Review: War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short (Viaduct)

 
 

A scintillating evening of dance and theater

  
  

Prologue to "War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short" at Viaduct Theatre, adapted and choreographed by Jim Manganello

   
Jim Manganello presents
   
   
War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short
       
Adapted and Directed by Jim Manganello
Choreography by Amanda Timm and Sarah Fornace
at Viaduct Theatre, 3111 N. Western Ave. (map)
through May 22  |  tickets: $15  |  more info

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short is a collaboration of theater and dance companies. They are some of the best that Chicago and London across the pond offers. The result is a funny, relevant, and brilliant evening of theater. The artists and the support team hail from Redmoon, The London International School of the Performing Arts, Starkid, and Collaboraction.

Luke Couzens and Dustin Valenta fight in "War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short" at Viaduct Theatre, adapted and choreographed by Jim ManganelloTolstoy’s novel of the aristocracy, patriotism, and Napoleonic aggression rings frighteningly true of today’s society and the conflicts the world over.

This adaptation strips the novel down to a stark set with meager props. The set is colored in by the actors and dancers in a frenzy of stage combat, graceful dance, satirical renderings of the aristocracy, and stark reminders of the cost of war.

The players in this piece are exceptional together and individually. The timing for satire is more crucial that what is needed for traditional comedy. The segment of Napoleon being bathed, fed, and dressed while in the midst of a tirade is visual poetry. Napoleon, played by Marc Frost, is rolled in on a table stuffed with his limbs out in a zinc washtub. His head is adorned with a gilded laurel crown. From there is a brilliant pantomime of scrub, rinse and powdering the mini tyrant. Frost’s nudity is covered by a perfectly timed placement of towels and bath accoutrement.

Lauren Lopez does a funny turn as an aristocratic lady mocking the advances of a suitor. The baseness and ludicrous mores of the upper crust in Napoleon’s reign is brought to glaring light. She seduces a guest with the prospect of canapés and biscuits. Ms. Lopez is one of the founding members of Starkid Theater Company and true to her bio, she prances about the stage in a sylph-like manner that is seductive and endearing.

     
 Lauren Lopez, Blake Russell dance in "War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short" at Viaduct Theatre, adapted and choreographed by Jim Manganello Luke Couzens and Dustin Valenta in "War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short" at Viaduct Theatre, adapted and choreographed by Jim Manganello
"War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short" at Viaduct Theatre, adapted and choreographed by Jim Manganello "War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short" at Viaduct Theatre, adapted and choreographed by Jim Manganello

Blake Russell plays a patriotic young man off to war. This segment is a poignant sketch of how a family is affected by war. The youth are drawn in by an atavistic need for battle-the territorial imperative. The result is the same no matter the era when war takes its toll. Russell imparts the disillusionment and sadness of a generation whether it be 1812 or modern times.

Dustin Valenta of Redmoon among others has an impish appeal as the prologue narrator and others in the production. There is a mischievous twinkle in eye that bodes gleeful mayhem to come.

"War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short" at Viaduct Theatre, adapted and choreographed by Jim ManganelloRounding out this cast is Luke Couzens as the Russian Captain and others. He stands out in the opening combat segment after he is stabbed by Dustin Valenta‘s character. The action represents 1812 but his screaming, "You fucking stabbed me! No I’m not alright!" brings the action to present day. He is touching and funny with a young man lost appeal.

War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short is minimalist with the props, but when they are used it is for maximum impact. A hidden fan produces a funny moment and the gauze/linen draping is a wonderful representation for the frozen tundra of Russia. Look out for the table in all of its incarnations and you may reconsider your relationship with pasta after one segment.

In all, I hope that there will be more collaboration of these talented actors, dancers, puppeteers, and acrobats. They work well together and their respect for the individual craft as well as the collective has produced something wonderful. This is a short run so get out this weekend to see War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short. The Viaduct is a great space. It is fun and artistic without airs of pretentiousness. It is literally located under a viaduct at 3111 N. Western Ave. There is a laid back lobby bar where you can chill before the performance. Go see it!

