Each year, looking back over the dance calendar in Chicago, I'm reminded of the wealth of wonderful performances; this year was certainly no exception. Many year-in-review columns highlight the big tours that roll through town, and we had amazing appearances by the Royal Ballet, Jessica Lang Dance, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and Steven Petronio Company. What made 2015 really special, however, was the wealth of exceptional dance produced by homegrown companies and choreographers. Here are my top seven Chicago dance events of 2015:
Sarah Gottlieb/Body Compass
Dance Project | Yolk
Premiering in February at Links Hall, Sarah Gottlieb's Yolk was inspired by her work as a doula. Although the contemporary dance used overt references to birth, womanhood, menstruation and ovulation, Gottlieb handled the material with a respectful command and no hint of cliche. Three women are each burdened by restless eggs placed in glass fish bowls. The tinny swirlings of the eggs, and the anticipation that at any moment something could go very wrong were part and parcel to some delightfully robust passages of dancing.
Josh Anderson | Fit to be Tied
While Yolk abstracted its topic, dancer/choreographer Josh Anderson created Fit to be Tied by tackling cliché. In a raucous, random and hilarious hour last March at Links Hall, Anderson would emerge from the slew of young dancers whose coming of age connected with an affiliation with the off-beat performance collective called The Inconvenience. Anderson showed here that he is capable of making serious dances while maintaining his super-cool persona.
The Seldoms | Power Goes
All of the pieces fell into place for the premiere of The Seldoms' Power Goes, an evening-length dance theater piece that premiered in March at The Museum of Contemporary Art. Inspired by the Lyndon B. Johnson administration, artistic director Carrie Hanson took on what could arguably be called the most complex period in U.S. history in her most ambitious work to date. Stunning stage design, text and dramaturgy from an all-star collaborative team complemented Hanson's always brilliant movement vocabulary.
River North Dance Chicago | Fall Engagement
River North's only appearance in the 2015-16 season took place in a one-night-only engagement Oct. 5 at the beautiful Auditorium Theatre. The performance was significant for many reasons, mainly that it would be Frank Chaves' last as artistic director of the company he lead for 23 years. For the past several seasons Chaves has continued to work despite a serious health condition that resulted in his using a wheelchair full-time.
Nevertheless, in 2014 he produced a stunning new work from a seated position, and directed what turned out to be a nearly flawless performance this fall of favorite works from the company's repertoire. The concert would also feature iconic performances by veteran dancers Jessica Wolfram and Lauren Kias, who would also retire that night.
Khecari | The Cronus Land
Mastermind Jonathan Meyer, co-artistic director of Khecari, expanded on 2014's Oubliette for The Cronus Land, an eerie jaunt through the once-glamorous Shoreland Ballroom. The two halves of the evening-length dance bookended a gourmet tasting of small bites in the center of the ballroom.
Guests were escorted along the way by a docent through the nooks and crannies of a decaying, grotesque world. It's a world that is becoming synonymous with Meyer and creative partner Julia Rae Antonick's contemporary dance works. While the scope of Khecari's works continue to grow, a commitment to small audiences and the overall experience of the viewers make for a truly bewitching and impossible to forget evening.
The Joffrey Ballet | Sylvia
A few short weeks after a stellar program of new works, Joffrey kicked off its 60th season in earnest with Sylvia, a full-length ballet choreographed by John Neumeier, originally for Hamburg Ballet. Admittedly, Neumeier's work can be difficult to grasp, and his interpretation of the original 1876 libretto about a huntress and her nymphs is no exception.
Although Sylvia received little praise when Joffrey premiered it in October, I found it a refreshing departure from the standard story ballet. Each new era in ballet's history has created some level of scandal or provocation, and Sylvia provided a glimpse of what it might have felt like to live in a time when ballet was as challenging to audiences as it was to the dancers.
Pretty much everything Hubbard Street Dance Chicago did
Hubbard Street had a great year, with two programs featuring the work of single choreographers ( Alejandro Cerrudo and William Forsythe ), and a dynamite Winter Series of all women choreographers. Bar none, the champion of the season was the final piece of the year: the U.S. premiere of Crystal Pite's Solo Echo. As snow gently fell upstage for the duration of the piece, the magnificent journey through a man's life unfolds, masterfully danced just last weekend at the Harris Theater.
Solo Echo has everything you want in a dance: incredible dancing, unparalleled stage designs and an exquisite score ( in this case, sections of two Johannes Brahms sonatas ). Refusing to rest on its laurels, Hubbard Street continues to push its dancers, crew, staff and audiences to their limits, and while some of the work presented this season were challenging for many dancegoers' palates, it's hard to deny the consistent intellect and innovation behind this company's programming.