My Whirlwind Tour of the Windy City

February 20, 2010

Chicago is bursting with dance. In just three days I saw performances by the Joffrey Ballet and Jump Rhythm Jazz Project, rehearsals of Hubbard Street and Giordano Jazz  Dance, and classes at the Joffrey Academy of Dance. There are way more dance events going on, but these are the bases I happened to touch down on. Susan Lee, director of dance at Northwestern University, told me that her graduates used to migrate to the two coasts, but now many of them stay in the area because there’s so much activity. It’s a close-knit community with deep roots.


First things first: The Joffrey has found a true ballerina in Victoria Jaiani, who danced Cinderella with her heart on her raggedy sleeve. Her long neck, elegant back, and tendril-like arms make her a romantic ballerina you don’t forget. Her big, expressive eyes draw you in to her rich inner life. In her scenes with the prince, she lavishes caring and tenderness on him. The Ashton choreography tells the story well, and Jaiani brought compassion and passion to it.


Hubbard Street was working on a new piece by resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo (a
Dance Magazine
“On the Rise”—see that will be performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra playing live in April. Their dancers are really strong—and patient, as they waited for what Cerrudo would do next. He wasn’t in a hurry. Neither was Jonathan Fredrickson, winner of Hubbard Street 2’s Choreographic Competition, who was making a new male trio for HS 2 in the next studio. Both pieces showed promise, and the dancers dug their teeth into them.


On to Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago in nearby Evanston, where I saw Davis Robertson’s
an earthy, sensual piece that wove an intriguing choreographic web. The Giordano dancers are full of verve and youthful power, so I wish I could come back in March and see them dance it at the Harris Theater.


Billy Siegenfeld, who teaches at Northwestern, has led the Jump Rhythm Jazz Project for 20 years. He’s a riveting performer who melds voice and body accents in a single breath. Instead of being pulled up, he’s pulled down. He has a beguiling freedom onstage (this was at Columbia College Dance Center in downtown Chicago), and that freedom is all about rhythm. His style, imprinted on his dancers, is a joy to watch. I’ll post a review soon.


I wound up my whirlwind tour at the Joffrey Tower. I can only say that Robert Joffrey would be amazed if he knew how much space and resources are available for the dancers now. Herbert Migdoll’s vintage photos of the group adorn the walls; there are rooms for Pilates and for DVD viewing; the studios’ windows overlook Chicago’s busy Loop—all of which help make the facility an inspiring environment. And the trainees at the Joffrey Academy of Dance get to have class with excellent teachers. I happen to catch co-directors Anna Reznik & Alexei Kremnev (see more about the program at, both very classic teachers, in action; she was teaching pointe, and he was teaching the guys. I also saw a bit of Ron Stewart (who teaches at Giordano too) and his Moped approach, which draws from Ohad Naharin’s Gaga process. Plus I got a glimpse of another large-eyed
in rehearsal, Yumelia Garcia, a new principal from Venezuela who made me wish I could see her onstage.  


Each of the centers I visited (Hubbard Street, Giordano, and Joffrey) have four or five beautiful studios and classes all day long. Even at Northwestern, where I gave a talk at the dance department, students were using every inch of space to work on their studies. Chicago has been steadily growing in its quantity and quality of dance. I hope you all get to go there for a visit.