Holidaze really is like nothing you’ve seen before, especially during the traditional Holiday season offerings like The Nutcracker. The international cast members from many countries including Italy, Mongolia, Asia, Ukraine, and Ethiopia were extremely gifted in each of their unique disciplines. The magnificent Chicago Theater was a perfect venue for such a show.
The sister contortionists, aerialists, silks artists, chair stackers, and clowns all did so many different things all at the same time onstage and in the air that it was difficult to really take it all in!
One dancer did a balancing and juggling routine while lying on a slanted bench where at one point she literally was doing a different and independent action with each of her four limbs, Her right foot was twirling hula hoops, while her right foot balanced a rolling boll, her right hand was juggling and her left hand doing some other equally amazing task. This and all the acts really make you realize what an awesome creation the human body is and what seemingly miraculous feats it is capable of with the right talent and cultivation.
The costumes were for the most part spectacular but occasionally I thought they went a little too comical (reindeer unitards and old Mrs. Santa Claus) instead of balletic and took some of the dignity away from what were amazingly graceful and dignified performances.
Also the hypnotic, repetitive music soundtrack needs an updating as it gave everything kind of a 1990’s Euro-House Music feel that was dazzling at first but became a little overwhelming and confusing by the end of the first act.
One other note I have for the producers of this particular cast is the presence of a very young, tiny aerialist/ballet dancer who appeared to be about 6-7 years old. She was a brilliant ballerina who could very easily be playing the lead in The Nutcracker, but in this show she was trussed up in a very strange halter type contraption and pushed around the stage by a man on stilts. I felt very uncomfortable watching someone so young performing this way and doing contortionism at all when her body is so flexible because it is still forming.
To make sure I was not overreacting, I leaned over to a friend and asked what he thought and his first response was, “Creepy! Like watching child abuse!” I agree, this act needs to be placed on the ground like the other young 9-year old dancer in the show and re-costumed as children should never be costumed in something that even resembles a restraint of any kind.
Other than that this was a refreshing and spectacular night of amazement, suspense and bursting at the seams with psychedelic Christmas colors and lighting effects that I will never forget.
The Houston Ballet might not have shown us the world (shining, shimmering, splendid), but they did present the city of Chicago with an incredible production of “Aladdin” filled with the same sorcery, riches, splendor, magic, love, and romance as we’ve come to expect from the heartwarming tale of an impoverished young ne'er-do-well who becomes part of a whirlwind adventure.
The Houston Ballet made its debut at the Auditorium Theatre with celebrated English choreographer David Bintley's ballet "Aladdin." The ballet was originally created for the New National Ballet of Japan in Tokyo in 2008, and the Windy City was only the fourth city to experience the performance, sharing the magic carpet ride with such cities as Tokyo and London. Most people will know the story of Aladdin from the popular 1992 Disney movie of the same name. However, the Houston Ballet's "Aladdin" follows the more traditional story of Aladdin from The Book of One Thousand and One Nights (The Arabian Nights). There’s no singing genie or clever monkey named Abu, but there was no need for it in this breathtaking production.
The caliber of talent that took the stage this past weekend would leave the staunchest of critics in awe. From the background dancers to the principle dancers, everyone commanded the audience’s attention with a technique and grace that prove why the Houston Ballet is a world renowned. The moment the curtains rose, the dancers instantly transported us to old Arabia. Set against spectacular scenery created by the English designer Dick Bird and coupled with an exceptional original score by Carl Davis and performed by the Chicago Philharmonic, the audience was immediately under the spell of Aladdin’s magic.
