The Chicago Dancing Festival, now in its 7th year of end of summer celebration of the best of dance in Chicago and beyond, just keeps getting better and last week offered something for every taste: tap, Flamenco, hip-hop, classical, jazz, modern, Indian, and contemporary. A world class festival with four days of programs at four different venues, free to all comers, culminated in a crowd pleasing finale Saturday, a perfect, balmy summer evening outdoors at the Pritzker pavilion in Millennium Park.
The huge appreciative crowd showed their approval and gratitude with loud applause and cheering, standing ovations, and an extended curtain call for the final piece, Bolero, a 17 minute tour-de-force that gets your blood boiling, danced by Ensemble Espanol Spanish Dance Theater to the insistent rhythmic pulsing, continuously rising crescendo, repetitive-sensual music of Maurice Ravel and ending in an almost ear-splitting, brass heavy climax. It was truly a Bravo finish to a lush evening.
The superb display of dance technique by the 13 companies, coupled with humor, fragility, anxiety, or yearning, or playfulness, sometimes live music, colorful costuming, and stunning performances attested to the wide range of styles and diversity, and spanned more than 100 years of choreography, from the earliest – The Dying Swan (1905), to In the Beginning (2013) - always adhering to the most important aspect of the festival—excellence. Would that that diversity will soon include a representation of the newer artform--physically integrated dance--the companies that create danceworks combining dancers with and without disabilities.
I attended all performances and Friday’s, Solitaire – A Game of Dance, at the Museum of Contemporary Art, did not disappoint. The clever conceit, the game of Solitaire, set the tone for the evening’s works, seven solos, by introducing each number not with an announcer, but with a backdrop of a highly decorated deck of cards, which, when a random card was turned over to display its face, showed a Q or K, and the name of the dancer typed below.
As Lar Lubovich and Jay Franke, co-artistic directors of the Festival, say in the program notes for Solitaire, “In the game of dance, there is nothing more difficult than playing the game alone…it is the solo dance, just as in a soliloquy by Shakespeare, that seeks to reveal the supra-personal and innermost truth of the story it seeks to tell.”
Mikhail Fokine’s 1905 The Dying Swan, was performed exquisitely by the Joffrey Ballet’s Victoria Jaiani. I was entranced by how her arms seemed to dislocate back from her shoulders to become wings. Jaiani’s delicacy and classical poignancy was enhanced by the addition of a piano as counterpoint to the always lovely lyrical cello.
In/Side, performed by Samuel Lee Roberts, of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, to choreography by Robert Battle, was powerful in its slow, superb physicality. A strong, supple dancer, Roberts was wonderful to watch as he threw himself up, around, and to the floor or lay perfectly still, his arm and fingers extended forward, reaching towards the audience, searching or pleading, I’m not sure which, then once more moving wildly.
Julia Hinojosa’s Ensuenos de mi Caribe, a Flamenco work with themes of love and nostalgia, accented with increasingly complicated Zapateado (sharp, percussive footwork) and fan work, was accompanied by onstage guitar, drums and singing.
What a Wonderful World was the music for The Real Cool, an excerpt from Mr. Tol E. RAncE, with choreography by Camille A. Brown, who performed the entire piece in a close circle of light, crouching close to the floor, dressed in dark brown/black and wearing white gloves, reminiscent of minstrelsy.
Hubbard Street’s Pacopepepluto, to three songs sung by Dean Martin and choreographed by Alejandro Cerrudo, was a raucous romp by the terrific Johnny McMillan, Jason Hortin, and Jonathan Fredrickson, wearing only reinforced dance belts, thereby appearing nude, individually in dim lighting and performing soaring leaps and jumps, turns, and a frenetic comical ending that had the audience laughing and cheering.
Rounding out the program were Krithika Rajagopalan of Natya Dance Theatre performing Sthithihi – In the Stillness, a beautiful Indian work, and Brian Brooks performing his own I’m Going to Explode, is a study in anxiety and the capacity of strength and endurance, with arms rapidly pulsing close to his body, then expanding his movements from the uptight confines of suit coat, shoes, and chair to freer, larger gestures and movements. I would have liked for him to really explode, however, before returning to that coat and shoes and sitting down in that chair again.
Taken as a whole, the evening, and entire festival were a resounding success. I can’t wait until next year!