Critics' Picks 2014

December 31, 2014
See Chicago Dance

Critics' Picks for 2014

Chicago’s vibrant dance community has filled stages across the city with an abundance of quality productions throughout 2014.  In lavish halls and humble storefronts, from classical tradition to edgy experimentation and bold collaborations, dance in Chicago continues to distinguish The Windy City as a go-to dance town. As hard as it is to pick favorites among so many fine performances and outstanding works, the dance writers for seechicagodance have selected a few stand-out candidates for our 2014 Critics’ Picks. 



Having already revealed the top seven picks of 2014 in Windy City Times, these three round out my top ten, and definitely deserve a mention. All three delved into strange and fantastical worlds that audiences were likely to love or hate. Several of Chicago’s lessor known performers are emerging from an excitingly fearless experimental performance community that continues to get better and better.

1)   The Operature: Developed over the course of two years, ATOM-r’s Mark Jeffery took time and fastidious care in creating The Operature. The evening length work presented last March at the not-yet-opened National Museum of Health and Medicine is an abstraction inspired by the life of Samuel Steward: a one-time college professor who left academia, and Chicago, to pursue a career as a gay pornographer and tattoo artist to the notorious Hell’s Angels motorcycle gang. Throughout his life, Steward kept a detailed account of his many sexual encounters, referred to in The Operature as “The Stud File,” and reputed to be as meticulous as Jeffrey’s treatment of the story. Though sex is the subject, the work is not sexy; the viewer feels as though he is viewing an antiquated operating theater, with strong movement and text from the four men in the cast (Christopher Knowlton, Blake Russell, Sam Hertz and Justin Deschamps) and fascinating integration of technology steered by ATOM-r’s other half Judd Morrissey.

2)   Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s Spring Series: Hubbard Street’s The Art of Falling has been named in multiple year-end lists by now, but let’s not forget the all-Kylián program last March, either. From my blog: “There’s nothing to say about Kylián, other than what has already been said: he is ‘one of the greatest choreographers of our age’ (San Francisco Chronicle). The audience moaned and hummed and rose to its feet more than once... It’s not just Kylián, but the win-win combination of Kylián and Hubbard Street together that is so magical. The company’s exquisite execution of his intricate choreography managed to also capture something of the sarcastic and sassy spirit underlying works that appear on the surface to be dark and depressing. It’s a formula that shouldn’t be missed.” Hopefully you didn’t.

3) Half of D-49: Chicago Moving Company’s Kay LaSota’s produced the second installment of Dance for $9.99 (also called D-49) over the summer at Hamlin Park Theater, surely not to be the last. Some promising new faces stood out from the crowd, with particularly strong showings from Minneapolis transplant Joanna Furnans, Milwaukee transplant Jose A. Luis, dancer-turned choreographer Josh Anderson, and Jason Torres Hancock’s improvisation of family portraiture featuring lovely performances from an eclectic group of not oft-seen dancers (Kelsey Herbst, Dennis Wise, Darling Shear, and Sarah Gottlieb). Let’s not forget the intermission gelato, either.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 --Lauren Warnecke



It’s hard to say goodbye. The Trey McIntyre Project admitted as much during press rounds, following the January announcement that the Boise-based troupe was calling it quits after nine-plus years on the scene. Fittingly, the company’s farewell tour included a new work that felt quintessentially Trey McIntyre. The Vinegar Works: Four Dances of Moral Instruction, a commission by the Harris Theater, brought the dark, macabre humor of writer and illustrator Edward Gorey to life. It was every bit the whimsical delight we hoped it would be, replete with intricate puppetry and a stilt-walking skeleton straight from Gorey’s maniacal vision of an ostensibly postmortem daycare. Danced to Dmitri Shostakovich, performed live by academy members from the Music Institute of Chicago, “The Vinegar Works” embodied the charm and playfulness the company demonstrated on a regular basis. We will miss the Trey McIntyre Project.

