You could definitely say that Penny Saunders and Pablo Piantino have had a front row seat for the making of some of the most important choreography of the last decade, except that if you did, it would actually be a pretty serious understatement. In fact, it's quite possible that neither of them has ever even been in a front row seat, because between them, they've spent seventeen years in rehearsal studios and on stage with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, watching some of the world's most admired choreographers make dances.
Even that underestimates their experience, and the depth of their perspective; before joining Hubbard Street, Piantino danced with the Colón Theatre Ballet Company and the San Francisco Ballet, Saunders with The American Repertory Ballet, Ballet Arizona and the Cedar Lake Ensemble, not counting some very prestigious guest appearances. They've seen, and been seen in, a lot of great dance performances, constructed by great choreographers and great dance companies, so with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and Alonzo King LINES Ballet undertaking an almost unbelievabley ambitious new dance project, their perspective on how it was all put together is bound to be priceless.
Knowing a really good dance company is like knowing a cool rock club. It's a scene all to itself, and after you've been there enough times, you get so that even if you don't know exactly what they're doing that night, you just go. Not only that, you probably tell somebody else too, because once you get the idea that whoever is deciding what they do there really knows what they're doing, all you have to do is show up, and be ready to find out about another thing you're glad you found out about.
Luna Negra Dance Theater is on a roll like that. Looking back at the last few times they've brought one of their creative adventures to the Harris Theater for Music and Dance in Chicago, there's an unbroken progression of glad-you-were-there performances that would make anybody want to be there Saturday, March 9th when they present Made in Spain.
It's remarkable that telling a story, one of the things that people everywhere do most naturally, can be one of the most challenging to do well. That's probably the reason why, after dominating the world of concert dance for centuries, it's not really that common any more. Even in ballet, and still less in dance's many other forms, modern choreography doesn't often try to bring an audience through an actual story, telling them about what happened and how it happened, and most of all, making them feel that they actually know the people who the story is about.
To begin with, you have to have a really good story to tell, and in their one act dance theater piece A Light in the Dark, Ann Reinking and Melissa Thodos have one of the best. It's about a seven year old girl in Tuscumbia, Alabama who is both blind and deaf, wild and alone. She's desperately isolated from the family that surrounds her by her inability to communicate with them, with hardly any idea that such a thing as communication even exists. A young teacher, only twenty years old and herself visually impaired, not only dares to defy this hopelessness, but actually succeeds in saving the young girl from the shadows of her isolation. Even if almost everyone thinks they already know the story of Helen Keller and Ann Sullivan, this story will always be an astonishing inspiration.
The more dramatic the movement, the harder it is to stay balanced; the higher the leap, the more difficult it is to land it gracefully. Those may sound like universal principles of motion, but you'd never know it from watching Ashley Wheater move. Even though Wheater hasn't actually danced on stage since his last performances in 1997, what he's doing now is probably a more demanding challenge in the motive arts. He's the Artistic Director of the Joffrey Ballet, and one of his most important (and most delicate) responsibilities is the construction of their concerts; Ashley Wheater designs the art and architecture of the Joffrey's uniquely expansive presentation of Dance.
You may not know it, but yes, you are; Chicago Dance Crash has the whole thing worked out. On Saturday February 9th they're presenting their popular annual concert Duets for My Valentine at Chicago's Athenaeum Theatre, in which they somehow manage to combine everything that's romantic with just enough that isn't to construct the ideal Valentine's Day program. Duets for My Valentine is an evening length composition in the diversity of dance, with eleven different dance companies and independent artists each presenting a duet somehow related to that very broad, promising, and potentially difficult subject, romance. "Every single piece is about relationships," says Mark Hackman, who first got Dance Crash involved with the annual show three years ago, "but they can be all over the place. Some are about love, some are about break-ups, but each of them has its own take on the idea because of the wide range of dance that's in the program."
It's a very creative approach, and it makes for a really complete evening, because of the way it deconstructs the challenges of putting a successful dance concert together. Instead of trying to bring an elusive coherence into a concert made from different concepts and different subjects, the focus in Duets is so clear that it opens up an incredibly rich range of other possibilities. Since their audience knows that they'll be seeing the same form, a duet (with a couple of creative variations), in works built around a single, although endless theme, Dance Crash can bring together a whirlwind tour of styles and talent and still keep it whole. "Because we have access not only to concert dance companies but to so many other artists and styles," Hackman explains, "we can give people who don't usually see dance concerts something they can really get into."
There's a thousand different worlds in the wide world of music, and because music is always made out of the world around it, there always have been. It's different now, though, because you can wander from world to world as fast as you can type a url, so what you need now more than ever is a reliable guide. If you ever want to visit the world of Smooth Jazz, you might want to think about bringing Denis Poole along; he's the kind of guide who can tell you a lot about the places you might want to go.