While there were many highlights throughout the 2 ½ hour performance, one of the standouts had to be the cave of wonders. When the evil sorcerer convinces Aladdin to enter the cave and retrieve the magic oil lamp, Aladdin is met with jewels and riches beyond his imagination. The jewels onyx, pearls, gold and silver, sapphire, rubies, emeralds, and diamonds were all brought to life by dancers, making the riches literally dance before Aladdin’s eyes. The audience watched on, as mystified and entranced as the young peasant boy himself. Equally impressive were the comings and goings of the genie throughout the performance; whether he hovered in midair or vanished and appeared in a cloud of smoke, the genie entered with power and pizazz that would make Robin Williams himself proud. In one scene at the royal court, when the genie transforms Aladdin from rags to princely attire, the scene erupts into a frenzied dance with the genie, jewels, slaves, and courtesans. The high energy, fast moving dance was so synchronized you’d think one person was controlling the dozens of dancers on stage. It was graceful, powerful, magical, and was the definitive mark that this ballet is here to stay.
Who doesn’t love the story of Aladdin? It’s a rags to riches story that has stood the test of time. The Houston Ballet’s production of “Aladdin” is nothing short of spectacular. Folks young and old gave the performance a standing ovation and were captivated for the entire duration of the performance. The sheer talent and pageantry of the ballet was a welcome change to Chicago and the Auditorium Theater. I hope more shows like this breeze through the Windy City for Chicagoans to experience. So the next time “Aladdin” flies into Chicago on its magic carpet, be sure you jump on and enjoy the ride.
Contemporary dance is an art form like any other. As a style of dance it is much more of a philosophy than a strict technique like, say, traditional ballet or modern. Rather, it draws inspiration from both techniques and creates an entirely different experience for the audience. Much like art, the beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Whether you are a fan of contemporary dance or not, you should take the time away from the bitter winter cold and venture into the Auditorium Theatre to experience The Joffrey Ballet’s presentation of Contemporary Choreographers.
Like many of the contemporary showcases performed by The Joffrey, Contemporary Choreographers is split into three productions: Crossing Ashland, Continuum, and Episode 31. Let’s quickly cover off on some highlights; Episode 31, the final performance in the series choreographed by Alexander Ekman, is actually quite fun. It can adequately be described as a dramatic playground, bringing a youthful approach to dance with a touch of humor; no seriously, people were laughing along to the performances.
The second performance in the series is Continuum, choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon. This was the least entertaining performance for me; I would equate the performance as a whole as looking a blank white canvas in an art museum with a title like “Block 39.” To many, they would draw a profound and ethereal message from the blank white canvas, while others might see just a white canvas, blank and without meaning. Many of those in the audience gave Continuum a standing ovation, but to me the performance lacked a story and with it a reason to enjoy and watch it. Then again, it followed one of the best contemporary pieces I would safely say is the most enjoyable contemporary performance I’ve ever seen, so I am slightest biased.
Throughout the opening piece called Crossing Ashland, choreographed by Brock Clawson, dancers in streets clothes created the vision of pedestrians passing each other on the street, walking briskly back and forth across the stage. These stoics in street clothes turned expressive when they stripped away their outer layers of clothing and exposed the vulnerability of their inner selves. Crossing, the dancers showed us what we look like; dancing, they showed us the enormity of what we feel. The performances’ emotions were palpable to the audience and after each dancer took the stage you begged them to say longer. The dancers themselves were drop-dead, makes-you-want-to-go-workout, idol-worthy specimens, each and every muscle working to show their emotions. In lament terms, they were hot.
So what makes Crossing Ashland special? It’s the fact that the dance is so relatable, so understandable to the audience; two people pass on the street, their hands touching slightly, longingly, but then they part. So much is said in those moments without saying a word, and when two dancers portraying their emotions take the stage and perform a deeply passionate interpretation of breaking-up and making-up, you are captivated. Crossing Ashland could easily be made into a full length production and take the stage for a full two hours and no one would be bored. And more importantly, it could introduce an entirely new generation to contemporary choreography that isn’t limited to what one sees on televised dance shows or in the movies.
So cross Wabash Avenue and make your way to the Auditorium Theatre to see Contemporary Choreographers. The show runs through February 23rd. It is a breath of fresh air to a modern style of dance that will hopefully leave you breathless.