Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Preview: Buffer Overrun/Ginger Krebs

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Photo: Kevin Keane

Photo: Kevin Keane


You’d expect to find more examples of Information Art as text printouts or video, not incorporated into dance—but that’s precisely the conceptual background against which longtime performance art and dance figure Ginger Krebs places “Buffer Overrun,” which premieres this month at the Storefront Theater. The piece is grounded in the artist’s concern for salutary self-reflection: “Everything that I set out to make cutting-edge always has a retrofuturist feel to it. No matter what. With this piece, for some reason, the eighties—I’ve had to become way more educated about what performance art was happening and what was happening in alternative theater at that time.” The project is also a recipient of a coveted Chicago Dancemakers Forum Lab Artist grant, and of numerous other development grants. “It’s the way capitalism filters down, there’s this idea, you’re going to maximize efficiency, on some level to make money for somebody, but the way that filters down and affects interpersonal relationships, that’s deeply troubling to me and I’m guilty of it,” says Krebs of her earliest contemplation of the performance, now in its final-stage settings. Read the rest of this entry »

All What Jazz: Contributors to Giordano’s New Program Discuss the Continuing Evolution of Their Singular Dance Technique

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Photo: Gorman Cook Photography

Photo: Gorman Cook Photography

By Irene Hsiao

When Gus Giordano founded his company in 1963, jazz dance was something that fell between vaudeville, social dance and street performance, an ephemeral form that wasn’t yet the legitimate art he was certain it deserved to be. By the time the “godfather of jazz dance” passed away in 2008, his company had made jazz hands, shoulder rolls, isolations and grounded, percussive movement a standard of American concert dance, as well as necessary training for aspiring hoofers. Though it dropped the word “jazz” from its name a few years ago, Giordano Dance Chicago, under the direction of Giordano’s daughter Nan since 1993, has continued to bill itself as “America’s original jazz dance company” and continues to have a strong voice in how the genre defines itself, both by upholding the legacy of Giordano’s signature style and by fostering the evolution of the art with commissioned works by contemporary choreographers. Muscular and explosive, Giordano Dance Chicago performs at its usual scale at the Harris in April, but in “Closer Than Ever,” the legendary company invites scrutiny of its proceedings on the more intimate stage of the Dance Center of Columbia College February 4-6, with a program that places Giordano’s 1978 solo “Wings” alongside recent works for the ensemble by company member Joshua Blake Carter and guest choreographers Roni Koresh, Ray Mercer and Christopher Huggins. Read the rest of this entry »

Player of the Moment: The Era Footwork Crew

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The Era, from left to right, are Litebulb, P-Top, STeelo, Chief Manny and Dempsey/photo: Joe Mazza/Brave Lux

The Era, from left to right, are Litebulb, P-Top, Steelo, Chief Manny and Dempsey/photo: Joe Mazza/Brave Lux

By Sharon Hoyer

Born on the West and South Sides in the eighties, footwork is a dance style that evolved out of juke and moves to a breakneck tempo of Chicago house music. Like the name suggests, footwork is a blur of tight, precise, rapid-fire foot movements accented by slides, glides and skates across the floor that look like film alternating between fast forward and half-speed. Hungry for new and faster tracks, footwork dancers became DJs, pushing the tempo up to create a genre of music characterized by its adrenaline-pumping 160 beats per minute.

With the advent of YouTube, footwork gained a following in Europe and Japan—DJs and dancers toured internationally, although their culture was still unknown in large parts of their hometown, and dwindling in neighborhoods that were once a center of the scene. But in 2015, a freshly formed dance crew called The Era began pulling in attention with both hands: a VICE documentary, a grant from High Concept Labs, a Chicago Dancemakers Forum Lab Artist grant, a grant from University of Chicago for an archival project on the history of footwork, and founding member Litebulb was named one of Dance Magazine’s 25 To Watch in 2016. In September, The Era is co-curating an installation about the history of footwork at Columbia College. With recognition pouring in from the academic and mainstream dance worlds, The Era is helping a style created and danced by young black men and women on Chicago’s South and West Sides gain citywide acknowledgement as a legitimate art form. And most importantly to the dancers, they’re preserving footwork for the next generation. The Era is currently working on a stage show entitled “Living at 160,” slated for summer of 2016. We talked with the crew—Litebulb, P-Top, Dempsey, Steelo and Manny—along with artist Wills Glasspiegel who has been documenting The Era, at their rehearsal space in High Concept Labs. Read the rest of this entry »

