Seventh annual Dance Month set to bloom in the Windy City

April has long been an abundant month for local dance in Chicago, and it’s now seven years ago that See Chicago Dance (then called Audience Architects) formally established Chicago Dance Month as a way to acknowledge the many companies and independent artists showing work in April. Dance Month is strategically nestled between March, a time when many of the large touring companies make their stops at big venues, and National Dance Week, which typically straddles April and May. 

It was that first year of Chicago Dance Month that I began writing for See Chicago Dance, but I also benefitted from the support of Audience Architects as one of four artists presenting work at the newly opened “New Links Hall” on Western Ave. that month. 

While the dance calendar doesn’t line up as neatly as it used to – touring companies continue to roll into town, local companies are increasingly moving their shows to February or May, and a once-dormant summer season has steadily picked up over the last decade – something that continues to excite me about this lovingly scrappy organization is that See Chicago Dance is wholly committed to helping artists do what they do. Whether it means attending or participating in one of the many upcoming Dance Month events (the kick-off celebration April 1 at the Cultural Center, for example; the open classes, rehearsals and workshops happening all over the city; or the April 30 Dance Scavenger Hunt on the River Walk); utilizing SCD services like marketing and administrative support, the Day of Dancer Health or renting a dance floor; or using the website to attend and read about more shows, my challenge to readers this Chicago Dance Month is to reach outside your comfort zone and engage with dance and the dance community in a new way.

On April 5 and 6, the German contemporary company Gautier Dance makes its Chicago debut at the Harris Theater with Mega Israel, a program of three dances by notable Israeli choreographers including Ohad Naharin’s unparalleled “Minus 16.” It’s a tough piece to perform in this town, given Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s long history with Naharin’s signature work. But Chicago’s unquenchable thirst for Gaga technique and an opportunity to see the evolution of this form by a few of his disciples – Hofesh Shechter’s “Uprising” and Gai Behar and Sharon Eyal’s “Killer Pig” are also on the program – make this engagement a compelling one.

April 11-14 American Ballet Theatre moves back into the Auditorium Theatre, having last performed in Chicago at the Harris Theater. It is the first engagement since the Auditorium announced a four-year partnership with this national treasure. On the bill: the Chicago premiere of Alexei Ratmansky’s “Whipped Cream,” a fanciful full-length about a boy with a sweet tooth who winds up in a candy kingdom. It’s sort of like Nutcracker-meets-Willy Wonka, but what makes this ballet a not-to-miss is the original 1924 score by Richard Strauss (played live by the Chicago Philharmonic) and exquisite, over-the-top designs by pop-surrealist Mark Ryden, whose whimsical costumes and sets are embellished with nearly 70,000 Swarovski crystals, among other extravagances.

April 12-14 marks the opening weekend of GRUNT, a festival organized by The Space Movement Project (TSMP) which brings together artists from all over the country working on a grassroots level. TSMP performs the first weekend with J’Sun Howard and Molly Hess of Boston. May 10-12, the festival returns to Links Hall with locals Howard and Ashley Fargnoli, presenting work alongside Twin Cities-based April Sellers, Boston’s Abilities Dance and Sarah Weber-Gallo of New Jersey. 

Stomping Grounds, Chicago Human Rhythm Project’s annual festival of all things percussive dance, continues with its popular neighborhood series at the Beverly Arts Center and the National Museum of Mexican Art on April 13 and 27, respectively. And there are plenty of other high-quality, low-cost events like the long-awaited return of Synapse Arts’ New Works series April 18 and 19 at Hamlin Park, and an encore performance of newly appointed Dr. Molly Shanahan’s “Of Whales, Time, and Your Last Attempt to Reach Me” April 5 and 6 at Dovetail Studios. The former features some of the city’s brightest up-and-comers, with works created by Synapse company member Amanda Ramirez, recent Loyola alums Maria Blanco and Yariana Baralt Torres, and Nora Sharp. The latter is a perfect example of extraordinary embodiment by a veteran treasure trove of performers, with Shanahan joined by a few usual suspects: Kristina Fluty, Jeff Hancock and Megan Klein.

Capping off the month, the Joffrey Ballet presents a spring mixed rep April 24-May 5 at the Auditorium Theatre, highlighting works by British choreographers. Two of these are world premieres, by Andrew McNicol and Andrea Walker, while the third, “Vespertine,” is an ode to the Baroque period by the Royal Ballet’s artist-in-residence Liam Scarlett. 

Additional April performances are listed below: