November 9, 2004
One of the strengths of Dance Chicago — now celebrating its
10th anniversary at the Athenaeum Theatre — is its insistence
on representing every style of dance. But such an all-inclusive approach
can be a drawback, as evidenced by its showcase-heavy opening night
Saturday. Co-founder/curator John Schmitz makes a noble effort to
give audiences a taste of what they can expect in the festival's upcoming
programs. Still, opening night needs to be more judiciously streamlined.
The bill, which encompassed 12 works geared toward developing local
dancemakers, included world premieres from Dance Chicago's Choreography
Project. Only two performances made a stunning impact: Ron De Jesus'
"The Last 12 Minutes" for Luna Negra Dance Theater, and
Lauri Stallings' "In the Belly of Grace" for Joffrey Ballet
and Hubbard Street Dance artists. Because they were part of an uneven
roster that fell into overly literal choreographic traps, these emotionally
incisive pieces almost got lost amid the creative clutter.
"The Last 12 Minutes," a sensuous elegy set on seven dancers,
marks a turning point for Chicago's Luna Negra, a company at the crossroads
of defining itself as contemporary Latino. De Jesus, a former Hubbard
Street dancer, opts to ponder the universal issues of personal choice,
death and the possibility of an afterlife.
More modern than Latino-based, "The Last 12 Minutes" orbits
around Veronica Guadalupe, a subtly expressive dancer walking a paper-thin
line between energized chaos and collapse. Pounding music sets in
motion a non-stop stream of bodies artfully colliding as the performers
cut a cyclonic path of emotional destruction across the stage. Then
it ends in a dead calm, with Guadalupe's character pondering her waning
life. The audience gets instantly hurled into the spins and split-leg
jumps of the Hromovytsia Ukrainian Dance Ensemble (which closed the
first half to uproarious cheers). The skill and virtuosity of this
company performing the spirited national "Hopak" dance cannot
be underestimated, but the troupe simply should not have followed
De Jesus' contemplative premiere.
Stallings' equally reflective piece, "In the Belly of Grace,"
debuted during the labored second act and demonstrated her innately
profound gifts. A Hubbard Street dancer, Stallings assembled a group
of artists willing to tackle difficult questions through multilayered
movement that, ironically, beckons viewers "to be still."
As demonstrated by Joffrey dancer Julianne Kepley, whose frenetic
solo sends her swirling into an abyss, manic societal demands can
literally kill us. In a deft visual touch, the work concludes with
the dancers barely escaping the final curtain.
Dance Chicago runs through Dec. 5 at the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N.
Southport Ave. Tickets: $5-$20; 312-902-1500.
Copyright (c) 2004, Chicago Tribune