I almost didn't go to the Chicago Dancing Festival at Millennium Park's Pritzker Pavilion tonight. I anticipated having to arrive pretty early to secure a seat (since it was a dance performance, a space on the lawn wouldn't do--it was necessary to see the stage)--which didn't seem so attractive in the hot, humid weather.
But in the end, I went. Showed up with a sandwich around 20 after 5, anticipating a 6:30 performance, but it turned out that the performance would start at 7:30. So I was REALLY early. Ate my sandwich in the Lurie Garden and came back to grab a seat near the center. Sat and read my magazine (great articles in The New Yorker this week, by the way. One about Aaron Copland, one about Ian McKellen, one about a new luxury building in New York that successfully apes the prewar ones).
The show started 10 minutes late, but it was worth waiting for. Muntu Dance Theater opened. I had never seen them perform before and they were pretty stunning. Great percussion, costumes, tribal dances. Quite a spectacle, against a starry background.
The Joffrey followed, with "Light Rain." This was far and away the best performance of the program, with moment after moment that took your breath away. The last time I saw the Joffrey, they performed Twyla Tharp's "Deuce Coupe." They were good, but I don't remember gasping. Music, costumes, and fabulous choreography (not to mention talent, expressiveness, and athleticism) came together perfectly. In general, I think people give standing ovations too easily, but in this case, I was happy to rise. This performance made me a fan for life.
Ballet Florida made the least impressive showing. Nice costumes and competent performances, I suppose, but there was nothing outstanding about them. While the Joffrey piece incorporated some robotic movement, these dancers were as expressionless as robots though their movements were fluid enough. Unexciting. Unexceptional. Unremarkable.
Two soloists from the American Ballet Theater then performed the pas de deux from Don Quixote. I am just not into classical ballet, though I can appreciate virtuosity. The stuff in between tends to bore me, though. And the applause-mongering irritates me. But there were some fine moments.
Then two dancers from Alvin Ailey performed a "Pas de Duke" to Ellington's music. This was beautifully done, but not as spectacular as an Ailey performance we saw last spring. (Perhaps it is hard for two dancers to be as spectacular as a whole company.) Still, terrific style and attitude.
A big surprise for me were five male dancers from the San Francisco Ballet. They were accompanied by a beautiful baroque piece, and I frankly didn't expect much from them. But they were fabulous. Expressiveness, athleticism, grace... Many "wow" moments. This was the only other performance that brought me to my feet. The program says that the SF Ballet is coming to the Harris Theater this fall; I hope we're able to go see them.
The final performance was by Complexions Dance from New York. These were skilled dancers performing complex choreography, but I'm afraid I didn't get it. The program explained that this piece was commenting on the U.S. political situation, but to me it was just incoherent. Until the last 2 minutes, when it suddenly got wonderful. Everything synchronized in a surprising way. So I think this company has potential, but I'll wait a while to see them again. (The program says they're coming to the Auditorium Theater this fall.)
All in all, this was a phenomenal event. Dance is almost never free, and the event was likely effective for its purpose, which is to raise the profile of dance in Chicago. Tonight I felt proud to live in such a great city, and the fireworks that went off afterwards (must have been the show at Navy Pier, though I was surprised to be able to see it from Millennium Park) made for a perfect ending to the evening.
Even more perfect, the thunderstorm held off until moments after I got home.