  
  
Rating: ★★★½
     
     

The Atom Bomb scene in "War and Peace: A Dance Theater Short" at Viaduct Theatre, adapted and choreographed by Jim Manganello

 

     
     

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Review: Alvin Ailey Dance – Revelations (Auditorium Theatre)

  
  

Annual visit visually majestic, exquisitely visionary

  
  

Alvin Ailey REVELATIONS, Move, Members, Move

  
Auditorium Theatre and Blackwell Global Consulting present
   
   
Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
   
at Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress (map)
thru May 22  |  tickets: $30-$87  |  more info

Reviewed by Katy Walsh

This show is a celebration!  Having first performed in Chicago in 1969, the Alvin Ailey dance company is commemorating its 140th performance on the Auditorium Theatre stage.  In addition, the annual visit by the New York based troupe marks the final season of Artistic Director Judith Jamison’s leadership. The Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University and Blackwell Global Consulting present Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.  The limited engagement will produce six Chicago premieres during the six performance and two student matinee run.  Although each show will have a different program schedule, Revelations will be the consistent finale.  Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater uses a spectacular combination of elegant and primitive body movement to narrate vivid folk tales.

Y. Lebrun, D. Hopins, K Boyd and R. Deshauteurs in "Annointed". (Photo: Paul Kolnik)

Anointed (2010, video), choreographed by Christopher L. Huggins, illustrates the leadership change at Alvin Ailey.  It’s a beautiful memoriam to founder Alvin Ailey, a stunning tribute to Judith Jamison and an exciting preface to Robert Battle.  Set to music by Moby and Sean Clements, the dancing starts as an intimate coupling.  Linda Celeste Sims and Jamar Roberts intertwine in fluid connectivity.  Dressed in simplistic black, they are mesmerizing in a poetic union.  Sims exits and Roberts has a masterful and athletic solo before his departure.  It’s an inspirational heartbreaker. Sims arrives back in fuchsia and the dance continues.  The music shifts to salsa-funk and the ensemble showcases innovative feats of energetic expression.  Roberts returns in white as divine intervention within the chorus.  The piece powerfully ends with Sims and Roberts in a reconnecting duet.  As the ensemble exits the stage, the last dancer turns around.  He joins Sims and Roberts to make the ultimate trifecta.  It’s a poignant demonstration to the timeless vision.  WOW!

After an intermission, The Evolution of a Secured Feminine (2007, video), choreographed by Camille A. Brown, features Rachael McLaren. The sassy McLaren exercises her inner masculine side. She confidently struts and gyrates in player style. It’s an intriguing manly exhibition that is partially performed without any sound. The illusion is enhanced with a stylish peak-a-boo suit and fedora by costume designer Carolyn Meckha Cherry. Next, The Hunt (2001, video), choreographed by the Incoming Artistic Director Robert Battle, is male bonding to music. Six male dancers are clad in long skirts. Their exposed torsos are eye-gawking sculpted art. The number is tribal and primitive with pounding drums and ritualistic gestures. The primal movements generate definite heated sensuality. Ooh-la-la!

Alvin Ailey Dancers perform "The Hunt", choreographed by Robert Battle (photo: Paul Kolnik)

The finale is introduced with a short film. “Revelations at 50,” produced and directed by Judy Kinberg, is a wonderful introspective of the Alvin Ailey’s 50+ year history. The founder dances and speaks with passionate conviction. It’s a perfect preface for the three phased finale: Revelations (1960, video) choreographed by Alvin Ailey. The sequence initiates with dancers dressed in natural tones for the Pilgrimage of Sorrow. The movement has an earthy groundedness that contrasts beautifully to the next section’s fluid whimsy. Take Me to the Water uses white costumes and blue silks to emphasize the spiritual cleansing. The dancing becomes joyful and uninhibited. The concluding segment, Move, Members, Move, brings the company together for a sensational culmination. The visual is a majestic pageantry of African American history rooted in its own unique, community spirit. A timeless classic devised by the founder, Revelations is an Alvin Ailey force

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater is always an annual riveting spectacle. This year’s show feels particular momentous as the resigning Artistic Director Judith Jamison says farewell to Chicago. It’s a goodbye party that shouldn’t be missed.

