Joffrey Ballet’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream” is a must-see

By Taylor Hartz| Staff Writer

As we welcome warmer days in Chicago, you’ll feel right at home in the audience of the Joffrey Ballet’s new production of “Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

This imaginative, modern recreation of Shakespeare’s classic brings the summer season to life on stage as a dreamy, whimsical and sensual experience.

Most performances of Shakespeare take you hundreds of years into the past, but the team at Joffrey brought Midsummer to the future, setting the story in June of 2018. The opening scene will captivate audiences as the cast performs a mesmerizing dance with hay. This may not sound glamorous, but when done in perfect unison it becomes a magical scene that makes a lasting impression.

This curious, creative story, has the playful, magical vibe of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland laced between some flirtatious, provocative imagery— including nearly-nude dancers—to nightmarish, upside-down dances set to electronic music with rolling fog.

Most ballets rely on choreography to tell the whole tale, but this production features the vocalist Anna Von Hausswolff, a Swedish indie rock and art pop performer who narrates the show with an angelic, folksy voice. Hausswolff’s lyrics “Had it all been a dream? Had it all been a blunder?” further the dreaminess of each scene.

Artistic Director Ashley Wheater, Choreographer Alexander Ekman, Music Director Scott Speck, and Composer Mikael Karlsson truly re-imagined this beloved tale. In short, it’s a must-see.

Midsummer is playing at the Auditorium Theater through May 6. Tickets range from $34–174.

Published May 3. 

Q&A—New Eastsiders out at the ballgame

By Angela Gagnon | Staff Writer

Cubs and White Sox fans don’t have to wait any longer—baseball season is here. Chicago is full of die-hard baseball fans who either bleed Cubbie blue or wear all black. We talked to three locals to get the lowdown on how to tackle baseball season like a pro.

New Eastsider Lisa Aggarwal grew up on the southwest side of Chicago, and has been a White Sox fan for 35 years. Kim Pearlman and Ali Schultz root for the Cubs, and both attended a World Series home game in 2016.

What’s a typical game day experience at the ballpark like for you?

Aggarwal: Eating a hot dog, or even better—a taco! And sitting in the sun.

Pearlman: Always Bud Light.

Schultz: Some of my favorite games are on random weekday nights in the sum-
mer. I’ll work most of the day, leave a little early and unwind on a warm night with a cold beer and a gorgeous sunset dropping below the horizon on Clark Street.

How do you get to the ball park?

Aggarwal: The Red Line or I park in the stadium lot.

Pearlman: When I was a kid, my grandfather and I would take the Addison bus from the west side and get Brown’s Chicken to-go so we could get to our seats in time for batting practice.

Schultz: The Red Line. It’s cheaper, easier than managing traffic and better than
trying to park near the field.

What do you wear on game day?

Aggarwal: Black
Pearlman: Cubs T-shirt—Rizzo or Bryant—and camo shorts. Cubs hat. It’s my uniform.
Schultz: Sunscreen! And make sure to put it on beforehand. Security will confiscate it.

What’s the best part of being at a home game?

Aggarwal: The majority of the fans are
actively watching the game instead of
just socializing. The food options are
really good too.

Pearlman: Wrigley Field is my
happy place.

Schultz: The energy you get from being around the other fans. And the sense of history and how many generations have experienced something similar for over 100 years.

What advice would you share with fans?

Aggarwal: There’s not much of a scene outside the [White Sox] park, so be prepared to spend more time inside the stadium. Try an adult snow cone, bacon on a stick—or both.

Pearlman: If there is a game on my birthday, I go to it.

Schultz: Sit in the bleachers and get there at least two hours before. You’ll see warm ups and batting practice before the game set to that beautiful organ music. The bleachers are also where I see the most fan interaction. Who doesn’t like a high five on a Kris Bryant home run?

We wish our Chicago major league baseball teams the best of luck this year.
The White Sox home opener against the Detroit Tigers at Guaranteed Rate Field, 333 W. 35th St. is set for Thursday, April 5 at 3:10 p.m. The Cubs will open their season at Wrigley Field on Monday, April 9 at 1:20 p.m. against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Visit Mlb.com/cubs or Mlb.com/whitesox to purchase single game tickets or to learn more about upcoming seasons.

 

Published April 4, 2018

Irish or not—lucky to be in Chicago for St. Paddy’s Day

By Taylor Hartz, Stephanie Racine, and Gianna Annunzio | Staff Writers

Whether or not you’ve got the “Luck of the Irish” in your blood, there’s no denying St. Patrick’s Day is a city-wide celebration in Chicago that draws crowds. With so many  visitors in town, local restaurants and bars are preparing special St. Paddy’s Day menus to celebrate the occasion.

Kicking off the week’s festivities early and in style, ETA Restaurant & Bar, 455 N. Park Dr., will host their collaboration dinner event with Revolution Brewing on Thursday, March 15 at 6 p.m. Restaurant chef Matt Lange will prepare a five-course tasting spread inspired by some of Revolution’s most popular brews. Each course will be paired with different Revolution beer.

