If further proof is needed that 2022 has lived up to its designation as “Chicago’s Year of Dance,” performances throughout October – whether by resident companies or international visitors – prove that the title is fully deserved.
It all started with the Joffrey Ballet at home on the stage of the Opéra Lyrique, and was followed by the Ensemble Espanol at the Théâtre Auditorium. Then came the onslaught: Taiwan’s Cloud Gate Dance Theater at the Auditorium; Giordano Dance Chicago at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance; Visceral Dance at their beautiful new home in the Avondale neighborhood; and a dramatic revival of Pina Bausch’s “The Rite of Spring” (involving a complex fusion of presenters) staged at the Harris.
All of these companies had brief airings, but while their programs (which attracted impressive audiences) were mostly ‘here today and gone tomorrow’, they should not be forgotten. What follows is therefore a very condensed overview of these four recent concerts, whose dancers were uniformly superb, and whose choreographic styles and subjects were radically different.
Taiwan Cloud Gate Dance Theater
This remarkable company of amazing dancers/actors performed “13 Tongues”, a 75-minute work of continuous ensemble movement and vocalization brilliantly choreographed by artistic director Cheng Tsung-lung, who was inspired by his memories of childhood of bustling life found on the streets of Taipei’s oldest district.
The group dynamics of this seamless ensemble – dressed in flowing black costumes by Lin Bing-hau, with ideal lighting design by Shen Po-hung and fantastic projections by Ethen Wang (in which giant fish streak through the water as gracefully as the dancers moved through space) – were absolutely mesmerizing from start to finish. The same goes for Lim Giong’s score – a mix of Taiwanese folk songs, Taoist chants and electronica.
Giordano Dance Chicago
To celebrate the 60th anniversary of its founding by Gus Giordano, a pioneering force in American jazz dance, the company presented a powerful sample of six works that suggested the evolution of jazz style over the past two decades.
It opened with “Giordano Moves”, set to exuberant music by George McRae and described as “a reconstruction” of Giordano’s work that captured the classic movements, formations and partnerships that marked his choreography. He then moved on to ‘commonthread’, Autumn Eckman’s sophisticated 2009 work for five dancers to music by Dan Myers and John Novik. It was marked by dramatic, propulsive movements and fine use of arms, and “Impulse”, a highly acrobatic 2006 work for 10 dancers choreographed by Tony Powell and set to a wide medley of powerful percussive music including the sound of the Kodo drums from Japan.
The second half of the program opened with “Groove, in form,” Peter Chu’s riveting 2019 work to an original score by Jake Kelberman performed by a six-man ensemble. The ingenious choreography was awash with a wide range of styles from brassy jazz moves to sculptural shapes and puppet-like partnerships.
Then came the program’s world premiere, “lub-dub,” choreographed for five dancers by Cesar G. Salinas, the company’s new associate director. To exuberant Afro-Caribbean music by Travis Lake and Medwyn Goodall, the dancers soared to the work’s propulsive and richly dramatic music and movement. Finally, the evening ended with Ray Leeper’s wonderfully exuberant 2018 work, “Soul”, set to music by Gladys Knight and the Pips, Al Green and Tina Turner. A true celebration of the company’s phenomenal energy and highly refined technique.
If you want to see dancers up close and personal, a visit to the spare but ideally designed Visceral Dance Center stage is the theater to visit, with its brick back wall the canvas for richly evocative lighting. The members of Nick Pupillo’s company are exceptional, including a particularly strong lineup of men, as exemplified in ‘Chicken Scratch’, an infectious and acrobatic play by Autumn Eckman, set to an energetic song sung in Yiddish by the Barrys. Sisters and performed by dancers Brandon Barnes and Brandon Talbott.
Also on the program, “Changes”, a ferociously emotional work for nine dancers by Spanish choreographer Monica Cervantes. The cast was in top form, as were the three richly dramatic works choreographed by Pupillo, including “Dark One” (set to music by Arvo Part, and evocative of the state of the modern world), “She Three” (a work fluid for a trio of women), and “Impetere” (a work for the whole company true to its title – a word that means “the force with which a body moves”).
Pina Bausch and Germaine Acogny + Malou Airaudo
Last, but not least, the long-awaited arrival of “The Rite of Spring”, set to Igor Stravinsky’s groundbreaking 1913 score. Originally choreographed by Vaslav Nijinsky and his sister, Branislava Nijinska (and performed in this early version by the Joffrey Ballet), this even more basic (and literally “earthy”) version was created in 1975 by the late German choreographer Pina Bausch. And it has now been revived as a co-production of the Pina Bausch Foundation, Ecole des Sables and Sadler’s Wells.
What stood out most was its cast – 36 stunning and powerful black dancers brought together from across Africa and led by Lucieny Kaabral, a petite but phenomenal dancer as a terrified sacrificial “victim” (who danced in a dress blood red with a bare breast for part of the work), and the intense presence of her male pursuer. The terror of sexual initiation expressed by the women was palpable everywhere, as was the determination of the men.
The staging of this work of primal intensity was a “performance” in its own right as a large group of stagehands emptied five huge skips full of peat moss over the entire surface of the stage on which its dancers moved. barefoot.
Serving as a prelude to “Rite” was “middle ground[s]», a most unusual dance-theatre piece created and performed by Germaine Acogny and Malou Airaudo, a White and a Black woman of decided middle age, and of slightly different temperaments. They captured the complex nature of a friendship in subtle movement and even with the occasional use of words.
An important note: for those who missed some or all of these shows, there is still plenty to enjoy as the current dance season is far from over. Here are some upcoming possibilities:
* On November 5, Deeply Rooted, the African-American contemporary dance company from Chicago, will present a program of mixed repertoire at the Auditorium Theater with works by Ulysses Dove (the company’s late star Alvin Ailey), as well as as from creative director Nicole Clarke-Springer and company co-founder and creative/executive director Kevin Iega Jeff. Also on the bill is the world premiere of “Q After Dark,” a work co-choreographed by the company’s artistic team and set to music by 89-year-old Chicago legend Quincy Jones. (Visit deeprooteddancetheatre.org.)
* On November 10, 11 and 12, the Joffrey Ballet will present two world premieres (one choreographed by Cathy Marston and set to “Siegfried Idyll” by Wagner, and the other choreographed by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa and set to music by Rameau), on the stage of the orchestra hall. They will be accompanied by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by Harry Bicket.
The Joffrey will then return to the opera stage with Christopher Wheeldon’s superb interpretation of The Nutcracker (December 3-27), against the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, with Tchaikovsky’s score conducted by Scott Speck . (Visit joffrey.org.) Speck also deserves huge belated praise for the brilliant Chicago Philharmonic Orchestra concert he conducted at the Harris Theater on Oct. 13 that featured works by black and Latino composers.
* On November 18, 19 and 20, Visceral Dance will return to the stage with a program called “Within” an evening of works “created by the company on the company”. (Visit visceraldance.com.)
Follow Hedy Weiss on Twitter: @HedyWeissReview