  
  
Rating: ★★★★
  
  

Alvin Ailey’s Revelations continues through May 22nd, with performances May 19-20 at 7:30pm, May 21st at 2pm and 8pm, and May 22nd at 3pm.  Running times vary – see below the fold for exact timeframes.  Tickets are $30-$87, and can be purchased by phone (800-982-2787) or online here. For more information, go to the Alvin Ailey tour webpage.  Complete repertoires for each performance are also listed below the fold and on Alvin Ailey website.  See all Alvin Ailey dance videos here.

  

Alvin Ailey - The Company (Picture: Nan Melville)

  
  

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Review: 500 Clown Trapped (500 Clown & Adventure Stage)

  
  

Getting stuck has never been more fun

  
  

Adrian Danzig, Leah Urzendowski, Timothy Heck - 500 Clown Trapped - photo by Johnny Knight

  
500 Clown and Adventure Stage Chicago presents
   
  
500 Clown Trapped
   
Conceived by Adrian Danzig
Directed by Paola Coletto
at Adventure Stage Chicago, 1012 N. Noble (map)
through May 21  |  tickets: $12-$20  |  more info

Reviewed by Oliver Sava

Teaming up with Adventure Stage Chicago, 500 Clown brings their acrobatic, improvisational storytelling style to an all-ages audience with 500 Clown Trapped. Conceived by 500 Clown artistic director Adrian Danzig, who also stars as the clown trio’s leader Bruce, Trapped finds its three characters stuck in a variety of situations that require them to use their imaginations, bodies, and comedic skills to escape. The show begins with a requisite educational discussion about music, opening conversation between the clowns and audience. Dialogue and interaction with the audience is a trademark of children’s theatre, and Bruce, Stacy (Tim Heck), and Lily (Leah Urzendowski) are constantly finding ways to make the viewer a player as well, sometimes by just walking out into the audience and turning their seats into the stage.

There’s not much plot to speak of, but the main appeal of the production is the ways the actors bring their characters to bombastic life, engrossing the audience as the clowns become further ensnared on their platform full of hamster paper. Bruce the responsible leader, Stacy the clueless goofball, and Lily the emotional wreck combine Keaton-esque slapstick with impressive acrobatic feats to escape their traps, providing comedic context through jokes and sight gags. The banter is quick and natural, and the movement swift and exaggerated, giving the show a rapid pace perfect for a young audience.

Adrian Danzig - 500 Clown Trapped

500 Clown Trapped is definitely intended for children, but there are plenty of elements that adults will be drawn to. Honestly, who doesn’t love a good pratfall? Lily’s pained rendition of “My Heart Will Go On” elevates the sinking Titanic sequence, while her flirtation with Bruce on a crashing plane elicits giggles for the grown-ups as the kids laugh at the organized chaos. And it is organized. Paola Coletto’s sharp direction has the actors utilizing the entire theater space, and the aerial movement is performed flawlessly. The cast never breaks character, and they are completely comfortable engaging with the audience, projecting a welcoming energy that encourages participation. The clowns are always aware of the audience’s reactions, often responding to the comments of excited children in the middle of a bit without ever breaking the flow. It’s clear that these are skilled improvisers, and they’re able to think quickly on their feet, under ground, or suspended in the air.

500 Clown Trapped is the first collaboration between the city’s premier clown company and one of its largest children’s theaters, and hopefully it’s the start of a fruitful relationship between the two. 500 Clown’s history with more adult material makes their approach to children’s theatre one free of condescension, perfect for parents looking for a fun night of family-friendly theater. It may be light on plot, but the 500 Clown gang definitely brings the laughs, and Trapped is a joyful show for the kid in all of us.