Come March 17, if you’re committed to an authentically Irish day, you’ve got to start with Irish breakfast. A full plate of sausages and black and white pudding paired with a strong Irish coffee will certainly give you the strength to get through the day-long party.

Lizzie McNeill’s, 400 N. McClurg Ct., is opening its doors at 7 a.m. for hungry and thirsty patrons. Performances by the Shannon Rover’s Bagpipers will feature all your favorite St. Patrick’s Day songs.

“It’s pretty much a really big party all day,” said John DiPrima, general manager at the pub. “We’re right by where the river dyeing is, right near the downtown festivities, we’re really in the heart of the action.”

Emerald Loop, located at 216 N. Wabash, will start pouring its green beer at 10 a.m. Irish dancers, bagpipers and other entertainment will set the scene as guests enjoy Irish favorites like corned beef and cabbage.

Revelers can make the most of the day with an official bar crawl, or reap the benefits of staying in one place. The River North Bar Crawl gives access to ten bars in River North that are hosting St. Patrick’s Day parties. Prices range from $20-30, depending when you buy them. The crawl lasts from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m.

The dyeing of the Chicago River is viewable from ROOF on the Wit Hotel, which is also on the crawl and is sponsoring a weekend long “St. Patrick’s Day Bash.” The official St. Patrick’s Day DJs take the stage at 2 p.m. that Saturday and ROOF has table reservations still available.

St. Patrick’s Day revelries in Chicago go beyond the dyeing of the river and bar hopping. For a more educational experi ence, dive in to the city’s rich Irish history. The Chicago History Museum is hosting a St. Patrick’s history happy hour on Tuesday March 20. Admission is $15, $10 for museum members and includes two complimentary drinks. The event incorporates fifteen-minute tours that focus on the history of Chicago’s Irish communities. Music and themed activities will also be featured.

New hours, events, exhibits at American Writers Museum

Kicking off its second year, the American Writers Museum (180 N. Michigan Ave.) announced its new hours and a calendar full of upcoming specials. The museum will be closed on Mondays, and will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. every other day, except Thursdays, when it will be open until 6 p.m. After hours events launched on Jan. 25, starting a series of evening events.

The museum, which opened last May, is the first of its kind in the nation, and aims to “educate, enrich, provoke, and inspire” visitors, and is geared toward children and adults alike.

Six exhibits are currently on display, including the Wintrust Chicago Gallery, an exploratory exhibit celebrating Chicago based authors who served as “visionaries and troublemakers” and “agents of change” throughout our country’s history.

To test your skills as a writer, stop by the “Mind of a Writer” exhibit to add your own line to a story collectively written by all the visitors to the museum that day.

Or for a more visual experience, check out the Meijer Gallery of photographs of famous American writers like Nelson Algren and James Baldwin, captured by black-and-white photographer Art Shay.

Free event programming throughout the winter season combines children’s story times with film screenings and writing workshops to ensure there is something for every writer, at every skill level.

 

General admission to the museum is $12 for adults, $8 for seniors and $8 for students. Children 12 and under are free. Tickets can be purchased online.

For a full listing of upcoming programs and exhibits at the museum, visit americanwritersmuseum.org

Chicago Architecture Biennial draws half a million visitors, will return in 2019

By Taylor Hartz | Staff Writer

Published January 22, 2018

More than 550,000 visitors turned out for the 2017 Chicago Architecture Biennial, the city’s second such event celebrating of all things architecture. But if you missed out, don’t worry – it’ll be back. Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced in January that the Chicago Architecture Biennial will return for a third run in 2019.

The global event, which closed on Jan. 7, highlighted the work of 140 architects and designers from 20 countries. Over the course of five months, the Architecture Biennial served as a platform for groundbreaking architectural ideas, including exhibits, full-scale installations, spatial experiments, trips to Chicago’s most iconic sights, and contributions from Chicago students with an eye for design.

Launched in 2015, the mission of the event is to “demonstrate how creativity and innovation can radically transform our lived experience,” according to the Biennial group.  

Mayor Emanuel in a January statement called the Architecture Biennial “a tremendous cultural, educational and economic success for our city,” that reinforced Chicago’s reputation as the vanguard of architectural, art and design innovation.

The Water Tower at 806 North Michigan Avenue was built in 1869 and was one of the “core sites” of the 2017-2018 Chicago Architectural Biennial. The event will return in September 2019. | Photo: Taylor Hartz

The theme in 2017-2018 was “Make New History”. The free, citywide event attracted over 290,000 visitors to the “core sites” – the Chicago Cultural Center and the City Gallery in the Historic Water Tower – while another 260,000 people visited architectural sites throughout the region, Hyde Park Art Center, DuSable Museum of African American History, the National Museum of Mexican Art and the National Museum of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture.

Visitors also got to explore several special project sites around the city, where activities were hosted in the Pedway, at Navy Pier, and at the Mies van der Rohe Farnsworth House in Plano, Illinois.

Mark Lee, one of the artistic directors for the 2017-2018 event, called the most recent season a “transformative year” for the event.