Poole does it all from a website called Smooth Jazz Therapy, where he writes about the artists and music that fall somewhere in the world called Smooth Jazz, a term that's been one of the most unreliable in all of music. Depending on the country, region, or radio market you happen to know best, 'smooth jazz' can conjure anything from the less abstract side of inspired musicianship to a background soundtrack for brunch. That's alright, you can sort it all out at smoothjazztherapy.com.
Forum Dance Theatre is one of the most respected pre-professional dance companies in the country, and on Saturday, February 2, they celebrate their fifteenth anniversary with a performance at the James Lumber Center for the Performing Arts at the College of Lake County. It's an important event for the nearly fifty members of Forum Dance's three companies, as well as for the company's many alumni, and it celebrates more than just their professional accomplishments. That's because the energetic company, while continuing to build on their reputation for outstanding dance performances, actually has even more far-reaching objectives. "Our key mission is the training and preparation of the young adult for his or her future in whatever path they choose," explains Artistic Director Eddy Ocampo. "Some of our dancers go on to dance, but some choose another field; nonetheless, all of our students leave our program well prepared to go after their dreams."
When it comes to accomplishing a dream, Forum Dance Theater sets a good example. The Company began fifteen years ago as an after school dance group with five members; under the direction of Ocampo since 2000, and before that of founding Artistic Director Kelly Hayes, they've established themselves as an accomplished and widely respected program for aspiring young dancers. Forum Dance Theatre is now includes forty-nine members, an artistic and administrative staff of nine, and over fifty volunteers; originally named Forum Contemporary Jazz Dance Theatre, they dropped "Contemporary" from their name in 2000 and "Jazz" in 2012, becoming Forum Dance Theatre.
Watching the sun rise can be such a fusion of promise and inspiration that thinking about it, let alone actually seeing it, can brighten a whole day. It's remarkable that it happens every morning, all around the world, but that doesn't make it any less inspiring; it just makes it more difficult to keep up with. It's a lot like trying to keep up with the many achievements of Chicago Children's Choir, who only recently completed an impressive and successful undertaking with their performance in Sita Ram, and who are already following it up with another. They're off to perform in India, on a multi-city tour that will bring audiences there a chance to hear what talent and dedication sound like set to music.
Opposites attract, and not just in the ways that you've probably heard about. Beyond the stereotypes of romance and the science of electromagnetism, there's a thread that runs through some of the most innovative kinds of creativity and reflects much the same idea.
One of the things that often characterizes creative minds is the ability to see, and weave together, ideas that everybody else would see as unconnected, incompatible, or even contradictory. Sometimes this is deliberate, like the way that a master chef may combine unexpected ingredients in some new way, but more often it's the result of an artist's inability to see things divided into categories the way others do, because the way they see is so much more inclusive. That's the way that Jessica Deahr sees the art of concert dance, and because she's just been named the new Artistic Director of Chicago Dance Crash, there are likely to be even more imaginative things coming out of that very creative Dance Company.
Deahr has been with Dance Crash since 2007, first as a guest artist, and since 2009 as a Company member. As a dancer, her range of interest, experience and expertise is itself a defiance of boundaries; her biography lists "contemporary, ballet, jazz, modern, hip hop, breakdance, ballroom, tap, and fusions of various styles", somehow leaving out her performances as an aerial artist. She's performed with artistically committed concert dance companies, and she's toured the world as a performer in events as different as USO shows and cruise liner entertainment (including being lowered on a silk rope, spinning, fifty or sixty feet above a swaying ship into an opening in the deck the size of a manhole cover).
Kay Wilder is a DJ and Producer from the Netherlands with an unusually expansive take on music, and he's just launched a new weekly mix show called Electronication that puts his wide-ranging view of the EDM scene into a really innovative, hour long mix. Electronication launched on New Years Day, and its first two episodes, besides being great musical rides, launched an exciting new appearance in the world of weekly mix shows.
Wilder has deep roots in Trance; DJ's and Producers from the Netherlands have been hugely instrumental in shaping the international Trance scene since it started, and his original releases find their way into the sets of many of Trance's most influential artists. Yet although Electronication, like all of Wilders releases at sites like Beatport and Juno, would most often be called "Trance", the secret of Electronication's fresh and driving appeal is Wilder's trademark ability to put songs together like a magician who can make boundaries disappear. Electronication is a synthesis, almost a reinvention, of the dream-like and vocal sides of Trance that Wilder makes happen by relighting the Trance tracks in his mix with releases that bang out the rowdier side of the EDM scene. "My Kay Wilder releases have tended to be more on the trance side since that sound is such a big part of my musical roots," he explains, "but I do feel it's important to bring a diverse sound to my sets, just to create that high-energy experience for people. That's why I really love the crossover of the dreamy and raw sounds."