Chicago is rich in arts and culture, from the performing arts to Millennium Park, to its 16 miles of lakeside expressway running alongside the shoreline of Lake Michigan. This is where I grew up, attended art school and heard my first Friday afternoon concert in the bird’s nest at Symphony Hall in the 1950s. A lot has changed, expanded and improved since I left the city and migrated to the wide, tree lined streets of suburbia 40 years ago. The two changes that excite me the most are the restoration and renovation of The Auditorium Theater (a landmark built in 1837), and the permanent residence of the Joffrey Ballet (formerly of New York City).
As soon as the individual tickets go on sale for the coming season, I call the box office and get the best seats I can afford. Last August I got two center seats—first row, dress circle—to see Game Changers, a trio of contemporary, classically performed ballets: Fool’s Paradise, INFRA, and Year of the Rabbit.
Program cover and notes for February 19th matinee.
Fool’s Paradise • Choreographer: Christopher Wheeldon • Music: Joby Talbot
Fool’s Paradise was my favorite piece in this trilogy. It blends classical technique with modern choreographic sensibility. Bathed in warm light and minimally costumed, the dancers bring flawless classical technique to exquisite solos, duets, trios and sculptural tableaux in this work of intense beauty from choreographer, Christopher Wheeldon, who says of this piece:
Game Changers Preview: YouTube video frame
“I wanted to capture the innate drama of the music without telling a literal story. It’s as if the couples, trios, and groupings are passing through a fantasy realm reminiscent of the fairyland of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.”
Photos: Cheryl Mann
INFRA • Choreographer: Wayne McGregor • Music: Max Richter
An exploration of looking beneath the surface in bold, stylized movement.
The narrow strip of LED screen running the full width of the stage featured an endless stream of electronic figures monotonously moving through daily life, while below, dancers perform movements describing internal conflicts and agonies of decision, doubt and hope lying under the skin. Of this piece, choreographer Wayne McGregor says:
“…I have attempted to create a series of human intimacies, bared from under the skin—prosaic, imperfect, and fragile.’ ‘…to expose the very signs of life, physical empathies and emotional inferences ….’ ‘INFRA has become simply about people.”
Had I seen it last year, pre-November election or the year before, I would have enjoyed its beauty, while adding it to the ‘meaning vs. monotony’ themes popular in many art galleries in the 1980s and 90s. Maybe it was because I wasn’t feeling quite well yet…or maybe I’ve seen too much of it. In any case, in this current time of unprecedented political upheaval in America, I found INFRA unsettling and disturbing. Nevertheless, the dancing, the lighting and staging, were superb except for the LED crawl, whose lighting intensity I found distractingly out of balance with the dancing “story” below.
Two photos above, Infra Trailer—Royal Ballet: YouTube video frames
Two photos above: Cheryl Mann
Year of the Rabbit • Chicago Premiere
Choreographer: Justin Peck • Music: Sufjan Stevens
Justin Peck’s Year of the Rabbit—a collaboration with singer-song writer Sufjan Stevens—is set to Steven’s, Enjoy Your Rabbit, an electronica album and song cycle based on the Chinese zodiac, where the rabbit is seen as a tame creature representing hope for a long time. (The rabbit is the fourth in the 12-year cycle of Chinese zodiac sign: 1915, 1927, 1939, 1951, 1963, 1975, 1987, 1999, 2011, 2023…)
Photo: Pacific Northwest Ballet, YouTube frame
Year of the Rabbit weaves its corps de ballet ensemble of dancers into intricate and architectural forms with grace, precision and whimsy, leaving me with a much-needed uplift after the somber quality of INFRA.
Three photos above: Cheryl Mann
Let’s not wait until 2023. Enjoy your rabbit where ever you find it in these difficult times. Enjoy it and dance with your feet, your hands, your head, your heart…as well as you can…as often as you can. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
Personal note: Yoshihisa Arai (above) was a guest artist last year in the role of the Harlequin in Salt Creek Ballet’s Harlequinade. Because I am an adult student at this school, I had the pleasure of watching him dance in the company rehearsal room. Quite thrilling. It was one of those experiences that erases time and all externals for a few minutes and leaves an indelible memory.