Joffrey Ballet Gives Chicago Premiere of Episode 31 at 2013 Chicago Dancing Fesitval

Espanol Spanish Dance Theaeter ft. Monica Saucedo - Bolero - Photo by Dean Paul.On Thursday evening, the 2013 Chicago Dancing Festival continued at the Auditorium Theatre at Roosevelt University.  The evening was an eclectic mix of Chicago and national dance companies including ballet, flamenco and contemporary.

Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Theatre kicked off the evening in flamenco style with Bolero, performed to Maurice Ravel’s composition of the same name.  It was performed again on Saturday night, so I’ll include my comments in my review of that performance. It was interesting to see flamenco, normally an improvisatory dance, structured in a contemporary format.

The evening progressed with two scenes from Casi-Casa performed by Hubbard Street Dance.  The two scenes, set to music by Fleshquartet, delighted the audience.  Choreographed by Mats Ek, the scenes centered on rejecting the norms of home life. While the first scene was performed well, the second had more energy with its female dancers using vacuum-shaped props to exhibit their rage against the confines of domestic life.

What followed was a charming Tarantella, set the music of Louis Moreau Gottschalk, performed by Anastacia Holden and John Mark Goragosian from the Joffrey Ballet.  Choreographed by the great George Balanchine, the dance was more whimsical and light-hearted than dramatic. And while the duo performed it with grace and charm, the dance didn’t quite equal the greatness I’ve come to expect from a Balanchine work. Perhaps it has something to do with the uninspiring music of Gottschalk, which was plain for my musical tastes.

After a brief intermission, the Lar Lubovitch Dance Company presented Transpired Things with the Bryant Park Quartet performing Claude Debussy’s only string quartet.  Inspired by Pablo Picasso’s Saltimbanques , Transparent Things brings the painting to life by imagining the performers practicing their craft and exploring the lives they lead.  The live musicians added to the intimacy of the work and created a richer experience for the audience.  At the ending of the third section, the choreography put the string quartet at the center surrounded by the dancers.  It was a sweet moment.

But the night was a given a jolt of excitement when the Joffrey Ballet performed Episode 31, which was more than a dance. It was a work of art. A masterpiece.  It was 20-30 minutes of thought-provoking, mind-blowing choreography.

Before the dance began, a short video was presented with the dancers describing what it was like to bring Episode 31 to life. The five-minute introduction showed the dancers performing Episode 31 in different places around Chicago. Millennium Park, the subway, at a park, the sidewalk; anywhere the group could get a reaction from an audience.

To summarize, it was as if Jackson Pollock and Martha Graham met at a rave. There was no obvious story, but there was a purpose behind the choreography. From how the curtain was used to the lighting, the visual spectacle created an experience that opened the imagination.

Episode 31 was broken into four sections. It began with a dancer dressed in a suit turning on a lamp at the front of the stage with the curtain down. Once the lamp was turned on, a loud, grinding bass tone ignited the performance. The curtain opened and closed throughout the first section showing a sea of dancers changing formations and patterns. It was organized chaos juxtaposed with the dancer who turned on the light slowly walking around the entire stage as if serving like a time keeper.

In the second section, the curtain was lifted along with the arch at the front of the stage which normally hides the lighting structures; everything was exposed. The chaos continued with dancers shifting shapes, moving mats and screaming. It was beautiful cacophony that led to a more cerebral section.

The third section migrated from chaotic to cerebral. While a voiceover described the components that go into creating a work of art, two male dancers brought the words to life through abstract motion. The rest of the dancers stood off to the side, intensely watching the duo’s movements. The finale shifted once again to serenity with the dancers taking a stroll along the boardwalk to an Erik Satie piano piece. The dancer in the suit completed his circuit around the stage and turned off the lamp, ending the performance.

To summarize the evening, it was a delightful mix of dance works that ended with a work of art. It’s an evening I’m still recalling well after its conclusion, which means some of the performances resonated well.  Hopefully, others walked away feeling the same the way. I think they did.

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