  
  
Rating: ★★★
  
  

Leah Urzendowski, Timothy Heck, Adrian Danzig in "500 Clown Trapped", conceived by Adrian Danzig. (Photo: Johnny Knight)

All photos by Johnny Knight

  

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Review: Elephant Man (Red Ink Productions)

     
     

Messy production needs to find the reality

     
     

Red Ink logo

  
Red Ink Productions presents
   
   
The Elephant Man
   
Written by Bernard Pomerance
Directed by Wenda Shereos
at First Free Church, 5255 N. Ashland (map)
through June 4  |  tickets: $12  |  more info

Reviewed by Oliver Sava

The story of Joseph “John” Merrich (Scott Cupper), otherwise know as the Elephant Man, is one of hope in the face of tragedy, and the goodness that can live under the most hideous of exteriors. Deformed at a young age, Merrick toured Europe as a sideshow attraction until he met Frederick Treves (Tyler Cove), a compassionate doctor who invited Merrick to be examined at the London Hospital, the place Merrick would call home until his death at the age of 27. Bernard Pomerance’s play focuses on the later years of Merrick’s life, as he begins to reenter a world that had shunned him, now visited by royalty rather that the taunting masses.

Directed by Wenda Shereos, Red Ink’s productions suffers from a lack of honesty in the performances, and there’s an artificial quality to the acting that makes it difficult to connect with the action on stage. In the title role, Cupper gives the strongest performance, capturing Merrick’s tortured sadness with only a few of the character’s physical deformities. There’s no makeup or prosthetics used on Cupper’s face, and it would have been nice to see some more done to emphasize Merrick’s mutated features. The costumes are some of the more polished elements of the productions, so it’s odd to see the Elephant Man depicted with such little augmentation.

Merrick’s relationship with Mrs. Kendall (Natalia Leonard), the actress hired by Treves to show John affection, reveals glimpses of a better show, and there’s genuine tenderness in Kendall’s treatment of her client. Kendall becomes the first woman to feel John’s touch, and Cupper resonates with need and satisfaction at the small bit of intimacy, the most truthful moment of the show. There are still the occasional instances the Cupper and Leonard are guilty of high school style “face out to the audience” acting, but that’s a directorial problem that plagues other areas of the play more intensely.

Wenda Shereos’ direction is the main problem of The Elephant Man, and the actors haven’t reached the emotional heights needed to land the script’s full impact. The performances are too safe and subdued, and the second act moves at a crawl as a result. Bizarre choices like having the ensemble exit after a group sequence at the start of act two, only to reenter immediately for an almost identical sequence breaks the momentum of the act before if even starts. The production is underscored by cello soloist William Jason Raynovich, who does much to set the tone of the piece through music, but occasionally plays for a bit too long, further slowing down the production. Much of the emotional power of the script is diminished because of the lagging pace of the place, not helped by sloppy technical aspects like blackouts before actors have finished the scene. At one point, two actors actually pantomimed a prop, completely destroying any illusion of reality. That’s not even excusable for a high school production.

The Elephant Man is an ideal play for Red Ink’s mission statement, exploring a life of suffering and the sanctuary that can be found in other people. Although the echo causes problems when combined with some of the actors’ dialects, the church space brings a certain ambiance that emphasizes Merrick’s faith, and the cross that hangs behind the set is a constant remind of the hope and forgiveness Jesus Christ represents. Like Christ, John Merrick is both every man and more than man, and this production just needs more work so the power of Merrick’s story reaches the audience.

  
  
Rating: ★½
  
  

Red Ink logo

Red Ink Productions’ production of Elephant Man continues through June 4th, with performances Friday and Saturday at 8pm in the First Free Church, 5255 N. Ashland (map).  Tickets are $12, and can be purchased online.