Dancers Get Up Close and Personal with Music at 2013 Chicago Dancing Festival’s ‘Solitaire’

2010 Chicago Dancing FestivalOn Friday, August 23 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, the 2013 Chicago Dancing Festival presented a second showing of Wednesday night’s gala performance and benefit entitled Solitaire – A Game of Dance (The Art of the Solo). The collection of solo dances gave the performers the opportunity to get up close and personal with the music in order to reveal what the program notes termed, “the supra-personal and innermost truth of the story they seek to tell.”

The evening opened with Victoria Jaiani of the Joffrey Ballet performing The Dying Swan to Camille Saint-Saens’s composition “The Swan” from Carnival of the Animals.  Jaiani did a beautiful job of portraying an elegant bird as the life ebbs from its body. Her performance was made even more poignant thanks to the live accompaniment by cellist Barbara Haffner and pianist Mongo Buriad (more info about the musicians available here). Haffner’s amber tones emphasized the swan’s fluid motions, while Buriad’s nimble fingers re-created the rippling of water in a pond. The Rogue Ballerina’s Vicki Crain wrote that Wednesday’s performance of this work inspired tears. I have to admit that I, too, found my eyes brimming over at the end of this dance.

Samuel Lee Roberts in IN/SIDE  11/18/09 Alvin Ailey American dance Theater Choreography by Robert Battle Credit photo: ©Paul Kolnik nyc  212-362-7778The next performer was Samuel Lee Roberts from the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performing In/Side to Nina Simone’s “Wild Is the Wind”. The melancholy lyrics of this song express a person’s desperate passion for his loved one. Roberts added another dimension to the music by expressing the anguish of love through outstretched limbs and flexed joints. One particularly striking moment took place when Roberts threw himself onto the floor, reached his arm towards the audience, and opened his mouth in a silent scream.

The third dancer was Julia Hinojosa from the Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Theater performing Ensueños de mi Caribe.  She was accompanied by flamenco singer/guitarist Paco Fonta and percussionist Javier Saume Mazzei (more information about the musicians available here). Hinojosa’s swiveling hand motions followed the contours of the guitar melody, while her feet pounded in counterpoint with the drums. This dance was more subtle than some of the flamenco performances Contrapuntist and I have seen in the past. Perhaps this was due to the subject matter, which described nostalgia for Havana and its people rather than the burning passion of love.

Camille A. Brown - The Real Cool_ photo by Christopher DugganThe fourth performance was by Camille A. Brown from the Camille A. Brown & Dancers dancing The Real Cool to Brandon McCune’s piano arrangement of “What a Wonderful World” by Bob Theile/George D. Weiss. However, Ms. Brown’s dance portrayed a world which was anything but wonderful. Her character seemed to be a mime whose motions were constrained entirely within the small circle of a spotlight.

The next work took an emotional 180 from the serious nature of the previous dance. The Hubbard Street Dance company’s Johnny McMillan, Jason Hortin, and Jonathan Fredrickson each performed a solo in PACOPEPEPLUTO, accompanied by three lighthearted love songs by 50s crooners – Dean Martin’s “In the Chapel in the Moonlight” and “That’s Amore” as well as Joe Scalissi’s “Memories Are Made of This”. The dances were an unabashed homage to romance. It must also be mentioned that the men were clad only in flesh-colored dance belts, prompting some nervous giggles from the audience as the dancers leapt about the stage.

Natya Dance Theatre - Krithika Rajagopalan_ photo by Amitava Sarkar The penultimate dancer was Krithika Rajagopalan from the Natya Dance Theatre performing Sthithihi – In the Stillness to a recording of music by the Natya Dance Theatre Orchestra.  Rajagopala performed in the Bharata Natyam style, one of the great classical dance forms of India. Contrapuntist and I had never seen Indian dancing before, and we were both completely entranced by this performance. We were especially struck by how she used every millimeter of her body from her eyebrows to the tips of her toes to communicate a deep sense of spirituality with the audience.

The evening closed with Brian Brooks of the Brian Brooks Moving Company performing I’m Going to Explode to the song “Losing My Edge” by LCD Soundsystem. We had previously seen this work at the Tuesday, August 20 show. This piece, about a businessman who breaks free of his regimented life with a wild dance, was just as explosive as it had been earlier in the week. We sat closer to the stage at this performance than we had on Tuesday, giving us the opportunity to get an even closer look at his remarkable strength and control of his body. Brooks’s performance was a perfect, uplifting end to a night full of emotional solo performances.

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