REVIEW: Betontanc and Umka – Show Your Face! (MCA)


The Face of Freedom and Struggle


Betontanc and Umka, Show Your Face  - Photo courtesy of Bunker

Betontanc and presents
Show Your Face!
Written by members of Bentontanc and
Directed by Matjaž Pograjc
at MCA Stage, 220 E. Chicago Ave. (map)
through Jan 16  |  tickets: $28  |  more info

Reviewed by K.D. Hopkins

I admit that I was left in awe of the Betontanc and production of Show Your Face! at the Museum of Contemporary Art. I was expecting something out of the ordinary because of the origins of the companies presenting. Slovenia and Latvia were mysteries when I was growing up. They were obscured by the politics of the dreaded ‘Iron Curtain’ and came into my consciousness in the 90’s with the fall of the Berlin Wall and unrest in the Balkans. This energetic and gripping production exposes how much we all are alike in our struggle for individual freedom, no matter the ideology of our origins.

Show Your Face is a multi-disciplinary production involving mainly dance, music, theatre, and puppetry. A faceless individual fights against the larger collective trying to possess him and his ideas. “The Faceless One” is portrayed by a child’s snowsuit used as a puppet. The scale of the snowsuit as a puppet gives an animated quality to the entire production. The human interactions take on a surreal quality that play on the psyche in a convoluted manner. None of the players seem to be human as a result – they are all emotion, enveloping the various manipulations of emotion: anger, fear, sex drive, and need for companionship or camaraderie.

The Faceless One of Show Your Face  - MCA Chicago - Photo courtesy of is the collective that performs on the stage. They are the acting and puppetry part of the production in collaboration with Betontanc (Concrete Dance) a Slovenian dance theatre company. The collaboration is brilliant and terrifying all at once. No one is immune to the terrors of war and oppression these days. Water boarding and other tortures have been amply demonstrated for all to see. The question is: Do we really see it? Do we have empathy? The Faceless One is on the run constantly. The baby blue of the snowsuit has a gray and worn quality to it and the excellent puppetry gives a breathless and anxious animation to the Faceless One. The emotions are drawn in, and there are audible gasps in the audience when Faceless One is tortured. He is forced to drink liquor, clothes-lined with an iron bar, nearly drowned in a bucket, forced to stay awake, and in a particularly disturbing scene raped by a red masked seductress.

There are direct jabs at the collusion of religion and government in a scene with a priest and the Faceless One. The cast screams at the audience to tell the truth (meaning, in my opinion, see the truth and don’t turn away). The choreography element in Show Your Face! is raw and fluid. The physicality of the actors is called upon to project ragged emotion on one hand and to keep the action flowing seamlessly at the same time. There is a scene where the dancers become one organism and fall into an abyss that evolves into a stick-figure parade being swallowed by a giant red wave. Eventually the forced mating of the Faceless One and the red masked seductress results in a birth scene that is funny and difficult to watch because of the result.

Cast of Show Your Face - by Betontanc and Umka - MCA ChicagoUgis Vitins and Silence provide the musical accompaniment. The words are sung in English and are a vital contribution to the narrative of Show Your Face!. Vitins’ voice is eerie and plaintive in the manner of David Byrne, and one passage pays tribute to Iggy Pop’s ‘The Passenger’. The musicians play piano, brass, percussion, and electronic embellishment. It is haunting, melodic and quite beautiful.

Show Your Face! is part of the Museum of Contemporary Art’s Global Stage Series. Performance companies from all over the world bring their collective cultural sensibilities and individual interpretations of theatricality to Chicago. These are companies that may not get the same exposure of those with larger budgets or more standard interpretations. Show Your Face! is written collectively by Betontanc and, directed by Matjaž Pograjc and producted by Bunker.

Take a look and take the time to check out the amazing theatre resource that is the MCA Stage Series.  Highly Recommended!

Rating: ★★★½



Betontanc and Umka, Show Your Face - Photo courtesy of Bunker


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REVIEW: The Nutcracker (Joffrey Ballet)


Sugar plums in your tutu stocking


Nutcracker - Joffrey Ballet 2010

Joffrey Ballet presents
The Nutcracker
Written by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky
Directed by Robert Joffrey
at Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Parkway (map)
through Dec 26  |  tickets: $25-$145  |  more info

Reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

Scrooge requires four ghosts to save his dark soul from excess personal savings. George Bailey gets help from an angel desperate to make good and to do it too. But Clara, the heroine of Tchaikovsky’s beloved Christmas ballet, earns her fantasy when she knocks out the Mouse King and frees her adored Nutcracker from his wooden curse. That’s the perfect excuse to dance up a storm—or a blizzard. Yes, it’s that time of year when six “Nutcrackers” hit the Chicago boards, none more splendid or popular than the Joffrey Ballet’s annual confection, a gift from the late Robert Joffrey that keeps on giving.

