Theatre

Cuban Jazz was the flavor at McAninch Arts Center (The MAC) this past weekend, but the band’s labeled genre might just be a bit misleading. In fact, I would describe the Cubanismo’s sound of as that more akin to Big Band first and foremost. Though high energy dance music with infectious grooves, it is heavily sprinkled with a touch of Havana and Latin Beats. Lively and catchy from beginning to end, let’s just say if audience members aren’t clapping or tapping their toes, someone in the medical profession needs to check them for a pulse.

Cubanismo founder and trumpeter, Jesus Alemany, led the ensemble through two sets of some very spicy music. Let me take a mental head count of musicians - four horns, three percussionists, three singers, bass, guitar, keys and Alemany complete the band’s line-up. That adds up to thirteen if I did the math correctly. Ricky Ricardo would have felt right at home with this combo.

They key word with music like this is rhythm. I mentioned in my review of Gipsy Kings last summer how that was a lesson in rhythm. This was a follow up to the learning I received that day. The reason why I don’t really consider this Jazz is due to the ability to dance to what was presented. I know Jazz has many sub categories. What this band really represents is the dance clubs of Pre-Castro Cuba - straight from the 1940’s – music with a serious spice to it. There also seemed to be far less emphasis on improvisation in this band’s set as opposed to the likes of Gipsy Kings. I think a good portion of the show may have been changed in slight ways from time to time, but unquestioned were its tight arrangements.

The band’s three singers took charge of their songs with serious support from the rest of the players. I wish my Spanish was better as far as understanding the lyrical content but that didn’t matter all that much, as music is the universal language. Cubanismo is all about getting their fans to move. Recently, a friend mentioned to me how there should be more room for dancing when going to see a band play. A larger dance area would have certainly helped the situation, especially when the band gave a mambo lesson on the final number. Cubanismo showed the moves while on stage and their fans followed. This was yet another reason I say it is not really Jazz per se. Nobody (particularly other musicians) was sitting around admiring the technical sophistication of the players. That being said, I am not at all saying the band members were not amazing. We just weren’t pelted with one self-indulgent solo after another in typical jazz fashion. It was truly an ensemble performance.

To give readers a brief history of the band, Alemañy was a child prodigy in Cuba before joining Sierra Maestra when he was just 16. After more than a decade of playing with that group, he moved to London to pursue his own career. There he met a fellow Cuban, pianist Alfredo Rodriguez, and the two musicians organized a jam session in Paris in 1994. It was there that record producer and head of Hannibal Records Joe Boyd heard the group play and suggested the pair organize another descarga (or improvised jazz session) in Cuba with all-star musicians from all over the country and record it. The recording was such a success that the group formed a band and toured extensively.

The band played selected tunes from their hit albums “Melembe”, “Reencarnación” and “Greetings from Havana” along with many other up-tempo, cha-cha-driven favorites.

The music of Cubanismo is straight from an era of Cuba long since gone. The tradition does live on through the music of this particular band that has received critical acclaim. Supporting this music is what keeps it alive and I hope to see more of that. Jesus Alemany should be proud of what he has assembled. If you get a chance to see them live, I am sure you will not walk away disappointed. In fact, you will not walk at all…you will dance.

www.cubanismo.org

Published in In Concert
Friday, 09 February 2018 17:51

Review: Joffrey Ballet's "Modern Masters"

As the era of streaming entertainment and sweatpants-clad binge watching continues, you have to applaud those who attend the performing arts. It’s certainly not an easier medium to consume, but some would argue it’s much more rewarding. Unfortunately, ballet and opera are struggling to attract a millennial audience. 

The Joffrey Ballet, however, opened its Modern Masters to no lack of enthusiasm. The massive Auditorium Theater was packed with audiences of all ages. Modern Masters is a four-piece show featuring the works of four different choreographers including the popular George Balanchine. Modern Masters is presented as part of the Ashley Anniversary, celebrating Ashley Wheater’s 10th season as artistic director of the Joffrey. 

They begin with Balanchine’s ‘Four Temperaments’, a visual take on the ancient belief that the body is influenced by four humors. This piece is the most traditional and lengthy of the four. The costumes and staging are sparse. Music by Paul Hindemith is soft but stirring. 

After a brief intermission, they return with Myles Thatcher’s ‘Body of Your Dreams’. The energy picks up here. With colorful 80s-flavored workout inspired costumes, 'Body of Your Dreams' is a cheeky take on fitness. It's a little ironic for a stage full of perfectly sculpted dancers to slightly criticize the "perfect body" obsession. The steps are fun, and the music is catchy. 

