Live review | Chicago Dancing Festival 2011: “Moderns”

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  • Photograph: Cheryl Mann

    Aspen Santa Fe Ballet in Uneven

  • Photograph: Phil Knott

    Doug Varone & Dancers in Lux

  • Photograph: Todd Rosenberg

    Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in Too Beaucoup

  • Photograph: Rosalie O�Connor

    Joseph Watson and William Cannon of Aspen Santa Fe Ballet in Uneven

  • Photograph: Cheryl Mann

    Alex Springer of Doug Varone & Dancers in Lux

  • Photograph: Sandro

    Cassandra Porter of River North Dance Chicago

  • Photograph: Phil Knott

    Doug Varone & Dancers in Lux

  • Photograph: Cheryl Mann

    Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in Too Beaucoup

  • Photograph: Christopher Duggan

    Adam Barruch in The Worst Pies in London

  • Photograph: Cheryl Mann

    Adam Barruch in The Worst Pies in London

  • Photograph: Christopher Duggan

    Adam Barruch in The Worst Pies in London

  • Photograph: Sandro

    Hanna Brictson of River North Dance Chicago

  • Photograph: Cheryl Mann

    Benjamin Wardell in Too Beaucoup

  • Photograph: Bill Herbert

    Doug Varone & Dancers in Lux

  • Photograph: Nan Melville

    Adam Barruch

Photograph: Cheryl Mann

Aspen Santa Fe Ballet in Uneven


In 2011, new ballets are often typography for a classical alphabet. Now, good design is still art, to wit Uneven, Spanish-born Cayetano Soto’s 2010 work for [node:14762443 link=Aspen Santa Fe Ballet;], which opened the first night of free dance this week, the Chicago Dancing Festival’s “Moderns” program at the [node:33023 link=Harris Theater;]. The stark octet borrows judiciously from Soto’s European contemporaries and Canadian Édouard Lock; thanks to Soto’s keen eye for proportion, the result is legible, unique and well-balanced.

The dancers wear long-sleeved leotards blocked in black and white; they release rapid, complex interactions between their limbs which are frequently robbed of full extension by the gravitational pull of their torsos. Uneven hurtles forward, driven by the music of David Lang (cellist Kimberly Patterson plays live onstage), yet many of Soto’s sharp, short phrases recall time-lapsed flowers rewound from bloom to bud. This tension between unstoppable progress and constant mini-collapse perfectly evokes an unsustainable environment. As the piece moves into its second phase, more expansion is allowed, although a new handicap appears: Some dancers have to perform with another’s hand over their faces. 

Its final duet, between Sam Chittenden and Katie Dehler, ends abruptly. Chittenden—a stellar partner—breaks away and hastens upstage, frantically batting the air around him as if surrounded by bees. Katherine Bolaños and Samantha Klanac zoom into sight from stage right, facing away from us, click from one position to another, and all goes dark. It gave me the chills.

If Uneven is a beautifully executed if familiar new typeface, Doug Varone’s 2006 Lux is a watercolor in motion, also a work for eight dancers, also to music by a well-known contemporary composer (Philip Glass). When watercoloring, you begin with the light and fill the dark in around it; similarly, Varone’s base here is pure ethereality, effortlessness and unimpeded momentum. (In this it recalls festival cofounder Lar Lubovitch’s 1978 North Star, also set to Glass.) It’s impossible not to have a kinesthetic response to Varone’s dances; I was bobbing and swaying in my seat like a buoy. Bodies are expertly sneaked onto and offstage: One moment you’re watching a solo, the next a sextet, with no clue as to how or when the others appeared.

Liz Prince’s slit-happy, black pajamas and the dancers’ casual hairstyles further amplify the constant movement. Robert Wierzel’s lighting design shifts subtly as a golden disc—the sun or the moon, perhaps both—rises surreptitiously, projected onto the upstage scrim. Varone maintains variety within his casual vernacular, and reflects only the big shifts in Glass’s 1987 The Light. (The jumps get higher when the flutes come in.) Lux does an important thing: It immediately makes you want to dance.

Show closer Too Beaucoup, [node:7553373 link=by an Israeli creative team for Hubbard Street Dance Chicago;], has had its screws tightened considerably since its March premiere. Fortunately, this makes its first and third thirds even more riveting; unfortunately, it boldfaces the bloat of its middle, when travel stops entirely and the ensemble subgroups by unison while locked in formation. (This can work, mind you.) Christian Broomhall, Ana Lopez, Jessica Tong and Benjamin Wardell have excavated the most texture out of the material, giving what once were cold runtimes some semblance of expression. It remains a great work in its defiant idiosyncrasies, lit beautifully by Avi Yona Bueno.

Two shorter, simpler works season each act. Through a commission from the festival, [node:215625 link=River North Dance Chicago;] has acquired Charles Moulton’s po-mo exercise Nine Person Precision Ball Passing, staged throughout three decades for groups of 18, 24, 36, 48 and 60 dancers. RivNo sees its proposal—bodies as cogs in a mercurial machine—and raises it flawless execution, as if to ask, “Yes, and?” It’s a bit hypnotic and a testament to the dancer’s mind. It repeats on Saturday 27 at the festival’s closing-night blowout.

NYC dancer-choreographer Adam Barruch’s Worst Pies in London, to Angela Lansbury’s recording of the Sweeney Todd song of the same name, has its moments, such as a cracking heart made of two fists held up to the ribcage. The solo, which Barruch performs standing behind a table, is faultlessly musical and crystal clear. But too much of it is filler, made of swinging arm contortions afforded by exceedingly generous rotator cuffs. See instead his Cry Me a River.

All in all, tremendous dancing, choreography, and an amped-up audience which seemed to relish every moment. And there are four days left.


“Moderns” minus Hubbard Street in Too Beaucoup repeats today at noon at the Harris Theater. The 2011 Chicago Dancing Festival continues tonight and Friday 26 at the MCA Stage, on Thursday 25 at the Auditorium Theatre, on Friday 26 all day at the Chicago Cultural Center and on Saturday 27 at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park. Admission is free.


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