Pascal Rioult is a choreographer, but he constructs his works from materials that very few others know how to find. Like an artisan with his own secret resources, he's the maker of a rich and complex cloth; he weaves moments in time from threads of imagination and makes them into Dances.
He's the Artistic Director of RIOULT Dance NY, the Company that he founded in 1994 after a successful career as a principal with the Martha Graham Dance Company. He's been making dances for years, complex, captivating, intensely musical works, quite often set to full symphonic scores that few contemporary choreographers would venture to explore. Rioult doesn't hesitate to do so, because he has an ability to balance the innate orchestral power of such music with an equally powerful sense of precision and innovation, and he sees no reason to stop there.
On Tuesday, June 4th he'll premiere his latest work, Iphigenia, when RIOULT Dance NY opens their New York Season. In eight performances that run through Sunday, June 9th, audiences at The Joyce Theater will have the chance to see his most recent alchemy unfold, a collaboration with composer Michael Torke, along with three other critically acclaimed works, On Distant Shores, Prelude to Night, and Bolero. The premiere of a new work by an imaginative choreographer, set to a new composition by an equally respected composer would be news enough, but in this case, where it all comes from is an even more singular story.
Chicago Dance Crash is so accustomed to doing something new that even when they do something for the first time, it's like they've done it a lot already. It's a unique talent for an entire Dance Company to have, but the performers and staff who make up Dance Crash all seem to have a set of abilities --- audacity, imagination, and multi-disciplinary performance skills --- that make it possible for them to keep doing new things well.
Beginning Saturday, May 25 (there's no Friday performance the opening weekend because Dance Crash is on tour) and running for three weeks, Dance Crash is presenting their new full evening work The Cotton Mouth Club, choreographed by Crash's multi-talented Artistic Director Jessica Deahr and Robert McKee, who also performs the male lead in the work. Jessica Deahr tells aotpr.com's Johnny Nevin about how all of that creativity comes together when Crash converts Chicago's famous Biograph Theater (now The Victory Gardens Biograph Theater because it's part of the award winning Theater Company) into The Cotton Mouth Club.
Of all the intriguing Dance performances that anybody is going to put together this year, the one that Chicago Tap Theatre is presenting on Saturday April 20 just has to be one of the most promising. The much admired Chicago ensemble is joining with two of Europe's most imaginative tap companies in a program called Liaison; the whole idea is to show a one-night only audience at the Athenaeum Theatre just how many remarkable ways rhythm, movement, music and imagination, in other words tap dancing, can brighten a night.
Chicago Tap Theatre will share the Athenaeum stage with two very different groups of dancers, Tapage, from Toulouse, France, and Tap Olé from Barcelona, and perhaps the best short explanation of why this concert has so much to offer comes from Tap Olé's website, where the Company shares this insight: "... fusion is a universal language, which combines the creation of new and exciting sensations". Fusion is at the heart of Liaison, because the three Companies are not just presenting their own uniquely imaginative ideas of what tap dancings is, and is becoming, they also perform together, with live music, in a number of the works.
Michelle Dorrance goes to a lot of places, and every time she does, she brings something. Just about anybody who sees her perform, checks out her choreography, or just reads about her in a magazine sees it right away, but If you asked every single one of them what it is that Michelle Dorrance brings, what exactly she has, you might never get the same answer twice. There are so many dimensions, so many perspectives, so many moving parts to everything she's doing that everybody sees it a little differently; she brings a lot to the art of sharing her art.
Surprisingly, it's possible to not even know about Michelle Dorrance if you don't know anything about the rich past, and richer present, of tap dancing; If you do, though, you really can't miss her. She's the one with the rocket-quick step, the stylish look and the bass-player-in-a-rock-band steadiness, the one on the cover of Dance Magazine, on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon with STOMP and Paul Simon, at The Blue Note Jazz Festival and at the United Kngdom's prestigious Royal Variety Performance. She's known both as a dancer and as a choreographer, as someone who can pull from the past while she pushes the future, and she's the only tap choreographer the Princess Grace Foundation has ever recognized with a Choreography Fellowship.
"One of the coolest things about art, in all forms, is how much it influences and inspires new art." That's just one of the many insightful ideas that come up when you talk to choreographer Mary Tarpley, especially if you talk to her about Repurpose, the intriguing and very promising concert that she and The Den Theatre are presenting Friday, March 22nd through Sunday, March 24th. It's a Dance Concert to be sure, but one that has been carefully designed to present dance successfully to a much broader audience.
Tarpley is especially well-prepared to come up with an idea as innovative, and yet as audience friendly, as Repurpose. As a dancer, she's one of the multi-talented performers that make Chicago Dance Crash such a sensation, and despite the elegance and precision of her classical skills, she can just as effortlessly tear up a stage when the choreography is hip hop or acrobatic. As a choreographer, she premiered a stunning work called I Know Places last fall, an eloquent and sympathetic look at the pain of personal isolation, along with a beautiful, and completely different, balletic duet called Quiet Hallway. I Know Places was built in some measure to expand on the Edgar Allen Poe poem Alone, a line from which appeared unobtrusively on the set behind the interweaving performance by four dancers.
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.
When Shirley Mordine arrived in Chicago in 1969, nobody really realized how much dance she was bringing with her, if only because she hadn't made most of it yet. She hadn't founded the Dance Center of Columbia College, which she went on to direct for thirty years as it became the nationally respected institution it is today. She hadn't started Mordine & Company Dance Theater, which has been inventing successful new kinds of dance presentation for forty-three very active seasons, and she hadn't really begun the incredible series of ingenious collaborations that are a hallmark of her creativity.
On Thursday, February 28, Mordine & Company begin a series of performances at Chicago's Stage 773 (through Sunday, March 3) in a program entitled All At Once. The program is characteristically imaginative; it includes two works by Mordine, both of which feature original compositions by composer Shawn Decker, as well as guest performances from two other talented companies. On Thursday and Friday, Clinard Dance Theatre will perform, while the Saturday and Sunday shows feature performances by Deeply Rooted Dance Theater.
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.