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Opening Night: Chicago Dancing Festival 2012

Five Chicago Dance Companies Perform Back-to-Back at the Harris Theater

by Carlin Sack – August 24, 2012
205 E. Randolph St., Chicago
312.334.7777

Nights like these make me realize I will never, ever fall out of love with dance. For the two hours that I spent at Harris Theater on Monday, the only thing I could do was sit in awe and bask in the happiness that is Chicago Dancing Festival – a six-day dance festival that brings the joy of dance to Chicagoans for absolutely no cost at all.

I was lucky enough to snag a ticket to the opening night performance at Harris Theater (even though the tickets were free, they sold out within two hours!) which featured performances from Chicago’s best companies. That’s right, Hubbard Street, Giordano and the Joffrey Ballet on one stage. (And I usually freak out when seeing just one company!)

Not only were the most well-known dance companies present, but also some well-known Chicagoans. The entire Daley family was in attendance to honor Chicago’s former First Lady Maggie Daley – who was a huge patron of the arts – along with Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his family.

After being introduced onto the stage as “the only mayor in the U.S. who can do a proper plié,” Emanuel gave a little pre-show pep-talk and quoted legendary modern choreographer Martha Graham. Quoting Graham in a room full of dance enthusiasts? Can’t go wrong there. This night was going to be nothing less than a special one for the city of Chicago.

The opening piece was a post-modern hip hop dance by the kids of After School Matters, a non-profit inspired by Maggie Daley’s desire to educate Chicago high school students in the arts. Its title, Touch of Soul, exactly defined the piece – good ol’ hair-whipping, hip-swinging fun set to some sax-heavy beats.

The joyfulness continued with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago performing Twyla Tharp’s Scarlatti. At its onset, the piece incorporated only partnerwork and traditional ballet sequences, but then spiraled into alternating trios and solos, increasing in intensity and emotion. Pointed toes, then flexed. Smooth movements, then jumpy. Partners were pushing, then pulling, experimenting with weight. But throughout the change of pace, the piece never lost its skippy, childish mood.

The piece of the night that stood out to me – by far – was the duet Two Become Three by Giordano Dance Chicago. The piece was a typical boy-meets-girl story, but then again, it wasn’t. A male voice humorously accompanies the love story, narrating as the dancers “get to know” each other. Even when a baby doll literally plops out of the sky into the couple’s hands (and the boy tries to slyly tiptoe offstage as if to escape the responsibility), the acting of the dancers and the omnipresent narrator kept the atmosphere light.

After the intermission came a change of mood: Joffrey Ballet delivered a tense, menacing performance with In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated. The company was decked out in shiny leotards and tights (Madonna-meets-Flashdance vibe?). The dancers’ popped hips and sassy, outstretched legs paired with breathy, intense music sent the message of total (sexual) domination to the audience.

After that hot hot hot number, only Keigwin + Company’s Bolero Chicago could kick it up a notch. With its troupe of 50 Chicagoans (all “non-dancer” civilians), the piece depicted the entirety of living in Chicago. The citizens acted out everything from clamoring for shirts from the t-shirt cannon at Bulls games (yes, there was a Bulls mascot on stage) to screaming at drivers edging into the bike lanes to riding on the El. The piece ended in one big red-white-and-blue dance number to Beyoncé’s “End of Time.” Now, that’s a dance party.

But Chicago Dancing left me with much more than a Beyoncé tune in my head (although that did keep me happily humming on the train later). After leaving the theatre, I wasn’t just rejuvenated personally and amazed by the unthinkable dances I had just witnessed, but I was also even more appreciative than I have ever been of my amazing city for being home to such incredible works of art.

About the Author: Carlin Sack

Carlin is Cheeky's editorial and social media intern and a Chicago enthusiast. She is in love with learning about the city and all the interesting people that bring it to life. Carlin is a student at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.