Miguel Angel Blanco and Victoria Jaiani in The Nutcracker - Joffrey BalletThis year’s spectacle—the 15th since its 1996 Chicago debut–was gloriously unwrapped and heartily cheered at the Auditorium Theatre on Friday night, as it definitely and annually deserves. Oliver Smith’s storybook set design is the perfect backdrop for the Victorian parlor from the 1850s, a magical battleground (against the Mice menace) and Land of Snow for the first half (choreographed by the late Gerald Arpino) and the spring-like Kingdom of Sweet for the second. (There’s enough snow by the end of the first act to satisfy a dozen Chicago blizzards, with some to spare for Minneapolis. That’s why we need the second act to sweeten the scene.)

The communal opening ball is, of course, a showcase for dancers, young and older. These depict the delighted guests at Clara’s beautiful American manse who marvel at Dr. Drosselmeyer’s cavorting automatons. Those mechanical dolls, rigidly presenting their preset terpsichorean displays, are a prelude to the real magic of the enchanted Nutcracker who, under a now-huge Christmas tree, helps Clara to free him from wooden bondage. That of course allows Drosselmeyer and the now humanly handsome Nutcracker to celebrate the victory with the Snow monarchs and their Snowflake corps de ballet, after which the Sugar Plum Fairy and her divertissements continue the fete in the hypoglycemic realm of sugary confections galore.

Anastacia Holden is the delighted Clara who serves as a lucky surrogate for all the kids in the crowd, with slim and elegant Mauro Villanueva as her dashing Nutcracker Prince. (His pas de deux with Yumelia Garcia’s ravishing Sugar Plum Fairy was perfect, precise and even passionate.) The second act’s novelty candy dances from Spain, Arabia, China, Russia and France amounted to a vaudevillian extravaganza in its own right. If the kids were any cuter, they’d explode.

Amber Neumann as Chocolate from Spain - Joffrey Ballet Chicago - Photo by Herbert Migdoll Fabrice Calmels and Kara Zimmerman in The Nutcracker - Joffrey Ballet
Anastacia Holden in The Nutcracker - Joffrey Ballet Nutcracker - Joffrey Ballet 2010

The Chicago Sinfonietta bring Tchaikovsky’s evergreen and everwhite score to generous life, a musical outpouring that ranges from 19th century quadrilles and polkas to waltzes that deserve their own perpetual motion. Hearing it makes you regret his suicide all the more. What marvels would he have composed after 53! That’s a fantasy we can’t indulge.

Speaking of homage, this year’s performance is nobly dedicated to the late Richard Ellis, who danced the role of Drosselmeyer for 27 years in Ruth Page’s Tribune Charities’ production at the Arie Crown Theater.

Rating: ★★★★

Children cast in The Nutracker - Joffrey Ballet Chicago - photo by Herbert Migdoll


REVIEW: Luna Negra Dance


snapshots of a lost tribe



Luna Negra Dance Company

at Harris Theatre

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Reviewed by Lawrence Bommer

Fast growing and now firmly established since its 1999 debut, Chicago’s justly praised Luna Negra Dance Company has now entered its second season. It marks that occasion with a new artistic director to succeed founder Eduardo Vilaro. 33-years-old, tall and elegant, Gustavo Ramirez Sansano is a Spanish choreographer who just made an auspicious premiere with the ensemble in a gala Millennium Park performance. It was a promissory note that seems to ensure the troupe a bright and certain future.

Sansano will bring a more theatrical, European-based style to the company’s works, You saw it on display in the world premiere of “Toda Una Vida (All My Life),” the lead offering in Saturday’s fall program. (It’s also the third creation he’s imagined for the company.) Set to Ravel’s achingly predictable “Bolero,” it opened with a quirky and seemingly improvised duet between an agitated (and uncredited) couple. They furiously indulge in Flamenco-like eruptions of frenzied independence as they come closer and finally establish contact. Their cavorting courtship ritual swells with the escalating music, like a tango in overdrive, until they cross a barrier and seem to consummate their quarrel with carnal delights.

This wild wooing is soon followed by music from Los Panchos and Eydie Gorme in which the male dancers back up the couple in robotic movements that seem to formalize their engagement while suggesting the wildness between them that they have yet to tame. The work is billed as “deeply personal” to Sansano and that presents a problem: This precious particularity may have kept it from touching the Harris crowd as publically as possible.

