Francis’s Fall Picks: Top 10 Must-See Productions in Chicago

Culture, Dance, Music, Theater 2 Comments »

autumn-leaves.jpgFor anyone outside of Boystown and Andersonville, there is so much more going on this fall in Chicago than the Madonna concert (which, for those of you who have just come back to the city from the island of Tuvalu, is scheduled for October 26-27 at the United Center).  Everyone (well, the Chicago Tribune and TimeOut Chicago that is) have made up their lists of the top fall live performances (theater, opera, dance) that they recommend you attend, which is a good thing – it’s both the blessing and the bane of living in a great, lively, cultural center like Chicago, that you can go to see a show every night, and still not see it all, so guidance is imperative (plus the fact that no one really has an unlimited art consumption spending budget) .  Here then, in no particular order, are From the Ledge’s picks for the must-see performing arts events of the fall – they’re an eclectic lot, showcasing both the best efforts of local Chicago talent as well as top international artists making pitstops in our wonderful town, confirming our stature in the global artistic community. Varied in discipline, theme, and artistic approach, they all, nevertheless, promise exciting, memorable, uniquely impactful nights at the theater.  I’ll be at all of them, so if you see me, say hi!

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Bill T. Jones and O’Neill

Dance, Theater No Comments »

chapel-chapter.jpgIt’s been several days since I saw Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company‘s Chapel/Chapter at the MCA Theater but I’m still reeling from it’s impact.  It’s one hell of a powerful, provocative, mesmerizing piece of dance theater, and dance theater does not even begin to describe what it actually is:  magnificent, gloriously inventive, jaw-droppingly synchronized dancing occurs, definitely; strongly dramatic theatrical elements are effectively employed, for sure (at the beginning of the performance, most of the company walks around a square with their eyes closed wearing orange jumpsuits, looking like aimless sleepwalkers, colliding with each other, and having to be pushed back onto the square by other company members who prevent them from going beyond the designated space).  But in its 70 riveting minutes, Chapel/Chapter also includes film projections; a haunting musical score resembling sacred chants, composed and performed live by the acclaimed New York-based performer Lawrence “Lipbone” Redding; a game of charades gone haywire; blood-curdling throat screaming; spoken dialogue that combines newly-written material, excerpts from trial transcripts, and even the Lord’s Prayer, which at one point are all cut-up, re-arranged, and overlayed on top of one another; and Brazilian samba numbers (yes, you read it right)!  If Chapel/Chapter sounds like a strange, maddening, demented menagerie of disparate elements, well, it is…but these elements are so beautifully and creatively woven together to demand the audience’s attention on three stories that portray the fallibility of human nature and the terrible things we are capable of (the stories are all true-to-life):  a man randomly murders a family of three; a father kills his disobedient, troubled daughter in a moment of fury; another man confesses that he kept the secret of witnessing a friend’s suicide for twenty years.  The metaphor of being imprisoned, either in a brick-and-mortar institution or in the emotional prisons of guilt and memory, is fantastically evoked, particularly by the fact that the dancers perform on a hopscotch grid surrounded by audience members on all sides (yes, I sat on one of the three sides that had onstage seating, which allowed me to see the dancers in almost painful, suffocatingly intimate close-up).  Bill T. Jones is a genius, not only because of the powerful and vigorously muscular choreography but also, more importantly, for devising a concept for audience reflection and questioning, and strongly, vehemently, delivering on it.  Here’s hoping for more Bill in Chicago.  Lucia Mauro of the Chicago Tribune compares Chapel/Chapter to Oscar best picture winner No Country for Old Men, which is saying a lot.

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Lost in 60077

Dance No Comments »

I am a passionate supporter of new works, since it goes without saying that they are essential for ensuring that our artistic lives continue to thrive.  I am always up for seeing a new performance piece, whether in any of the major downtown performing arts venues, or in a musty, creaky storefront in Wicker Park, or in an art gallery in the northside, or even somewhere in the unfamiliar terrains of the Chicago suburbs.  Last Friday, I motored via executive coach (actually BFF Debra’s car) to the unknown reaches of the 60077 zip code, better known as Skokie, Illinois, to watch my friend Alfie perform in a new ballet of “Frankenstein”, the inaugural presentation of a newly-created ballet company, the Alma Dance Company, whose mission is to present ballets with “original stories, original choreographies, original music- and taken one step further.” Although I laud the hard-work and dedication that are required from those who launch new arts organizations, after last Friday’s performance, I’m really not sure where that “one step further” is going.

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Fall Harvest

Dance, Film, Theater No Comments »

October is arts and culture busy time in Chicago, with many different performing arts events happening simultaneously.  Last weekend (October 20-21) was especially busy for me, circling the city and running back and forth so much I thought I was a CTA conductor (well, at least a fabulously-attired one).

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