Choreography Brings Music to Life during Chicago Dancing Festival 2011

Ballet West Performing Sinfonietta, photo by Luke Isley

Contrapuntist and I were fortunate enough to be asked to cover the 2011 Chicago Dancing Festival. As a classically trained musician, I enjoyed exploring the relationship between the choreography and the music during the festival’s Celebration of Dance on Saturday, August 27 in Millennium Park. Each of the performances demonstrated how choreography can visualize melodic structure, interpret musical emotions, and create a storyline.

Ballet West performed Sinfonietta (choreographed by Jirí Kylián, music by Leoš Janáček). According to the program, Sinfonietta‘s music celebrates our earthly life. Kylián’s choreographic response to the score reflects its joy, yearning, and dynamics. The folk elements scattered throughout the ballet honor the composer’s and choreographer’s Czech heritage. The dancers represented the composition’s broad melodies and sonorous chords with swooping leaps and wide arm movements. Sinfonietta was an ideal choice for Ballet West because the expansive music evoked imagery of the mountainous landscape from their hometown of Salt Lake City.

River North Dance Chicago performed Nine Person Precision Ball Passing (choreography by Charles Moulton, music by A. Leroy). In this work, nine dancers form a living Rubik’s cube, and pass nine balls to one another in varying patterns. According to the program, Ball Passing demonstrates the way in which people can cooperate to manifest structure. Compared to the other pieces on the program, this work created the clearest visual representation of the music. The minimalistic composition is driven by short, repetitive melodic motives. The dancer’s quick arm movements perfectly mirrored the piece’s tempo and rhythm.


Victoria Jaiani & Temur Suluashvili from Joffrey Ballet, photo by Herbert Migdoll

The Joffrey Ballet performed Stravinsky Violin Concerto (choreography by George Balanchine, music by Igor Stravinsky). Concerto reflected the music’s character and emotional impact. The best example of this took place in the “Aria 2” section. The pas de deux (performed by Victoria Jaiani and Temur Suluashvili) interpreted Stravinsky’s mournful music with deep, outstretched body motions and extremely flexed hand and arm positions.

The Martha Graham Dance Company performed Diversion of Angels (choreography by Martha Graham, music by Norman Dello Joio). I found myself so drawn into the storyline and symbolism of this work that I barely noticed the musical accompaniment. The piece is an exploration of different aspects of love. The principal dancers consisted of three couples – one wearing white, another couple in red, and a third in yellow. It seemed that the corps was wearing peach, but it was hard to tell from the lighting. My take on the storyline was that the white couple represented romantic love, the red represented passion, and the third represented joy.

Martin Lofsnes & Katherine Crockett from Martha Graham Dance Company

Gonzalo Garcia and Tiler Peck of the New York City Ballet performed Tchaikovsky Pas De Deux (choreography by George Balanchine, music by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky). The most “traditional” of any of the dances, this work used a virtuosic Tchaikovsky score as a setting for the soloists’ incredible technical feats. I was particularly impressed when Peck did 30 spins in a row.

The Paul Taylor Dance Company closed out the evening with Esplanade (choreography by Paul Taylor, music by Johann Sebastian Bach). The night before, I had attended the Muses program at the Museum of Contemporary Art/MCA Stage. The program had included an interview with rehearsal director Bettie de Jong, who had danced in the original 1975 production of Esplanade. She explained that Taylor had choreographed the piece as an exploration of natural motions such as walking, caressing, and falling. The choreography reflected not only the music’s inertia and rhythms but also the emotions. For example, the fourth section of the work used the Largo movement from Bach’s Double Concerto for two violins in D minor. The section featured couples tenderly caressing and hugging. The choreography’s use of couples perfectly reflected the romantic feel of a concerto composed for two solo instruments.

During his introduction for the Celebration of Dance, Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel stated that he would like next year’s festival to last six days. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to check out even more dancing in the 2012 festival.

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One comment on “Choreography Brings Music to Life during Chicago Dancing Festival 2011
  1. Pingback: Of Interest To Chicago Dance « wwwclara54's "T" Blog

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