Chicago's dance scene had a great year. Milestone anniversaries, first-time visits from international touring companies, world-renowned guest choreographers, a very famous piece of music and world premieres from some very talented locals made 2012 downright delightful for dance lovers. Here are some standout pieces and performancesin no particular orderfrom the past 12 months.
New York-based American Ballet Theatre came to town in March with a five-performance run of the romantic ballet Giselle. The classic story of love and betrayal took over the Auditorium Theatre's stage with massive sets, large casts and even live dogs. Principal ballerina Julie Kent gave a heartbreaking performance in the lead role.
Paris Opera Ballet, the company Giselle was originally created for in 1841, also brought the ballet to Chicago this summer. An estimated 14,000 people attended a live simulcast on a giant LED screen in Millennium Park as the dancers performed inside the Harris Theater. Along with Giselle, they performed a repertory program titled Epic French Masterpieces that included a piece with one female dancer on top of a large, round table with a multitude of men surrounding her set to Ravel's Bolero.
Another world-famous troupe to hit town was Israel's Batsheva Dance Company. Chicago audiences were familiar with artistic director Ohad Naharin's work MAX via Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, but the other work on the program, also set to Bolero, beautifully showcased the dancers intuitive sense of movement and earthy technique. The show was delayed due to security issuesmetal detectors were installed in the Auditorium Theatre lobbybut this double bill was well worth the wait.
While the Chicago Dancing Festival presented many touring artists, it was Windy City citizens who stole the show. For its sixth year, festival co-founders Jay Franke and Lar Lubovitch commissioned New York-based choreographer Larry Keigwin to create a work that's uniquely Chicago. Bicycles, umbrellas, newspapers, cell phones and an appearance by Benny the Bull highlighted this collage of everyday people and movement set (again) to Bolero, proving anyone can dance, especially to this music. The piece appeared on the opening- and closing-night programs, and stole the show both times.
If Keigwin used the most props, Harrison McEldowney's Act One finale for this year's Dance For Life benefit incorporated the most creative. "Red, White and Black," a piece for 10 male dancers from various Chicago companies set to music by the pop band fun., went to new heightsliterallywith bouncing, swinging bungee cords. Five men anchored with dazzling dancing, while five flew into the air with the help of the C5 aerial/dance team.
Jessica Wolfrum of River North Dance Chicago makes the list with her strong, emotional solo "Renatus" ("Rebirth") from the troupe's fall engagement at the Harris Theater. Choreographed by Nejla Yatkin, this beautiful dance has Wolfrum in a blood-red dress with a 30-foot train that she eventually tames and sheds like a second skin. She's always a standout, but this was a breakthrough piece.
Gallim Dance traveled from New York City to The Dance Center at Columbia College to present the hour-long work Blush. Originally created by artistic director Andrea Miller in 2009, the piece starts with dancers covered in white paint that is strategically wiped off as the action ebbs and flows from masculine movement to ballet poses to human pyramids. Think Swan Lake meets The Exorcist.
Two Chicago transplants, originally from Spain, presented evening-length world premieres to rave reviews. Alejandro Cerrudo, resident choreographer for Hubbard Street, created his first-ever full-length work to open the company's 35th-anniversary season. One Thousand Pieces was inspired by Marc Chagall's America Windows, housed at the Art Institute, and used all 24 dancers. Intriguing sets using moving mirrors and water reflected Cerrudo's fast, smooth style. Luna Negra Dance Theater Artistic Director Gustavo Ramirez Sansano conceived a fresh, inventive new take on the ballet/opera Carmen with his one-night-only premiere of Carmen.maquia. All-white sets and costumes let the intricate choreography and talented dancers take center stage. Both works had strong, petite female leads: Ana Lopez (Hubbard Street) and Monica Cervantes (Luna Negra) prove good things do come in small packages.
Other local choreographers who made memorable impressions are The Seldoms Artistic Director Carrie Hanson with her smart, witty exploration of the climate change debate (which included cooking and eating pancakes on stage) in Exit Disclaimer: Science and Fiction Ahead, as well as Molly Shanahan of Mad Shak in The Delicate Hour. Both women possess a great talent for using intimate gestures and repetitive movements mixed with humor, spoken word and singing to evoke familiar emotions, while remaining poignant.
Finally, there was a revival from The Joffrey Ballet of the 1932 anti-war ballet The Green Table. Known for technically tackling classical and more contemporary works, the company showed what it can do stripped down to just a simple gesture. The powerful piece still resonates today with its message of perpetual war. Dancer Fabrice Calmels, as Death, was both an intimidating and compassionate figure.