Next is the world premiere of Nicolas Blanc's multi-part piece 'Beyond the Shore'. This one is more similar in style to Balanchine's. The staging is as sparse, but the choreography is visually stunning. Music by Mason Bates is intricate with a cinematic scope. Think John Williams. 

The final piece is the Chicago premiere of 'Glass Pieces' by legendary choreographer Jerome Robbins. This is the piece to come for. Ballet fans of Chicago have been waiting for this one. It's well worth the hype. The set and costumes are striking. Philip Glass' music really shines in this meticulously choreographed number. The dance begins chaotic and busy but comes full circle to inspire the movement of a busy city. Bright and thrilling, 'Glass Pieces' is the strongest of the four. 

Modern Masters is a perfect evening for those looking to touch their toe into the waters of modern dance. Tread without fear of boredom for this highly engrossing show. Joffrey has a great way of being accessible to all audiences despite familiarity with the art of dance. 

Through February 18th at Joffrey Ballet. 50 E Congress Parkway. 312-386-8905

 

Published in Dance in Review

In association with the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, The Cherry​​​​​ Orchard​​​​​ Festival​, ​​​​​a ​​​​​leading ​​​​​presenter ​​​​​of ​​​​​international ​​​​​artists, ​​​​theater companies ​​​​​and ​​​​​orchestras, ​​​​​presented ​​​​​the ​​​​​Chicago ​​​​​premiere​​​​​ of “Brodsky/Baryshnikov,” ​​​this past weekend. Chicago is one of three limited engagements of this production, including stops in Boston and Toronto earlier this year. This New Riga Theater and Baryshnikov Productions co-produced this piece, based on the poems of Russian Nobel Laureate Joseph Brodsky, which is performed in Russian by accomplished dancer and performer Mikael Baryshnikov. Inspired by the poetry of his long-time friend and with encouragement of director ​​​​​Alvis ​​​​​Hermanis, this entrancing play made its premier at the New Riga Theater, in Latvia on October 15th, 2010 and began its North American debut in 2016. We count ourselves lucky in Chicago, that the intimate setting of the Harris Theater is where “Brodsky/Baryshnikov” ​​ decided to make its premiere.
 
Commanding the stage against the backdrop of a moonlit sky and the haunting stillness of crickets in a still night (Jim Wilson’s “God’s Chorus of Crickets”), Baryshnikov enters through the rear doors of a train station vestibule. He is dressed in a dark suit, brown shoes and carrying a blue briefcase this character that enters the stage is a weary traveler, awaiting a slow arriving train.  Emptying a few of the contents in his bag, he prepares for his next leg of travel with an alarm clock, books of poetry and a bottle of Jameson.

Maybe it is the solitary sense of the character, alone at the station, or the eerie stillness of the night.  The haunting stillness continues to entrance you as Baryshnikov begins to mumble and whisper some of the poetry he is reading aloud. In this very personal interpretation of what can only be described as, an understanding of art and artist, could only have been done by a true friend. And it is done in a truly captivating fashion, even for those who don’t speak Russian.  As the English translations scroll across the awning of the train station, it almost seems unnecessary to focus your attention entirely on the poetry, as he expresses himself with interpretive dance, subtle facial nuances, and Japanese kabuki style movements. As Baryshnikov speaks, his voice washes over the once chatty and unsettled crowd, which has drawn them into silence to witness this internal conversation of men discussing life, aging, death, change and one’s own fatality amongst the flutter of butterfly wings, the ripples of water or the cries of one’s struggles. Nothing more so, emphasizes this exchange than about thirty minutes into the show when Baryshnikov begins to recite Brodsky’s poem “May 24, 1980” — a poem written on his fortieth birthday; the radio on the opposite bench starts to play. Brodsky’s voice fills the theater, overtaking that of Baryshnikov’s. It’s a somber reunion, to hear the voice of Brodsky reciting his poetry. 

The effect this conversation has on friends is eloquent and thought provoking. The images that Baryshnikov portrays defy the image we have of him, revealing a man of seventy-years-old. However, the control of his performance, the beauty in his grace, and the feeling emanating from each movement, has the audience reveling in the depth of the poetic arrangements and the emotions they evoke with such intensity that the audience leaves in quiet murmurs – we leave with pensive faces and contemplative stares.  This moving performance is one, not to miss, but to experience.

