Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Review: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater/Auditorium Theatre

Dance, Dance Reviews No Comments »
Robert Battle's "Awakening." Photo: Paul Kolnik

Robert Battle’s “Awakening”/Photo: Paul Kolnik

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater was in fine form when it made its annual return to the Auditorium Theatre March 8-13 bringing classic Ailey repertory, a Paul Taylor piece, recent work by Ronald K. Brown and Rennie Harris, and the hotly anticipated Chicago premiere of “Awakening,” Robert Battle’s first creation on the company since he assumed the mantle of artistic director following Judith Jamison in 2011. Gone were the transatlantic choreographers Battle tested on the company early in his directorship—the programs were pure products of America, if such a thing can be said to exist. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Sono’s Journey/Thodos Dance Chicago

Dance, Dance Reviews No Comments »
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 »

Review: The Flow Show

Dance, Dance Reviews No Comments »

imageWith a schedule that includes curated fundraising events in New York, San Francisco and, for two consecutive years, Chicago, the Flow Show presented a fun, kid-friendly burlesque show. That’s right, one that makes kids, parents and everyone else feel a sense of acceptance about what our bodies do when we let them work in an authentic way, with what we can express emotionally, and how that can be reflected in near-athletic expressions of our personal daily struggles to survive. All of the performers were adept at object manipulation, a form of circus dance familiar to attendees of the monthly Full Moon and New Moon jams that take place seasonally across the city and, this year, began to draw record crowds at festivals nationwide. Over the past few years flow performances have found more platforms through city-sponsored circus programs in public parks, adding to the form’s visibility and increasing popularity. It is not near as often deserved. Still, the sheer enjoyment and encouragement of expression was pleasant.

Most cohesive from among the lineup was local dancer Emily Perkins, who performs under the stage name Perkulator, and who teaches object manipulation alongside circus techniques, with a cognizance of her composition of space through the dance program pyrotechniq.org. Perkins demonstrated all the thrilling athleticism of some of the community’s more stalwart figures, including the always-thrilling Ebonie Hoops, who is consistently an audience favorite at the lakefront jams, usually spinning flaming hoops on the tips of her toes while in a headstand, and always mischievously smiling.

Perkins adds an extra layer, configuring and reconfiguring combinations of silver hoops into a space-age stage performance. As she moves, it’s representative of the movement of energy at the subatomic level, radiating a pure joy at the love of movement. (Michael Workman)

Review: And We Shall Be Rid of Them/Molly Shanahan with Jeff Hancock

Dance, Dance Reviews, Recommended Dance Shows No Comments »
Photo: Molly Shanahan

Photo: Molly Shanahan

As part of the Chicago Cultural Center’s dance laboratory program, Shanahan and collaborator Jeff Hancock performed this dance, in development since 2012, drawing inspiration from the Grimm folktale Hansel and Gretel. Taking place on a dimly lit stage, using mainly an array of floor lamps to illuminate the stage, the minimal use of stage lighting creates a sense of domesticity and home. Moving and heart-wrenching, the performance often counters the difficulties of its subject matter by foregrounding themes of humor, and the exchange of conscious awareness that take place in the experience of emotional attachments between people. Using recordings in which the performers self-referentially exhume the meta-considerations of humor in dance, while simultaneously performing humorously, laughing as they move, movements evoking gags reflecting the audio, the duo lend the atmosphere a sense of vulnerability to create an emotional context of pause. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Salts/The Inconvenience

Dance, Dance Reviews, Performance, Performance Reviews, Recommended Dance Shows, Recommended Performance, Recommended Shows, Theater, Theater Reviews No Comments »

The Salts - 3

RECOMMENDED

Those who say punk rock is dead have been spending too much time at the Wicker Park Urban Outfitters and not enough time right down the street at the Flatiron Arts Building, where the spirit of ’77 is alive and well. Flatiron is the temporary home of The Inconvenience, an interdisciplinary company that takes all the pretension out of the term “interdisciplinary.”

The Inconvenience kicks off their promising 2015 season with a dynamic evening of dance billed simply as “The Salts.” As a collaboration between Erin Kilmurray (who also performs) and Molly Brennan, the performance’s reference points are intentionally iconic: Iggy Pop, Velvet Underground, Patti Smith, Talking Heads. Yet the take is refreshingly modern, with frenetic choreography broken up by humorous interjections and politically charged vignettes. The routines themselves celebrate the spirit of punk: loose yet taut, zealous yet highly accessible. Read the rest of this entry »

Critic’s Postcard: Fairies and Snakes at Moulin Rouge

-News etc., Dance, Dance Reviews, Musicals, Performance, Performance Reviews, Profiles, Recommended Dance Shows, Recommended Performance No Comments »
Photo: S. Bertrand

Photo: S. Bertrand

By Zach Freeman

There are very few theatrical venues in the world that can boast anything like the history, cachet and all-around tourist-centric sexiness of Moulin Rouge, now celebrating its 125th (!) anniversary. With that in mind my wife and I made our way to the iconic red windmill at the intersection of Rue Lepic and Boulevard de Clichy in the Montmarte district a few weeks ago, expanding our trip to Paris to include the latest offering from “the most famous cabaret in the world.”

Entitled simply “Féerie” (Fairy), it turns out that this production—which has been running since the end of 1999—is every bit as flashy, ephemeral, evocative and simple as the name implies. For clarity’s sake I should add that by “simple” I just mean “nearly plotless”—with 1,000 costumes, eighty dancers, six horses and five pythons (yes, you read those last two correctly)—this show is anything but simple in the technical sense. But more on that in a bit.

