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Chicago Dancing Festival adds frolic on Navy Pier to summer plans

The Joffrey Ballet in Alexander Ekman's "Episode 31." (Photo: Cheryl Mann)

It has been 10 years since the Chicago-bred, internationally recognized choreographer Lar Lubovitch and veteran dancer Jay Franke inaugurated the Chicago Dancing Festival, the admission-free celebration of all forms of dance that has become a late August ritual for the city’s dance lovers, and has attracted a total audience of more than 90,000 people.

What began as a single performance at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park has, over the years, expanded to include a week of free performances at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, the Auditorium Theatre, the Museum of Contemporary Art Theatre and — in a bold first-time experiment this summer that is designed to further increase wide-scale access to the art of dance — a promenade-style event to be staged at various sites on Navy Pier.

Although highlights of the 10th anniversary season of the festival — composed of five unique programs running Aug. 23-27, with free tickets to be released July 19-21 — were announced earlier, many details have now been confirmed. Among the notable elements of the mix are:

• The festival’s debut at Navy Pier featuring a program of entirely Chicago-based ensembles with a world-themed dance program entitled “Planet Chicago.”

• The festival’s first collaboration with Chicago Dancers United, an ensemble featuring members of Chicago’s leading dance companies performing a new work by Randy Duncan (set to an original score by Chicago-based, five-time Emmy Award-winning composer Andy Mitranas), created for the Dance for Life benefit that will be held a week earlier.

• An inaugural “Modern Men” program.

• The return of Chicago Dancing Festival’s original 2013 multi-media commission: Alexander Ekman’s “Episode 31,” danced by the Joffrey Ballet. Other works are by such renowned choreographers as William Forsythe, Christopher Wheeldon, Crystal Pite, Rennie Harris, Aszure Barton and a festival company debut by the Pennsylvania Ballet dancing George Balanchine’s “Concerto Barocco.”

“Clearly one of our goals with the Navy Pier program is to generate even more interest, especially among young people, for our gala final program at the Pritzker Pavilion,” said Franke. “We’re still working out all the tricky logistics and timing of the event, but we will kick things off at Polk Bros. Park before inviting audience members to join a rhythmic processional along the south dock of Navy Pier with stops at several outdoor stages. The performance will culminate with a vibrant, interactive performance in the new Polk Bros. Fountain and Plaza, where audience members will be invited to dance along. This event is supported by the Polk Bros. Foundation, and is also presented as part of Navy Pier’s Arts & Discovery programming initiative dedicated to presenting Chicago-based arts, cultural and community programming in honor of the Pier’s centennial year. It will be the first major dance event presented as part of this initiative.”

As the number of venues involved in the festival has increased, and as commissions of new work have become part of the programming, the budget for the festival has grown to about $750,000. All programs have remained free, with general admission seating, but — and this is crucial — tickets for indoor events must be reserved in advance. (See below for guidelines.)

The Joffrey Ballet’s April Daly and Fabrice Calmels in Lar Lubovitch’s “Othello.” (Photo: Cheryl Mann)
The Joffrey Ballet’s April Daly and Fabrice Calmels in Lar Lubovitch’s “Othello.” (Photo: Cheryl Mann)

Here’s a complete rundown of the 2016 Chicago Dancing Festival:

• OPENING NIGHT CELEBRATION (Aug. 23 at 7 p.m. at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 East Congress): The program will feature Stars of American Ballet (still to be named, but generally drawn from the ranks of the New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theatre) performing “Who Cares?” the Gershwin romp choreographed by George Balanchine; the Martha Graham Dance Company in Graham’s Americana masterpiece “Appalachian Spring,” to a score by Aaron Copland —(a work Franke said he and Lubovitch have been wanting to present here for years); the Pennsylvania Ballet in Balanchine’s “Concerto Barocco,” to the music of Bach, and the Joffrey Ballet in Alexander Ekman’s zany “Episode 31.” Immediately following the performance, audience members are invited to join the dancers for a 10th anniversary festival fundraiser at the Chicago Athletic Hotel. Tickets for the post-show event (which will feature cocktails, dinner and desserts) are on-sale now with individual tickets starting at $250. For details visit www.chicagodancingfestival.com.

