Harris Theater's first ever Choreographer in Residence, Brian Brooks, is ready to make his mark in Chicago. “It’s not just what I might be bringing to the Harris theater, but what Chicago is showing me and being exposed to all of these new dancers and choreographers.”
Brooks residency at the Harris is set last for three years, and so far, collaborations planned include the Miami City Ballet and Brooks own dance group, Brian Brooks Moving Co. Each piece commissioned will be performed at the Harris Theater. “The potential for artistic growth is very liberating. This particular structure of this residency, working with very different and diverse companies, the Hubbard Street versatility and contemporary work that they do, my own company that gets quite adventurous with athletic physicality and pre avante garde original music compositions, and then Miami City Ballet, the classical ballet, and where they want to head in this new era. The range of dancers and aesthetics that his residency is encouraging me to work with, it’s a huge step and a platform I am very honored to be a part of.”
In Hubbard Street Dances Fall Series, Brooks premiered his first work, Terrain and if this is any indication of what is to come the next three years, Chicago is in for a treat.
Terrain certainly lives up to Brooks description. With 17 Hubbard Street Dancers taking the stage “I’m playing a bit with imagery, all of the dancers are integrated with a call and response and cause an effect. Every dancer is navigating in their cave of space in relation of the group” There is constant movement, one dancer always reacting to another’s movement or touch. As if energy is being passed through them, the performance is bright and energetic.
Throughout the piece, the dancers are continuously coming together and moving apart. Brooks says, “The piece is slightly an abstraction, the dancers work as individuals and a community, it has overtones of simple and community integration, using the rapid response and quick fire partnering creating a moment to moment imagery.”
Terrain is an exciting and spirited piece from this Chicago newcomer. Chicago should keep their eye on Brooks as he is sure to bring some fresh perspective and inventive collaborations to the Harris Theater over the next three years.
Set on a simple stage with deep techno music, A Glimpse Inside a Shared Story by Yin Yue is a powerful and controlled showing from all of the dancers. The fabric that makes up the costumes is muted and fluid, only showcasing the smooth movement even more. At times, when the group was onstage, is seemed a bit out of sync, but the solo performances left little to be desired. The ease in which the dancers made the complicated, strong and controlled movement is incredible as it is almost unnoticed. The entire ballet felt like anticipation; like the music was building up to something more, though it never quite go to that point.
Robyn Mineko Williams returns with 2014's Waxing Moon and the trio of Andrew Murdock, Jacqueline Burnett, and Jason Hortin prove their talent in the emotionally charged piece. A man is battling the demons within his own mind, struggling with the good and the bad, the positive and negative thoughts that we all face. At times he succumbs to the dark thoughts only to later be slowly coaxed back with hope and lights. The piece relates to anyone who has found dark corners in their mind and had to fight their way out.
Out of Keeping by Penny Saunders is a bright and exciting ballet, reminiscent of a watercolor painting. Pairs of dancers in bright colors come to the stage, at times seemingly battling for the attention of the audience, other times reveling in their own space on the canvas. It is an uplifting and fast paced ballet that is enjoyable and well danced by all.
By far the most moving piece of the series Solo Echo by Crystal Pite utilizes the whole stage, bringing snow indoors for the performance. The dancers don cargo pants and vests, and seem to be grieving old memories of friends or family. At times watching the memories fade away and then trying to bring them back one last time. The dancers exude energy and emotion throughout the whole piece, making it exhilarating to watch, and almost exhausting at the end.
The Hubbard Street Winter Series is a compelling ballet from the company playing at Harris Theatre through Sunday. At times there is room for some polish, but overall the works are well rounded and compelling.
Walking into the Harris Theater for the Hubbard Street Dance Summer Series, it is snowing on stage. Not real snow, of course, but feathers slowly fall, coating the stage with what resembles a light dusting of frost that we Chicagoans are so familiar with. The theater is filled with chatter as people are taking their seats, and as the feathers begin to slow, the theater becomes silent. And with a single feather that floats to the stage, the lights dim and the curtain rises.
Large black walls on wheels are the only stage props during the opening ballet Extremely Close. The dancers push, pull, and move the walls while they dance, disappearing and reappearing behind them as they do so. During the first half of the ballet, the dancers are slightly out of sync. At times they would come together seamlessly, and other moments struggled to dance as one.
