The winter dance season in Chicago began (quite literally) with a slam and a bang last week. That’s when the eight fearless members of STREB, the “extreme action” ensemble that is as much about athletics and circus as it is about dance, flung themselves onto the stage of the Harris Theater of Music and Dance in “SEA,” a work by Elizabeth Streb, its founder and “action architect and choreographer.”
A few days later, dance (or what might be more precisely defined as “theatrical movement”) made a vivid impression on the TimeLine Theatre stage, where choreographer William Carlos Angulo (who created the wonderfully realistic choreography for Paramount Theatre’s “West Side Story” last season), captured the magical connection between mathematics and dance in “A Disappearing Number,” the fascinating piece originally created by Théâtre de Complicité and Simon McBurney. “A Disappearing Number” chronicles the collaboration between two of the most remarkable pure mathematicians of the 20th century – Srinivasa Ramanujan of India and G.H. Hardy of Cambridge University. And in explaining the challenge of uniting two abstract but very different things Angulo noted: “Dance and music both rely heavily on numbers to operate. And both are inherently emotional mediums. The intersection of numbers and emotion (though very useful to this play) is a difficult thing to wrap our minds around. Whereas music is the ethereal, untouchable expression, dance is one hundred percent physical. Nothing does what dance does. It is the most fully realized physical expression of emotion that exists. It gives a body to the numbers – literally gives them a breath and a pulse.” (“A Disappearing Number” runs through April 9 at TimeLine. Visit timelinetheatre.com)
Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin, artistic director of the internationally acclaimed Tel Aviv-based Batsheva Dance Company, is famous for developing his own movement technique, “Gaga,” which is rooted in “a deep listening to the body and to physical sensations.” Suffice it to say, the Batsheva dancers move in entirely hypnotic and unique ways.
The company, returning to Chicago for the first time in five years, will perform Naharin’s (deceptively titled) “Last Work,” Jan. 27 and 28 at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance. The hour-long piece — in which a woman in a blue silk dress runs on a hidden treadmill for the duration — was created in 2015, and is set to four Romanian lullabies, a Purim noisemaker, the pop of a gun filled with confetti and club music. And before it’s all over, sticky tape is used to bind the entire ensemble together.
“I actually wanted to name all three of my last previous pieces ‘Last Works’,” said Naharin. “I like the name. It is very dramatic, yet tells very little about the work, [and] one can never know for sure that it is not my last work.”
As for the initial images he brought into the studio when starting work on the piece he explained: “I think of a new process as a place like a new playground. A playground has rules and codes. I make up the codes so the dancers know how to play in that particular place. For example: Dancers were given a role: They had to choose between that of a baby, a ballerina or an executioner. What can move me to tears when I watch my work is not my choreography but the people dancing it. Being the father of a young daughter now helps in the realization that the pleasure of loving is a lot stronger than being loved.” (For tickets to Batsheva visit www.HarrisTheaterChicago.org.)
In conjunction with “Merce Cunningham: Common Time” a major retrospective focusing on the multidisciplinary work of Merce Cunningham (1919–2009), a seminal figure in modern dance, Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art will present several performances exploring the choreographer’s belief in “the underlying principle that music and dance and art could be separate entities independent and interdependent, sharing a common time.” Former Cunningham dancers will perform excerpts in the fourth-floor lobby twice daily on Feb. 11 and 12; Ballet de Lorraine (co-presented by the Dance Center of Columbia College) will perform Cunningham and Cunningham-derived works on Feb. 18 and 19; and Charles Atlas will present a 3-D Cunningham-related video that morphs into a live performance by Rashaun Mitchell + Silas Riener, March 23-25. (Visit www.mcachicago.org)
On the heels of its monumental new version of “The Nutcracker,” the Joffrey Ballet will shift into contemporary mode with “Game Changers,” Feb. 15-26 at the Auditorium Theatre. Featured will be three works: The Chicago debut of “Year of the Rabbit,” a piece rich in intricate architectural patterns created for the New York City Ballet by Justin Peck, and set to an orchestration of Sufjan Stevens’ 2002 electronica album, “Enjoy Your Rabbit”; a reprise of Wayne McGregor’s technology-infused “INFRA,” created in the aftermath of the 2007 London bombings, and evocative of “the idea of life underneath the skin of the city”; and Christopher Wheeldon’s “Fool’s Paradise,” a mix of solos, duets and trios set to Jody Talbot’s romantic score. (Visit www.joffrey.org)
The company Ballet 5:8 will celebrate its fifth anniversary with a film/dance hybrid rendition of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter,” March 18 and 19 at the Athenaeum Theatre. This full-length ballet, which follows the iconic Hester Prynne as she wrestles with guilt, grief and a society awash in hypocrisy, is set to music by the American modernist Charles Ives, with choreography by Ballet 5:8 artistic director Julianna Rubio Slager, an original spoken word performance by Kylla Pate and film elements by Preston Miller. (Visit www.athenaeumtheatre.org)
Performing March 9-11 at the Dance Center of Columbia College will be Malpaso Dance Company of Havana, one of Cuba’s most highly regarded contemporary dance troupes. On the bill will be Canadian choreographer Aszure Barton’s “Indomitable Waltz,” as well as “24 Hours and a Dog,” by Malpaso co-founder Osnel Delgado, set to music by Grammy Award-winning Cuban-American jazz composer Arturo O’Farrill. (Visit www.colum.edu/dance-center)
At its Harris Theater home, the March 16-19 engagement of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago will pay tribute to its two-decade relationship with Spanish-born choreographer Nacho Duato by reviving his exquisite “Jardi Tancat,” set to Catalan music recorded by vocalist María del Mar Bonet, plus a duet from “Multiplicity. Forms of Silence and Emptiness,” Duato’s tribute to J. S. Bach. Also on the bill will be Lucas Crandall’s full-company work “Imprint,” featuring improvised live percussion by Hubbard Street dancer David Schultz; and Crystal Pite’s “Solo Echo,” to music for cello and piano by Brahms. (Visit www.hubbardstreetdance.com)
Finally, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater will make its annual visit to the Auditorium Theatre with four different programs (all ending with “Revelations”), including the Chicago premieres of Kyle Abraham’s “Untitled America,” about the U.S. prison system; Hope Boykin’s “r-Evolution, Dream,” inspired by Martin Luther King; and Mauro Bigonzetti’s “Deep.” Visit www.auditoriumtheatre.org.