Published in Dance in Review

A delightful winter holiday ballet staple, Joffrey’s The Nutcracker gets a make-over by Tony Award-winning choreographer Christopher Wheeldon and Joffrey’s Artistic Director Ashley Wheater. The all-American all-Chicago version that premiered last December at The Auditorium Theatre takes us to a very exciting time in our history: 1892, five months before the World’s Fair in Chicago is set to open (story by Brian Selznick). Though the circumstances are different, creators of the ballet kept many elements of the original story by E.T.A. Hoffmann, and most importantly, the spirit of Christmas, intact. No more rich children and their fancy Christmas party with expensive presents - we’re back to the real world. Marie is from a poor immigrant family; she lives with her widowed mother, who is a sculptress working on the golden Statue of the Republic for the Columbian Exposition, and a younger brother Franz. The construction is in full swing and employs mostly immigrants from around the world.

In Act I the workers come to Marie’s house bearing food and drink for a lively Christmas celebration. Three musicians [from the orchestra] are invited on stage to accompany the dancing, much like it would be in those days. Marie is performed by very talented Amanda Assucena, a remarkably expressive ballerina; her gestures are all we need to understand what’s happening in the story. When a mysterious man who designed The World Fair and is known as The Great Impresario (Miguel Angel Blanco), shows up at the party, he captures everyone’s imagination with his visions of the completed Fair and gives out Christmas gifts. Marie receives a toy Nutcracker, and she couldn’t be happier. When she goes to bed that night she dreams that her new favorite toy leads an army of soldiers against a pack of rats who invade their shack and are always around in the streets (doesn't that sound painfully familiar, at least to Chicago city dwellers?). After she saves her Nutcracker from being eaten by The Rat King, he promptly turns into a handsome Prince. Whimsical costumes, gorgeous set and wonderful puppetry make for very enjoyable ballet experience  and a long cast of characters danced by children adds even more charm to the ballet.

Joffrey Ballet dancers are unquestionably world class masters, and this production showcases its many talented members. Victoria Jaiani who dances the parts of both Marie’s mother and The Queen of the Fair couldn’t be any more graceful and is always quite marvelous.

In Act II Marie, the Prince and The Great Impresario sail to the World Fair in a gondola where the Queen of the Fair (Victoria Jaiani) takes them to different pavilions where countries are represented by their dances – exotic Chinese and Spanish Dances are great, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show is really fun too, but then there’s the sexy Arabian Dance. Here Weeldon’s brilliant choreography is masterfully executed by Christine Rocas and Fabrice Calmels ; watching them dance is like eating some exquisite dessert that you wish would never end. It’s that good.

Somewhere towards the end of Second Act the drama of Tchaikovsky’s music gets lost in the romantic love dance of The Great Impresario and The Queen of Fair and leaves us longing for something else, but that’s easy to get over.

Live score is provided by Chicago Philharmonic Orchestra under Conductor/ Music Director Scott Speck.

The performance can be seen at Auditorium Theatre and runs two hours and twenty minutes and includes a twenty-minute intermission. For more information on Joffrey Ballet's The Nutcracker visit www.joffrey.org

Published in Dance in Review

Giselle, Adolphe Adam’s beautiful tale created for the ballet’s premiere in Paris back in 1841, has been re-imagined by the Ballet Master and Stager Lola de Avila, marking the opening of Joffrey Ballet’s 2017-2018 Season. Set in the Middle Ages on the day of the grape harvest festival, Act I takes us to the happy village and its villagers celebrating the harvest with dancing. The mood is cheerful and lighthearted, the music is fantastic (live orchestra under music director Scott Speck); colorful costumes and a gorgeous set (scenic and costume designs by Peter Farmer) prepare us for what’s about to unfold. Young and beautiful, child-like Giselle meets nobleman Duke Albrecht who comes to the village dressed as a peasant. Albrecht (very talented Temur Suluashvili) is actually engaged to marry Bathilde (Jeraldine Mendoza), the daughter of the Prince of Courland, but Giselle is unaware of any of that. The two flirt and dance together, and Giselle falls madly in love. Victoria Jaiani ,as Giselle, is divinely graceful; if she was any more weightless, she’d likely fly away. Rory Hohenstein, who portrays Hilarion, a young villager in love with Giselle, is wonderful; his acting is on par with his dancing- so expressive and precise, one can almost hear what he’s trying to convey. Both Hilarion and Giselle’s mother Berthe (Olivia Tang-Mifsud) try to worn Giselle of Albrecht’s deceitful nature, but she won’t listen.

If traditional classical ballet moves and dancers’ perfect form keeps Giselle true to the Romantic ballet era, what comes next sets it apart from most ballets of that time and their usual happy endings. When Giselle finally learns the truth about Albrecht, she becomes inconsolable, her love passion turns into heartache so severe her heart literally breaks; she collapses and dies. This day didn’t end so well after all.

