Chicago is a great place to love dance, and 2017 has given us plenty to love. Our major repertory companies continue to dazzle with world-class dancers in every genre, and programming that challenges and entertains. More and more, smaller companies are combining forces with musicians, visual artists and actors with new and creative interdisciplinary ventures that push the boundaries of dance theater. Tap, jazz, and hip-hop fuse with ballet and contemporary dance to expand the range of popular idioms into the concert dance realm. And our culturally-specific dance forms are gaining broader audience appeal.
Most of all, the strength, vitality, and diversity across Chicago’s dance stages throughout a year of heightened political turmoil and global dissonance reminds us of the capacity for the human spirit to triumph in the face of adversity. In short, the year in dance has been a passionate rallying cry for keeping faith in our combined potential for good. With so many wonderful dance events in 2017, a few noteworthy achievements stand out.
Nothing could be more emblematic of Chicago’s indomitable dance spirit than “DANCE FOR LIFE,” the annual August fundraiser for Chicago Dancers United, bringing together Chicago’s rich and diverse dance community for a one-night performance at the historic Auditorium Theatre. All of the dancers donate their rehearsal time and performances. Providing assistance to any member of Chicago’s professional dance community facing critical health issues, and funding AIDS/HIV research, Dance For Life has raised millions of dollars since its founding by Keith Elliott and Todd Keith in 1992. In 2017, “Dance for Life” celebrated it’s 26th year with top-notch performances by Giordano Dance Chicago, Hubbard Street, The Joffrey Ballet, “BAM!, The Chicago Human Rhythm Project, Ensemble Español, Trinity Irish Dance Company, Visceral Dance Chicago, and Jessica Miller Thomlinson Dance. Randy Duncan once again created a rousing finale for the pick-up ensemble of twenty-one dancers from nine different companies plus two independent dancers, set to original music by Andy Mitran. Beyond Duncan’s choreographic achievement is the resounding statement of unity this cornucopia of Chicago dance embodies.
VISCERAL DANCE CHICAGOs March premiere of “The Dream,” adapted from Dostoyevsky’s 1877 short story, continued the richly successful collaboration of choreographer Nick Pupillo and musical director Scott Speck, with the creative input and live on stage performance of the Chicago Philharmonic. Their first full-length work together stands out for its originality, boldness, and truly thought-provoking journey of “everyman." It’s no small wonder why Dostoyevsky’s story inspired Pupillo. The Russian master’s utopian tale of despair and redemption gnashes its teeth on the author’s recurring theme of the young intellectual’s psychological dual with life and death, seeming and reality, seeking meaning but finding none in a corrupt world. The parallels to the moral indifference we face today and Dostoyevsky’s vision of redemption through love clearly captivated his imagination, and ours.
HUBBARD STREET’s June celebration of its 40th anniversary featured the company in peak form as an ensemble, with individual dancers distinguishing their versatility in repertoire that demands gymnastic athleticism, virtuoso ballet technique, and mastery of modern dance and jazz idioms. A sense of continuum built throughout an artfully-paced evening that interspersed longer oeuvres like Cerrudo’s exquisite “One Thousand Pieces,” Forsythe’s death-defying “One Flat Thing,” and Twyla Tharp’s “The Golden Section” (1981) with short gems like Crystal Pite’s heart-wrenching “A Picture of You Falling” (2010), Jim Vincent’s lyrical excerpt from “Palladio” (2007), and Conte’s Broadway-tinged duet “Georgia” (1987). Lou Conte’s iconic “The 40’s” proved a fitting finale to a program whose whole was even greater than the magnificent sum of its parts.
DANCE CRASH Artistic Director Jessica Deahr’s “The Bricklayers of Oz” in July was so original, so bursting with freshness on every level, and so polished, it literally sparkled from start to finish, no small thanks to Jeff Hancock’s wonderfully whimsical costuming. One of the many plusses that made “Bricklayers” so instantly appealing is Deahr’s manipulation of Hip-Hop dancing to create a choreographic lexicon that embodies the street vernacular and style of the popular dance idiom while elevating the form to concert dance level in its use of space, group design, rhythmic complexity, movement invention, and dramatic expression.
Lyric Opera and the JOFFREY BALLET’s September premiere of John Neumeier’s “Orfée et Eurydice,” co-produced by the L.A. Opera and Staatsoper Hamburg, was nothing short of a historic, precedent-setting theatrical achievement. The totality of its theatrical integration of so many elements at such a high level of artistry raises the “barre” on a trend that already has established healthy cross-pollination across the arts in Chicago. The September 23rd roaring opening night crowd affirmed our gratitude to Lyric Opera of Chicago for taking such a bold step and shining a bright light toward the future.
GIORDANO DANCE CHICAGO’s November Season continued to forge ahead, taking jazz dance to new heights on the concert dance stage with two world premieres and an eclectic selection from its rich and diverse repertoire that spans the gamut of human emotion, relationship, and the dynamics of community. Brock Clawson’s thrilling world premiere, “If I Could,” Ray Mercer’s daring game of musical chairs in “Tossed Around,” Nan Giordano’s inspired retooling of “Giordano Moves,” Liz Imperio’s high-octane party celebrating the music and dance of her native Cuba, “La Belleza de Cuba,” and Frank Chaves’ newly reconstructed “Grusin Suite” all made for an extraordinarily uplifting night of extraordinary dancing.