Dance Companies

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.

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.

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".

Hubbard Street's Summer Series: So Different, So Good

acqueline Burnett and Jesse Bechard in Malditos.  Photo by Todd Rosenberg

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago opened their Summer Series at the Harris Theater Thursday, presenting three very different works from three inspired choreographers. Alejandro Cerrudo's Malditos opens the program, followed by William Forsythe's Quintett. Batsheva Dance Company Artistic Director Ohad Naharin's THREE TO MAX completes the evening, and "completes" is an understatement. The three works cover an unbelievable range of choreography and music, but what they all have in common is that Hubbard Street is performing them. In all three works the Hubbard Street dancers look like they invented the concert stage; it doesn't seem to matter what artistc vision they find themselves inside of, they're always at home.

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.

The Joffrey Ballet Lights It All Up With "Spring Desire"

Joanna Wozniak and Matthew Adamczyk in "incantations".  Photo by Herbert Migdoll
Joanna Wozniak and Matthew Adamczyk in "incantations".  Photo by Herbert Migdoll

The Joffrey Ballet's "Spring Desire" is a beautiful, masterful evening, made out of elegance and precisely focused inspiration; it opened April 25 at Chicago's legendary Auditorium Theatre, and will run through the beginning of May.

"Spring Desire" starts out with Edwaard Liang's "Age of Innocence", an intricately conceived and beautifully performed work of profound insight. I wrote about the making of the piece in an article at called "The Choreography of Understanding", and in the process I had the chance to see one of the rehearsals for it. In a way it's a revelation to see the movement isolated in the bright light of the Joffrey's expansive rehearsal studio, repeated again and again until it shows the multiple perspectives of individual performance, ensemble precision and choreographic architecture, but it's nothing like seeing the lights come up on it at the Auditorium. There's a depth to the staging, a harmony to its richly woven movement-fabric, a brightness in the dancers who perform in it, that immerses you in it's rich, brooding story.

The second work in "Spring Desire" is a widely respected work by Jerome Robbins entitled "In the Night", set to four Chopin Nocturnes. The Nocturnes are performed live, and beautifully, by Paul James Lewis, as six dancers weave a hopelessly enchanting spell with Robbins' movement design. The program notes say that the "exquisitely romantic pas de deux explore love in all its phases", and although "exquisitly romantic" is exactly what they are, the graceful eloquence of the Jofferey dancers adds a whole new kind of love to the list.

The last work in the show is the world premiere of "Incantations" by Val Caniparoli that I won't even try to describe; you just have to go see it. It starts out with a nonstop energy that could be the finale of almost anything else, then one of the most effective lighting changes you'll ever see brings everything way down, and it finishes, it finishes, maybe I shouldn't say how it finishes. You should just go see it.

Watching the Joffrey work is beyond impressive; the performance is at a level that's stunning in its gracefulness, its energy and its commitment. In three very different works, "Spring Desire" showcases what can happen when a group of richly talented people work really hard together to make something brilliant. This is a band where everybody knows how to play; this is a show to go see.

Spring Desire is at the Auditorium Theater through May 6, tickets are at the Joffrey (10 E. Randolph Street) and Roosevelt Box Offices or from Ticketmaster at (800) 982-2787.

Hedwig Dances and "Vanishing Points"

Hedwig Dances "Dance of Forgotten Steps" Photo by Eileen Ryan Photography

Hedwig Dances' current presentation of "Vanishing Points", a full length program of four original choreographic works, is so imaginative and effective that you have a feeling of seeing something brand new, a Company full of innovation and forward-looking ideas. That's exactly what you're seeing, but you're also seeing a Company that is in its twenty-seventh successful year, so "Vanishing Points" is not only bright and surprising, it's also a carefully woven presentation of professionalism in every detail, and there are a lot of amazing details. Two of the four works feature original scores, and the evening includes unusually bold and effective set designs. Perhaps most surprising of all, even though the show is expansive and multi-faceted, it's actually only danced by six performers, but you're not even conscious of that unless you study the program.

Artistic Director Jan Bartoszek's "Dance of Forgotten Steps" opens the program in a sophisticated, successful integration of movement, music, set design and video. "It's Not About You", a new work by Cuban-born, Berlin-based choreographer Judith Sanchez Ruiz, is a focused, well-crafted duet, while Victor Alexander's "Line of Sighs" explores an intriguing interaction between another remarkably imaginative set design and three dancers. "Vanishing Points" closes with a new work by Michel Rodriguez (whose "Moi Aussi" was a finalist in the 2010 A.W.A.R.D. show), an intricate and driving ensemble piece entitled "Por Dentro".

"Vanishing Points" is a surprising experience in many, many ways. The original scores for "Dance of Forgotten Steps" (by Michael Caskey) and for "Line of Sighs" (by Arianna Brame and Petra Valoma) are musically and choreographically successful, the video in "Dance of Forgotten Steps" is so much a part of the movement it goes way beyond what the term "multi-media" usually suggests, and the performances by company members Victor Alexander, Michel Rodriguez, Maray Gutierrez, Edson Cabrera and Jessie Gutierrez, with Guest Artist Katie Graves, are consistently strong in four very different settings. "Vanishing Points" is at Theater 773 this Friday and Saturday (April 20-21) at 8PM and Sunday, April 22 at 3PM.

Katie Graves and Matthew McMunn Choreograph Shakespeare

Graves and McMunn Pericles Act II (Photo by Katie Graves)

Katie Graves and Matthew McMunn Dance will be featured this weekend in Blunt Object Theatre's Shakespeare, I Love You: Pericles, a really unusual, multidisciplinary performance of Shakespeare's play. Graves and McMunn choreographed the three part work as a quartet (in which they perform with Josh Anderson and Adam Gauzza), set to an original score by TOOM (Mason Thorne). They join four theater companies (they're the only Dance company), each performing one of the original work's five acts.

Graves and McMunn have choreographed a movement-based presentation of Act II (which is also the title of the work). They abstract Shakespeare's writing into movement by dissecting its structure, utilizing textual images, and navigating both written and implied events from the play. McMunn described their approach to the project: "We take the repetition in Shakespeare's language, and we use that repetition as structure." The first section of the work is a solo by McMunn, as Pericles, stranded on an unknown shore. In the second section, McMunn dances with Anderson and Gauzza, while the final section is a duet (danced by Graves and McMunn).

The original score is by TOOM, who the choreographers worked with over several months. Graves and McMunn describe the process as a collaborative back-and-forth where TOOM would send musical ideas to the choreographers, revise them with them, and then join them at rehearsals to focus the final score.

For more information on the other companies joining Katie Graves and Matthew McMunn in Shakespeare, I Love You: Pericles, there's more at Stephen F. Murray, The Unrehearsed Shakespeare Company, Equity Library Theatre Chicago and Blunt Objects Theatre.

Shows are at the Den Theatre March 30, 31 and April 1 at 7PM, and March 31 at 2PM. For more about Katie Graves and Matthew McMunn check out

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