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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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 YouSpoke.org, 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.
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 nomilamaddance.com, 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."
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.
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 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 dancechicago.com.