March Newsletter: The Alchemy of Live Dance and Music

March is that transitional month when we lose winter--we hope!--and usher in Chicago’s so-called spring. This year, March is a tra nsitional month for SeeChicagoDance as well, with a new look, a new slant to the newsletter, and a new editor--me! So, hello! You may already recognize me as a frequent contributor to these pages. In addition to calling our readers’ attention to the many wonderful dance events on the calendar each month, we will be highlighting noteworthy aspects of select events with critical insights and commentary. 

This month brings us a feast of dance performances from many fine Chicago resident companies of all genres--tap, jazz, modern, ballet, and folk--as well as touring groups from far-flung U.S.and foreign cities. 

It goes without saying that music is an important element in most forms of concert dance, but how often do we get a chance to experience dance with live music? Long before Chicago could boast more than a handful of resident professional dance companies, I was lucky enough as a child to see The New York City Ballet over successive summers at Ravinia. Always, it was live music, performed by the Chicago Symphony no less, that partnered my dance idols, Jaques D’Amboise, Edward Villella, Arthur Mitchell, Violette Verdy, Melissa Hayden and Suzanne Farrell. The rich melodies painted the stage in vibrant, moving color. Live music charged the dancers with a special passion that seemed to lift them into flight, spin them with superhuman speed, and thrust them across the space with a drive and urgency that spoke to my heart and made me know that I had to dance with that same urgency and passion. This was not dancing to music; it was an alchemy of performance, musicians and dancers breathing each other’s art right before my eyes in a moment of magic between performers that could never be duplicated. 

I took it for granted that all dance was performed with live music. It seemed only natural that when I began to study ballet, there was always an accompanist at the piano, never recorded music. What a shock it was to encounter an early touring Joffrey Ballet at the Harper Theater in Hyde Park performing Viva Vivaldi to recorded music. As wonderful as the dancers were, the canned recording created a huge deficit in the performance that left me sadder but wiser to the economic realities of concert dance. Fortunately, innovation in recording and sound engineering technology give today’s dance companies access to high-caliber recorded music and sound amplification. Some will even argue its virtues over live music. 

All the same, live music, the thrill of its energy, still excites me, races through my body with the expectation that something wonderful is about to happen, something even the best recorded music just can’t match. Combine that with dance, and you have the potential for an artistic blend that elevates both art forms into a unique performance sphere. What is it about live music that makes dance performance so much more vibrant? Chicago audiences have a great opportunity to ponder that question during the month of March when no fewer than three companies will be presenting programs that combine dance and live music. 

Third Coast Percussion performs music of Steve Reich with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago (March 13-16, Harris Theater), in Jiri Kylian’s Falling Angels, and the men of HSDC contribute live vocals to Kylian’s Sarabande.  Don’t miss these company premieres plus two other Kylian favorites, Petite Mort, set to Mozart, and 27’52”  to music by Mahler in a rare all-Kylian program. 

Twenty-six singers from Chicago’s acclaimed Belle Voce ensemble join Giordano Dance Chicago in the premiere of Autumn Eckman’s Mist, with music by American Grammy Award winner Eric Whitacre (March 28-29, Harris Theater).

And Cherish The Ladiesthe Irish-American stars of the 2013 Emmy Award-winning PBS special, “An Irish Homecoming,” perform their blend of Irish music, dance and wit. (March 28, McAninch Arts Center, College of DuPage).

You be the judge, and let us know what you think!

Other highlights this month include Joffrey Ballet’s Choreographers of Color Awards (March 1, The Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place); Dropshift Dance, uniting dance, textiles, and architectural installations (March 1-2, Links Hall); Thodos Dance Chicago bringing its new Jeanne Gang architecture collaboration downtown to the Harris on March 8, along with a reprise of Thodos and Ann Reinking’s captivating story ballet about Helen Keller, A Light In The Dark;  Alvin Ailey offering three different programs at the Auditorium Theater (continuing through March 9); Chicago Tap Theatre in a romantic  comedy tap opera (March 14, Stage 773); Cloud Gate Dance Theater of Taiwan, co-sponsored by Columbia College Dance Center and The Joffrey Ballet (March 14 and 16, Auditorium Theater); The Hyde Park School of Dance’s “The Nightingale” (March 15-16) Houston Ballet with “Aladdin” (March 22, The Auditorium Theater); and The Leopold Group/The Space Movement Project (March 28, The Ruth Page Center For the Arts).