Entering the historical eighteenth arrondissement theater through a throng of camera-toting tourists and fellow attendees is a theatrical experience in itself. The bright red carpet and brighter lights successfully immerse you as you check in and are guided to your table. (With 900 seats, it’s no surprise that they don’t trust you to find your way alone.) The space is set up like a massive, two-story restaurant, allowing for customers booking 7pm tickets to eat dinner before the 9pm show. Since we opted for the 9pm show, we arrived at our table post-dinner and were promptly greeted with glasses of champagne. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Unique Voices/Joffrey Ballet

Dance, Dance Reviews, Recommended Dance Shows No Comments »

The Man in Black_Edson Barbosa_Joanna Wozniak_Fernando Duarte_Derrick Agnoletti
RECOMMENDED

“Unique Voices, ” at the Auditorium Theatre, adds three strong contemporary pieces to the Joffrey rep in a program that strikes a gratifying balance between classicism and risk. The curtain opens on Stanton Welch’s “Maninyas”—a small ensemble piece that moves from strong, sculptural shapes to whirling abandon as it traces the path of growing emotional intimacy. The second section features a series of challenging lifts that hover in the protracted silence between chords in Ross Edwards’ “Maninyas Concerto for Violin and Orchestra.” Lighting by Lisa Pinkham ripples over the women’s ankle-length dresses and massive “veils” hanging upstage. The fabrics in both costume and set are active characters in Welch’s piece. As dancers burst into dervish spins and restless pony steps in the third movement, shafts of light descend on them from above and the veils fall. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: The Adventures of Tapman/Tapman Productions

Dance, Dance Reviews, Recommended Dance Shows, Recommended Shows, Theater, Theater Reviews No Comments »
(L-R) Kate O'Hanlon and Tristan Bruns/Photo: Javier Villamil

Kate O’Hanlon and Tristan Bruns/Photo: Javier Villamil

RECOMMENDED

Tristan Bruns can tap dance like nobody’s business, which I imagine is why he founded Tapman Productions, LLC. It is also clearly why he is the star of “The Adventures of Tapman,” a one-hour playlet about a superhero that defeats his foes through fancy footwork.

There is a lot to like about “The Adventures of Tapman.” More than anything it is a fun time. Bruns is often on stage alone performing well-timed choreography that mimics fighting. The clicks, clacks and stomps hit at just the right moments to add sound effects to what otherwise would be elaborate shadowboxing.

At other times Bruns is joined on stage by other dancers. Kate O’Hanlon, as Modern Marvel, is a modern dancer who does more than hold her own, with taps on her feet too. The kids from M.A.D.D. Rhythms Junior Squad are featured as sidekicks to the show’s villain, the MADD Tapper (Kelsey Schlabaugh). While clearly student tappers, the kids are better than many I’ve seen over the years. The MADD Tapper confrontations, sadly, are the only times that the dancing is distracting, largely because the precision present elsewhere seems to be lacking. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Giordano Dance Chicago/Harris Theater

Dance, Dance Reviews, Recommended Dance Shows No Comments »
Photo: Gorman Cook Photography

Photo: Gorman Cook Photography

RECOMMENDED

The headlining piece in Giordano’s fall program is a commission from Broadway and television choreographer Ray Leeper. Leeper makes commercial dances for music videos and TV dance competitions—big show-stoppers full of flash and fun, dance that’s about pure entertainment. “I’m totally okay with entertainment, ” artistic director Nan Giordano said. “It’s a big part of what our company does. There’s plenty of dark dance out there. I want the audience to walk out feeling great.” And feeling great is the theme of the number, set to three iconic songs on the subject. It opens to Michael Buble’s brassy, slinky rendition of “Feeling Good” and explodes across the stage in full-on Broadway style, complete with Fosse arms and black fedoras. Part two centers around sexy, bluesy partner work set to “Dr. Feelgood” and the big finish is to a rearrangement of Harold Arlen’s “Get Happy,” (made famous by Judy Garland in “Summer Stock”). The updated version of the tune provides space for a big buildup, not identifiably reaching the main theme till about halfway through the song. Leeper uses expansive traveling patterns and crossing lines of dancers to great effect; as he told me, “We break the fourth wall a lot.” The stage seems to triple in size with the exuberant energy of the Giordano dancers. This is the kind of smile-inducing number that lets you know where to clap, that inspired my three-year-old self to jump out of theater seats and dance in aisles. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: FlySpace/Jay Pritzker Pavilion

Dance, Dance Previews, Dance Reviews, Recommended Dance Shows No Comments »
Photo courtesy William Frederking

Photo courtesy William Frederking

RECOMMENDED

During the intemperate months, the stage of the Pritzker Pavilion is protected from the elements by massive windows spanning the entire proscenium. It allows park visitors to gaze in at the gorgeous wood construction of the stage and yearn for the coming warm weather and free performances. Over two weekends, it is allowing a small audience to gaze back. Four contemporary dance companies—Hedwig Dances, Same Planet/Different World, The Dance COLEctive and Zephyr Dance—are using the enclosed stage as an intimate venue, placing the audience upstage in the choir loft (seats I recommend if you don’t grab the first row on the floor) and dancing with the expansive Pritzker lawn and Art Institute Modern Wing’s gentle glow as backdrop. Two companies share a bill each weekend; last weekend Hedwig and SPDW alternated pieces in a program that shifted moods as frequently as the Chicago spring. Read the rest of this entry »