Chicago Dancing Festival Review - World Class Dance Takes the Stage

Now celebrating its eighth year, the Chicago Dancing Festival is a unique gift to a city from founders and Artistic Directors Lar Lubovitch and Jay Franke.  These men, two esteemed dancers and Chicagoans, have created an event that offers everyone the opportunity to see world-class dance at an affordable price:  It’s free. 

This year, the event showcased three World Premieres, a simulcast of the opening night show at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion of Millennium Park, and a host of performers in three programs.  Titled “Classics and Creations,” “Dances for Two,” and “Celebration of Dance,” these programs allow patrons to enjoy a wide sampling of dance from modern to ballet and hip hop.  Friday’s performance at the Museum of Contemporary Art,  “Dances for Two,” showcased five duets ranging from a timeless classic to a world premier.

The Nexus Project in "As Above, So Below", photo by Cheryl Mann

The Nexus Project offered the one premier of the evening.  Choreographed by Ron De Jesus,  As Above So Below, features the impressive range of Autumn Eckman and Jamy Meek.  With inventive balances and unusual weight sharing, the two dancers navigate worlds that seem distant and uncertain.  Though they connect physically, there is a isolated sense about the pairing;  Eckman adopts a detached, unemotional persona while Meek interacts with her.  It’s a curious work accompanied by a sound score of violin and strange ambient sounds – an electronic thud, a growl, moving water.

Pam Tanowitz Dance in "Passagen", photo by Cheryl Mann

Passagen, offered by Pam Tanowitz Dance, was really a trio that should have been a solo.  Pauline Kim Harris, the violinist, was the highlight of this dance.  An impressive musician, she traverses the stage and attacks the score by John Zorn with dynamic passion, something noticeably absent from the choreography.  The two female dancers, Melissa Toogood and Maggie Cloud, gamely move about the space with tight unison and individual phrases that modulate between sharp and fluid.  But ultimately, Tanowitz’s choreography bears little connection to the score’s dynamics. 

The Joffrey Ballet in "Bells", photo by Cheryl Mann

The Joffrey Ballet principals Victoria Jaiani and Temur Suluashvili performed a strong excerpt from Bells, an evocative work by Yuri Possokhov that premiered in 2011.  Sinewy and lithe, the dancers are well matched, possessing strong technique and intense emotion.  Virtuosic lifts are juxtaposed with quirky hip circles or turned in weight shifts.  The use of hands proves a dominant motif, as moments of intimacy are halted with a hand covering lips, or fingers caressing a face.

Adam Barruch & Chelsea Bonosky in "Belladonna", photo by Cheryl Mann

Adam Barruch, of Adam Barruch Dance, was the highlight of his work, an excerpt from Belladonna.  This expressive and raw mover articulates his body in ways that evoke sorrow, loss, and craving, in this dance about desire and obsession.  At one point his hands seem to sprout from his back and become wings.  It’s fascinating movement, and his partner and collaborator, Chelsea Bonosky, does admirably in keeping up.  While set pieces, including a table and a book, are incorporated into this work, an unused chair sits upstage; presumably it features into the full-length dance.

Martha Graham Dance Company in "Errand Into the Maze", photo by Cheryl Mann

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the evening was Martha Graham’s Errand into the Maze.  Featuring classic Graham vocabulary and an abstract set designed by artist Isamu Noguchi, this 1947 duet transcended its iconic trappings in large part due to the strength and expressiveness of its lead, Peiju Chien-Pott.  This woman is a powerhouse, infusing all of the recognizable Graham technique – deep contractions, pitch turns, tilt jumps, etc. – with an emotional core that reverberated throughout her body. Her trepidation at entering the labyrinth was evident, as was her sensuality when caressing the set.  Her partner, Abdiel Jacobsen, performed the role of the Minotaur, a physically challenging part that require strength and nuance in counterbalancing the female lead.

With the conclusion of the festival on Saturday, August 23, it is clear that Mr. Lubovitch, Mr. Franke, and their staff spent countless hours developing the programming and logistics of this largest dance festival in the nation.  Their mission is to “present a wide variety of excellent dance, enrich the lives of the people of Chicago and provide increased accessibility to the art form, thereby helping create a new audience.”    Here’s hoping for the continued success of this impressive event.


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