Mayor among the praisers of Chicago Dancing Festival

August 22, 2012
Chicago Sun-Times
Hedy Weiss


Mayor Rahm Emanuel has been very clear about his desire to make Chicago a major dance destination. And the success of the Chicago Danicng Festival - which opened its sixth season Monday at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, and will continue through Saturday's grand finale in Millennium Park - demonstrated once again that offereing free admission for such top-notch events is a great encouragement.


"It's so exciting to see the way the city has taken to these thing," said Emanuel during a chat Tuesday, referring to both the impressive turnout for the Dancing Festival and for this summer's newly instituted free Shakespeare in the Parks projects.


Emanuel and his family (as well as former mayor Richard M. Daley and family) were at the Harris to catch a formidable all-Chicago program that included terrific performances by Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, the Joffrey Ballet and Giordano Dance Chicago. Neatly bookending the professionals were two playful, community-driven pieces: the world premiere of "Touch of Soul," New York-based choreographer Nicholas Leichter's complex, ingeniously devised, spirit-raising hip-hop piece, wonderfully performed by several dozen dancers from Maggie Daley's After School Matters program, and the sweetly goofy "Bolero Chicago," devised by New York's Larry Keigwin + Company, set to the Ravel classic and performed with great ebullience by about 40 Chicago volunteers united by their sheer delight in turning pedestrian movement into a whimsically "danced" evocation of the Chicago cityscape.


But, as Emanuel noted: "Watching the Joffrey, Hubbard Street, and Giordano companies was a reminder of the depth and breadth of this city's classical and modern companies." All three troupes were on fire Monday.


Hubbard Street reprised Twyla Tharp's "Scarlatti," the dsemonically difficuly, ballet-infused piece she created for the ensemble in 2011. This was the first ime I'd see the company dance the work (set to music by the baroque composer of the title) since its tense premiere, and it now has a gorgeous, flirty playfulness and relaxed spirit that probably was not possible to conjure when it was brand new. The Hubbard Street dancers are ever-astonishiung, with Jacqueline Burnett, Meredith Dincolo, Ana Lopez, Kellie Epperheimer, Jessica Tong and Laura O'Malley winningly teasing and tagging their male counterparts - Jason Hortin, Garrett Anderson, Jesse Bechard, Kevin Shannon, Johnny McMillan, Pablo Piantino and Quinn Wharton.


The Joffrey Ballet performed "In The Middle, Somewhat Elevated," by William Forsythe - an equally difficult work (and one that caught the imagination of Emanuel). The dancing - by Victoria Jaiani, Rory Hohenstein, Christine Rocas, Amber Neumann, Graham Maverick, ALexis Polito, Ricardo Santos, Anastacia Holden and JEnny Winton - was uniformly dazzling in its razor-sharp, knife's-edge precision and fierce technical brillance. set top the mechanically percussive electroshock score of Thom Willems, the dancers moved like highly competitive, ultra-chic urbanites with plently of sexy alienation.


In "Two Become Three," ideally danced by Maeghan McHale and Martin Ortiz Tapia of Giordano Dance Chicago, the young Swedish Choreographer Alexander Ekman spins a comically jaded tale of love, marriage and entrapment. Performed to the romantic music of Chopin, counterpointed by Ekman's winningly tart taped narration, nothing was overplayed.