A pas de deux have an emotional exchange toward the end of Extremely Close. The couple continuously go back and fourth between passionate embraces and cold exchanges. It is only at the end, when the black sheet is pulled over the woman’s limp body that you wonder about the deep undertones of abuse.
The second act, Still in Motion, opens to the stage set as a white wave with a blue neon light at its crest. About a dozen dancers, ready to begin, frantically run off stage before the music starts, only to leave only one solo male dancer. There are times throughout the performance, as groups enter and leave the stage, where the music stops, but the dance continues. Showcasing pure movement, with only the sound of feet to the floor, is as intriguing as it is uncomfortable. The dancers are perfectly in time during the moments of silence, which makes it that much more mesmerizing.
The third, and by far most impressive ballet, Little Mortal Jump, starts with a French couple and their love story. The music is happy and light, the dancing uplifting and spirited. You almost don’t notice the change in tone as the narrative fades away, and the large black walls from the first act make their way back on stage. The classical music and passion on stage overwhelms. At one point, as the lighting becomes orange and hot, the dancers begin to move in slow motion, so controlled and smooth, you almost don’t notice this is happening right away. The moving walls once again let people appear and disappear as if out of nowhere, and make this piece hypnotizing. As the music, lighting, and dancing all come to a crescendo, and everyone is waiting for one last fouette or grand leap, the lights cut, and the audience, after taking a breath to gather what just happened, explodes into applause.
Alejandro Cerrudo has proven himself as an amazing choreographer with this series. Cerrudo's background as a dancer only contributes to his understanding of stage presence and movement. The lighting by Michael Korsch should also be recognized in how it manipulates the emotion and power of this performance, as well. Summer Series is an exciting must see this season. For upcoming Hubbard Street Dance events, visit http://www.hubbardstreetdance.com/.
The four performances that comprise “New Works” are also presented in a new venue for the Joffrey Ballet, The Cadillac Palace Theatre. Fitting, for the spring program which highlights four contemporary choreographers and leaves theater goers energized and refreshed. Joffrey’s usual home, the Auditorium Theatre, was being used for the NFL Draft, causing the temporary venue change.
Justin Peck, hailing from the New York City Ballet, holds up to his reputation with “In Creases” as the opening performance. The stage, outfitted with just two pianos, creates the perfect blank pallet to showcase the dancers. Outfitted in light grey, this piece takes all distraction away from the viewer, leaving you to appreciate the dancers ability, athleticism, and passion. The live pianos only amplify the risk of performing such a vulnerable piece. With nothing on stage to distract the viewer, any small mistake would be easily noticed, though the Joffrey ensemble danced this perfectly.
“Liturgy” is a brilliant pas de deux from Christopher Wheeldon, with the dancers exuding chemistry and pure passion. It is one of those pieces where you can feel the dancers’ love for what they do. Jeraldine Mendoza and Fabrice Calmels, while physically almost complete opposite, Calmels being an easy head and shoulders taller than Mendoza, the two are perfectly in sync and graceful throughout the entire performance. At parts, it is almost as though the two are connected by strings they are so perfectly timed with one another. The excitement and power coming from the stage is infectious and makes the viewers heart race.
The story of an anguished poet in “Evenfall” is a romantic progression of a relationship, from the first days through to the later years. The stage is outfitted with four mirrors through which the poet views the couple. The poet seems to be contemplating the relationship, and struggling to do so, as though he is reflecting on what once was and possibly what could be. Once again, Fabrice Calmels is commanding as one half of the older couple, amazing the viewers with his ability to be so fluid and soft. The piece is emotionally charged and gives the dancers a chance to showcase not only their technical ability, but their acting chops as well.
The final performance, “Incantations” by Val Caniparoli, was originally created for the Joffrey in 2012 and is nothing short of thrilling. The high paced and demanding choreography cannot be ignored. The dancers outfitted in tan costumes with flashes of red are mesmerizing as they own the stage. The focus of the performance is on constant and different pirouettes and turns leaving the viewer in awe. Joanna Wozniak and Dylan Gutierrez make a dynamic pair that is thrilling and powerful in every turn.
Joffrey’s “New Works” is just as hopeful and fresh as one would expect. The Cadillac Palace Theater provides a beautiful historic backdrop to the contemporary choreography of these four performances. The Joffrey Ballet once again put together an amazing performance and a great way to kick off the spring season.
For tickets and/or more show information, visit http://www.joffrey.org/newworks.