2013 Chicago Dancing Festival Opens with Intriguing Musical Mix

Little Mortal Jump danced by Hubbard Street's Jesse Bechard and Ana LopezThis review is co-written with Contrapuntist

The 2013 Chicago Dancing Festival kicked off on Tuesday evening at the Harris Theater featuring dance companies from Chicago and across the United States. As we previously announced, this marks the third consecutive year we have partnered with the festival.  The full house was treated to a world premier commissioned work by from the Chicago Human Rhythm Project, the return of the Lar Lubovitch Dance Company, Hubbard Street Dance, special guests from the Washington Ballet and Columbia Classical Ballet, the Brian Brooks Moving Company and The Joffrey Ballet.

Chicago Human Rhythm Project – In the Beginning

The Chicago Human Rhythm Project was the only dance company without musical accompaniment at the performance, but they didn’t need any. The eight tap dancers created their own “music” with the rhythmic pounding of their feet. It was like watching a drum line where the drumsticks were shoes and the floor served as the canvas where the octet got their groove on.  Fortunately, this piece will be performed again at the Saturday evening show.

Hubbard Street Dance Company – Little Mortal Jump

The Hubbard Street Dance Company never fails to delight.  The dance was a series of vignettes or short stories.  It was tricky to discern a common theme between all of them, but considering most of them included duets, love served as the central character.  Unlike other performances, this work used different music styles and composers to tell each story.  It was an eclectic mix that included everything from the seductiveness of Tom Waits to the minimal repetitiousness of Philip Glass.

Tamako Miyazaki and Brooklyn Mack - Diana and ActaeonUsing a variety of styles throughout the work instantly changed the character of each vignette.  Some were whimsical, while others were intense.  The glue that gave the work cohesiveness was the style of modern dance.  Weaving sharp, jagged movements with the smooth linear ones kept the audience intrigued.  The impressive ending had the dancers running while twirling large rectangular props on wheels which, when released, stopped in time with the conclusion of the music.

Guest Artists Brooklyn Mack (Washington Ballet) and Tamako Miyazaki (Columbia Classical Ballet/Dortmund Ballet) ­– Diana and Actaeon pas de deux

The quaint collaboration ended up an odd mix in this typical pas de deux, performed to music by the prolific Italian ballet composer Riccardo Drigo.   Perhaps it was the choreography, but the cute Miyazaki seemed overshadowed by Brooklyn Mack’s powerful stage presence.  His solo was breathtaking and impressive.  Powerful, controlled leaps were landed with sophistication and grace.  And while Miyazaki performed with charm, her energy and presence could not match Mack’s charisma. The duo will perform this work again at the Saturday evening performance.

Lar Lubovitch Dance Company with Le Train Bleu – Crisis Variations

Lar Lubovitch - Crisis Variations - Katarzyna Skarpetowska & Brian McGinnis (2)_ Photo by Bill HerbertThis year marks the first time that live music ensembles will accompany some of the performers at the Chicago Dancing Festival. The Lar Lubovitch dancers joined forces with Le Train Bleu, a quintet of musicians from New York conducted by Ransom Wilson, to perform the Crisis Variations.  More information about Le Train Bleu is available here. The music, composed by Yevgeniy Sharlat, sounded like a mixture of Leonard Bernstein’s jazzy lyricism and Igor Stravinsky’s spiky rhythms.

As the title suggests, the Crisis Variations is a hectic work. Lar Lubovitch’s choreography called for the large ensemble of dancers to scuttle like crabs, fling their arms into the air, and entwine themselves into positions which would put a Twister game to shame. Midway through the work, the music’s frenetic energy mellowed into a tender serenade. Lubovitch created a delicious sense of contrast by juxtaposing a pas de deux bristling with contorted positions against the romantic music.

Brian Brooks Moving Company – I’m Going to Explode

Brian Brooks - I'm Going to Explode - photo by Christopher DugganBrian Brooks performed I’m Going to Explode to the song “Losing My Edge” by New York alternative dance band, LCD Soundsystem. This piece featured a suit-clad businessman who breaks free of the everyday by indulging in a wild dance. After he carefully removed his jacket and shoes, his arms began swing in time with the pounding of the beat.  His movements expanded throughout the piece until his entire body flailed with boneless abandon. At the end of the dance, he donned his jacket and shoes and stepped back into his businessman persona.

The Joffrey Ballet – Son of Chamber Symphony

The Joffrey Ballet performed Son of Chamber Symphony to music of the same name by American minimalist composer John Adams, with choreography by Stanton Welch. This piece seems to lend itself to ballet; the San Francisco Symphony used the same music but with different choreography by Mark Morris under the title of Joyride in 2008.

Joffrey - Son of Chamber Symphony - Victoria Jaiani & Miguel Angel Blanco (2)_ Photo by Christopher DugganWelch’s choreography perfectly reflected Adams’s idiosyncratic style of lengthy, arching phrases layered above repetitive, mechanical rhythms. The first section featured one ballerina amidst five male dancers. The performers did an astounding job of staying perfectly in step with the music’s sudden stops, starts, and syncopation. In the second section, a liquid pas de deux provided a respite from the outer sections’ relentless rhythmic drive. The final section featured a male and female pair surrounded by six ballerinas. This part was the clearest physical representation of languid melodies supported by driving rhythm. The pair performed slow, extended movements which followed the arch of the long phrase as the ballerinas moved rapidly in time with the recurring rhythmic riffs.

Although Friday night’s performance is sold out, audiences still have the opportunity to enjoy the final Chicago Dancing Festival event on Saturday night. The Celebration of Dance takes place in Millennium Park at 7:30 p.m. and is free and open to the public. Complete information is available at chicagodancingfestival.com.

Photos: Hubbard Street dance “Little Mortal Jump” credit Todd Rosenberg, Tamako Miyazaki and Brooklyn Mack credit Sarah Weyman, Lar Lubovitch “Crisis Variations” credit Bill Herbert, Brian Brooks “I’m Going to Explode” credit Christopher Duggan, Joffrey Ballet “Son of Chamber Symphony” credit Christopher Duggan 


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