MODERN MEN (Aug. 24 at 6 and 8 p.m. at the Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E. Chicago): Aszure Barton + Artists in an excerpt from “Awaa” (about motherhood); solo excerpts from Brian Brooks’ “Some of a Thousand Words,” with Wendy Whelan and Brian Brooks; Joshua Beamish’s “Concerto”; Rashaun Mitchell + Silas Riener in “Desire Liar”; and Rennie Harris Pure Movement in Dr. Lorenzo (Rennie) Harris’ “Students of the Asphalt Jungle.”

Rennie Harris Pure Movement in “Students of the Asphalt Jungle.” (Photo: Courtesy of Chicago Dancing Festival)
Rennie Harris Pure Movement in “Students of the Asphalt Jungle.” (Photo: Courtesy of Chicago Dancing Festival)

DANCING AT THE HARRIS (Aug. 25 at 7:30 p.m. at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph): Aszure Barton + Artists in excerpt from “Awaa”; Martha Graham Dance Company in Graham’s “Diversion of Angels,” to a score by Norman Dello Joio; Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in Crystal Pite’s “Solo Echo”; the Joffrey Ballet’s April Daly and Fabrice Calmels in a duet from Lar Lubovitch’s “Othello”; and Rennie Harris Pure Movement in Harris’ “Students of the Asphalt Jungle.”

“PLANET CHICAGO” (Aug. 26, beginning at 5:30 p.m. at Polk Bros. Park on Navy Pier, 600 E. Grand, and then moving to various sites along the Pier): Beginning with Forward Momentum performing a traditional South African Gumboot dance featuring more than 80 young dancers from Chicago Public Schools, the Chicago Park District and schools and studios throughout Chicago, and then moving on to Muntu, in a performance of contemporary and ancient African, African-American and Caribbean dance, music, and folklore; the Chicago Human Rhythm Project, in a tap and percussive dance piece; Natya Dance Theatre, in a contemporary performance of the classical Indian dance-theatre art of Bharata Natyam. Finally, at the Polk Bros. Park Fountain at 7 p.m., Forward Momentum reprises the Gumboot dance, with the audience invited to join the dancers.

DANCING UNDER THE STARS (Aug. 27 at 7:30 p.m. at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, 201 E. Randolph): Chicago Dancers United in a new work created by Randy Duncan for Dance For Life; Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in William Forsythe’s “One Flat Thing”; the Joffrey Ballet in Christopher Wheeldon’s “After the Rain” (performed by Victoria Jaiani and Temur Suluashvili); the Pennsylvania Ballet in Balanchine’s “Concerto Barocco”; guests of Britain’s Royal Ballet in a pas de deux from Kenneth MacMillan’s “Romeo & Juliet”; and Rennie Harris Pure Movement in “Students of the Asphalt Jungle.”

Tickets: All events are free and seating is general admission, but tickets for indoor events must be reserved in advance through each venue’s box office. Tickets for the Aug. 23 program at the Auditorium Theatre will be released on July 21 at 10 a.m. at the Auditorium and at noon online at AuditoriumTheatre.org. Limit two tickets per order. Tickets reserved online will be printable at home. Tickets for the Aug. 24 programs at the Museum of Contemporary Art will be released on July 20 at noon in person at the MCA Stage Box Office, 220 E. Chicago, or by calling (312) 397-4010. Limit two tickets per order. Tickets reserved by phone will be mailed. Tickets to the Aug. 25 program at the Harris Theater will be released on July 19 at 10 a.m. in person at the Harris Theater Box Office, 205 E. Randolph, and at noon by calling (312) 334-7777 or online at HarrisTheaterChicago.org. Limit two tickets per order. Tickets reserved by phone or online will be mailed.

No tickets are required for the Dancing Under the Stars closing night performance on Aug. 27. Fixed seating at the Pavilion is available on a first-come-first-served basis in addition to lawn seating. The Dancing Under the Stars program will also be projected on a video screen visible to lawn patrons. No tickets are required for the “Planet Chicago” program at Navy Pier on Aug. 26.

Due to high demand, patrons may experience delays by phone or online. For best availability, secure tickets in-person at the box office. Any empty seats or tickets unclaimed at 15 minutes prior to curtain time will be released to those in a stand-by line. Stand-by lines begin one hour before each performance, in person only.

For more information regarding Chicago Dancing Festival tickets and performance schedules, visit www.chicagodancingfestival.com.