Hubbard Street's Winter Series was a memorable showcase; the five or six thousand people who saw the Company's four performances in Chicago this December, like those who will see them in January and February on an extensive tour of the U.S. West Coast, had a chance to enjoy everything that makes a Dance Concert successful. Winter Series was a display of intricately woven choreography, a textured and complex fabric made out of an uncountable series of beautifully focused performance moments. Most of all, though, the choreography of Winter Series achieved something remarkable, and probably unintended. The program showcased an invisible and misunderstood force in the visual world of choreography; Hubbard Street's Winter Series was a master class in how to use music in Dance.
Fleshquartet is a Swedish musical group that has been making and releasing original music since 1985, and after a quarter of a century they still manage to be unique in all kinds of ways. For one thing, they're about the only five-member quartet around; they perform as a string quartet with a percussionist, and their music covers a lot of territory on the imaginative sides of both pop and classical. If you have even the least bit of resistance to everything mandatory and formulaic in musical success, you just have to like them. Their Facebook page is enigmatic and mostly in Swedish, their records aren't at the U.S. iTunes, the bio at their site is only in Swedish, and the press kit at their site consists of a single photo you can download. One more thing, in an apparently complete and inspiring defiance of everything that could be called "branding", they go by two names, "Fleshquartet" and "Fläskkvartetten".
When Lane Alexander and Kelly Michaels founded the Chicago Human Rhythm Project as a one-time summer festival in 1990, the Kennedy Center had already been staging a wide range of cultural programming for nineteen years, but had never presented an evening of tap dancing on one of its main stages. More than twenty years later the uniquely exciting world of tap dancing, in full resurgence, had still never been presented as a full evening program at any of the national cultural center's principle venues, but that's about to change. Chicago Human Rhythm Project will present JUBA! Masters of Tap and Percussive Dance at the Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theater in a show that will certainly be an important historic event, but is every bit as certain to be an explosively entertaining ride through a brand new world, the world of Tap and Percussive Dance.
Lizzie Leopold is like one of those people who can take their car apart and then put it back together again, except that when she does put it back together, there's no telling what it might turn out to be. A race car, a limo, maybe even a luxury jet, who knows what she'd come up with; based on the way she's deconstructed the traditional dance concert format and come up with "A Correct Likeness", just about anything seems possible. The Leopold Group presented the first installments of this very unique show in October, and will return to Defibrillator Performance Art Gallery on December 1st and 2nd for two more performances. "I really set out to make dance in a space that would be comfortable for the dancers and for the audience," Leopold says, and goes on to describe how she was looking for a way to improve on the traditional kinds of interactions that are possible between performers and the people who come to see them dance.
The idea for a different kind of presentation expanded almost exponentially from there. "A Correct Likeness" is meant specifically to explore "the intersection of still photography and dance", and it's being produced by Leopold and lighting designer Joshua Paul Weckesser of Bread and Roses Productions. The Leopold Group had been working extensively with dance photographers Arn Klein and Matthew Gregory Hollis, and Leopold wanted to find a more visible way to feature their work with the Company than just displaying photographs online; later, as "A Correct Likeness" evolved, the work of dancer/photographer Jessie Young was included in the program as well. The Company describes the evening as "a dance performance / photography installation event", which it certainly is, but "A Correct Likeness" is actually much more than that.
There are experiences that are so difficult and so shocking that they make every other problem go pale, and yet almost everybody encounters them at some point, if not personally, through the experience of someone close to them. Dance can be especially effective in illuminating such experiences, experiences like suicide or cancer, because there is a balance of emotion and abstraction in the unspoken eloquence of movement that can very closely track the almost unvoiceable complexity of life's most difficult traumas.
At the Dance Chicago Festival's New Moves program Tuesday, choreographer Mary Tarpley and performers Katlyn Craig, Neile Martin, Taylor Stewart, Kaitlin Webster and Pavel Tabutov will present two works that do just that. "I Know Places" is a work for four women that Tarpley originally made for the suicide prevention and awareness organization YouSpoke.org, while "Quiet Hallway", the duet performed performed by Tarpley and Tabutov, was created for a Dancers Against Cancer benefit. Both are strongly emotional and sharply designed to use movement, and a connection to the music, to visualize an experience that everyone goes through. For even though not everyone is the direct victim of such misfortunes, the most challenging tragedies can touch almost everyone who knows someone who who encounters them.
