for dancers Maeghan McHale and Martin Ortiz Tapia.
At the intermission, an audience member behind me said, “Less drama, more dance…” We got both as the tone changed with The Joffrey Ballet’s stark In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated, choreographed by William Forsythe and set to electronic music by Thom Willems in collaboration with Leslie Stuck. The dancers’ classic ballet movements are severe and sharp, perfectly matched to startling gear-like clangs of metal on metal and bongs of a clock. I first saw this on the wide Auditorium Theater stage. The narrower Harris stage increases the sense of being caught in a machine, expressed expertly by all, especially Christine Rocas, Rory Hohenstein and Victoria Jaiani.
In the final piece, the premiere of Bolero Chicago, Larry Keigwin combines Keigwin + Company professionals with 80 non-dancers – everyday Chicago citizens – in an exciting gathering that recognizes and reflects the city's diversity while it portrays city life - subway riding, Chicago’s infamous weather, our athletic teams. Created over a two-week residency and set to Maurice Ravel’s iconic “Bolero,” Bolero Chicago uses movement generated by the cast members themselves to exemplify Chicago’s unique culture and style. It was great fun and a rousing end to this Chicago-centered evening.
Additionally, nationally known dance troupes will appear in three different performance showcases featuring top ballet and modern dance professionals from Chicago and across the country. Representatives of New York City Ballet, Martha Graham Dance Company, San Francisco Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Ballet Arizona, Brian Brooks Moving Company, Houston Ballet, and will interpret works by George Balanchine, Mark Morris, Martha Graham and more.
Most performances are “sold out” – previous audience members receive email notices of ticket availability exactly at 12 pm on given days in July and the free tickets vanish!
However, if you are lucky enough to be in Chicago on Saturday, August 25th, The Chicago Dancing Festival culminates with its signature Grand Finale on the stunning outdoor stage of the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, beginning at 7:30. This performance, “A Celebration of Dance,” is not ticketed. About 3000 seats are available, first come, first served, as well as a lawn where thousands of others can spread a blanket, hear the music, see the stage. Get there early and bring dinner – seat saving is strongly frowned upon!
A look at Chicago’s ever-evolving dance community in an informative lecture-demonstration, a day-long screening of dance films that feature collaborations between dance artists, filmmakers and musicians, and an interactive social dancing lesson all complete the week’s offerings. The dance films screening and the social dancing lesson (under the stars) are free and not ticketed, and they are not sold out.
For more information, times, locations, and programs, please go to http://chicagodancingfestival.com.
All photos by Cheryl Mann