Much quirkier, “Bate” (“heartbeat” in Portuguese), a North American premiere by Fernado Melo that pays whimsical homage to Brazilian soap operas and was created for a Swedish ballet, tightly frames the male dancers in parts rather than as persons. They appear and disappear in scenic “cut-outs” that follow the appearance of a long bridal train which carries objects in its wake—and is finally followed by a symbolic flower pot. The men, in black suits and bare feet, alternately inflate and deflate with passion but seem more enervated than passionate. When the entire stage finally opens up, the men indulge in staggering, very un-macho, rubber-like like steps, sort of like enervated Slinkies. Seemingly double-jointed and gravity impaired, they dance as if driven. We can only imagine the unseen women who so effortlessly emasculated them. But in the end the flower pot has been replaced by a cascade of rose petals. The soap opera apparently has a happy ending.

Finally, in a nod to the past, a reprise of Vilaro’s complex and sensuous 2008 “Deshar Alhat (Leave Sunday”) evokes the culture and even language (Ladino) of the Sephardic News who settled in Latin America in the early 20th century. The haunting work, performed in sensuous red costumes, surges with languorous duets and pulsating ensemble numbers that suggest both displacement and tradition. As much as the movement, it’s the frozen tableaux that speak here, almost like snapshots of a lost tribe caught up in a moment that manages to brush eternity.

Rating: ★★★

Miami City Ballet to perform at Auditorium Theatre

For its 120th Anniversary Celebration

The Auditorium Theatre presents

Miami City Ballet

October 2 – 4 (buy tickets)

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Under the Artistic Direction of celebrated dancer Edward Villella, Miami City Ballet will thrill with acclaimed works by George Balanchine, Marius Petipa and Twyla Tharp

More info, including performance times, ticket information, and the opening night Gala Benefit, can be found after the fold (click on “Read more”)

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Chicago theater openings and specials this week

buckingham fountain

show openings

5th of July Oak Park Festival Theatre

The Alcyone Festival 2009 Halcyon Theatre

Belmont Burlesque RevueGorilla Tango Theatre

Follies Actors Theatre Company

Improv Children of the Corn 2Cornservatory

Jesus Hopped the “A” Train Village Players Performing Arts Center

Little BrotherGriffin Theatre

Nederlands Dans Theater I Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University

A Song for CorettaEclipse Theatre

Strauss at Midnight Theater Oobleck


For special ticket offers, click on “Read more”


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A moving dance performance…

This YouTube vid of ballet pair Ma Li and Zhai Xiaowei, she without an arm and he without a leg, is one of the most moving dances I have ever seen.

Chicago theater tidbits: "Hairspray", Amy & Freddy, Dance Center Columbia, show closings…


hairspray1   hairspray2

  • The National Broadway Touring Production of “Hairspray”, Broadway’s big, fat musical-comedy hit, comes to The Center for Performing Arts at Governors State University Friday, March 13 at 8 p.m. and Saturday, March 14 at 2 and 8 p.m.  More information is available at

Amy Armstrong & Freddy Allen

  • The Lakeshore Theater, near the corner of Broadway and Clark, will be hosting a FREE Comedy Central taping of Prescott Tolk this Friday (the 13th) at 10:30pm.  Also at the Lakeshore, Amy and Freddy will be celebrating their 2nd year, with a free concert featuring Amy’s signature voice, edgy humor and quick wit (not to mention Freddy’s amazing musical arrangements).  This complimentary concert will take place next Thursday (the 19th) at 8pm.  Don’t miss out – Reserve tickets here.  Full schedule here.

davidrousseve_columbiacollege At The Dance Center of Columbia College, on March 12-14, David Rousséve/REALITY will perform Saudade, Portuguese for “bittersweet,” an ode to those universal moments when great joy and agony collide. Set to contemporary and traditional Fado music, Saudade is a compelling mix of theater, spoken dialogue and South Asian, Indonesian, West African and modern dance forms.  There will be a Post-Performance Discussion on Thursday, March 12.   More info here.


Show Closings – Don’t Miss Out!


AFFLICTIONS Gorilla Tango Theatre

AMADEUSVillage Players



EYE OF THE STORM – Open Door Repertory



IT’S GOOD FOR YOU Gorilla Tango Theatre

SLAPHAPPY – Beat the Jester Productions

STOP/KISSThe Gift Theatre

STUPID KIDSAbout Face Theatre

THE UNSEENA Red Orchid Theatre