Dance Companies

Inspiration and Creativity: Dancemakers Inspired by Martha Graham

Melissa Bloch in The Leopold Group's "The Near Future".  Choreography by Lizzie

Creativity is an enchanting word; in the arts you could even say that it's a glamorous word. With its dreamlike promise of uncompromised originality, it conjures an alluring collage of romantic images, images that depict the drama of an individual's struggle to discover, and then construct from nothingness, something that has never been real before.

That's the movie version; in real life, real creativity is a lot more complicated than that. It's not less enchanting, not even less glamorous, but it's certainly a lot more complicated. Most of the time, creativity is more collaborative than it is individual and, to the gaping horror of working critics everywhere, true creativity is usually at least as derivative as it is original. Inspiration and creativity are so elusively interwoven that the most compelling and important new art is always a collaboration, perhaps unrecognized, with whatever past accomplishment made the present what it is. It's certainly that way in the art of dance, and especially in contemporary dance, because it's difficult to imagine how different the present might be if it had never been shaped by the creative accomplishments of Martha Graham.

The Years It Takes To Make a Moment: Pascal Rioult Premieres Iphigenia

RIOULT - On Distant Shores - Dancers Charis Haines and Michael S Phillips - Phot

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.

Liaison: Chicago Tap Theatre, Tap Olé, and Tapage Bring It Together

Chicago Tap Theatre, Tap Olé and Tapage Present "Liaison"

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.

Hubbard Street's Pablo Piantino and Penny Saunders Talk About Alonzo King's "AZIMUTH"

LINES Ballet Dancer Meredith Webster, center, with (center-right, pushing left)

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.

The Possibilities of the Art: Ashley Wheater and Jazz at the Joffrey

The Joffrey Ballet's Lucas Segovia, Ricardo Santos, John Mark Giragosian and Alb

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.

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).

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.

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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