Harris Theater presents Jessica Lang Dance

What's coming up on this month's calendar of dance performances? On the stage, see Twyla Tharp's 50th Anniversary Tour from November 5-8; Jessica Lang Dance presenting Tesseracts of Time from November 6; Camille A. Brown presenting Black Girl: Linguistic Play from November 6-7; and RPM Productions presenting Day of the Gypsy from November 21-22.


1) Twyla Tharp 50th Anniversary Tour | November 5-8

Twyla Tharp has come a long way from the steam box studio above an automotive garage near City Center where she and her band of rogue ballerinas took Richard Thomas's daily ballet class in the late 1960's. 

This month, Tharp and her company of twelve dancers launch  the company's 50th Anniversary Tour at the Auditorium Theatre (November 5-8). Back in 1968, Thomas dubbed Tharp and her dancers "The Tharpettes," little suspecting the trajectory her career would take, from choreographing for the Joffrey and Ballet Theatre, among other internationally acclaimed companies, to Hollywood films, TV, and full-length Broadway hits.

In between was a lovely romance with Chicago's own Hubbard Street Dance Chicago from 1990-95. With "The Tharp Project," Hubbard Street became Tharp's home away from home during a period of time when her company had disbanded, and she was freelancing as an independent choreographer. "The Tharp Project" enabled Hubbard Street to acquire six existing works and to premiere a seventh piece, "I Remember Clifford," which she developed exclusively for the company in 1995. She returned in 2012 to develop "Scarlatti," another Hubbard Street exclusive. Hubbard Street's iterations of two of Tharp's best known and loved works, "Nine Sinatra Songs" and "The Golden Section," continue to stand as benchmarks for the most vibrant realizations of her work.

Emerging mid-20th century as a ballet renegade, Tharp dared to cross rigid genre lines merging the classical ballet idiom with pop music and popular dance forms on the ballet stage. Her unique voice has made a huge impact on the concert dance stage across all genres, as well as on musical theater, always pushing the envelope, and has been a major impetus for the cross-pollination of ballet, modern dance, jazz, and musical theatre.

Tharp's anniversary tour features two world premieres. The vibrant introductory FANFARE is followed by PRELUDES AND FUGUES, set to J.S. Bach's The Well-Tempered Clavier. YOWZIE, the second premiere, is a humorous work set to a wild, raucous, and jazzy score.


2) Camille A. Brown "Black Girl: Linguistic Play" | November 6-7

"Black Girl: Linguistic Play" is New York choreographer and dancer Camille A. Brown's answer to the media stereotypes of black women.  "When we hear the phrase, ‘black girl,' what images come to mind?" she asks.  Camille A. Brown and her company of seven dancers, two musicians, and a moderator hope to open up the dialogue and change the conversation with "Black Girl: Linguistic Play," coming to the Dance Center of Columbia College (November 5-7).  

The piece, which premiered at New York's Joyce Theater in September, is centered around sisterhood. "It's about memory and duality," says Brown, "culturally specific but universal in its themes." Camaraderie and competition, conflict, exhaustion and resolution all figure into the storytelling.  Her goal is for people from all walks of life to find an entry point in the story and feel like part of the conversation. "Black Girl: Linguistic Play" has almost no spoken text, and yet it "speaks" through the linguistic code of the body--how do black girls communicate in posture, gesture. Through the games that carve the landscape of childhood, she lets her audiences see the world through the eyes of a black girl. "There's a little girl that still lives inside me," she says, and she wants to awaken that awareness of the continuity of self from childhood to maturity in her audiences. 

Brown wants to dispel the caricature of the black female perpetuated in today's popular media and to present "our authentic selves."  Alice In Wonderland was a springboard for her ideas about the piece. "What if the hole Alice falls into isn't a bad hole?" With original music compositions, performed live by pianist Scott Patterson and bass guitarist Tracy Wormworth, Brown uses the rhythmic play of African-American dance vernacular, including social dancing, double dutch, steppin', tap, Juba, ring shout and gesture, as the black woman's domain to evoke childhood memories of self-discovery.

Each performance culminates in a seamless final act with a dialogue in which audiences engage with the artists on stage.


3) Jessica Lang Dance "Tesseracts of Time" | November 6

On Friday, November 6, The Harris Theater for Music and Dance presents the world premiere of "Tesseracts of Time," a brand new collaboration between renowned choreographer Jessica Lang and celebrated architect Steven Holl, performed by Jessica Lang Dance and commissioned by the Chicago Architecture Biennial.

"Tesseracts of Time" relates to the four types of architecture: Under, In, On, and Over. "Tesseracts of Time" demonstrates how the two worlds of architecture and dance merge with respect to time.

"The body moving through space in time is a central experience of both architecture and dance," said Steven Holl. "To collaborate on a ‘Dance for Architecture' with Jessica Lang is an inspiring chance to experiment with the merging of the two arts, focusing on time, form, light, and movement."

"Collaboration is an essential part of making great art," said Jessica Lang. "Having the opportunity to work intensely with architect Steven Holl on "Tesseracts of Time" has been a valuable process that will inform my work well beyond the creation of this piece. Together, we have pushed the boundaries of dance and architecture and the result will awaken the human imagination."

The architecture used in the dance was developed through a research project called ‘Explorations of IN.' This project started June 2014 at Steven Holl Architects and explores questions of architectural language. It aims to re-value the Art of Architecture

In addition to "Tesseracts," Jessica Lang Dance will perform "The Calling" (excerpt from Splendid Isolation II),  "Droplet" (excerpt from i.n.k.), and "Thousand Yard Stare" (preview).


4) RPM Productions "Day of the Gypsy" | November 21-22

The gypsy fairy tale that Chicago choreographer Gordon Pierce Schmidt made up for his full-length ballet, "Day of the Gypsy" (Harris Theater, November 21-22) was inspired by the real-life story of his grandfather, who left his childhood home and took refuge with the gypsies in his native Czechoslovakia. Gypsy music had always intrigued Schmidt, and the idea of a non-gypsy wandering into the Romany culture captivated his imagination. After hearing John Jorgenson's quintet play the music of gypsy jazz pioneer Django Rheinhardt in 2009, the two collaborated on an abstract piece for Grand Rapids Ballet. "Day of The Gypsy" grew out of that experience.

"It's light hearted, steeped in classical ballet," Schmidt says, "but it's infused with gypsy folk elements." Schmidt researched gypsy dance, watching old films documenting the gypsy folk dance forms that emphasized intricate footwork, clapping, and hand-slapping the foot and thigh. Franco-American swing characterizes the mood of the original music composed by Jorgenson and inspired by Rheinhardt's gypsy jazz. Former Joffrey Ballet dancer Yumelia Garcia will dance the lead role in the collaborative work, which will be performed live by Jorgenson and his quintet.


This feature is brought to you by SeeChicagoDance.com, the definitive guide to Chicago's dance scene and your source for a full calendar of performances in the city. Click here for all the top picks for the month at SeeChicagoDance.com.