Previewing the Chicago Dancing Festival | WBEZ
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Eight Forty-Eight

Previewing the Chicago Dancing Festival

It began as a free, one-night concert involving acclaimed local and national dance companies. Three years on, theChicago Dancing Festival at Millennium Park's Pritzker Pavilion has grown into a multi-performance summer dance extravaganza. This year the Festival has again expanded its venues and programs. And thankfully, one thing hasn't changed – the performances are still free. Eight Forty-Eight dance critic Lucia Mauro fills us in on the details.

It's an admirable success story. A little over three years ago, choreographer and native Chicagoan Lar Lubovitch teamed up with dancer Jay Franke, formerly of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, to create a festival that would allow as many people as possible to experience quality dance. But bringing in big-name choreographers, such as Christopher Wheeldon, and dancers from American Ballet Theatre would certainly be costly. Nevertheless, they raised the necessary funds, and Chicagoans will be reaping the rewards when the Chicago Dancing Festival returns this month at the Harris Theater, the Museum of Contemporary Art Theater and the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park. A total of 16 companies will perform. And all performances are free of charge.

The festival kicks off August 18 at the Harris Theater with an evening of New Voices, featuring works by a visionary new generation of choreographers, including Robert Battle, Aszure Barton and Jessica Lang. Richmond Ballet will perform Lang's evocative dance-architecture hybrid, “To Familiar Spaces in Dream.” In it, eight dancers represent the octaves in music as they rearrange on stage eight white boxes of varying sizes. The boxes take on the shape of columns and, in an abstract sense, represent white piano keys. The dancers climb up, slide down and wrap themselves around the boxes to evoke an ethereal marriage between sculpture and movement.

On August 20, also at the Harris Theater, the Modern Masters program consists of historic contemporary masterpieces by great dance pioneers, including Jose Limon, Jerome Robbins and Christopher Wheeldon. The British-born Wheeldon, a legend in our own time, sets the enigmatic duet from his 2003 ballet, Liturgy, on two famous New York City Ballet principal dancers. Wendy Whelan, one of the country's most recognizable prima ballerinas, performs this sensual dreamlike pas de deux with longtime principal dancer Albert Evans. With Arvo Part's mystical score driving the action, the dance emits an aura that's both spiritual and carnal, with vague Adam and Eve overtones. The two dancers cling to each other in a series of refined and jagged shapes.

The Chicago Dancing Festival culminates in A Celebration of American Dance on August 20 at the Pritzker Pavilion. Many of the country's most acclaimed dancers share the stage in an outdoor concert that typically attracts crowds in the thousands. Lar Lubovitch and his New York-based Lar Lubovitch Dance Company will give audiences a preview of his latest jazz-inspired ensemble work, “Coltrane's Favorite Things.” The piece will receive its world premiere at New York's Joyce Theatre early next year. Closely connected to the music, Lubovitch crafts a full-bodied and fun arena of jazz-club, movie-musical and social dances via John Coltrane's legendary 1963 recording of Richard Rodgers' “My Favorite Things.” He also juxtaposes Coltrane's wall of sound against painter Jackson Pollack's fields of action. The set includes a giant backdrop of a splattered Pollack canvas. According to Lubovitch, in this piece, “we're hearing a visualization of a Pollack painting.”

In addition, on August 19, the Joffrey Ballet's artistic director Ashley Wheater will conduct a lecture-demonstration with New York City Ballet dancers Wendy Whelan and Albert Evans at the Museum of Contemporary Art Theater. And during the day on August 22, DanceWorks Chicago will lead audiences in Twyla Tharp's huge interactive dance, “The One Hundreds,” throughout Millennium Park.

The Chicago Dancing Festival is quickly becoming a summer tradition. For the city of Chicago, it's without a doubt, one of the most comprehensive journeys across the diverse terrain of dance.

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