Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

Stage Top 5: May 16-May 31, 2016

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Bryce Gangel, Jessica Ervin and Charlotte Thomas in "Dry Land" at Rivendell Ensemble Theatre/Photo: Michael Brosilow

Bryce Gangel, Jessica Ervin and Charlotte Thomas in “Dry Land” at Rivendell Theatre Ensemble/Photo: Michael Brosilow

Dry Land
(Rivendell Theatre Ensemble)
Take a deep breath, dive in and don’t stop till you reach the other side
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Preview: Cinderella/Joffrey Ballet

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Temur Suluashvili and Christine Rocas. Photo: Herbert Migdoll

Temur Suluashvili and Christine Rocas/Photo: Herbert Migdoll


During his lifetime, Robert Joffrey made his company the United States repository for the ballets of English choreographer Sir Frederick Ashton, but one work was missing from the repertory at the time of Joffrey’s death in 1988: Ashton’s rendition of “Cinderella,” set to Prokofiev’s score. The company fulfilled a dream of its founder in 2006, when Gerald Arpino gathered the funds to acquire the ballet, along with the lavish sets and costumes by David Walker. The Joffrey closes their 2015-16 season with a re-staging of the work under the eye of artistic director Ashley Wheater, who himself worked under Ashton’s direction several times throughout his dancing career. “Ashton was very clear about what he wanted to see out of his work,” Wheater says, “and in his charming way he would get it out of you.” Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Bold Moves/Joffrey Ballet

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Christine Rocas and Rory Hohenstein in "Forgotten Land." Photo: Herbert Migdoll

Christine Rocas and Rory Hohenstein in “Forgotten Land”/Photo: Herbert Migdoll


The title of the Joffrey’s winter program references not only a stylistic theme for the movement on the stage—three pieces by contemporary choreographers—but also the music accompanying it. Performances will be accompanied by the Chicago Philharmonic, which sinks its teeth into Benjamin Britten’s stormy, sweeping “Sinfonia de Requiem,” the accompaniment to Jirí Kylián’s lyrical, emotionally charged “Forgotten Land.” Kylián’s 1981 piece takes place before a backdrop of a troubled sea; dancers in flowing, ankle-length dresses evoke a sense of nostalgia and melancholy. The piece is inspired by an Edvard Munch painting, but the imagery could as easily be pulled from a Virginia Woolf novel. Read the rest of this entry »

Swan Song: Robert Joffrey’s “Nutcracker” Nears Its Final Curtain

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Photo: Cheryl Mann

Photo: Cheryl Mann

By Sharon Hoyer

Ashley Wheater sat down with me in his office in the Joffrey Tower shortly before the company hit the road to take Robert Joffrey’s “Nutcracker” to the Kennedy Center. Forty-five dancers, thirteen carpenters, eleven electricians, ten prop and wardrobe techs, plus a handful of sound, light and rehearsal coordinators are preparing to bus to DC and perform Joffrey’s classic confection on the Kennedy Center stage for the last time. Then they’ll return to Chicago and stage the ballet twenty-seven times over the course of about three-and-a-half weeks. In the very last show, Wheater will reprise his role as the Snow King—which he originated in the 1987 premiere—and, after twenty-eight years, Robert Joffrey’s “Nutcracker” will be put to rest. A new version, commissioned from Christopher Wheeldon, will be unveiled in 2016. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Sylvia/Joffrey Ballet

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Photo: Holger Badekow

Photo: Holger Badekow


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 »

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 »

Imagination at Dusk: Nicolas Blanc Finds his Language For the Joffrey

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Photo: Cheryl Mann

Photo: Cheryl Mann

Soft-spoken and self-effacing, Nicolas Blanc sits in a folding chair in a sunny studio room of the Joffrey tower, gently cueing the entrances and changes for five dancers in his short ballet entitled “Evenfall,” uttering the occasional, supportive “good” or “nice” for a well-landed movement. Ballet Master for the Joffrey since 2011, Blanc is about to add his own choreography to the company repertory for the first time, which appears in a “New Works” program alongside household name Christopher Wheeldon and rising-star resident choreographer of the New York City Ballet Justin Peck.

“I’ve wanted to choreograph a long time…since I was a child,” Blanc said. “And I think there are parallels with being a Ballet Master. That parallel is about how you move people in a room; you’re a bit like a conductor. I’ve been in charge of so many choreographers’ work—Nijinsky’s ‘Rite of Spring’ was on my shoulders, I recently reset ‘Incantations’—and that helps me; their work informs me about their creative process. I’m learning from what has come before. I’m in the process of creating my own language.” Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Unique Voices/Joffrey Ballet

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The Man in Black_Edson Barbosa_Joanna Wozniak_Fernando Duarte_Derrick Agnoletti

“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 »

Players 2015: The Fifty People Who Really Perform for Chicago

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The steady expansion of the performing arts in Chicago continues its marvelous pace, with more and better theater, dance, comedy and opera gracing more and better stages each passing year. The upward progression is so steady that epic undertakings—a new campus at Steppenwolf, a bigger chunk of Navy Pier for Chicago Shakes—seem almost business as usual these days. And that is a marvelous thing. This year we again celebrate the lesser-sung heroes offstage who deal with the less glamorous things like building those new stages, and paying those expanding payrolls without which the stars would have nowhere to shine.

Tragedy has been central to theater since the ancient Greeks first staged it, but the last year has brought a disproportionate volume of real-life tragedy to our community. No doubt, the expanding and maturing performing arts universe means that more members of its community will pass on each year, but the number of those struck down long before their expected hour was overwhelming these last twelve months and struck every corner of performing arts, from theater, to dance, to comedy, to opera. Molly Glynn, Jason Chin, Eric Eatherly, Bernie Yvon, Johan Engels, Julia Neary—and others we’ve unintentionally overlooked—we dim our collective marquee for you. (Brian Hieggelke)

Players was written by Zach Freeman and Sharon Hoyer
With additional contributions by Brian Hieggelke, Alex Huntsberger, Aaron Hunt, Hugh Iglarsh and Loy Webb

All photos by Joe Mazza/Brave-Lux, taken on location at Steppenwolf Theatre, Goodman Theatre, Lyric Opera of Chicago and Brave-Lux Studio Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Nutcracker/Joffrey Ballet

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The Joffrey presents five programs throughout their season, showing works by about a dozen leading choreographers of past and present, but there’s one show that keeps the lights on: twenty-four performances of “The Nutcracker” account for the bulk of Joffrey ticket sales, pulling non-regular dance attendees (and their visitors) into the Auditorium Theatre for a holiday tradition and, in many ways, helping to fund the rest of programming. Robert Joffrey’s vision of the Christmastime confection is a shimmering spectacle, heightened by the additions of the two-story Mother Ginger puppet by Kermit Love and an ensemble of more than one-hundred young dancers. Read the rest of this entry »