Fall preview 2014: Chicago’s dance scene evolves into uber-vibrant cultural movement

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Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and The Second City | © Todd Rosenberg

This might well be the Golden Age of dance in Chicago. The overall quality of the dancers here has never been more impressive. The sheer number of Chicago-based companies with increasingly high profiles beyond the city has been growing immeasurably. The enthusiasm and discernment of audiences for this art has been following suit. And a steady stream of companies from around the country and the world continue to feed both the appetite and the standard of excellence.

Here is just a partial rundown of this fall’s many offerings:

Joffrey Ballet at the Auditorium Theatre: The company will begin the season with “Stories in Motion” (Sept. 18-21), featuring three dramatically different works, including Balanchine’s 1929 masterwork, “Prodigal Son,” set to the music of Prokofiev, with the dancers appearing in this stunning evocation of the Biblical parable coached by Edward Villella, one of the legendary performers of the title role. Also on the bill are Antony Tudor’s 1936 “Lilac Garden,” to music of Ernest Chausson, which explores the conflicting emotions of a young woman trapped by the strictures of Edwardian culture, and the Chicago premiere of “Raku,” choreographed by San Francisco Ballet’s Yuri Posokhov and set to music by Shinji Eshima, which spins a story of love, treachery and arson as a Japanese warrior and his beloved princess are pulled apart by a jealous monk.

Then comes a Joffrey premiere, the company’s first-ever production of “Swan Lake” (Oct. 15-26), set to the classic Tchaikovsky score and choreographed by contemporary master Christopher Wheeldon, who has reimagined the iconic ballet by setting it in the Degas-inspired studios of the Paris Opera Ballet of the 19th century. Visit auditoriumtheatre.org.

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in collaboration with The Second City (Oct. 16-19 at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance): I’m still laughing at a “preview” sketch for this collaboration that was performed at Hubbard Street’s gala this past spring. It took classic Second City material (a guy in search of a date), and watched as he met up with an inflatable beauty who hilariously deflated every time sex became part of the equation. The Harris program will be a full-evening production composed of three distinct, interwoven storylines punctuated by short vignettes. It will be helmed by Jeff Award–winning director Billy Bungeroth of The Second City, a team of five choreographers, four writers and more than 30 actors and dancers including Carisa Barreca, Alejandro Cerrudo, Lucas Crandall, Jonathan Fredrickson, T. J. Jagodowski, Kate James, Terence Marling, Tim Mason and Robyn Mineko Williams. Visit hubbardstreetdance.com.

American Ballet Theater in its “All-American Celebration” (Oct. 3-5 at the Auditorium Theatre): The Auditorium is opening its 125th Anniversary season with the return of this major American company that will dance an eclectic mix composed of Jerome Robbins’ classic “Fancy Free,” the tale of three sailors on shore leave in New York in 1944; two works by Twyla Tharp’s (“Bach Partita” and “Sinatra Suite”); and Clark Tippet’s 1989 romantic duet, “Some Assembly Required,” set to William Bolcom’s “Second Sonata for Violin and Piano.” Visit auditoriumtheatre.org.

Dance Theater of Harlem (Nov. 21-23 at the Auditorium Theatre): Returning to the Auditorium for the first time in 16 years, this company, which puts an African-American spin on classical ballet, also will perform a mixed repertoire program. It will include: Robert Garland’s “Gloria,” set to the music of Francis Poulenc and celebrating both the rich cultural legacy of Harlem and its equally vibrant and enduring spiritual legacy; Donald Byrd’s “Contested Space,” to music by Amon Tobin, which explores contemporary couplings and relationships; and “past-carry-forward,” co-choreographed by Tanya Wideman-Davis and Thaddeus Davis, and set to the music of Willie “The Lion” Smith and Slippage (a work that considers the legacy of the Great Migration of African-Americans from the agrarian South to the industrial North in the early part of the 20th century), and looks at the Harlem Renaissance, the Pullman railroad porters and more. Visit auditoriumtheatre.org.

ROSAS in “Rosas danst Rosas” (Oct 9-12 at the Museum of Contemporary Art): This groundbreaking 1983 piece by Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, the influential Belgian choreographer, is set to a pounding percussive score by contemporary composer Thierry De Mey. Driven by repetition and building on an unstoppable rhythm, this work for four dancers mixes everyday and abstract movement and draws on a feminine spirit. (Note: In 2011, the piece became the focus of a controversy when it seemed Beyonce created her “Countdown” music video with dance sequences that mirrored sections of the “Rosas” choreography. In response, De Keersmaeker’s company created an open call for others to post their own versions of the dance piece online. Since then, hundreds have participated in the dance remix.) Visit mcachicago.org.

Michael Clark Company in “come, been, gone” (Oct. 25-27 at the Museum of Coontemporary Art): In conjunction with the museum’s “David Bowie Is” exhibition, British choreographer Clark will display his blend of ballet and punk, embracing the music of fellow rebel Bowie and collaborating with video artist and dance film pioneer Charles Atlas for this voyage into the 1970s club culture. Visit mcachicago.org.

Visceral Dance Chicago (Nov. 21 and 22 at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance): This new Chicago-based contemporary dance company — which left a searing impression when it debuted at the Harris last season, and confirmed first impressions in its appearance in Dance for Life this summer — features dancers with superb technique and dramatic intensity under the artistic direction of Nick Pupillo. The program will include the company premiere of “Duet Mabul” by Ohad Naharin, the world-renowned Israeli choreographer, new works by Banning Bouldin, Harrison McEldowney and Pupillo, and reprises of “Changes,” by Monica Cervantes and Pupillo’s stunning “Impetere.” Visit harristheaterchicago.org.

Beijing Dance Theater in “Wild Grass” (Oct. 28-29 at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance): In its Chicago debut, this company, presented in association with the Dance Center of Columbia College, will perform the newest work of its artistic director, contemporary choreographer Wang Yuanyuan, who became a household name in China following her collaboration with film director Zhang Yimou for the opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. The three-part work (“Dead Fire,” “Farewell of the Shadow” and “Dance of Extremity”), was inspired by the poems of Chinese writer and literary giant Lu Xun, and is rooted in ideas of spirituality and individuality. Visit harristheater.org.

BalletX (Sept. 18-20 at the Dance Center of Columbia College): The Chicago debut of this 10-member Philadelphia-based contemporary ballet company will feature two works by Joshua L. Peugh — “Slump,” a wild, aggressive dance about courtship and the instinctual rituals of mating, featuring Korean dance steps and set to Klezmer, jazz and mambo music, and “Valentine’s Day,” a pas de deux that deals with the ideas of giving and receiving, romance and obligation, support and struggle, all inspired by Japanese animation. Also on the bill will be Jodie Gates’ “Delicate Balance,” an athletic dreamscape to music by Arvo Part, Henryk Gorecki, Gavin Byers, David Lang and Max Richter and Matthew Neenan’s “The Last Glass,” a ballet set to the wild street-parade sound of American indie-rock band Beirut. Visit colum.edu.

Thodos Dance Chicago (Nov. 29 at the Auditorium Theatre): Kicking off the Auditorium Theatre’s “Made in Chicago” Dance Series, the company will perform a mixed bill highlighted by its fascinating story ballet, “The White City — Chicago’s Columbian Exposition of 1893,” co-choreographed by Ann Reinking and Melissa Thodos and inspired by Erik Larsen’s best-selling novel. Visit auditoriumtheatre.org.

Email: hweiss@suntimes.com

Twitter: @HedyWeissCritic

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