Live review | Dance Chicago 2011: First Night
Dance Chicago is but some features can be counted on. It always offers a dizzying array of one-night-only programs, themed bills with different lineups upon each occurrence, nights given over entirely to selected companies, polished pieces performed by professionals, recital-ready student numbers, lots of jazz-dance, some tap, some hip-hop, kids, grownups, striking new voices and more of the same. It’s always overwhelming and slightly chaotic. When you’re not looking, it tends to move things around.
If the element of surprise is carbon, Dance Chicago is a diamond.
So it’s no surprise at all that, on November 2, First Night, I saw some things that I didn’t expect to see. In Without Sinking, a world premiere duet from Ron De Jesús Dance, former 17-year Hubbard Street member and Broadwayer De Jesús himself took the stage, with Lizzie MacKenzie, who through last season was a star dancer with River North Dance Chicago. Their combined wattage flooded the cozy “Pro” space at and, while De Jesús’s choreography broke no new ground, it was poured straight from the heart.
MacKenzie’s own choreography, shown earlier, was a duet for another RivNo alum, Ricky Ruiz, and Carrie Nicastro. Titled Us, this was a fully developed vision of high-definition movement, closely cropped; the wild mane of a romance in full bloom given a militaristic buzz-cut. Music by Ólafur Arnalds, who’s inspired MacKenzie before, seemed piped in from some other place where it could luxuriate in its disconsolate mood, as these two constrained lovers were given no such space, except for a brief moment of rest when they stood adjacent and slumped together to bear each other’s weight. Nicastro and Ruiz were both crisp and blank, one of the choices that helped Us feel so fresh and so new.
Between these two dances? Eight young girls from Chicago Multi-Cultural Dance Center wearing red Steve Urkel glasses and matching pointe shoes, and pinstriped, double-breasted suit jackets with rhinestone-studded buttons, who strutted and butterflied and dropped it as if it was hot to that Switch mix of Beyoncé’s “Run the World (Girls).” Briefcases, one for each, said CMDC on one side in silver glitter and, on the other, a word such as FEARLESS, CLEVER or GIFTED. It was fun, the girls killed it and I’m glad that no one sprained an ankle but, jeez: this is about as catch-all as curation gets.
(Or it’s the new model. As I tweeted during , “Curation is becoming more about raising questions than making statements; more about widening scope than about minding the gates.” I do believe that—I’m just not convinced that Dance Chicago is raising questions more specific than How much local dance can we present in 19 days? It’s great to see youth groups like Ultimatum, full of crazy ideas and raw talent, and the full-on-juke-squad-gospel-shout-with-half-assed-lipsynch-weirdness of Full Effect Dance Theatre. But when the latter follows the world-touring Trinity Irish Dancers, who can be frighteningly flawless—young Tyler Schwartz is a wonder of precision—is the takeaway for audience members, “My, what a beautifully inclusive portrait of a city through its movers,” or do they simply cancel each other out? Full Effect made Trinity seem staid despite its prowess, and after Trinity, Full Effect looked reckless and undisciplined.)
Also on the bill were Culture Shock Chicago in a hip-hop ensemble piece, Be; a quartet by Autumn Eckman for Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago’s junior group, Giordano II; and Jump Rhythm Jazz Project, which gets two nights of its own during the fest, on November 12 and 13. NoMi LaMad Dance, Inc., another group to be featured (on November 5), is still flirting with the surface of every style under the sun. Curie Metro High School student Stanley Glover is still at it and still blessed with enormous potential.
Collective Body | DANCELAB, founded just over two years ago in NYC and to be based out of Chicago now, as I understand it, presented a duet by its artistic director, Brian Carey Chung. Performed by Eckman and Randy Herrera (formerly a principal dancer with Houston Ballet), Lonely House brought a witty tale of love gone wrong to songs by Abbey Lincoln; the pair’s contained interpretation suggested that mutual reticence was the souring agent. Having gradually stripped to their underwear, the couple exited the stage facing each other, bent at the waist with their necks interlocked, like a donkey with two asses and no front half.