A Dancer's View of a Great Dance Company: Lizzie MacKenzie Talks About River North's "MOMENTUM"

Lizzie MacKenzie (Photo by Cheryl Mann)

Lizzie MacKenzie has been a lot of different places as a dancer, both literally and artistically. She performed with the iconic Giordano Dance Chicago for five years, touring the world, landing on the cover of Dance Magazine, and learning Jazz Dance at one of the world's centers of the art. She's an award winning choreographer, the founder and Artistic Director of one of the country's most respected youth companies, Extensions Dance, and she shows up in magazines and online media as a model for Leo's Dancewear and for Illinois Theatrical. Jazz Dance? Yes, and Contemporary, working closely with choreographers from Laurie Stallings and Robert Battle to James Kudelka and Harold Maceldowny, not to mention her current work with Ron de Jesus Dance Company, Chicago Repertory Ballet and numerous performances with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.

That would be enough experience to give anybody an unusually complete perspective on a dance company, but there's one more significant part to Lizzie MacKenzie's bio: for six years she performed with River North Chicago Dance, whose Fall Engagement at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance is this weekend, November 16th and 17th. The program is entitled MOMENTUM, and it promises to be the kind of lush and lucid ride through a uniquely River North landscape that the Company always manages to put together. Lizzie MacKenzie has a really good idea of how they do it.

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

Chicago Dance Crash (Photo by Johnny Nevin for

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.

Dance Chicago's Opening Night: Jump Rhythm Jazz Project, Aerial Dance Chicago, Forum Jazz Dance Theatre and More

Kevin Durnbaugh and Jordan Batta of Jump Rhythm Jazz (Photo by Johnny Nevin)

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

Fifty Years and One Weekend of Being Giordano Dance

Photo by Gorman Cook Photography

Giordano Dance Chicago is celebrating an unbelievable fifty years of being one of the most impressive dance companies anywhere, and as much as it's an incredible milestone for the Company, the significance of the celebration goes way beyond just the Company itself. Giordano Dance has accomplished the astonishing feat of being true to a brilliant and original vision, that of the legendary Gus Giordano, while continuing to change in remarkably diverse and creative ways. At the Company's site, giordanodance. org, they talk about their mission "to create and present new and innovative jazz dance choreography, often redefining and expanding the very definition of jazz dance", but that's an understatement.

Rich and Real: "Human Landscapes" at the Joffrey

Victoria Jaiani and Miguel Angel Blanco (Photo by Herbert Migdoll)

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.

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

Fernando Melo (Photo by Johnny Nevin for

"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.

The Story and Stories of Dance: Chicago Repertory Ballet

Wade Schaaf, Artistic Director of Chicago Repertory Ballet (Photo: Cheryl Mann)

Chicago Repertory Ballet is a new company with a very new perspective, and the careful architecture of ideas that it is built from promise a lot. The Company's much anticipated premiere performance is September 21st and 22nd at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts; it features what is likely to become a characteristically rich set of dance visions, including works by Jacqueline Stewart, Autumn Eckman and Artistic Director Wade Schaaf.

This would have been an intriguing story no matter what. Schaaf has always brought a wide and balanced creativity to his choreography, and he's known for moving easily across a wide choice of styles and ideas. That would already have been a compelling story; the founding of a new independent ballet company is an unusual and complex event in itself, and Chicago Repertory Ballet's premiere includes an attention-worthy blend of established audience favorites and important premieres, performed by an impressive cast of accomplished performers.

Luna Negra Dance Theater's "Luna Nueva"

Luna Negra Dance Theater

Luna Negra Dance Theater is such an imaginative and unique Company that it's never at all surprising when they do something new and forward-looking. Their collaboration with the Museum Of Contemporary Art Chicago was a program of three exceptionally strong premieres, combined in a program called Luna Nueva which means, "the New Moon". It was a superb choice as the title for the program; in the pre-electrified past of almost every culture on Earth, the new moon has been a powerful and enchanting symbol of change. Luna Nueva's explicit purpose was to showcase works by choreographers "whose movement style and artistic voices extend beyond the conventional aesthetics of dance".

New Choreographic Voices at the Atlanta Ballet

New Choreographic Voices at the Atlanta Ballet

This weekend the Atlanta Ballet presents its "New Choreographic Voices" program, featuring works by Christopher Wheeldon, Helen Pickett and the Atlanta Ballet's own Tara Lee. Lee's work, "Pavo", is a fascinating story; it involved a collaboration with Atlanta based composer Nickitas Demos, and Catherine Tully of did an interview with Lee at The Huffington Post in which Lee talks about the work, and about how she became a choreographer. There's a video interview embedded in the story that's really worth checking out.

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