The Chicago Dancing Festival closes in grandiose style

Hours before the grand finale to the Chicago Dancing Festival in Millennium Park, a storm rolled through so big it nearly washed away the Pritzker Pavilion in its entirety.

Ain’t no rain gonna get dance fans down.


Opening night's Chicago Dancing Festival performace was simulcast at Pritzker Pavilion | photo by Cheryl Mann
Opening night’s Chicago Dancing Festival performace was simulcast at Pritzker Pavilion | photo by Cheryl Mann

The massive storm didn’t deter Chicagoans from flocking to one of Chicago’s quintessential end-of-summer soirees (for dance, anyway). Hard core picnickers braved the soggy lawn as many sat down in their summer’s finest on the Pritzker’s dampened chairs for a glorious, high-energy show that brought audience members to its feet not once, not twice, but after every. single. piece.

In most cases, I found myself agreeing with the audience, particularly when it came to the matter of Rennie Harris Pure Movement (including a surprise appearance from Raphael Xavier, who was here in March at the Dance Center of Columbia College). I glimpsed a few of these unbelievable dancers last May at Spring to Dance, and Saturday reaffirmed just how much I just love glossy, shirtless men in white pants doing amazing Hip Hop moves. They step touch, and then spin on their heads. They grapvine, and then they do back flips into the splits. It doesn’t matter how simplistic the choreography is, because the athleticism, skill, finesse, and, I imagine, dumb luck of these dancers is nothing short of amazing.

Falling in the middle of the evening, Rennie Harris’ crew felt, in a way, to be an echo of first piece on the bill: a large group piece for After School Matters also dressed all in white. The piece would serve as the third and final world premiere commission from the festival, and Rennie Harris offered an example of something these young men and women could aspire to. We observed the dancers laughing and pointing in the wings before the performance began, taking advantage of the poor sight lines to wave to parents in the audience, but once those young dancers took to the stage, they were all business. Darrell Grand Moultrie’s choreography mixed and matched the dancers smartly to highlight the wide range of talent for everyone’s benefit.

These were not the only showstoppers on the evening. The lovely ladies of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago reprised Kylian’s Fallen Angels with live accompaniment from Third Coast Percussion. Twyla Tharp’s Nine Sinatra Songs, long ago a part of Hubbard Street’s repertoire, was set on a joyous group of 14 Joffrey Ballet dancers. The towering Fabrice Camels glided across the stage with a huge smile, mouthing the words to My Way as if he was out for a stroll in the park. How refreshing to see Joffrey in such a casual way. Students of the Juilliard School jigged to their heart’s delight, and Washington Ballet’s Brooklyn Mack (seen last year in a ridiculous Vaganova pas de deux with then-partner Tamako Miyazaki) knocked the Le Corsaire pas out of the park with a partner from Boston Ballet he’d only met that morning.

All in all, the Chicago Dancing Festival was a smashing success. If one were to consider the festival as a whole, or even think about the lot over the past few years, I can’t say it was my favorite, but it was pretty damn good. Sure, I would have liked a show on Thursday at the Auditorium. Sure, I would have loved for more diverse programming instead of repeat performances. On the whole, however, I consider the carefully crafted balance of old and new, family friendly and boundary pushing, rousing and intimate settings, and when I take into consideration the massive amount of impact provided by a festival with a minuscule administrative infrastructure, there isn’t much to complain about.

Art Intercepts is pleased to be a member of the 2014 Chicago Dancing Festival blog partners program. 

Author: Lauren Warnecke

Lauren Warnecke is a reporter for NPR affiliate station WGLT and freelance arts and culture critic, primarily reviewing dance for the Chicago Tribune. Lauren enjoys cooking, cycling and attempting to grow things in her backyard. She lives in central Illinois.