Theater, Dance, Comedy and Performance in Chicago

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 »

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

RECOMMENDED

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 »

Review: The Flow Show

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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)

Preview: At the Table—A Conversational Dance/Links Hall

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This event, founded by the At the Table Collective, comprised of members Lindsay Hopkins, Mike Lahood, Jessie Marasa, Lara Oppenheimer and Bryan Saner, began in December 2013 at Hopkins and Saner’s home. Originally conceived of as using dinner conversation as a method of community building through open exchange of skill in the interest of collaboration, for its November dance event, the group turns to fungi as its social model. Starting from the presumption of natural adhesions between individuals and community, and drawing on art historical derivations of dematerialization concepts, At The Table’s conversational performance forms around the idea of “mycelial” structures as a way of offering the public a handle on situating this panel discussion in the context of a living performative space between language and dance, and equality between the concept of dancer as audience participant and audience member as dance participant. (Michael Workman)

At Links Hall, 3111 North Western, Monday, November 23 at 7pm. $5-$15. Tickets at linkshall.org.

Preview: Vaudeville!/Kelly Anderson Dance Theatre

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Newcomer Kelly Anderson follows up her Chicago dance theater debut “Message Me If…” with another evening-length show at Links Hall, this time inspired not by the trials and tribulations of modern dating, but by the campy variety shows of yesteryear. An eleven-member cast put on the big show: fourteen short comic numbers complete with sister acts, freak-show oddities, and water ballet. And like the best golden-era films on the subject (and five brilliant seasons of The Muppet Show), the backstage antics that find their way to the audience are the real entertainment. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Made In Chicago: World Class Jazz Presents Black Saint and the Sinner Lady/Millennium Park

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Onye Ozuzu and Greg Ward

Onye Ozuzu and Greg Ward

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Experimental music venue Constellation and experimental dance venue Links Hall have shared the same roof for several years, but their most captivating entente may well be in the open air, as part of the city’s Made in Chicago jazz series at the Pritzker Pavilion. Constellation’s Mike Reed and Links’ Roell Schmidt pulled together a dream team for a delicious project: the reimagining of Charles Mingus’ yearning, sultry, tortuous masterwork, live under the stars. Composer Greg Ward used threads from “The Black Saint” as building blocks for a seven-part composition performed by Chicago’s jazz greats—including Keefe Jackson, Jason Roebke and Marcus Evans. Choreographer and scholar Onye Ozuzu assembled a cast of fifteen dancers to give visual movement to the epic soundscape through improvisation and choreography that traverses genres: modern, breaking, West African, ballet. Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: It’s About Love Again This Year/RE|Dance Group

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REDance Group Its About Love image

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Michael Estanich’s newest creation for RE|Dance glides on gentle waves of sweet nostalgia and romance, ruffled at points by eddies of humor and the chop of desire. Dancers clad in ankle length dresses or button-down shirts and trousers with suspenders travel through scenes of youthful love, or perhaps more accurately, sepia-toned reflections on youthful love to Bach, birdsong and The Magnetic Fields. In the background, a great monument of peeling wallpaper stands as a symbol of memory and quiet reminder of time as the backdrop to fleeting human emotion. 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 »

Muscle Memory: Mad Shak Investigates How We Forget

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Molly Shanahan/Mad Shak’s ongoing “Stamina of Curiosity” project dives deep into the underwater caves that form when one person performs for another, and her curiosity uncovers phenomena at the microscopic level. “There’s something that takes over before a performance,” Shanahan says, describing the inspiration for the current iteration of “Stamina,” entitled “Virtuosity of Forgetting.” “No matter how much we welcome vulnerability, a change takes place in the body when you consider being witnessed—a cross section of exhilaration and panic. In rehearsal, there’s always the presence of the infinite ways a movement can be done and openness to the reality that anything could happen. In performance, this collapses down to the sense of ‘one right way’ and that we’ll get it right or wrong. When performance is reduced to a binary, we experience loss, because we’re keeping something from the witness.” Read the rest of this entry »