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Dancin' Feats
by Zachary Whittenburg
2009-08-12

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Houston Ballet's Emily Bowen. Photo by Amitava Sarkar


This is the slowest month Chicago dance will have all year, and it isn't all that slow. The Bill T. Jones/Duncan Sheik Broadway project Spring Awakening enters its last weekend of a short run at the Ford Oriental, 24 W. Randolph. Reviews have been mixed but suggestions that Jones' work is a spiritual inheritor of Golden Age choreography by the likes of Jerome Robbins and Agnes de Mille should be enough to pack the house with procrastinators like myself. See www.broadwayinchicago.com .

Nineteenth-century story ballet Coppélia is a breezy three-act comedy with a great Deliebes score and no shortage of the hijinks and implausibility typical to the form; its particular flavor of imagination-stretching plot points generally revolve around believing a plucky young woman could convincingly approximate a robot using only mid-Industrial Revolution technology. Still, it can be a blast and, under the wings of Hanover Park's Faubourg School of Ballet, 40 dancers will bring the doll to life for two special performances dedicated to autism awareness. Visit www.autismillinois.com/happenings.

Next Tuesday, the Chicago Dancing Festival drops for nearly a week of wall-to-wall dance performances downtown. Two Harris shows and a discussion/demonstration at the Museum of Contemporary Art filled up in a flash in June but Saturday, Aug. 22, remains full of free fun for those that stop by. At half-past noon in Wrigley Square, 3 p.m. at "The Bean" and 5 p.m. on the Pritzker's lawn, DanceWorks Chicago will appear around Millennium Park in Twyla Tharp's The One Hundreds. The 1970 audience-involvement piece, "appropriate for all ages and ability levels," is a package of 100 11-count mini-dances simple and easy to learn that strip context away from pedestrianism to create an anti-formance statement as mysterious as it is wholesome. DanceWorks has a sizeable chunk of the series selected and its dancers will welcome the public. At 7:30 p.m., the Pritzker stage will host the festival's closing event, a behemoth free show rewarding packing an early dinner and staking out a spot. Chicago Human Rhythm Project featuring Step Afrika! will open with a stompy bang, likely supplying a copious amounts of syncopated energy and good vibes. Houston Ballet, which hasn't been here since who-knows-when, will massacre a few pairs of pointe shoes for William Forsythe's The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude and Dayton Contemporary Dance Company will dance the piece Ulysses Dove made for it in 1986, Vespers. Lubovitch's company will preview Coltrane's Favorite Things, Linda-Denise Fisher-Harrell from Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater performs Ailey's solo-as-religious-experience Cry, and Hee Seo and Cory Stearns from ABT will dance Le Corsaire. Interestingly, the program also includes Les Ballets Grandiva, who will presumably projectile-radiate patriotism en travesti in Marcus Galante's Star Spangled Ballerina. Get details on both, and excited, at www.chicagodancingfestival.com .

Unrelated to but concurrent with these will be Argentina Tango Onstage, going on underneath the Pritzker at the Harris. Two performances, at 4 and 8 p.m., feature an array of tango artists including Alberto Podestá, whose stardom in the field began six decades ago. The larger festival, hosted by the Palmer House, the Cultural Center and Merle-Reskin, has more details on its Web site at www.chicagotangofest.com .

One of the constantly booked Pritzker's summer series is On Stage at Noon, providing some culture for your alfresco lunch. Katha ( Legends ) , choreographed by Natya Dance Theatre founder Hema Rajagopalan, will surely introduce the company and Bharatanatyam, the traditional form on which Rajagopalan's contemporary work is based, to new audiences when it takes its turn Wed.-Thursday, Aug. 19-20. Culled from the more modern end of Indian culture but also incorporating Bharatanatyam, Masala Bollywood is Kalapriya Dance Company's new stage-and-cinema work showing two nights only ( Friday-Saturday, Aug. 21-22, at 7:30 p.m. ) at Noble Square's Vittum Theater. See www.natya.com and www.kalapriya.org .

If you've attended a dance performance at Links Hall, the Galaxie, the Athenaeum, Hamlin Park or Ruth Page ( not to mention a healthy assortment of Northside playhouses ) , you've seen the lighting design of Josh Weckesser. This go-to chameleon—the variety among his designs consistently surprises—also sporadically produces a Josh Weckesser Dance Spectacular. This time it's an interpretation of Peter Gabriel's sardonic 1986 hit about movin' on up, "Big Time," promising a tall man in a tweed jacket but no psychedelic stop-motion clay avatars. It's at The Building Stage Friday-Saturday, Aug. 21-22, at 8 p.m. "So much larger than life" and such a reasonable $11—get tickets at www.ticketweb.com .

The next full evening of work by Dim Sum Dance, including new and old pieces by founder/director Julie Mayo and guest dancemaker Tiffany Rhynard, Fever Drift is in four parts and will be a must-see for fans of modern dance. I've sung Mayo's praises before but it's because she's on such a different plane from what anyone else is working on at the moment; if a pinball machine were held perfectly horizontal, its chrome ball would move around much the same as Dim Sum's dancers, slowly and unpredictably, and periodically being shot through space by flashing traps with odd sounds. The performance is at Hamlin Park Thursday-Friday, Aug. 27-28, at 7:30 p.m.; absorb further information at www.dimsumdance.org .

Closing out the month is annual benefit Dance for Life, which, if you've somehow never heard of it, is a terrific gala performance at the Harris that benefits five—count 'em—charities supporting those living with HIV/AIDS and their loved ones. The dancing is peerless and the occasion, while solemn, is usually presented with good humor, heaps of great spirit and premiere choreography ( this year by Harrison McEldowney and Randy Duncan ) . Paying $75 buys you 12 months of good karma and a ticket to the 7:30 p.m. show; double that or more adds cocktails at a pre-performance soirée and other perks. Details are at www.danceforlifechicago.com .


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