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2016 Spring Arts Preview — Dance

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Robert Battle's "Awakening." | Paul Kolnik

When it comes time to write about the Spring dance season, the work of that great cartoonist, Jules Feiffer, invariably springs to mind. Who can fail to laugh at the reedy body of his modern dancer in black leotard and footless tights, leaping and stretching, and trying to find the joy in all her physical and emotional effort?

Christine Rocas and Temur Suluashvili in the Joffrey Ballet production of “Cinderella.” (Photo: Herbert Migdoll)
Christine Rocas and Temur Suluashvili in the Joffrey Ballet production of “Cinderella.” (Photo: Herbert Migdoll)

The city’s Spring dance card is full, with ballet and contemporary dance companies – both Chicago-based and from afar – ready to ply their magic.

Here is a closer look at just some of the performances headed this way, including brief chats with Robert Battle (artistic director and choreographer for the Alvin Ailey American Dance Company) and Christine Rocas (a leading dancer with the Joffrey Ballet).

Robert Battle, artistic director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre. (Photo: Andrew Eccles)
Robert Battle, artistic director of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre. (Photo: Andrew Eccles)

Robert Battle (Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, March 8-13 at the Auditorium Theatre; www.alvinailey.org):

Making its annual visit to Chicago with seven performances, the Ailey company will present Battle’s “Awakening” (his first world premiere work since becoming the troupe’s artistic director in 2011), as well as “No Longer Silent” (set to a score by Erwin Schulhoff, a composer whose music was banned by the Nazis, and who died in a concentration camp in 1942). Also on tap will be new works by choreographers Ronald K. Brown (“Open Door,” set to the music of Arturo O’Farrill & the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra), and Rennie Harris (“Exodus,” a journey from ignorance and conformity to enlightenment, set to a score of gospel and house music); a Paul Taylor classic (“Piazzolla Caldera,” set in a smoky tango club), plus three new productions of works by Ailey (“Cry,” “Love Songs,” and “Blues Suite”), along with his spirit-raising masterpiece, “Revelations.”

Asked why it took so long to return to choreography, Battle explained: “I wanted to put my focus on curating — bringing new work by a great array of other choreographers into the rep, and speaking about my choices. I had to pull away from the selfishness of my own creativity for a while. But more recently I began to sense that my dancers craved time in the studio with me, and I wanted to express something about the dancers in front of me.”

Battle’s “Awakening” finds the choreographer using his characteristic taut, ritualistic, intensely rhythmic style for a dance that balances chaos and resolution, dissonance and harmony. It is set to a symphonic score by his frequent collaborator, John Mackey.

About his “No Longer Silent,” which he originally created for dancers of the Juilliard School, Battle said: “I became aware of Schulhoff’s music through conductor James Conlon’s ‘Forgotten Voices’ project, which has brought to life the work of composers silenced by the Nazi regime. It would be presumptuous of me to say this is a dance about the Holocaust, but it draws on the ideas of artistic and physical death, and war.”

Meanwhile, Battle is the subject of “My Story, My Dance: Robert Battle’s Journey to Alvin Ailey,” a new, richly illustrated Simon & Schuster children’s book by James Ransome and Lesa Cline-Ransome that is based on his life.

The Joffrey Ballet’s Christine Rocas as “Cinderella.” (Photo: Cheryl Mann)
The Joffrey Ballet’s Christine Rocas as “Cinderella.” (Photo: Cheryl Mann)

Christina Rocas (the Joffrey Ballet in Frederick Ashton’s “Cinderella,” May 11-22 at the Auditorium Theatre; www.joffrey.org):

“When I first performed the role of Cinderella a number of years ago it was the start of my becoming a very different dancer,” said Rocas. “I wasn’t the original person selected to learn it, but when a dancer became pregnant I had two weeks to prepare, and luckily I had a very supportive partner — Temur Suluashvili.”

“This is a very grand production, full of expressive dancing, and true to the classical vocabulary, with beautiful sets and costumes. The music [the score is by Sergei Prokofiev] is gorgeous, and Frederick Ashton’s choreography is very musical. There is a lot of dancing for the leading character, but it follows a nice progression, so that the most grandiose part is in the second act with the Prince.”

As for her characterization: “The story has a sad part, but Cinderella is always filled with hope. She never gives up, and always finds the wonder in the world. She finds magic in the mundane, even doing her little chores around the house.”

Rocas’ role model: “Alina Cojucaru [the Romanian-born dancer now with the English National Ballet]. I watch her videos on YouTube. Her dancing is so beautiful, so pure.”

Also on the dance card:

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago (March 17-20 at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance; www.harris theaterchicago.org), featuring a world premiere by the ever-witty Lucas Crandall to be performed in boots, and inspired by the velocity and energy of stampedes; Alejandro Cerrudo’s “The Impossible,” a theatrical tale of an aging couple; and Gustavo Ramirez Sansano’s high-energy homage to George Balanchine, “I am Mister B.”

Hubbard Street dancers Ana Lopez and Jonathan Fredrickson in “The Impossible,” by resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo. (Photo: Jamie Kraus)
Hubbard Street dancers Ana Lopez and Jonathan Fredrickson in “The Impossible,” by resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo. (Photo: Jamie Kraus)

Miami City Ballet (Program A on April 29 and Program B on April 30 at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance; www.harristheaterchicago.org). Now in its 30th anniversary season, this dynamic company will present works by George Balanchine, Liam Scarlett and Alexei Ratmansky on the first night (accompanied by the Chicago Philharmonic Orchestra), and Balanchine and Justin Peck (his acclaimed “Heatscape”), on the second night.

Visceral Dance Chicago (April 8 and 9 at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance; www.harristheaterchicago.org). This always impressive contemporary dance company, now in its third season, will present artistic director Nick Pupillo’s new full-company work “Vital,” accompanied by percussionist Peter Ferry, as well as “The Last Round,” Pupillo’s collaboration with the Chicago Philharmonic, and his piece, “SheThree.” A new work for the company by the ingenious Marguerite Donlon draws on Irish culture and wit, and there will be a reprise of Fernando Melo’s playfully surreal “Bate.”