Dancing al fresco: Chicago takes performance outdoors in August

Presenting live performances outdoors has its complexities. Rain delays, heat and humidity, bugs and city noise are just some of the caveats dance companies deal with by taking their performances outside. But in 2021, indoor concerts have even more logistics to deal with to keep performers, crew and patrons safe. Besides, Chicago summers are devine, and Chicago dance is taking full advantage.

Dancing outside isn’t new, of course. For more than two decades, Chicago SummerDance has brought the afterwork crowd together for social dance lessons and live music in Grant Park. After last summer’s virtual edition, SummerDance returns downtown and in several neighborhood parks. It’s part of DCASE’s beefy line-up of programming, which includes several performances sponsored by Night Out in the Parks in Park District hidey holes all over the city. On Aug. 12 alone, you can take in Ballet Folklorico de Chicago at Olympia ParkXochitl-Quetzal Aztec Dance at Shedd ParkClinard Dance’s Flamenco Quartet Project at La Villita Park, or Deeply Rooted Dance Theater at Palmer Park. The next day, Muntu Dance Theatre, AfroSoul Yoga Drum, Stepping and M.A.D.D. Rhythms activate Ellis ParkHiawatha ParkSeward Park and Douglass Park. The only downside is choosing where to go. Fortunately, a handful of these groups have repeat performances. Night Out in the Parks has dance offerings until the leaves start falling, concluding with Ballet Folklorico at Eckhart Park on Oct. 29.

Perceptual Motion returned to live performance last weekend in Northcenter Town Square, although the intergenerational dance company is quite familiar with jaunting in the fresh air. Two upcoming opportunities remain this month, with performances in the Healing Garden of Swedish Covenant Hospital and River Park.

A new contemporary ballet company, Contretemps, led by MaryAnn McGovern, makes its debut in the parking lot of Menomonee Club’s Drucker Center in Lincoln Park on Aug. 14, 21 and 28. McGovern is no stranger on the scene; her new company promises to buck ballet’s stereotypes by bringing an inclusive approach to both casting and content. For “Heat Lightning,” she draws from wide-ranging themes including the climate crisis, deep fake technology and disinformation campaigns to interrogate life in a “post-truth America.”

Synapse Arts continues its Mural Dances series on Aug. 21 in Kenwood’s Jessie “Ma” Houston Park. Synapse has long performed outdoor, site-specific works, so Mural Dances is hardly a pandemic pivot. The location, however, is unique for the far-North Side company. Houston, a civil rights leader and disability rights advocate who was the first female death row minister in Illinois, is the inspiration for Timothy Tsang and Kara Roseborough’s dance in front of a mural in the park named after her.

A long-awaited preview of Deeply Rooted Dance Theater’s “Goshen” (originally scheduled for May 2020 at Broadway Playhouse) premieres Aug. 25 at Pritzker Pavilion. Based on the biblical story of Exodus, “Goshen” is set to gospel artist Donald Lawrence’s album of the same name, with an all-star line-up of singers: Le’Andria Johnson performs Lawrence’s hit single “Deliver Me,” with lead singers from The Tri-City Singers and Zeke Locke & The NuExperience accompanying Deeply Rooted’s deep bench of powerhouse dancers.

The next day, also at Pritzker Pavilion, Dance for Life celebrates its 30th anniversary. Among the familiar faces—Joffrey Ballet, Giordano Dance Chicago and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago all making their return to live performance here—is an exciting line-up of DFL newbies. South Chicago Dance Theatre, Movement Revolution Dance Crew and Para.Mar will perform live, joined by Trinity Irish Dance Company, DanceWorks, Visceral and excerpts from a dance film by Winifred Haun & Dancers—plus, pro forma, a finale by Randy Duncan. For the first time ever, Dance for Life has free tickets available; proceeds from purchased tickets, which range in price from a little to a lot, benefit The Dancers’ Fund.

On Aug. 27 and 28, Chicago Dance Crash returns to live with “The Final $tage” on the roof of Lakeshore Sport and Fitness. True to form, creative juices have run amok for the hip hop-centric fusion dance company. They revive their “summer Blockbuster” format, with a twist, imagining we’re all the live studio audience for the tell-all, reunion episode on a dance reality show. Plus, there are snacks!


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