Unexpected Beauty: Michelle Kranicke, Bebe Miller and Deborah Hay Talk Dance, Ageism and the Experience of Socially Conscious Performance

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By Michael Workman

Among the most exciting dance performances taking place in this young 2016 season is a lineup of mature dance talent poised to challenge our culture of youth. In a world too often neglectful of hard-won skill, Zephyr Dance artistic director Michelle Kranicke brings to Chicago some of the world’s most celebrated mature dancers in the aMID Festival at Links Hall. Kranicke and two headline performers, Bebe Miller and Deborah Hay, discussed the performance in a series of interviews. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Sono’s Journey/Thodos Dance Chicago

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Photo: Chloe Hamilton

Photo: Chloe Hamilton

Melissa Thodos certainly had compelling material to work with when she conceived of Sono’s Journey, which premiered at the Auditorium Theatre Saturday. Sono Osato was, by all reports, a dancer who broke boundaries in the twentieth century. She was not only the first dancer of Japanese descent to join the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo but also the first American to dance with the company. She starred on Broadway while other Japanese Americans, including her father, Shoji, were imprisoned in World War II internment camps. She sometimes did what she had to do to work: she pancaked out her Asian features and whitewashed her name, and even then she wasn’t allowed to tour abroad with American Ballet Theatre. Such a life surpasses invention, exemplifying the thorns we cultivate in the ground we claim as our territory, even in a nation founded on ideals of liberty, equality and justice. Presenting a biographical ballet in the very theater where Osato successfully auditioned for the Ballet Russe at the age of fourteen, in the very city where her parents once tended the Japanese garden designed for the 1893 Columbian Exposition seems a noble occasion. But the coincidence that makes the same stage work twice over is cloying rather than clever in the resulting ballet, which seems more intent upon belaboring points on a timeline than transforming a life into a work of art. Read the rest of this entry »

A New Dance A Day: Victoria Bradford and her Neighborhood Dances Project

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victoria bradford

Photo: Yenyen Chou

By Michael Workman

Victoria Bradford choreographs a new dance, video records it, distributes it over social media, and produces a movement notation record and image archive of it…every day. I first became enamored with her antic, aspirational work after a studio-visit introduction, completely incidentally, on a day out with my friend and former dance journalist, Sarah Best. Diagnosed with bipolar disorder, this dancer’s “Neighborhood Dances” project reminds me of an important schism in the discussion of movement: its inevitable inertia. Her project seems to outline in dance the beginnings of inequality, occurring at the moment where someone drew a line on the ground and claimed it as their own. At times, Bradford has engaged in criminal trespass to present her dances, and in so doing protest “occupied” land for dance, performing to a music viewers never hear. Her original motivation: a need for a place to dance when all she had was her parents’ garage.

How did you first become interested in dance as an activity purely for enjoyment? Where did dance come from for you? A lot of people say, ‘Oh, I’ve been dancing since I was three.’
I guess dance as an artistic practice… yes, I did dance when I was three, then I stopped dancing when I was thirteen because I wasn’t going to be a dancer, I was going to be a Smurf or something. I was going to be an intellectual, I pursued an academic career and ended up taking a circuitous route to pursue an MFA in studio art at the School of the Art Institute where I was making videos and someone told me that the work was dance. I was like, “No it’s not,” because it didn’t look and feel like what I used to do when I was thirteen, it doesn’t follow those rules. And so they gave me some examples, things to look at and think about and I followed up with some research and I thought, “Okay, maybe I can call this dance!” But it has been a struggle to think about the work as dance until more recently. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Ring Sour/Khecari and Blind Tiger Society

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Khecari. Photo: William Frederking