Act II: no more fun and games, we’re at Giselle’s graveyard on the night of her burial. Lit up by very realistic-looking moon, the set is mysterious and lifeless. Motionless Hilarion is grieving Giselle’s death, when he’s suddenly frightened by Myrtha, Queen of the Wilis. According to German poet Henrich Heine, the legend of Wilis came from Slav folklore: the spirits of young brides who died before their wedding could not rest in peace because of their unfulfilled desire for dancing on their wedding day. Vengeful Wilis rise from their graves at night and attempt to lure young men and dance them to death. It is believed that the phrase “gave me the Wilis” comes from this legend.

The stage is quickly traversed by a side-way moving female dancer in a very spooky manner. Then, dressed in white wedding gowns with flower garlands in their hair, the Wilis show up. Though their dance is breathtakingly slow, dreamy and completely void of any emotion, they appear to be thoroughly enjoying themselves. The ballerinas join together in a circle creating a wispy fluff with their puffy dresses. Surreal feeling, created by the light (lighting design by Michael Mazzola), the subdued colors of the costumes and the Wilis’ seductive dancing is enough to give anyone the wilis.

Hilarion is sentenced to death by dancing and is subsequently thrown into the nearby lake. Albrecht enters looking for Giselle’s grave, and Giselle’s spirit appears to him. He begs her for forgiveness; fortunately, her love for him is unchanged and she protects him from the Willis who insists on dancing him to exhaustion. As the day breaks, Albrecht’s life is spared, the Wilis return to their graves, and Giselle’s spirit, freed from vengeance, returns to her grave and can now rest in peace. Unbelievably beautiful (and just in time for Halloween)!

Joffrey Ballet’s Giselle is being performed at Auditorium Theatre through October 29th. For more information visit http://www.joffrey.org/giselle.

Published in Dance in Review

The first time I went to the opera was in elementary school to see La Triviata. It was a school sponsored field trip that took kids to Los Angeles to see the opera, the symphony, museums, and the ballet, exposing them to the arts at an early age. Though I had no idea what was being said, or what I was really watching, I loved it, and not just because I wasn’t in class on a school day. The orchestra, the singers, the theater itself, it was all so grand for a child. Though I didn’t have the same reaction to the Lyric Opera on Friday, it was nonetheless that childhood experience that helped to shape my appreciation and love for the opera.

The Lyric Opera of Chicago opened its 2017 season with Orphée et Eurydice. The plot centers on Orphée (Dmitry Korchak), whose singing was so beautiful that it could charm the fierce guardians of the Underworld. Encouraged by the god of love, Amour (Lauren Snouffer), Orphée travels to Hades to bring his dead wife, Eurydice (Andriana Chuchman), back to earth. This opera was a powerhouse of talent with 60 members of the Lyric Opera Chorus, 47 members of the Lyric Opera Orchestra, and 43 dancers of The Joffrey Ballet all working to put on this production; not to mention the ushers, the ticket agents, the janitors, and more, just to stage this opera with a run time of a little more than 2 hours.

There wasn’t much to this opera lyric-wise. There are many repetitious lines to accompany the score, but very little substance despite being such an enthralling mythological story line. What made this opera worth seeing was the Joffrey Ballet. Their performance was one of the best I have seen from the company. They added movement and beauty to the opera, bringing visual clarity to the mythical worlds of Hades and Elysium. Overall, it was a spectacular engagement of the fine arts. A performance that should be enjoyed by the masses.

Unfortunately, the opera is inherently old and doesn’t attract the masses. It’s target audience is old. The theater it performs in is old. The Lyric Opera is currently fundraising in order to renovate its theater, but it hasn’t had much luck. Tickets prices are exorbitant and the people who can afford to go are old. Like any passing of the guard, the opera needs to focus on reaching out to the next generation of opera-lovers, otherwise their primary patrons will be gone within the next decade or so with few people left to appreciate, or afford, the opera. And that’s why exposure at a young age is so vital. You’ll be hard pressed to find many millennials who say “I love the opera” or even “I’m going to the opera!” Just in my immediate circle of friends and co-workers, very few people had even seen the opera. What the Lyrics Opera should do is work with local school districts; bus kids in from all area of the city and the surrounding area to see performances throughout their season. They should offer discount nights in order to attract new audiences, or play the show live in the park for discounted tickets or free; anything to increase opera’s fan base and expose the art to different audiences the most important of those being youths. I was lucky as a child to have had the opportunity to see the opera, and I’ve been lucky to have gotten to see shows as an adult. I only hope the Lyric Opera of Chicago does community outreach like this, or increases its outreach or I fear, like Eurydice, it will die, only there might not be an Orphée around to save it.

