The Chicago Sinfonietta ignited its 2013-14 season over the weekend with a dance-themed program. Led by Mei-Ann Chen, in her third year as music director, walked a delicate line by blending classical tradition with hip hop, an untraditional combination. Hip hop dance troops FootworKINGz and Kuumba Lynx Performance Ensemble joined the Chicago Sinfonietta in a newly imagined classical dance suite that combined selected movements from Piotr Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake, Florence Price’s first Symphony in e minor and Aram Khachaturian’s Sabre Dance.
FootworKINGz (FWK) roused television audiences with its appearance as a Top 20 act on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent” Season 4. In addition, members of FWK were seen on stage with Madonna during the “Sticky & Sweet” World Tour (2008-2009). FWK is the professional dance troupe of Kuumba Lynx, a non-profit arts and education organization which formed as a response to public school funding cuts, poverty, and social injustice.
The afternoon began with Rimsky-Korsokov’s Flight of the Wounded Bumblebee, which gave a preview of what was to follow. FWK furiously buzzed their way across the stage in time with the orchestra behind them, instantly rousing the crowd with their hip hip footwork. Although the dance was splendid, the amount of space the dancers had seemed to keep them from holding back to make sure they didn’t end up on the laps of those seating in the front row.
Next came the Orchestral Dance Mix arranged by Memphis-based composer and arranger Sam Shoup. Swan Lake took an urban twist when FWK took the stage after the beautiful opening scene. The Valse showcased the combination of graceful gestures blended with jukes, twists and flash. During the Spanish-themed “Dance espagnole,” FWK’s choreography blended well with passionate, stomping that resembled flamenco dance rhythmic patterns, which are common in the traditional dance.
The third and fourth movements from Symphony in E minor by Florence Price, considered the first African-American female composer, followed. The tone of the music shifted from romantic to Copland-like, reminiscent of Appalachian Spring. To match the music, the choreography transitioned to a series of vignettes about teen urban life performed by the Kuumba Lynx Performance Ensemble.
To end the suite, the pace was kicked up a few notches with a hearty rendition of Khachaturian’s Sabre Dance. The rapid foot work was impressive when FWK returned to the stage. It was a testament to the dancers’ balance that they didn’t slip or fall off of the stage, especially with the sliver they had to work with. At the conclusion of the first half, the audience rose to their feet in appreciation of the rare combination.
When it comes to the music of Sergei Rachmaninoff, you can always count on rich melodies woven throughout his compositions. His Symphonic Dances, op. 45 was the composer’s final completed work. Comprised of three movements, the Sinfonietta performed each with energy and passion.
The successful season opener set the stage for an eclectic year of programming.