The Chicago Dancing Festival warmly embraced its community mission at the launch of this year's week of free performances, its first program anchored by original works, starring, respectively, local youngsters and area citizens.
For all the star power and A-level troupes that give the project such sterling legitimacy, the whole idea is also a populist herald inviting everyone to the dance. Monday's opening program at the Harris Theater, the first of six days culminating Saturday at the Pritzker Pavilion, upped that ante. Young Dancers from the After School Matters program opened the concert, with the family members of their late champion, Maggie Daley, proudly in attendance, including former Mayor Richard M. Daley.
And the finale, a homegrown "Bolero Chicago," thrust not just area residents but whimsical, colorful images of the city and its bustling life onto the stage - call it the people's dance. Typical for this always well-run enterprise, both works, which might have been amateurish, proved highly entertaining and great fun.
Nicholas Leichter's "Touch of Soul" for After School's Hip Hop Cultural Dance Ensemble glowed with slithering street moves and shrewdly organized its more than two dozen performers into shifing lines of mini-ensembles, moving on and off stage in sideways waves.
Meanwhile, in "Bolero Chicago," which, like "Soul," will be back Saturday at the Pritzker, New York choreographer Larry Keigwin employs a feww pros with prdinary folks in a fetching celebration of the city's diversity and urban bustle, boasting such key images as the Bull's, mascot, subway riding and a lonely, wind-swept day, while using standard stage organization to gently disguise these aren't trained experts. You cheered the piece, which cheers city life.
The selections from the Joffrey Ballet and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, besides challenging and terrific, were fascinating. Twyla Tharp's "Scarlatti," for Hubbard, is bright, bejeweled and ballet-tinged, both bubbly and Baroque. William Forsythe's "In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated," is stark, edgy and ultramodern - a Joffrey work that actually plays better at the Harris, a theater that shares its metallic black decor. In "Scarlatti," Hubbard newcomer Quinn Wharton, standing in for an injured David Schultz, is a welcome arrival, tall and techincally pert, while the Joffrey's Christine Rocas, Rory Hohenstein and, most especially, Victoria Jaiani were masterful in the Forsythe.
Maybe the biggest delight came from the fest's matchmaking effort teaming Giordano Dance Chicago with Swedish choreographer Alexander Ekman. "Two Become Three" is a marvelous, comic miniromance, with a just slightly unhappy ending and a field day for the fine character theatrics of Maeghan McHale and Martin Ortiz Tapia.
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