Remaining performance dates for Orphée et Eurydice are Oct. 12th and 15th at 2pm. For tickets and information call (312) 827-5600 or go to lyricopera.org/orphee.

Published in Theatre Reviews

Collaboraction, Chicago's social issue-driven contemporary theater, announced today its line-up of 24 world premiere short pieces for PEACEBOOK, a free, collaborative city-wide festival of theater, dance, music, visual art and spoken word, all focused on cultivating peace in Chicago.

Actor David Dastmalchian (Twin Peaks), Sandra Delgado (La Havana Madrid), GQ (Q Brothers), Kevin Coval (Louder Than a Bomb), noted director Mignon McPherson Stewart, Sir Taylor (Example Setters) and Bril Barrett (Making a Difference Dance) are among the artists and activists creating fresh new works in support of Chicago's peace movement. 

Each piece is seven minutes or less, and range from solos to large collaborations. 

In sum, the 24 "chapters" that comprise PEACEBOOK unite more than 200 artists, from household names to neighborhood peace activists, all intent on creating real connections with Chicagoans in communities around the city.
 
PEACEBOOK launches with a one-day, marathon premiere of all 24 chapters on Saturday, August 26, 2017 in the Goodman's 350-seat flexible Owen Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St., Chicago. Show times are 3 p.m. (PEACEBOOK Englewood), 5:30 p.m. (PEACEBOOK Hermosa) and 8 p.m. (PEACEBOOK Austin). 

All three programs are presented free of charge. Free ticket reservations, with an option to donate what you can, will launch Wednesday, July 19 at 10 a.m. To reserve tickets and for more information, visit collaboraction.org/peacebook2017, email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or call Collaboraction, (312) 226-9633.
 
Following their Goodman debuts, the 24 acts will be divided into three programs of eight works that will tour to these south, west and north side neighborhoods next fall as part of the Chicago Park District's Nights Out in the Parks program:
 
PEACEBOOK Englewood
Hamilton Park, 513 W. 72nd St.
Thursday and Friday, October 5 and 6 at 7 p.m.
Saturday, October 7   Dome of Dance competition at 3 p.m., community meal and peace panel at 4 p.m., show at 5 p.m.
 
PEACEBOOK Hermosa
Kelvyn Park, 4438 W. Wrightwood Ave.
Thursday and Friday, October 19 and 20 at 7 p.m.
Saturday, October 21   Dome of Dance competition at 3 p.m., community meal and peace panel at 4 p.m., show at 5 p.m.
 
PEACEBOOK Austin
La Follette Park, 1333 N. Laramie Ave.
Thursday and Friday, November 2 and 3 at 7 p.m.
Saturday, November 4  Dome of Dance competition at 3 p.m., community meal and peace panel at 4 p.m., show at 5 p.m. 

Park performances are free. Each night features a different musical guest. Before every Saturday show is a free community meal and peace fair with panels, workshops and community organizations from a diverse array of Chicago peacemakers.
 
"In these times of rising homicides and racial tension in Chicago, we believe in the power of theater to incite empathy, knowledge, dialogue and change around peace in Chicago," said Collaboraction Artistic Director Anthony Moseley. "With over 200 artists from all throughout the city and partnerships with the Goodman Theatre and the Chicago Park District, we are establishing PEACEBOOK as a place for our city to come together around this most critical social issue with our future at stake." 
 
For PEACEBOOK updates, visit collaboraction.org, follow the company on Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, YouTube or Instagram, or call the Collaboraction box office, (312) 226-9633.

More about the plays

The following 24 prayers for peace were selected from over 100 submissions of theater, dance and spoken word works, all envisioning a more peaceful Chicago:

PEACEBOOK Englewood (Hamilton Park):
 
Dandelions
by Marsha Estell, directed by Mignon McPherson Stewart
A heartfelt story about loss and how violence and peace are not always mutually exclusive.
 
Example Setters
by The Example Setters
A spoken word piece by teens who want to set the Example in the city of Chicago.
 
#Hashtag Who's Next The Musical
written and directed by Frederick Alphonso
A song that invites us to join/live the justice revolution through facing our constructed narratives around crime.
 
Hoods
by Kaye Winks, directed by Schoen Smith
The Chicago family, made up of different neighborhoods in the city, sits down for a group art therapy session to talk out their long-established communication problems.
 
June-Dastmalchian Collaboration (working title)
devised by David Dastmalchian and Aisha June
LA film, TV, and stage actor, David Dastmalchian (The Dark Knight, Ant Man, Twin Peaks) returns to Chicago to team up with Collaboraction Teen Peacemaker ensemble member, Aisha June, to write and perform in a devised work about peace in Chicago.
 
