2010 in Review: Best moments in dance

December 26, 2010
Chicago Sun-Times
Hedy Weiss


Before you read the following list, read about yourselves. Yes, YOU — the Chicago dance audience. Because you are a major part of the story when it comes to “the best dance events of 2010.”

A good 10,000 of you turned out for the free, summertime Chicago Dancing Festival in Millennium Park, with its demanding mix of ballet and contemporary dance.

And economic hard times or not, you turned out in force for the Joffrey Ballet, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Luna Negra Dance Theater, River North Dance Chicago, Ensemble Espanol and Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago. You came to the many programs presented at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, the Auditorium Theatre, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Dance Center of Columbia College, the North Shore Center for the Performing Arts and Stage 773 (where the wintertime Dance Chicago Festival captured a fervent adolescent audience for its hip-hop and other programs).

In the process, you have transformed this muscular city into a formidable showcase for the art — a fact that has gained the attention of artists and presenters worldwide.

Now, a brief look at some of the best moves of 2010:


Musical theater choreographers: Rachel Rockwell made the dancers of “A Chorus Line” work harder than ever at the Marriott Theatre; dancer-actor Matt Raftery emerged from the chorus and turned Marriott’s “The Music Man” into a grand danceathon; Brenda Didier worked her magic on “Cats” and gave that musical a 10th life at the tiny Theo Ubique CabaretTheatre; Tammy Mader put an Agnes de Mille-like spin on “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” at Drury Lane Oakbrook, and David H. Bell once again put the swing into “Hot Mikado,” also at Drury Lane. And the powerhouse dancers who put in all the sweat equity in these productions are a sure sign that Chicago now has its own caravan of “Broadway gypsies.”

The Joffrey’s great leap forward: It has been three years since Ashley Wheater became artistic director of the Joffrey Ballet and grand designs for the company are now visible at every turn, with the dancers looking technically superb but also regaining that unique Joffrey trait of connecting with the audience while dancing both acknowledged classics and new work. The world premiere of “Crossed,” Jessica Lang’s thrilling mix of architectural design and spiritually soaring music, was a beauty. And the company impressively conquered a program of fiendishly difficult masterworks by George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins and Christopher Wheeldon.


The dreamy dancers of Hubbard Street: Aszure Barton’s “Untouched,” a new work for the company that subtly fed on the highly individualistic personalities of the Hubbard Street ensemble, was a highlight of the year and should be quickly returned to the rep. The flawless company also looked spectacular in revivals of Ohad Naharin’s “Tabula Rasa” and Jiri Kylian’s “Petite Mort.”


Luna Negra’s new leader: Gustavo Ramirez Sansano, the young Spaniard who recently assumed the artistic directorship of the Latin-rooted Luna Negra Dance Theater, had just one chance to make his mark this fall as his company danced at the Harris Theater, and he ran with it. The company, with many superb new dancers on board, gave gorgeous renderings of three works, with Brazilian choreographer Fernando Melo’s “Bate” (“Heartbeat”) a big charmer, along with Sansaro’s own “Toda una Vida” (“All My Life”).


Hip ‘Traces’: This French-Canadian “chamber” circus piece — part acrobatic ballet, part dance theater and all-around hip urban surrealism — easily charmed audiences at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place. And tell me, just how did that one girl in the cast, who was surrounded by six gorgeous guys, manage to get so lucky?


Airport angst: In “bahok,” presented at the Museum of Contemporary Art, choreographer Akram Khan gave us a fascinating, alternately funny and anguished group portrait of alienation and cross-culturalism at a big international airport. Genuine food for thought.


The “Billy” beat: Cesar Corrales held the opening night audience for “Billy Elliot, The Musical” in the palm of his hand. He did a masterful job of dancing, but he also has the acting chops to break your heart. Electricity.


River North Dance Chicago: This company of fearless, powerhouse dancers should be far better known both in its hometown and beyond. Two new works for the company — artistic director Frank Chaves’ fierce and original “Forbidden Boundaries,” and Monique Haley’s rhythmic beauty, “Uhuru” — showed the ensemble at its dazzling best.