You could argue that Misty Copeland is the face of American dance right now. American Ballet Theatre’s resident beauty is the complete package: a superb technician, athletic, well-spoken; everything you’d want in a franchise player, so to speak.  Copeland’s commercial star power and mass appeal was enough reason to see the New York-based company perform its “All American Celebration” at the Auditorium Theatre as part of the venue’s 125th anniversary year, but works by Twyla Tharp, Clark Tippet, and Jerome Robbins showcased a host of prodigious talent, none better than Tharp’s Bach Partita. ABT recently revived this virtuosic delight from 1983 after 30-or-so years on the shelf. It was a display of precision.

"It’s been more than a year since Links Hall moved away from its old digs in Wrigleyville to its new locale at 3111 N. Western Ave. Ever since, it’s been one great evening after another. Links boasts one of the most important local laboratories for the  the raw and the new, whether it be dance, music, or multi-disciplinary. The Seldoms shared a program (and excerpts of the company's new work) with Peter Carpenter Performance Project and Kate Corby & Dancers in an evening dubbed “Dances for the Underground.” For The Seldoms’ part, the politically charged Rock Citizen was a witty look at the cultural influence of rock music from the ’60s, set to debut in 2016. Carrie Hanson’s bunch of cerebral movers gave us the gift of anticipation. And if you can't wait till 2016, the troupe brings its latest, Power Goes, to the Museum of Contemporary Art in March of 2015. Something to look forward to in the New Year."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 --Matthew de la Peña



Three summer dance festivals stand out as pivotal events for me, with Dance For Life topping the list as a dramatic representation of what it means to dance in Chicago. The combination of solidarity among dance artists from so many different companies, the high level of artistic and technical excellence, the variety and scope of choreography, the tangible enthusiasm of the packed house, and the commitment to sustain this crucial funding source for dancers’ health are all testimony to the growing vitality of dance in Chicago. While many fine Chicago companies didn’t make appearances that night, we can be especially proud of Giordano Dance Chicago, River North, Ensemble Español, Hubbard Street, the Joffrey, and Visceral Dance.

JUBA!, the Chicago Human Rhythm Project’s summer tap extravaganza, draws international focus to the ever-broadening scope of “percussive dance,”  bringing together the best of Chicago’s treasure trove of traditional and new-wave tap dancers and musicians, along with an international roster of guest artists. The summer-long workshops and three culminating concert performances really put Chicago in the forefront of the genre and go a long way toward cultivating audience for this medium. 

The Chicago Dancing Festival contributes a unique gift to the city with its free concerts of top-flight dancing and innovative choreography, both home-grown and national. This year, Chicago audiences were treated to dancers from the New York City Ballet in a knock-out performance of Jerome Robbins’  “Fancy Free,” and the Martha Graham company in  “Errand Into the Maze,” both classics of 20th-century choreography that we don’t get to see too often.

A list of favorites for 2014 would not be complete without calling attention to Joffrey Ballet’s “Stories In Motion” fall season and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s “The Art of Falling” collaboration with The Second City.  

We can thank the Joffrey for a wonderful program that epitomizes ballet’s relevance to the art of storytelling and gives a fresh perspective on ballet as total theater.  

Keeping the choreographic genius of George Balanchine’s “Prodigal Son” and Anthony Tudor’s “Lilac Garden” alive in the Joffrey repertoire is as important for audiences as it is for today’s dance artists. The two choreographic classics built perfectly toward “RAkU,” Yuri Possokhov’s inspired dramatic climax of the evening. Grouping these three truly epic works of art together in one program, each unique and innovative in its choreographic invention, aesthetics, and theatrical construct, reminds us of the ongoing mission of the arts to activate a sense of connectedness to our common humanity.

Also in the storytelling vein, but in a 180-degree turn, was Hubbard Street’s escapade with sketch comedy, a daring first for Chicago, and I dare say, the world. This was an exciting collaboration across disciplines on a grand scale that utilized the distinct attributes of each company, and yet merged the two into a delightful hybrid. The unique creative energy and superb dancing of Hubbard Street infused the The Second City with its momentum, and the melodies of dialogue-based humor unleashed Hubbard Street’s inner clown, making the whole much greater than the sum of its parts.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          --Lynn Colburn Shapiro, editor

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