Chicago's resplendent 2013 dance scene ranged from little jewels to blockbusters, from bleak moods to sunny, and from classical to contemporary to the experimental. Here's a sampling of the tasty options provided by this year's smorgasbord.
"Nijinsky," Hamburg Ballet, February at the Harris Theater: John Neumeier's lifelong fascination with mad genius Vaslav Nijinsky drove this 2000 evening-length ballet, which splintered character and narrative into shards as disordered as the great choreographer's mind. Full-bodied performances, a strong sense of Nijinsky's time, place and character, and Neumeier's combined realism and fantasy made for a memorable, long-overdue Chicago debut by the 40-year-old Hamburg Ballet.
"Underland," Stephen Petronio Company, March at the Dance Center of Columbia College: Twelve years after the troupe's last performance in Chicago, it returned with this apocalyptic hourlong piece for 10 set to Nick Cave's dark, raw, grinding songs. Snatching hope from the jaws of despair, Petronio provided a fully convincing underworld singed by death and sexual violence, peopled by murderers and adventurers. But by the end, his musically adept, rocking and rolling dancers redeemed this bleak vision.
Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and Alonzo King LINES Ballet, March at the Harris Theater:In an eye-popping marriage of contemporary dance troupes, Chicago's beloved home team shared a program with King's Ailey-esque San Francisco company. King's taut, emphatic 2007 dance of the super-Titans — "Rasa," powered by tabla player Zakir Hussain — showed how suited King's style is to all caps. Though his mammoth new piece for both HSDC and LINES, "Azimuth," proved an exercise in crowd control, Alejandro Cerrudo's 2012 "Little Mortal Jump" proved its less-is-more staying power.
"Bully.punk.riot," BONEdanse, June at Links Hall: Atalee Judy's loving tribute to moshing, which figured large in her education, took center stage in this humorous, moving 80-minute piece satirizing marketing, bullying and the herd mentality. Judy's body-slam technique, which she's occasionally abandoned over the last 16 years, roared back full force in a work freshened by input from two new collaborators and running the gamut from flat-out anger to melancholy, from witty cynicism to wistful nostalgia.
"Line of Sighs," Victor Alexander, September and the Ruth Page Center for the Arts: Cuban native Alexander dug deep into the immigrant experience in this evening-length piece, played out amid an array of bungee cords first resembling the warp of a loom and later twisted and tangled. Hard-nosed yet steering clear of despair, Alexander captured all the ordinary human tensions, longings, regrets and doubts — exacerbated by distance from family and home. Six fearless dancers incarnated the piece's complex relationships.
"Cinderbox 2.0," Lucky Plush Productions, October at Links Hall: Revisiting her prescient "Cinderbox 18" (2007), Julia Rhoads fashioned an almost entirely new, hilarious evening-length sextet. Given her genius for pulling idiosyncratic movement and spoken texts from dancers — five of these were new to the piece — the performances had the manic, careening energy of a screwball comedy, powered in part by gleeful, mind-bending shifts back and forth among the worlds of dance, theater, TV and real life.
Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, October at the Harris Theater: Recent ASFB commissions provided a bang-up showcase for nine superlative dancers, stretched thin yet virtuosic throughout three hefty ensemble works. Though Jorma Elo's episodic "Over Glow" proved forgettable, Cayetano Soto's 2013 "Beautiful Mistake" was a revelation of what this passionate, inventive Spanish choreographer, little known here, can do. The Chicago premiere of Cerrudo's 2012 octet, "Last," made me see Hubbard Street's resident choreographer anew — or perhaps he's simply stepping more confidently in his own direction.
"La Bayadere," Joffrey Ballet, October at the Auditorium Theatre: Stanton Welch's staging of the seldom-produced Marius Petipa classic upped the ante on the ballet's soap opera — and showed off the Joffrey's female dancers in the purest of classical scenes, the "Kingdom of the Shades." Whether floating down ramps like ghosts or trying to stab one another, everyone involved came through with flying colors in a production guaranteed to wow ballet fans and newbies alike.
"Story/Time," Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, October at the Dance Center of Columbia College: With the charismatic Jones center stage, reading a mostly random selection of stories mostly from his own life, "Story/Time" could hardly fail. But this slippery experiment in randomization delivered a punch way beyond expectations, refashioning the paradigms of performance and autobiography to produce a unique experience of the spoken word and silent, speaking dance, drawn from the Jones archives.
"Off Center," Paige Caldarella, November at Links Hall: Independent choreographer Caldarella created a cunning, beautiful salute to outsiders — born innovators, of course — in this new quartet. Defying dance doctrine on body type and movement style, she celebrated the uniqueness of her "Off Center" dancers, giving each one an extended turn in the spotlight that revealed both their intrinsic qualities and their training, from ballet to voguing. Ultimately, Caldarella's formal devices brought all four together into a community of brilliant, fascinating misfits.
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