Auditorium Theatre programming needs more creative thinking

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Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba will present “Cuba Vibra!” at the Auditorium Theatre. (Photo: Eduardo Patino)

The Auditorium Theatre has announced its 2016-2017 season, packed with dance — by local and visiting companies — and mainstream music. But beyond all else the lineup suggests that this landmark theater — truly one of the most beautiful in Chicago — is in need of a new and energizing director with fresh and more wide-ranging ideas for programming.

A search is still under way for an executive director to replace Brett Batterson, who ran the theater from 2004 to 2015, when he left for a new jobin Memphis. The hope is that whoever this person turns out to be, he or she will begin forging relationships with other (non-competing) producing entities around the country, including, among others, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, whose array of groundbreaking, often international offerings rarely, if ever, make it to Chicago.

A whole lot of fresh blood is needed on the Auditorium stage. And while the Joffrey Ballet is a stellar tenant (with its own separate subscription series), it alone cannot sustain the place. Nor can the annual two-week visit by the Alvin Ailey American Dance Company.

Some genuine creative thinking is needed. So is a plan to literally light up the theater’s facade so that the thousands who drive by the building each day actually have some idea of what is going on inside.

Now that the sermon has been delivered, here is a look at what has been planned for the coming season:

The Auditorium’s “Made in Chicago” Dance Series will return with Ensemble Español (Sept. 29), celebrating its 40th anniversary, and featuring founder and artistic director, Dame Libby Komaiko’s stunning “Bolero,” to the Ravel score,as well as “Mil Clavos,” a piece representing traditional Spanish dance in a modern context, referencing the “clavos,” or nails pounded into the bottom of the dancers’ shoes.

Chicago’s Ensemble Espanol Dance Theatre in “Bolero.” (Photo: Dean Paul)

Chicago’s Ensemble Espanol Dance Theatre in “Bolero.” (Photo: Dean Paul)

The Thodos Dance Chicago company will perform March 11, 2017, and Giordano Dance Chicago is slated for June 10, 2017.

Perhaps most exciting of all is the arrival of Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba — Cuba Vibra!” (Nov. 6 and 7), bringing a fusion of cha-cha, rumba, conga, bolero and mambo to the stage. Its 17 dancers move in lockstep to the Afro-Cuban beats and virtuosity of a six-member, on-stage band plus one vocalist, all celebrating Cuban music and dance from the 1950s to today. (Note: The Auditorium Theatre annual Gala performance will be held Nov. 6 and includes the 3 p.m. performance of Lizt Alfonso Dance Cuba’s Cuba Vibra! followed by the Gala reception and dinner.]

Dance Theatre of Harlem will return (Nov. 18, 19 and 20), featuring the Midwest premiere of a new, untitled ballet by choreographer Francesca Harper, to music by American composer John Adams, performed with a live Chicago-based string quartet.

The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (March 22-26), will makes its annual visit to Chicago.

The Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg, Russia will reprise “Red Giselle” (May 19, 20, 21, 2017), not seen here since 2000, which captures the history of the great Russian ballerina Olga Spessivtseva (1895-1991), whose expatriation and personal tragedies led her to a mental asylum, where she lived forgotten for decades.

The Eifman Ballet of Russia will dance “Red Giselle” at the Auditorium Theatre.<br>(Photo: Kudryashova Yuliya)

The Eifman Ballet of Russia will dance “Red Giselle” at the Auditorium Theatre.
(Photo: Kudryashova Yuliya)

On the music front there will be an homage to American music that will begin with Susan Werner (Sept, 22), bringing her trademark fusion of folk, jazz and pop songs to an intimate performance for which the audience will be seated on the stage.

Next up will be Cole Porter’s 125th Birthday Celebration (Sept. 24); the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic (Nov. 11), in artistic director Orbert Davis’ new work, “The Mississippi River: Black and Blues”; “Too Hot to Handel: The Jazz-Gospel Messiah” (Jan. 14 and 15, 2017) and the Boston Pops in “By George! The Pops Plays Gershwin” (March 31, 2017). The concert will feature conductor Keith Lockhart leading the orchestra in a rarely-heard original orchestration of “Rhapsody in Blue,” as well as a reconstruction of Paul Whiteman’s jazzy version of “An American in Paris,” performed as it was in the 1920s.

Discounted subscription packages and discounted tickets for groups of 10 or more are on sale now. Subscription packages will be available online starting mid-April at AuditoriumTheatre.org. Tickets to individual shows will go on sale later this year. Call (312) 341-2300 for additional information.

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