Valentine's-Themed Dance Performances to Cozy Up To | WBEZ
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Eight Forty-Eight

Valentine's-Themed Dance Performances to Cozy Up To

For those who would rather watch dance than cut a rug themselves, two local dance companies are offering Valentine's-themed' programs. But don't expect strictly sentimental fare. For WBEZ, dance critic Lucia Mauro explains how these groups reveal the many sides of love.

Valentine's Weekend Engagement
Feb. 12 and 13, 2010
Harris Theater for Music and Dance 

Duets for My Valentine

Feb. 13 at 8 p.m.
Park West

River North Dance Company, long known for its sexy and passionate choreography, tackles more abstract matters of the heart in its annual Valentine's engagement. In Forbidden Boundaries, by artistic director Frank Chaves, fear, uncertainty, and self-doubt are conveyed through a complex manipulation of shirts worn by performers. The pliable mesh fabric forces the dancers to partner each other in a way that only allows them to twist and pull on the material. They cannot physically touch each other. It's a metaphor for the human tendency to question one's ability to make a commitment and move on. The music reflects the jarring, melancholic and aching beauty of the choreographer's pretty yet tortured movement. By the end, each dancer is at different stages of self-confidence. Some tightly clutch their shirts, remove part of them, or freely fling them off.

New York-based choreographer Robert Battle crafts a personal Valentine to Ella Fitzgerald. In Ella, a solo created for a female dancer, the singer's legendary scat vocals are visualized through frenetic ticks, jumps, and cartoon-like spinning. The dancer's breathless expressions and percussive intensity give audiences the sense she has a drum beating inside her body. The instrument appears to be bouncing around her torso and pushing through every fiber to get out.

In addition, River North premieres Robert Battle's separate percussive trio for men, and former Hubbard Street dancer Lauri Stallings returns to debut an ensemble work about the ever-changing nature of relationships. Rivher North Chicago Dance Company performs this week at the Harris Theater in Millennium Park.

Since 1998, Duets for My Valentine has been a staple in the Chicago dance community. Various presenters have brought together on stage sensual dance duos in different styles. Now, for the first time, Chicago Dance Crash hosts the lusty showcase. It aims for a more seamless merging of concert dance and urban styles. So ballet, modern and tap are on equal footing with hip hop and break dancing. The eclectic groups include DanceWorks Chicago, Elements Contemporary Ballet, Breakdance Chicago, and Chicago Tap Theatre.

Audiences will be seated cabaret-style at the Park West for a show that honors romance in emotional, quirky, edgy, and light-hearted ways. For DanceWorks Chicago, dancer-choreographer Jay Franke takes a sly jive-inspired approach to marriage, children and old age. In I Do, I Do Again, I Still Do, he suggests the bleaker undercurrents of the life cycle. With a movie-musical peppiness, a bride and groom flit joyously through the first section. We next see the man struggling to lift his now-pregnant wife as the cheery music continues. Lastly, the couple ahs grown old and –without losing their comedic flare—tries desperately to totter toward each other with the help of their canes.

For its offering, Chicago Tap Theatre inverts the logical pairings of fairy tales. Little Red Riding Hood and The Wolf are both trying to escape the destinies created for them by their author. In this playful tap duet, the two natural enemies find themselves becoming attracted to each other.

Duets for My Valentine takes place this week at the Park West in Chicago. Both River North Chicago Dance Company and Duets for my Valentine aim to tug at the heartstrings while winking at the more comical sides of romance.

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