Manuel Vignoulle definitely knows how to start something new. A new company, a new country, new choreography or new possibilities, it doesn't matter; like a gifted dancer starting a new phrase, he can keep moving through every new beginning. Vignoulle studied dance in his native Paris, and after graduating from the prestigious Conservatoire National Supérieur de Danse de Paris, he went on to dance with several European Companies, including Les Ballets Redha from 1997 to 2001 and the Ballet du Grand Théatre de Genève from 2003 to 2008. The following year, he left a successful career in Europe to start a new one in the United States, performing with Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet until 2011. Along the way, he'd performed for television, videos, fashion shows, operas and musical theater, so by the time he decided to begin focusing all of his time on his career as a choreographer, he was already an old hand at starting something new. That's why it's more than appropriate that Vignoulle's newest work, "Together We Stand", will be one of the works performed by Randy James' brand new repertory company 10 Hairy Legs at their World Premiere in New Jersey on November 25.
It's a significant event for many reasons, not the least of which is simply that 10 Hairy Legs is a repertory company. In an excellent article about the new Company in The Star-Ledger, Robert Johnson observes that "repertory companies are still the exception in modern dance, where most troupes exist to serve an individual artist's vision". That alone would make Randy James' new Company something new, but James, whose own artist-directed company Randy James Dance Works enjoyed sixteen seasons of continuous performances, has built his new company on an even more original concept. James' 10 Hairy Legs is an all-male ensemble, and an essential part of the Company's vision is "to celebrate and exploit the tremendous technical and emotional range of today's male dancer in modern dance".
Chicago Dance Crash brings a lot to a performance, and audiences see it right away. They bring a reputation for creative intensity that matches the loyalty of their large following, they bring a performance history that's backlit with superlative critical reviews, and they bring an outrageous range of multi-disciplinary talent that they somehow manage to fit onto one stage all at the same time. They pull grace from the long, dreamlike lines of ballet, excitement from the athletic defiance of acrobatics, and street-wise precision from the staccato body rhythms of hip-hop, and that's not even the hard part. Bringing all of that together is like a stroll in the park compared to what they try to do conceptually in their artistic approach to concert dance: they make careful, creative, compelling dance art to serve an inward and independent vision, but they never stop thinking about how their audience will like it.
When Bill Murray told Andie MacDowell at the end of Groundhog Day that "anything different is good" he probably wasn't talking about Jump Rhythm Jazz Project specifically, although if he'd ever seen them perform, he might have mentioned them by name. That's not really likely; Billy Siegenfeld founded Jump Rhythm in New York just about the time that they were filming Groundhog Day, and despite more than twenty years of demonstrating how to light up the night and enthrall an audience, not that many people know about them.
It's a Dance Company like no other, and when they perform their Fall Season at Chicago's Stage 773 from November 8th through the 11th, they're bound to bring a completely unique energy and outlook to a completely different kind of movement and choreography, just like they always do. In fact, it's actually a little surprising that they're still so surprising. Artistic Director Billy Siegenfeld was named the Cliff Dweller's Choreographer of the Year in 2011, and the entire Company won an Emmy Award for their performances in the PBS documentary Jump Rhythm Jazz Project: Getting There.
Dance Chicago opens their 2012 season at the Carl Sandburg HS Auditorium in Orland Park, featuring a characteristically wide range of dance companies. Before continuing their month-long run at the Athenaeum Theatre and at Studio 773, the festival (in its eighteenth year) opens with a show that will include Aerial Dance Chicago, Jump Rhythm Jazz Project, and Forum Jazz Dance Theatre (performing Christian Denice's within.impulse) among many others. Jump Rhythm will perform The Sumptuous Screech of Simplicity, one of the works featured in their Fall Series at Studio 773, beginning Thursday, November 8.
The Sumptuous Screech of Simplicity is a typically innovative and entertaining JRJP piece; five dancers sit side by side in closely arranged chairs, and in a non-stop display of high-speed interaction, take an audience to at least four or five different places they never expected to go. Aerial Dance Chicago presents yet another part of the broad spectrum of independent Dance that Dance Chicago is known for championing; their site describes how they "delve into the expressive potential of a multi-dimensional dance floor, and transcend the assumed limits of dance." For the rest of the programs in this year's Dance Chicago, take a look through the show details at dancechicago.com.
The Joffrey Ballet performs Human Landscapes at the Auditorium Theater through October 28, and it's a journey through three very different, and very compelling works --- different, compelling, and a little surprising. It's never surprising when the Joffrey is really accomplished in what they do, and it's never surprising when they seem inspired and convincing. What is surprising about Human Landscapes is that the Joffrey weaves a really strong sense of conviction into this show, to go along with their trademark professionalism and inspiration.