Chicago Dance Month a feast for the feet

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Alexander Ekman’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” will be presented by the Joffrey Ballet in April. | Hans Nilsson/ Royal Swedish Opera

A few big dance companies like the Joffrey Ballet, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and Giordano Dance Chicago enjoy widespread local recognition, but many of their smaller counterparts across the city go largely unrecognized by the general public.

That’s where Chicago Dance Month comes in. The 2018 installment of the annual April event (which overlaps into early May) throws the spotlight on the city’s teeming dance scene, with dozens of classes, performances and special offerings. In this last category is an April 30 scavenger hunt that runs from the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington, to the Riverwalk, with informal dance performances along the way.

Chicago Dance Month When: 60 to 80 events through April 30 (scattered May events) Where: Locations across Chicago Tickets: Prices vary Info:

“I definitely think it’s raised awareness of the dance community,” said Sara Zalek, artistic director of Butoh Chicago, which she founded in 2014. “Chicago Dance Month encompasses so many different kinds of dance, including street companies and small companies. It highlights how much diversity there is.”

Dance Month is overseen by See Chicago Dance, which also administers the resource website, The organization has 78 members, three times what it had just eight years ago, and more than 100 other companies take advantage of its promotional services.

“One thing I’m always struck by is the large number of different styles and forms that are practiced in Chicago,” said Heather Hartley, the group’s executive director. “Part of it is that the city is so rich in cultural diversity to begin with. We have every possible type of dance that you can imagine in Chicago.”

Because so many dance presentations already happened in the spring, See Chicago Dance (formerly known as Audience Architects), established Chicago Dance Month in 2013 as a way to package those events and bring more attention to them. “It’s intended as both an advocacy and awareness campaign,” Hartley said.

Okwui Okpokwasili’s “Poor People’s TV Room.” | Photo © Mena Burnette of xbmphotography

Okwui Okpokwasili’s “Poor People’s TV Room.” | Photo © Mena Burnette of xbmphotography

See Chicago Dance has expanded the scope of its cooperation this year with the city’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, which among things is providing event space at the Chicago Cultural Center. As part of Open Studio Fridays through May 11 in a first-floor dance room there, various artists will offer performance excerpts, mini-dance classes and other activities.

Many Chicago Dance Month offerings, including Open Studio Fridays, are free. Others are ticketed events, but some companies are offering Hot Deal price reductions of at least 25 percent off. Here are three stand-outs:

— “Poor People’s TV Room,” Okwui Okpokwasili, 7:30 p.m. April 12-14 and 2 p.m. April 15, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, 220 E. Chicago (Tickets, $30; Inspired by the Boko Haram kidnappings of more than 300 girls in 2014 and created in collaboration with director and visual designer Peter Born, this work uses dance, song, text and film to explore the dynamics of the women-led resistance campaigns that subsequently emerged in Nigeria. Presented as part of a six-city tour, “TV Room” features Okpokwasili and three other performers from multiple generations.

“Okwui is a phenomenal artist who happens to be working in the theater, in film and in dance,” said Yolanda Cesta Cursach, the museum’s curator of performance. “So, to me she really exemplifies what a contemporary artist is interested in exploring in the world.”

— “100 Light Years of Solitude,” Yumiko Yoshioka, 7 p.m. April 25, Links Hall, 3111 N. Western (Tickets, $12-$15 in advance; In this work, inspired by Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s book of the same title, she explores the life of a solitary creature who lives on a planet 100 light years from ours. Her visit is co-hosted by Butoh Chicago and three other organizations.

Yumiko is an internationally known master of Butoh, a slow, highly controlled form of dance theater that emerged in Japan in 1959. “She studied with the founders of Butoh,” Zalek said, “so she is really bringing direct experience (of them) but also many, many years of her own personal inquiry into the form.”

— “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” Joffrey Ballet, April 25-May 6, Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress (Tickets, $34-$174; The famed ballet company finishes its 2017-18 season with the North American premiere of Swedish choreographer Alexander Ekman’s ballet, “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” which the Royal Swedish Ballet debuted in 2015. Despite the similarity in titles, this two-act work is not an adaptation of Shakespeare’s famed play but rather a celebration of the summer solstice and the Scandinavian midsummer holiday. Its score by Swedish composer Mikael Karlsson will be performed by Swedish vocalist Anna von Hausswolff and the Chicago Philharmonic.

This presentation is the North American premiere of this two-act version, which the Royal Swedish Ballet debuted in 2015. Its score by Swedish composer Mikael Karlsson will be performed by Swedish vocalist Anna von Hausswolff and the Chicago Philharmonic.

Dance obviously takes place all year round in Chicago, Cesta Cursach said, but Chicago Dance Month is an especially rich time to experience the art form. “It’s really a wonderful month of the year,” she said, “to just bring attention to dance and have people experience it and test it out if they have not normally considered themselves dance attendees.”

Kyle MacMillan is a Chicago-based freelance writer.

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