Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Review: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater/Auditorium Theatre

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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 »

Preview: Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater/Auditorium Theatre

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RECOMMENDED

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater makes its annual return to the Auditorium Theatre March 8-13 with customary abundance: ten big dances from 1958 to the present, and every night a ceremonial rendition of Ailey’s greatest work, his 1960 masterpiece “Revelations.” While every Ailey concert retains that tie to the company’s heritage, this particular tour puts the company’s fifty-seven years into perspective by juxtaposing Ailey’s first piece for the company, “Blues Suite,” with the premiere of “Awakening,” current artistic director Robert Battle’s first new work in the company since assuming leadership in 2011. 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 »

Preview: Sylvia/Joffrey Ballet

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Photo: Holger Badekow

Photo: Holger Badekow

RECOMMENDED

John Neumeier’s reimagining of “Sylvia” blesses the stage with images not often seen in story ballet: those of powerful, independent women en pointe. According to myth, Sylvia is a hunter, a follower of Diana, wooed by a gentle shepherd and torn between romance and the independent sisterhood she shares with her fellow hunter-nymphs. Neumeier’s modernization of the tale is set against bold, minimal set pieces: the forest is represented by tall, flat blue trees with branches reminiscent of the flowing hair of the female hunters; Orion’s palace—where she is finally seduced—is decorated only with a single massive Greek statue. The choreography too is bold and clean, departing from how the original story structure was married to the celebrated score by Léo Delibes. Read the rest of this entry »

Day Three: A Farewell Performance for River North Dance’s Frank Chaves

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Frank Chaves, artistic director of River North Dance Chicago, steps down this December after twenty-three years leading the contemporary jazz company. In 2005 Chaves was diagnosed with syringomyelia, a degenerative spinal cord condition. Over the last two years he has choreographed from a wheelchair, despite the restriction, creating some of his most compelling and emotional work. River North’s farewell performance to Chaves—the only Chicago performance this year—takes place at the Auditorium Theatre on October 3; the program includes company favorites by Sherry Zunker, Ginger Farley, Kevin Iega Jeff, Randy Duncan, Robert Battle and signature pieces by Chaves, including “Temporal Trance,” a reflection on death and mourning created at the time his mother passed away, and “Habaneras,” a bright showpiece dedicated to the music of Chaves’ native Cuba. In a phone conversation, Chaves spoke about the program and what’s next for himself and River North. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Ballet Folklorico de Mexico de Amalia Hernandez/Auditorium Theatre

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RECOMMENDED

Certain arts organizations serve as cultural ambassadors—charged not just with providing an entertaining, aesthetic and perhaps thought-provoking experience, but also with purveying the cultural history of a nation (or, more accurately, what the government of a nation chooses to present as its cultural history). Founded by Amalia Hernandez in Mexico City in 1952, now directed by her grandson, Ballet Folklorico de Mexico is one such institution, a brightly colored moving museum of Mexican heritage, staging large ensemble folk dances from across the country and ritual dances dating back to pre-Hispanic influence. The show is a bright, energetic spectacle: a thousand yards of brilliant fabric swirl in the Jarabe, the national dance recognizable to Americans for its charro costuming and mariachi accompaniment. Less familiar is La Danza del Venado, a high-leaping dramatization of a deer hunt performed by Yaqui men of northern Mexico. Contemporary nods to Mexican history include a dance honoring the women who fought in the Mexican Revolution—a rank of Soldaderas brandishing wooden rifles spin, march and pose defiantly with their weapons. Yet for the spinning skirts, spirited stomps, twirling handkerchiefs and spectacular headwear, the thing most striking about the show is how many historical contributions to Mexican culture share the bill: indigenous dances, dances of European colonizers, dances of revolutionaries. All are present and celebrated as part of Mexico’s cultural fabric. (Sharon Hoyer)

At the Auditorium Theatre, 50 East Congress, (312)341-2300. Saturday, September 26 at 7:30pm and Sunday, September 27 at 3pm. $40-$73.

Roll of Thunder: Annabelle Lopez Ochoa Brings a Touch of Chaos to the Joffrey

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Photo: Bill H Photography

Photo: Bill H Photography

Dances by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa have been performed in Chicago before—repertory for Luna Negra back in 2009 and this past year when Scottish Ballet visited with “A Streetcar Named Desire”—but this is her first commission for the Joffrey Ballet. “I came to see the company—I’m not always invited to big companies,” she said, “and I had this piece of music that is so powerful I was waiting for the right moment and the right company. I proposed it to Ashley [Wheater, Artistic Director of the Joffrey]. He said, ‘I know it from the San Francisco Ballet; we tried to use it but in the end we canceled the thing because we didn’t know how to interpret it. Go ahead, good luck!'”

The music is “Weather One,” a piece by composer Michael Gordon that starts big and builds in force over the course of twenty minutes like a gathering storm. Lopez Ochoa needed a larger ensemble to execute her vision, which charges forward with the high-octane escalation of an action-movie trailer. Or perhaps a natural disaster movie trailer. The title, “Mammatus,” refers to a rare, beautiful and rather terrifying type of storm cloud, inspired by both the music and the mercurial weather that rolls in off Lake Michigan. “I looked at pictures of mammatus clouds and thought ‘wow!’ And that’s maybe what I want from the audience, to think ‘Wow! Nature is so powerful!'” Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Don Quixote/Royal Ballet

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Photo:  Johan Persson

Photo: Johan Persson

RECOMMENDED

It’s been nearly forty years since England’s Royal Ballet visited Chicago, and its production of principal dancer (and budding author) Carlos Acosta’s “Don Quixote” is being met with a bit of fanfare as a final feather in the cap of the Auditorium Theatre’s 125th anniversary season. The Cuban-born Acosta—still performing classical ballet at forty—has a devoted following in the UK, and spices up Marius Petipa’s iconic story ballet with fresh choreography and vivacious staging that highlights the humor of the title character and his cohort. Read the rest of this entry »

Bringing It All Back Home: After a Neighborhood Tour, “Stomping Grounds” Dances its Way Downtown

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The Chicago Human Rhythm Project is a cultural magnet; the organization pulls percussive and folkloric dancers—along with a good number of drummers—from around the world to collaborate, teach and perform in big celebratory events, like the annual Global Rhythms Festival at the MCA. Lane Alexander, the visionary founder of CHRP, has dedicated a career to the idea that art can unify people across lines of difference, and that rhythmic dance, like traditional food and music, is something all cultures share. “Percussive and sacred dance goes back ten thousand years,” he says. “And four thousand to ten thousand years ago, people who stomped on the ground were shamans and leaders. We might see these people take that place as leaders in our community, toward peaceful reconciliation.” Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Stomping Grounds/Chicago Human Rhythm Project

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RECOMMENDED

We usually have to wait till June and bus, bike or train down to the Loop to see great free performances but, thanks to the Chicago Human Rhythm Project—that mighty advocate of the original musical instrument—festival season starts early this year. And it’s coming to you. CHRP tours the neighborhoods this month with a series of free performances by hometown companies that celebrate five different heritages: Trinity Irish Dance Company, Mexican Dance Ensemble, Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Theatre, Muntu Dance Theatre and CHRP’s resident tap company BAM!. Two companies host each show, with cameo appearances by the other three. The series kicks off with a panel discussion with the artistic directors of the five companies at the Cultural Center, moderated by Audience Architects—the dance promotion organization that recently dubbed April Chicago Dance Month. Read the rest of this entry »