Obama, the Musical
by Yuri Basho Lane, directed by Elizabeth Lovelady
A beat-box musical examining Barack Obama in three stages of his life.
 
Triumphs, Burdens, and Laughs
choreographed by Elysia Banks
South Side native, Elysia Banks, choreographed this dance piece to highlight the resilience of South Side communities and pay homage to their grit and fortitude.
 
What Do You See?
by Brian Keys, directed by Kristina Valada-Viars
Keys' solo show examines the confrontation between a black man and society that takes us to the core of our prejudices.

 
PEACEBOOK Hermosa (Kelvyn Park):
 

Barbarism
by Jason Grote, directed by Iris Sowalt
A woman with PTSD and apocalyptic survivor's guilt takes audiences on an exploration of the gilded cages in her mind as she reveals the fragility of the human spirit.
 
Conflict
devised by the Collaboraction Teen Peacemaker Ensemble, directed by Luis Crespo
The Collaboraction Teen Peacemaker Ensemble grapples with the real cost of hate in Chicago and its future.
 
Eckhart Park Echoes
by Nancy Garcia Loza, directed by Juan Castaneda
A peaceful protest by way of storytelling. Garcia Loza's solo show offers a snapshot of her aunt's life as it unfolded on a Chicago block for forty years in West Town.
 
Finding a Loving Motherland
devised by Sami Hussain Ismat
A satirical tragi-comedy about a refugee escaping Syria only to encounter ridiculous bureaucratic and racial discrimination, fear of white supremacy in Trump's America, and crime in his new neighborhood.
 
A People's History of the Block
by Kevin Coval
Coval, of Louder Than a Bomb, explores peace through the words of real Chicagoans he met while touring with his newest poetry book, "A People's History of Chicago."
 
Recipe for Peace
devised by Dionne Hawkins
Tune into this cooking show where the host prepares the ingredients to create peace, by the artistic director of the Austin Town Hall Theatre Company.
Rangel-Delgado Collaboration (working title)
adapted and directed by Sandra Delgado, from the writings of Sammy Rangel
Acclaimed Chicago actress Sandra Delgado collaborates with peace activist and TED Talk standout Sammy Rangel, author of "Fourbears: Myths of Forgiveness," to tell his inspirational story of hope and redemption.
 
We'll Be Doing This Together
by Ann Kreitman
This non-traditional, interactive theater piece asks the audience to create gentle and joyful connections between strangers.

 
PEACEBOOK Austin (La Follette Park):

17 to (New) Life
devised by GQ and Tyrone Taylor
GQ of the Q Brothers and Tyrone Taylor co-create and perform this ritual of healing based on Taylor's real life events, including murder, incarceration, freedom and search for transformation.
 
Some Thoughts On Race and Racism In Chicago From Some People Who Aren't Sure What To Do And Who Sat Down And Talked About It
by Sarah Illiatovitch-Goldman, directed by Josh Sobel
This piece of verbatim theatre talks about race through white eyes, using words from a collection of interviews that shed light on how we see ourselves and each other as a community.
 
Dear Masculinity
by Eneale Pickett, directed by Rain Wilson
This play, by a west side native, is a collection of letters written by men to their masculinity.
 
EmpoWOMENt
devised by Bril Barrett
A team of female dancers proved tap-dance can be an effective form of protest and a powerful catalyst for change in this work choreographed by the acclaimed founder of M.A.D.D. (Making a Difference Dancing).
 
High and Dry
by Greg Hardigan, directed by Genevieve Fowler
A man has a chance encounter with a woman on the street and must confront his role in creating peace in Chicago.
 
The High Priestess
devised by Dr. Laura Biagi
Inspired by the two cards of the major Arcana of the Tarot, this performance art piece revolves around the power to give social meaning to sounds and the concept of failing and undoing by meditating on four alphabets: Sanskrit, Arabic, Hebrew and Latin.
 
The Making of an Example Setter
by Sir Taylor, directed by Anthony Moseley
Collaboraction Artistic Director Anthony Moseley teams up with the leader of The Example Setters, former Jesse White Tumbler and member of the U.S. Olympics team, Sir Taylor, to tell a new story of healing in Chicago. 
 
Quiet Time
by Erica Mann Ramis, directed by Nat Swift
A woman's thoughts are played out on stage as she meditates in an effort to navigate the maze of her grief after the loss of her husband. 

About Collaboraction

Collaboraction (collaboraction.org) collaborates with artists, community activists, and citizens from throughout the city to create original theatrical experiences that push artistic boundaries and explore critical social issues with a diverse community of Chicagoans. Collaboraction has worked with over 3,000 artists to bring more than 60 productions and events to upwards of 250,000 audience members.

