Dance Chicago 2004 Opening weekend Review:
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.