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Critics' Picks 2006

Dance

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Swan Lake imports this year ranged from the proverbial sublime to ridiculous. Though I'm not usually a big fan of ballet, all the white feathers and unison corps work in the Kirov's production at the Auditorium last month made me feel snuggled in luxurious pillows. But there was no danger of falling asleep given the incisive performance of Odette/Odile. The only false note came at the alternative "happy" end (a false note in itself), when the Prince tore off the evil Rothbart's wing and beat him to death with it. As my companion said, "That was just so ghetto!" The ridiculous, of course, was Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake at the Cadillac Palace Theatre in February. Male swans weren't the problem--earthbound performances and overwrought plot twists were.

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago's newish fall run can easily slide under the radar: more hoopla attends the established spring season. But the two new pieces on this year's autumn program at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance were far from second best. True to its title, Toru Shimazaki's beautifully lit Bardo kept one foot in the everyday world and the other in some great beyond, while company member Alejandro Cerrudo's Lickety-Split was as unpredictable and creative as its score of Devendra Banhart songs.

Savion Glover's February appearance in If Trane Wuz Here was a revelation. Performing in a small space at Theatre Building Chicago with saxophonist Matana Roberts and spoken-word artist Reg E. Gaines, he showed what a great artist can do with improvisation. And the experience was so homey that early birds got to watch Glover chasing his toddler around the stage.

The first act of Luna Negra Dance Theater's program this fall showed the company to be in technically fine form. The second act, a 35-minute piece called Mi Corazon Negro, took off in a different direction: Afro-Peruvian singer Susana Baca and several musicians accompanied the dancers, creating an intimacy I didn't think was possible in the barnlike Harris. The show's highlight was Baca's textured dance with a much younger partner--her serene feel for the music contrasting with his expert quickness.

Imagine Tap! had a backstory worthy of a movie: a bunch of buddies in the tap-dance community decided to put on a show. But these tappers, three of them Chicagoans, are nationally known and highly accomplished. The vignettes, directed by Broadway star Derick K. Grant, were polished, appealing, and often funny. I wouldn't be surprised to see this revue, which played the Harris in July, turn up on the Great White Way.

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