The sights that stuck
Remembering why dance had the best year ever.
In terms of both quantity and quality, 2009 was one of the strongest years yet for Chicago’s dance scene. Even its lowest points seemed to fare better than they might with a tailwind of excitement, brought about by performances that felt risky, smart, and aware. In no particular order, here are five ways we’ll justify our hyperbole:
Brilliantly barely there
For three days in February, Tokyo performance group chelfitsch brought Five Days in March to the MCA. Set in 2003, playwright/director Toshiki Okada’s threadbare tale never broke into more than a trot. Dabbed onto the stage like tiny florets from a pastry tube, seven hipsters spoke in heavy slang, supertitled, in run-on sentences about their sex-obsessed lives while rolling a wrist and shifting from one foot to another. Making its way into the conversation only tangentially, and all but ignored, was news that Japan was entering Iraq, its first military engagement since World War II. Five Days’ atmosphere of lives in idle apathy was quiet, nuanced and exploding with implications.
It’s our pleasure—really
We met Adam Rose’s troubled alter ego, Elena, and stumbled into the odd-yet-romantic parallel universe of Ginger Krebs’s Rehearsals for Becoming Gods. Erin Carlisle Norton took us on a trip with Stops on the Line and then somewhere completely different with The New. Jonathan Meyer set off the alarm in The Waking Room. Julie Mayo showed us Feed the Guest, Fever Drift and whoaa man —and we loved all of them. Five artists we knew barely—if at all—made works that surprised, challenged and inspired with fully realized worlds and confident, brave choices. Unsurprisingly, they’re keen to work with the city’s most complex and fascinating young movers: We met a few of those as well.
The old was made new again
Legitimizing our high standards, Miami City Ballet brought four works that generate behemoth expectations and nailed almost every one (we’re still a little salty about Mary Carmen Catoya’s underwhelming Odile). George Balanchine’s Stravinsky masterpiece, Symphony in Three Movements, was almost too good to be true: clean but not anal, the company threw itself at the 1972 piece’s complexity (which would be absurd if it weren’t so damned perfect). Even Twyla Tharp’s In The Upper Room kept us on the edge of our seat—and that dance is about twice as long as it should be.
Ohad me at hello
For the first time in a generation, Batsheva Dance Company ventured to territory between Oakland and the Hudson River; in almost all 15 cities it was greeted by anti-Israeli protesters, despite the fact that choreographer Ohad Naharin’s work isn’t overtly (or even obliquely) political. Still, we don’t think entering the Auditorium through a metal detector had much to do with our deeply emotional reaction. Each moment of Deca Dance was simultaneously a gut-wrenching description of the pain of existence and a celebration of the power and capabilities of the body. An excerpt from George & Zalman, in which five women constantly restart their unison dance to Charles Bukowski’s poem “making it” over Arvo Pärt’s “Für Alina,” was of weapons-grade transcendence; by the end of Naharin’s Three, we were in tears.
All we could eat
The Chicago Dancing Festival’s third year was a win on volume alone: The multi-venue, free ’palooza induced, for dance fans, the giddy, gluttonous feeling music junkies enjoy during Lolla and Pitchfork. In one week, Wendy Whelan ruled in Wheeldon, Aszure Barton got us all hot and bothered, Aspen Santa Fe Ballet showed how Forsythe should be done, and Dayton Contemporary Dance Company poured its heart out, breaking ours.