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Dance Chicago 2005 Opening weekend Review:
A tough topic to dance around Lucia Mauro, Special to the Tribune
Mental-illness theme surfaces at 2 events with compelling results

November 10, 2005

Over the weekend, Deeply Rooted Dance Theater celebrated its 10th anniversary at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, and Dance Chicago -- a large-scale festival of local choreography now in its 11th year -- opened at the Athenaeum Theatre. Both events, though unrelated, exhibited firm professional growth in their artistry, programming and pacing.

Maturity, depth and smooth transitions characterized the opening of Dance Chicago. The sampling of artists participating in the monthlong festival was diverse but not wildly eclectic. But as a whole, the modern, tap, jazz and balletic choreography took some provocative chances.

Lauri Stallings, a former Hubbard Street Dance Chicago ensemble member now forging a career as an independent choreographer, continues to take movement to the unexpected outer limits. In "ahimsa," her world premiere for River North Chicago Dance Company -- part of Dance Chicago's Choreography Project -- she tears down the scenery to expose the stark backstage area. With an equally raw abandon, the dancers -- in Tara Swadley's tawdry-swank costumes -- appear driven by an unseen, ominous force. The choreography inverts the bump-and-grind of Bob Fosse's style and transforms it into an out-of-control locomotive of bodies charging through life's unpredictable entanglements.

Showing his soul

Another original emerging dancemaker is Dmitri Peskov of DanceLoop Chicago. "Nijinsky," his brave solo for the endlessly versatile Paul Christiano, flowers into an interior-driven biography in movement of Vaslav Nijinsky, the tormented star of Serge Diaghilev's early 20th Century Ballet Russe, who suffered from mental illness. Beyond contorting his limbs, Christiano seems to be trying to unwrap his dancerly exterior so that the audience can see his character's soul. Peskov injects suggestions of Nijinsky's famous ballets, such as "Petroushka," but doesn't linger there. Like Nijinsky himself, Peskov takes the art form to another level without losing sight of impeccable technique or emotion.

Other standouts included the local improvisational tap group M.A.D.D. Rhythms; Frank Chaves' unconventional odyssey with folding chairs, "Take a Seat," for River North; and Stallings' non-linear "in the belly of grace," featuring dancers (such as flawless technician Calvin Kitten from the Joffrey Ballet) and Luna Negra Dance Theater.

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