Chicago 101: Dance | Performing Arts Feature | Chicago Reader

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Chicago 101: Dance

Not Just the Joffrey


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Movers and Shakers

CARRIE HANSON of the Seldoms often stages site-specific pieces in gloriously challenging spaces: a former reading room at the Chicago Cultural Center (the city’s first public library), a cavernous architectural antiques store, and, last fall, an empty Park District pool. Next week she goes small, with a new piece set in a gallery against the backdrop of a giant painting.

ATALEE JUDY of Breakbone DanceCo. has developed a punishing but thrilling technique that involves dancers throwing themselves through the air and landing full force on the floor. For the intrepid, she offers advanced-level “bodyslam” classes (also de facto company auditions).

SHAYNA SWANSON of Aloft Aerial Dance created a piece a year ago called Rolling Blackouts, lit only by battery-powered flashlights and lanterns, which gave the cast’s antics on rings, trapezes, silks, and bungee cords a moody sideshow quality. In October she teams up with Strange Tree Theatre Group in a piece that’ll transform the Aloft space into a haunted house.

INSTRUMENTS OF MOVEMENT, headed by James Morrow and Raphaelle Ziemba, specializes in hip-hop-inflected modern dance. For an upcoming project they team up with Nick Cave, head of the fashion department at the Art Institute, employing his “soundsuits”—raffia-covered, African-inspired costumes with knitted and crocheted elements, including masks.

THE CHICAGO DANCE CRASH, headed by Mark Hackman and Christopher “Mouse” McCray, specializes in evening-length narratives featuring acrobatic dance—not only break-dance but martial arts and stage combat. | LM

EVERYBODY KNOWS THE two grandes dames of Chicago dance: the 50-year-old Joffrey Ballet, which moved here from New York in 1995, and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, which turns 30 in 2007. Beginning next week Hubbard Street (866-535-4732, offers a program featuring a premiere by internationally known choreographer Toru Shimazaki (see Critic’s Choice), and in October the Joffrey (312-902-1500, performs the company premiere of Frederick Ashton’s Cinderella.

But there’s a lot more going on here, starting with a healthy festival scene. Dance Chicago (773-935-6860,, running from early November to early December, has grown enormously: it started out in 1995 with a respectable 38 companies and individual choreographers, but by last year it had exploded to more than 300. All the acts are based in Chicago—and the roster includes everything from ballet to modern to jazz, plus ethnic dance, hip-hop, and tap. Each program features up to 15 pieces, making this a great way to see local dance. So is the five-year-old Other Dance Festival (773-880-5402,, a three-week showcase of modern dance running now. This series includes companies young and old that tend to be a little too outre for Dance Chicago, hence the name.

The Dance Center of Columbia College (1306 S. Michigan, 312-344-8300, brings in modern dance companies from all over the world, and at affordable prices ($22 for students); this year, between September and March, it introduces choreographers from Great Britain, Taiwan, Japan, Vietnam, and South Africa. The Museum of Contemporary Art (220 E. Chicago, 312-397-4010, includes dance in its even more affordable performance series ($10 for students)—this season, Liz Lerman, Barcelona’s Tapeplas, Melbourne’s Chunky Move, and the Martha Graham Dance Company. The Harris Theater for Music and Dance (205 E. Randolph, 312-334-7777, hosts high-profile troupes, including Hubbard Street and the New York City Ballet this fall. So does the Auditorium Theatre (50 E. Congress, 312-902-1500,, the Joffrey’s home and this weekend the venue for Ballet Folklorico de Mexico de Amalia Hernandez and later in the season two Russian ballet troupes, the Kirov and the Eifman. Though prices at the Harris and the Auditorium can get high, there’s usually a wide range.

The Athenaeum Theatre (2936 N. Southport, 773-880-5402, is home to the Dance Chicago festival and also rents to smaller, usually local companies—though with 1,000 seats in the main space, it’s not a small theater. Link’s Hall (3435 N. Sheffield, 773-281-0824, is the tiny jewel of the Chicago dance scene, a bare room lined with closet doors on one side and windows facing the el on the other. But under the leadership of C.J. Mitchell it’s gained a real sense of fun and adventure, featuring besides dance a puppetry festival in January and a festival focused on technology in February. Tickets are $10-$15, but box-office volunteers get in free.

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