For one delightful week, the dance capital of America is here in Chicago. Leading modern dance and ballet companies from New York, London, Philadelphia and our Windy City have landed here for the 10th Anniversary of the Chicago Dancing Festival. Opening night was a thrilling display by four of America’s top companies: Pennsylvania Ballet (making its overdue Chicago debut), Martha Graham Dance Company, American Ballet and The Joffrey Ballet.
Each company brought one of their signature dances. As a total package, the night offered a rich, contrasting blend of styles in music and movement. The Pennsylvanians performed a classic George Balanchine work, “Concerto Barocco” (1940) while the Graham company offered its iconic piece, “Appalachian Spring” (1944), with its equally iconic score by Aaron Copland. American Ballet offered up a lesser-known, highly witty Balanchine piece, “Who Cares?” (1970), with music by George Gershwin. For the highly enthusiastic audience, these three numbers were a schoolbook primer on 20th Century Dance. The Joffrey ended the evening with a head-spinning display of 21st Century dance.
The evening was a pure delight. It was refreshing to see Balanchine receive an elegant and overdue treatment in Chicago. Unless American Ballet makes its once-every-decade appearance, this great master is simply non-existent on our stages. Nearly all ten Pennsylvania Ballet dancers fit the Balanchine mold of tall, willowy ballerinas. Lillian Di Piazza stood out. They showed strong training and beautiful execution. Chicago should invite them back soon.
Martha Graham’s company was uniformly top-notch. Each dancer represented a certain pioneering figure in early America–the Preacher, Bride, Cowboy and Husband, Pioneering Woman–and each executed their sharp, angular movements with precision. Graham herself was a dance pioneer. Charlotte Landreau as The Bride conveyed rich emotion in her movements.Though the gap between the Graham work and the Joffrey’s offering, “Episode 31” (2011), was only an hour, it spanned 200 years in our imaginations. I and the entire audience were unprepared watching the 22 Joffrey dancers execute their stunningly-synchronized movements.
This was something new. The choreography was post-George (Balanchine), post-Martha (Graham), even post-Twyla. Call it thrillingly tribal. As someone who has seen much of the Joffrey repertoire over 40 years, this was a revelation. It says only good things about the company’s future direction, following the deaths of mainstays Robert Joffrey and Gerald Arpino.
Saturday’s closing dance program picked up where the Joffrey left off as Rennie Harris’ Pure Movement company of 9 muscular black men continued the athletic emphasis with acrobatic displays of body slamming and forward/backward flips. The gymnastic element was in evidence again in Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s closing number, One Flat Thing, reproduced.
Choreographer William Forsythe put the 14 dancers through very imaginative moves. That number reinforced my perception that Dance is entering a new century with new energy. Against the Joffrey and Hubbard Street contributions, the three Pas de Deux on both night’s programs, while elegant and captivating, seemed to be from a very distant time.
Thank you homeboy, Lar Lubovitch, and co-founder Jay Franke for 10 years of a great idea that keeps on giving.