The first thrilling, heart-stopping moment came with Thursday night's
opening fanfare, as all the dancers from the six companies to be
showcased in "Modern Masters" -- the formidable "indoor" program of this
summer's multifaceted fourth annual Chicago Dancing Festival -- raced
onto the stage to take their introductory bows. This has become a
festival tradition. And the audience at the Harris Theater for Music and
Dance -- packed with dance enthusiasts who knew they'd nabbed the
hottest free ticket around (and who would probably attend many more
dance concerts during the year were tickets more affordable) -- clearly
reveled in it.
Things quickly settled down as the feast of dance began with the
Joffrey Ballet's breathtaking performance of "Crossed," a work of sacred
and profane beauty created this past spring by Jessica Lang, the
immensely talented young choreographer and set designer.
Set to alternately soaring and meditative music by Handel, Desprez
and Mozart -- with great, ever-shifting vertical and horizontal panels
complementing the forceful patterning and changeable moods of the dance
itself -- this is a work of heat and light and speed and solemnity. The
dancing of the large ensemble was exquisite throughout, with
particularly soulful performances by the young "priests" (Fabrice
Calmels, Matthew Adamczyk, Raul Casosola, John Mark Giragosian, Tian
Shuai, Michael Smith and Temur Suluashvili), by Valerie Robin and the
utterly mesmerizing Joanne Wozniak in a female duet, and by April Daly
and Jonathan Dummar in a romantic pairing. "Crossed" is a sublime
addition to Joffrey's rep.
"Liturgy," Christopher Wheeldon's haunting, gorgeously angular but
sculptural pas de deux for Wendy Whelan and Craig Hall -- the New York
City Ballet stars who have forged a remarkable partnership that allows
them to breathe as one -- came next. Set to soul-piercing music by Arvo
Part, this subtle yet daringly intimate work, which emerges from a sort
of semi-light, showcased the dancers' astonishing control, with a moment
of something close to levitation now embedded in my memory.
Choreographer Paul Taylor's frenzied and ferocious work, "Last Look,"
set to a savage score by Donald York, captured the emotional upheaval
of male-female relationships that appear to have crashed and burned.
Relentless, despairing and brilliant, the piece is an unexpurgated
emotional exorcism, at once angry, punishing and erotic. And the nine
young performers of the Juilliard Dance ensemble (who seemed double that
number thanks to Alex Katz's ingenious mirrored panel set), attacked
this modern day "Rite of Spring" (or "Spring Awakening") as if there
were no tomorrow. Riveting dance theater.
Pure rhythmic play and gestural humor were of the essence in Robert
Battle's "Takademe," the irresistible solo set to the verbal hijinks and
kathak Indian beat of vocalist Sheila Chandra, and danced with
phenomenal wit and precision by Kanji Segawa (who just happens to be
married to Jessica Lang).
Lar Lubovitch, a co-founder of the festival, brought his New York
company here to dance "Coltrane's Favorite Things." Only rarely did the
choreographer's lyrically jazzy approach to the music have anything
innovative to say in response to Coltrane's hard-core bebop version of
the popular Richard Rodgers melody. And aside from the brilliant,
altogether cocky dancing of Jonathan E. Alsberry -- the sole black
dancer in the ensemble who obviously "got" the music and knew exactly
how to make it his own -- this piece seemed like a protracted exercise
in filling time.
The program closed with the Mark Morris Dance Group performing
Morris' "V," another large-scale and somewhat overly long work, but one
filled with ebullient dancing (Morris can mix folk dance patterns and
leonine lunges). It was buoyed immeasurably by the presence of five
superb musicians playing Robert Schumann's "Quintet in E Flat for Piano
NOTE: The festival moves outdoors to Millennium Park's
Pritzker Pavilion at 7:30 tonight, with performances by the Joffrey,
Britain's Royal Ballet, Ballet West, Alvin Ailey II and more.
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