Khecari/Photo: William Frederking

As part of Links Hall’s Midwest Nexus Touring Initiative, the upcoming “Ring Sour” performance brings San Francisco touring company Blind Tiger Society to Chicago to perform in a double bill with Julia Rae Antonick and Jonathan Meyer of Chicago dance collective Khecari. Their “Orders from the Horse” represents a continuance of Meyer and Antonick’s duet-intensive collaboration, “both equally choreographing, directing, and performing, with live improvised music by long time collaborator Joe St. Charles and lighting by Rachel Levy.” Continuing their experimentation with somnolent states, Khecari, which offers the audience the choice of a thirty- or 200-minute performance, plays with the notion of movement in states resembling, for instance, the negotiation of dark hallways of a home in the middle of the night. Blind Tiger Society’s “Dressage” performs what artistic director Bianca Cabrera refers to as a “re-wilding” of the body, using contact and improvisational techniques as tools in the effort. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Tiny Liquid Bones/Mad Shak

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Photo: William Frederking


For the last several years, Molly Shanahan has put movement under a microscope and chipped away at cellular-level tensions that steel the performer against having a truly authentic experience with his and her audience. Along with her company Mad Shak, Shanahan seeks the elusive balance between what she refers to as “rigorous specificity” in choreography and free spontaneity. In creating this newest piece, part of her “Virtuosity of Forgetting” project, the two poles meet. “I feel like they’re not two different things anymore,” Shanahan said in a phone conversation. “I feel they are one thing: the pursuit of specificity while improvising and the simultaneous retention of spontaneity at all times during choreography.” For Shanahan, this deeply reflective method of crafting dance is all about the relationship between the performer and the observer, and the strange alchemy that takes place during the act of watching and being watched. She said, “I can’t be asking the audience to engage or validate what’s happening. Or tell them what to feel or think—those micro-aggressions that happen in performance…that sense of pushing something just a hair too hard. I don’t want to do that to an observer. It feels like there’s a whole new collaborator in the room with each new observer.” Read the rest of this entry »

Interview: Sofia Moreno on “Tropical Winter” and “Pearly Foam”

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Sofia Moreno. Photo: Armando Lozano

Sofia Moreno/Photo: Armando Lozano

By Michael Workman

Movement, visual and performance artist Sofia Moreno, long under-recognized in Chicago, sat down with us recently to discuss her exhibit “Tropical Winter” at David Weinberg Photography. The event, part of the “Transfluent” program, in development between Weinberg, the Chicago Media Project and The Center on Halsted, highlights and provides a platform for members of the trans community to share their experiences.

Tell me how you got involved with bringing your “Tropic Winter” program to show as part of the “Pearly Foam” exhibit at Weinberg?
I was curated into it by Meg Taylor Noe at Weinberg Photography and the Center on Halsted as part of their “Transfluent,” a three month-long exhibit aimed at highlighting and supporting work that represents the trans experience. According to Meg, “Pearly Foam” came about because of that connection between all of their work. The title is taken from a section in Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid,” where the prince is gazing out at the pearly foam and discovers the little mermaid crying on the rocks. It’s really trying to speak to those elements within these works that bring it all together, instead of thinking merely about the conceptual, political composition of their work. I also want to believe my part in “Pearly Foam” goes beyond more than my gender identity, and institutions seem as though they’re coming to terms with the fact that I’ve been around a while, and hopefully starting to see my work as more than a one-trick-pony. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Winter Series/Hubbard Street Dance

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Crystal Pite. Photo: Joris-Jan Jos

Crystal Pite/Photo: Joris-Jan Jos


The show opener of Hubbard Street’s impressive Winter program is “Solo Echo,” a crossover concept from Crystal Pite, who has metabolized a meditation on the evocative, essential reading poetry of Mark Strand. Strand, who died last year, was among the foremost innovators of the “concrete” in contemporary poetry, borrowing in his own crossover practices from painters such as Magritte and others, to whom he attributed the surrealism in his work. Atmospheric, mysterious and playfully entertaining, Strand pairs well with Pite’s own evocative stage-setting choreographies, composing scenes against backgrounds in nature, such as in a coming snowstorm. Following on the recent rage surrounding William Forsythe in Chicago, of whom Pite is an acolyte, and pairing orchestrations of local site-specific energies against this city’s usual background, this performance should prove compelling. Read the rest of this entry »