Production highlights include Collaboraction's acclaimed series of Crime Scene productions responding to Chicago's current crime epidemic, 15 years of the SKETCHBOOK Festival, Sarah Moeller's Forgotten Future: The Education Project in 2014, 2010's Chicago premiere of 1001 by Jason Grote, 2008's world premiere of Jon by George Saunders and directed by Seth Bockley, and 2007's The Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow: an instant message with excitable music by Rolin Jones.
Collaboraction, based on the third floor of Wicker Park's historic Flat Iron Arts Building with three theatre spaces, is led by Artistic Director Anthony Moseley and a dedicated staff and board of directors. Collaboraction is supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies, The Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, Richard H. Driehaus Foundation via the MacArthur Foundation, and the Wicker Park & Bucktown SSA #33 Chamber of Commerce. This program is partially supported by a grant from the Illinois Arts Council Agency.

For tickets and information, visit collaboraction.org or call (312) 226-9633. 

Published in Upcoming Theatre

As Chicago Tap Theatre embarks upon their mission to “Shuffle off to Europe” where they will join tap dance companies Tapage and Tap Olé in their home countries to perform Liason, the talented outfit impresses upon its audience yet another fantastic production in its third remount of Changes, a sci-fi adventure set to the music of the late, great David Bowie. In reverence to 1940’s science fiction, seemingly with pages from the old Flash Gordon serials put in play, we get a nasty trio of futuristic villains who have made captive a host of dreamy angels, crippling each by removing their wings, and a hero who must set them free and may only be able to do so by teaching the imprisoned seraphs to fight back (via a tap dance-off, of course).


Artistic Director Mark Yonally’s creative vision is what makes this production such an amazing spectacle. It is visually compelling, thanks to the costume design by Emma Cullimore and its punch-packing choreography, and musically fulfilling as the music chosen behind each dance routine is wisely chosen by Music Director Kurt Schweitz to provide much impact. Kristen Uttich, well cast as the show’s hero, Jennifer Pfaff Yonally as the lead Alliange and Mark Yonally as Altego with Aimee Chase and Heather Latakas as his Henchpeople, lead a gifted ensemble in what turns out to be a pretty engaging story of good versus evil filled with touching moments of beauty, soul and hope and thrilling climaxes when powerful confrontation erupts.


Changes includes many Bowie favorites that are accompanied on strings by Molly Rife and violinist Anna Gillan, who oversee the dancers at the rear of the stage. “Life on Mars” opens the show followed by “Starman” and “Space Oddity” setting the tone for this energetic production that comes with many “wow” moments. Much of Bowie’s music is set to a house mix adding extra thump and larger-than-life tempo, of which I have to wonder was necessary, as opposed to playing the songs in their original recorded versions, my guess being the extra boost provided a clearer pocket for the dancers to perform within or perhaps may have been needed to hear the songs distinctly above the often-thunderous flurry of tap dancing. A feast for Bowie fans, the production also comprises such hits as “Under Pressure” “Changes”, “Ziggy Stardust” and other faves that will have you poking through Spotify to relive the production's many great moments upon exiting the theatre.


Chicago Tap Theatre keeps this commanding form of dance alive, and even in bloom, with one fantastic production after another, Changes being no exception. Thoroughly entertaining from beginning to end, Changes has the perfect combination of dance, music and visuals to make this retro-sci-fi rocket take off.


Changes is being performed at Stage 773 through July 16th. For tickets and/or more show information, or to find out how you can help get this talented dance company to Europe, visit ChicagoTapTheatre.com.

Published in Dance in Review

Let’s welcome in summer and enjoy the history of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago at the Harris Theater with a collection of eight dances of varying styles and intriguing music. Pieces old and new, reworked and original amazed one after another including Lucas Crandall’s (Imprint - Duet), William Forsythe’s (reproduction of One Flat Thing), Alejandro Cerrudo’s (One Thousand Pieces - Water Section), Jim Vincent’s (Palladio), Crystal Pite’s (A Picture of You Falling), Twyla Tharp’s (The Golden Section), and Lou Conte’s (Georgia and the 40’s).

This historical glance 40-year glance at the iconic dance company brings forth a walk through time and the growth of Hubbard Dance. Lou Conte’s romantic summer love of ‘Georgia’ was originally premiered in 1987 as part of “Rose from the Blues” and makes you ache for the loss of summer love. Even more history is bestowed upon the crowd with the happiness, creativity of the 40’s, also by Conte. Infusing big band music, 40’s style dance, jitterbug moves and the feeling of the celebrations of old Hollywood, the piece is truly a joy to watch.

