Ready for Valentine's Day?

Dance Crash's Chantelle Mrowka and Daniel Gibson (Photo by Johnny Nevin)

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."

Forum Dance: Fifteen Years of Accomplishing Dreams

Forum Dance's Fifteen Year Anniversary Celebration

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.

Dance Crash, Deahr, and the Art of Connection

Jessica Deahr of Chicago Dance Crash (Photo by Johnny Nevin for

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).

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.

Music and Dance: A Master Class in an Invisible Art

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in Casi-Casa by Mats Ek. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

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.

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.

Lizzie Leopold Reinvents the Dance Concert

The Leopold Group "A Correct Likeness" (Photo by Matthew Gregory Hollis)

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.

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, 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.

NoMi Dance's "three parts of one"

NoMi Dance's "three parts of one"

Considering how stratified the world of concert dance is, it's hard to pass up the chance to see a company like NoMi Dance Inc, who are at the Athenaeum Theatre in Chicago on Saturday, November 24. They're presenting "three parts of one", which they describe as "An Evening of Dance in Three Parts", and the program, true to the Company's mission and history, is designed to be both expansive and focused.

Considering all of the problems and obstacles that are part of just being an independent dance company, let alone putting together a major show, the willingness to include as broad a range of styles and voices as NoMi Dance does is especially impressive; it's an added challenge that demands practice, perseverance and poise. NoMi Dance, Inc have been doing it for five years, originally as NoMi LaMad Dance, under the co-direction of Laura Kariotis and Madeline J. Renwick. The two founded the Company in 2007 with a vision "to bring an eclectic mix of dance styles to its audiences," and at the Company's site, NoMi Dance describes what they do: "NoMi executes the beauty of contemporary ballet, the intensity of jazz, the athleticism of modern, and the passion of ballroom, providing audiences with an experience of each." They also go on to describe how they do it, and that's the part that really describes their "three parts in one" performance: "The company also utilizes outside elements and joins forces with like-minded artists, companies and choreographers to keep performances both refreshing and innovative."

New Choreography, New Dance Company: Manuel Vignoulle and the World Debut of Randy James' 10 Hairy Legs

Manuel Vignoulle (Photo by Shawn Koppenhoefer)

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".

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