Sita Ram at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance

Members of Natya Dance Theatre creating a ring of fire separating Princess Sita,

Many artists can be intimidated by the idea of collaboration, and with good reason; the added complications of working creatively with others demands a much more accomplished competence from everybody involved. For Josephine Lee, the President and Artistic Director of the Chicago Children's Choir, collaboration is practically a vision, and one of her most expansive collaborative ideas will be on stage at the Harris Theater of Music and Dance, December 14th and 15th, with the return of Sita Ram. This is a collaborative accomplishment on a really significant scale.

Lee was just on stage at the Harris herself; the multitalented artist collaborated with River North Dance Chicago Artistic Director Frank Chaves on his beautiful The Good Goodbyes, set to an original piano score that Lee composed and performed live. The score was lyrical and forceful and filled with thought, and Lee's performance was exceptional, yet as complex and challenging as such a partnership can be, Sita Ram is that and more.

I Fight Dragons

I Fight Dragons' KABOOM! Album Cover

Nobody who starts a band could be blamed for thinking they might have to fight their way through something at some point. There are so many problems between where almost any band is and where they'd like to be that even if they don't call themselves I Fight Dragons, nobody could blame them, even if they talked a lot about fighting for what they believe in and for what they're trying to do. The thing is, Brian Mazzaferri actually is in a band called I Fight Dragons, and he never talks about fighting anything or anybody; mostly he talks about building things.

The band came out of nowhere just a few years ago, signed with Atlantic Records, and after two EPs own their own, released their first album, KABOOM!, at the end of 2011. A year later they had left the label, and you could easily think they'd be talking about what they have to fight for, now that they're back on their own again. Not even a little; on the way from headlining a show in Florida to headlining one in New Orleans, Mazzaferri talks about music, the internet, the band, the way they made the album, and a lot of other things, but he never mentions anything about fighting anybody. Mostly he talks about how a great band builds what it wants to be.

Fleshquartet: Music for Mats Ek's "Casi-Casa" and More

Fleshquartet, courtesy of fleshquartet.com

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".

Chicago Human Rhythm Project Brings a Brand New World of Dance to the Kennedy Center

BAM! Photo by Glenn Kaupert

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.

Two New Works From Choreographer Mary Tarpley at Dance Chicago

Mary Tarpley (Photo by Eddo Photography)

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.

Making Art for an Audience: Chicago Dance Crash Starts the Revolution

Chicago Dance Crash (Photo by Johnny Nevin for aotpr.com)

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.

Ready to Light Up Four Nights in November: Jump Rhythm Jazz Project's Fall Season

Jump Rhythm Jazz Project talking it over in rehearsal (Photo by Johnny Nevin)

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.

Things We Could Not Have Imagined: Fernando Melo and "Walk-In"

Fernando Melo (Photo by Johnny Nevin for aotpr.com)

"I like to work with process and collaboration," Fernando Melo says, a few minutes after finishing a rehearsal for his new work Walk-In, "because then we realize things we could not have imagined."

Luna Negra Dance Theatre will perform the World Premiere of Melo's Walk-In at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance on October 13, along with a reprise of Melo's critically acclaimed (and massive audience favoroite) Bate and Artistic Director Gustavo Ramírez Sansano's much anticipated 18+1.

Considering how enthusiastic people are about Fernando Melo's choreography, identifying exactly what makes his approach so unique can be surprisingly elusive; his originality can defy description almost as much as it defies expectations. He comes up with such a different take on things that it makes you wonder if Fernando Melo might be the only person around who could have actually reinvented the wheel. Once you've seen some of his work, you start to believe that he probably could have; by now cars and bicycles might all be rolling around on something very different, and probably something better, if he'd put his mind to that instead of choreography.

Simple and Strong, Sammy Tenuta's New Acoustic EP "stay a little longer"

Sammy Tenuta "stay a little longer" EP

Sammy Tenuta came out of a very different scene than the one he's in now; he was the singer and leader in loud, driving rock bands that headlined most of the big venues in the Chicago club scene up through the late nineties. He's moved on, in reality, he's moved back to where most of that music started anyway; his new EP "Stay a Little Longer" is purely acoustic -- one guitar played live, one vocal, all about the songs, just the way that really good solo acoustic and solo vocal records should be. Well, all about the songs and how you play them.

Andy Moor Brings It All Together In Zero Point One

Andy Moor

Even after you've listened to Andy Moor's new album Zero Point One a bunch of times, it's still hard to get used to how strong these tracks are. There are eighteen of them, and even if you keep going back to listen to the whole album, track after track through the musical light show of its many different voyages, it still won't matter. Although you may think that on just one more listen they can't all seem so rich or so well put together, it doesn't matter; they still do.

Andy Moor is one of the really respected producer DJs in Electronic Dance Music, and on the Trance Nation side of EDM he's been known for years for the quality of his productions. Still, this is something new. As successful as his hit tracks and remixes have been, Zero Point One is an album, a rich, musical album full of different songs, different textures, and different moods.

There's a major new world taking shape in Trance music, as the producers who built the many faceted sound of Trance out of monstrously melodic tracks, layered through and through with the lush atmospheres that make trance music its own art, have started to make really careful, complete albums. The artist album isn't new in EDM, but because trance has always been such an independent world, huge and global but always its own unique country, it's been a gradual, step-by-step process. It's been a complicated challenge, because trance artists don't fit easily into the world's expectation of what a recording artist is; for the most part they're touring DJs, software-based composers and producers who almost all came up putting out one track at a time, usually with its main purpose being to tear up a dancefloor when somebody played it in a set with a lot of other tracks.

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