“The Golden Section” choreographed by Twyla Tharp/Tharp Project, in its golden velour and unabashed 80’s energy that had originally been performed on Broadway in 1981, brought a liveliness and fun to the stage. The enthusiasm and vibrancy had audience members bobbing their heads and giggling along with the sheer fun of the dancer’s movement and energy.

Something for everyone, Hubbard Street’s Summer Series 39 will truly grab your attention with the loving duet of “Imprint” by Lucas Crandall and romantic “Palladio” by Jim Vincent. Theater goers will fall under the mesmerizing spell of the smokiness and ethereal beauty of ghostlike figures and sounds of water in “One Thousand Pieces” by Alejandro Cerrudo. Children and adults alike will be enthralled with the chaotic energy of “One Flat Thing”, in awe of the dancer’s abilities to move between, over, under and through the flat things with such speed, grace and fluidity.

Beautiful and graceful, “A Picture of You Falling” by Crystal Pite will capture the audiences’ attention from start to finish, leaving you out of breath, and wondering, if this is how it really will be in the end.

Through a night of innumerable feelings and experiences, this historical journey into the past of “Hubbard Street Dance at 40”, was a thrill for all families and fans of dance. So very few places can provide such a complete feeling of history and nostalgia while also inspiring all of us to see what the future will bring.

Hubbard Street’s Summer Series 39 was performed at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance. For more information on this amazing dance company and to see future events, visit www.HubbardStreetDance.com.

 

Published in Dance in Review

Giordano dance Chicago has opened its 2017 season with its Spring Series at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance. Divided into six distinct pieces, the show is a high energy celebration of jazz dance; it’s well polished, exciting and expressive. Not a word is spoken, but each piece tells a story so vividly that one might wonder why we would need the spoken language after all.  Opening with ‘’Grusin Suite’’, featuring former Giordano Dance Chicago dancer and River North Dance Chicago Artistic Director Frank Chaves, it’s a 1993 re-staging set to the soundtrack for the film “The Firm”. Fluidity of the dance is complemented by the flowing fabrics of the uniform - like costumes of the dancers (costume design by Branimira Ivanova). The costumes are kept very simple throughout the show, and so nothing detracts from the dancers often moving in unison, always with intention and precision, and there’s always a story being unwrapped. After Grusin Suite comes dark Divided Against - A place painted is decidedly hostile with male dancers wearing robes and acting subservient to the female dancers, who are erect and unemotional. Choreographed by Peter Chu, music by Djeff Houle. Next comes blissfully tribal A Ritual Dynamic. Deeply satisfying both visually and auditorily, it’s Avatar-like in its feel. Choreographed by Jon Lwhrer, music by White Derbakeh and DJ Disse. 

After intermission we’re treated to Sneaky Pete, choreographed by Brock Clawson, music by Kerry Muzzey, Abel Korzeniowski, and Adam Crystal. A lot going on here: mating game between two dancers with the girl pursing the boy, while the rest of the troupe is “living their normal life”, a.k.a., dancing beautifully, of course. It ends with the boy upsetting the girl and suffering the consequences by getting ostracized by the rest of the troupe (the “society”?). Or, at least, that was my interpretation. I invite the reader to make their own impression. Next piece is a gorgeous The Man That Got Away, a 1990 classic. The girl wants a man, but he’s is indifferent. She tries many things: affection, seduction, reason, arguing, but nothing will melt his heart.  Set to Harold Arlen and Ira Gershwin music performed by Judy Garland, it’s choreographed by Sherry Zunker. Featuring dancer Ashley Downs. Fun Fact: Sherry Zunker has gifted The Man That Got Away to Giordano Dance Chicago in honor of legendary Gus Giordano. It’s sexy and compelling; an absolute delight!

Last, but not least, is a world premiere of a dance called Lost in this World. Choreographed by Liz Imperio, who is hailed as choreographer to the stars. Her credits include the staging and choreography for Jennifer Lopez’s world tour “Dance Again” and directing/choreographing of three of Gloria Estefan’s world concert tours and two world tours for Madonna. Set to music by Ed Sheeran/Steve Mac/Johnny McDaid, and Raury Tullis, Lost in this World is very youthful.  Beautifully danced by the lead woman Maeghan McHale and lead men Devin Buchanan and Adam Houston.

The Giordano Dance Chicago Spring Series is performed at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance. For more information on Giordano Dance Chicago visit http://giordanodance.org/.  

 

Published in Dance in Review
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