From the very start it has been the
audience as much as the performances that has been the essence of the
Chicago Dancing Festival.
Saturday’s fifth annual Celebration of Dance at
Millennium Park’s Pritzker Pavilion only confirmed this fact, as Mayor
Rahm Emanuel, who arrived onstage (in jeans and sport coat) for the
briefest of introductions, looked out on what he estimated to be a
gathering of 10,000 enthusiastic spectators, all of whom had gathered to
watch six major U.S. dance companies perform in what is said to be the
largest free dance concert in the country.
On an evening of weather so perfect you had to
believe the gods of dance were in a particularly joyous frame of mind,
that enormous crowd sat rapt for 2 1/2 nonstop hours of poetry in
motion, including one memorably lovely little turn by a scene-stealing
bird who briefly breezed across the stage on the wings of music by Bach.
The Bach (violin concertos both soaring
and mournful) propelled “Esplanade,” Paul Taylor’s supremely lovely
1975 dance that draws on the most basic human movements — walks, runs,
doubletakes, jumps, crawls, leaps, falls and gentle rocking — and turns
them into a dance of glorious delight and deep emotion. Suggesting
relationships alternately playful, teasing and affectionate, the work
shifts in mood from a trusting circle of friends, to more intimate
pairs, to genuine loneliness. The Taylor dancers, strong and unaffected,
brought the evening to a warmly celebratory close.
Coming just before them was one of those
essential classical fireworks showcases — Balanchine’s “Tchaikovsky
Pas de Deux” — danced by New York City Ballet stars Tiler Peck and
Gonzalo Garcia. But it came with a palpable difference. Both these
dancers are absolutely brilliant technicians who also possess a gift for
making that technique seem second nature. This was easily the most
exuberant, confident, richly musical performance of this fiendishly
difficult showpiece I’ve ever seen. Peck, a radiant, bold but wholly
unforced dancer, made everything seem effortless, as was the chemistry
between the two. The bravos were richly deserved.
The Martha Graham Dance Company
performed “Diversion of Angels,” Graham’s 1948 piece about the various
guises of love that is set to Norman Dello Joio’s intriguing score and
involves three couples and a small chorus. With a few exceptions
(notably Carrie Ellmore-Tallitsch and Xiaochuan Xie), the company seems
to have lost some of the tight, edgy fire of Graham’s technique,
particularly the use of the slow, sustained contraction and sudden
release that give her dances such dramatic impact. Overall, the company
looked a bit too lyrical and balletic.
The Joffrey Ballet was in excellent
form, dancing Balanchine’s neoclassical “Stravinsky Violin Concerto.”
Two very difficult, complex, starkly gestural and acrobatic central
duets are key here, with a chorus fusing them into a larger fabric with
sequences drawing on Russian folk moves. The duets were danced with
particular brilliance by Valerie Robin and Fabrice Calmels (both strong,
statuesque and independent), and Victoria Jaiani and Temur Suluashvili
(a couple of extraordinary physical beauty and delicacy). Jaiani has
long been a Joffrey treasure, but in recent performances Suluashvili has
demonstrated a new and formidable technical polish and true nobility.
The program opened with an exuberant
performance of Jiri Kylian’s demanding, high-momentum, mood-shifting
“Sinfonietta,” danced by Salt Lake City’s Ballet West. Set to the music
of Janacek. this is not one of Kylian’s most innovative and mysterious
works, but it established the mood of pure dance for the night. (The
woman in the two-tone gray costume, whose name I was unable to obtain,
Also on the bill was Charles Moulton’s
“Nine Person Precision Ball Passing,” the clever if relentless
synchronized hand-dancing/juggling work performed three different times
during the weeklong festival by River North Dance Chicago — a company
that deserves to be seen in its far fuller glory. Maybe next year.
Meanwhile, it was quite a night on every count.
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