“It has been incredibly meaningful to engage with architects and artists from around the world in questions of history and architecture as an evolutionary practice,” said Lee.

The next architecture biennial will open September 19, 2019, aligning again with the opening of Expo Chicago, the seventh annual International Exposition of Contemporary and Modern Art, at Navy Pier.  The theme has not yet been announced.

 

 

“The Nutcracker” celebrates holiday season and Chicago charm

By Taylor Hartz

December 4, 2017

The holiday season is officially upon us now that the Joffrey Ballet has raised the curtain on their holiday masterpiece “The Nutcracker.” The seasonal classic debuted at 7p.m. on Dec. 1, at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University, giving the age old story a local twist. For the second year, Joffrey’s “The Nutcracker” takes place in 1893 Chicago, during the World’s Columbian Expedition. 

“The Nutcracker” at The Joffrey Ballet | Photo by Cheryl Mann.

Before welcoming the talented cast to the stage, Joffrey Ballet Artistic Director Ashley Wheater described the show by saying “our city is its star.”

Throughout the show, the design features a magical combination of decorative set pieces, beautiful lighting, and captivating video sequences that bring 19th century Chicago to life. As the dancers began to tell the tale of an adventurous, magical Christmas Eve dream, the audience catches sight of their city as it was more than a century ago – preparing to host the most grand, extravagant fair the world had ever seen.

The World’s Fair is reimagined on stage by The Great Impresario of the Fair, danced by Miguel Angel Blanco of Havana, Cuba.

As the whimsical, loveable young character of Marie, danced by Brazilian Amanda Assucena, drifts off to sleep, the city of Chicago is transformed into a winter wonderland. The Act I concludes with an ensemble of graceful snowflake dancers in exquisite costumes who captivate the audience as a glittering snow falls down around them, hitting the stage with a lifelike pitter patter that makes the magical scene seem even more enchanting. 

The stage came to life in Act II as the dreamers entered the vibrant, lively World’s Fair. The dream follows an adventure through the fair’s many exhibits, meant to showcase cultures from across the globe. A dance set in Asia features enormous dragon puppets, while a duo in an arabian themed number perform an acrobatic twisting dance.

Breaking the spell of grace and beauty is a dance set in the Wild Wild West world of Buffalo Bill who drew whistles and shouts from the crowd with his comical lasso maneuvers.

“The Nutcracker” at The Joffrey Ballet | Photo by Cheryl Mann.

As the dream goes on, Assucena is enchanting in her dream-like state alongside the charming Peter, apprentice to the fair’s impresario, danced by Alberto Velazquez, also of Havana, Cuba. 

The performance also follows the story of Marie’s mother, a sculptress for the fair danced by Victoria Jaiani who danced the role of Giselle in the ballet of the same name with Joffrey in October. The mother’s story unfolds in Marie’s dreams with Jaini dressed in a breathtaking gold dress meant to symbolize the fair’s iconic Statue of the Republic. When Marie awakens, we learn that their love story has followed them back to reality in Chicago.

This Joffrey production delivers the perfect combination of a classic tale while celebrating the beauty of Chicago and the magnificence of the World’s Fair, with an enchanting touch of the holiday spirit.

The Nutcracker runs through Dec. 30 at the Auditorium Theater. Tickets are available online or at the box office. 

“The Nutcracker” at The Joffrey Ballet | Photo by Cheryl Mann.

Giselle dances an enchanting, haunting love story

By Taylor Hartz

October 19, 2017

The Joffrey Ballet opened its 2017-2018 season on Wednesday evening with a performance of Lola de Ávila’s Giselle at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University.

Joffrey Ballet’s Giselle. Photo: Cherly Mann

Giselle is a gripping performance of love and heartbreak that is enchanting, romantic, and later, haunting.

The ballet follows the tale of a young peasant woman named Giselle, living in a charming village in the medieval ages. Light on her feet in a powder blue dress, ballerina Victoria Jaiani, of Tbilisi, Georgia, appears as a carefree young woman head over heels for a strong, affectionate character of Duke Albrecht danced by Temur Suluashvili.

With an orchestra that alternates between fast tempo, upbeat numbers for cheery ensemble dances, to dark, dramatic notes as the story turns dark, it is easy to follow the story of Giselle and her lover with Adolphe Adam’s music, conducted by Scott Speck.

Viewers watch Giselle’s world crumble when a trumpeted announcement brings new characters to the stage. The audience learns with Giselle that Albrecht is betrothed to a foreign royal visitor, and it is nearly painful to watch Jaiani’s portrayal of anguish and madness as she dies of grief.

The ballet’s first act ends with Giselle’s collapse on the stage, as a communal mourning of her loss takes place amongst the villagers. Jaiani is as graceful as she is expressive, portraying her character’s heartbreak and despair through her emotional facial movements and dramatic body language.

The Joffrey Ballet’s Giselle. Photo: Cheryl Mann

When the curtain rises on the second act the cheery, autumnal village has been replaced by an eerie wooded scene. Smoke rises off the stage and rolls toward the audience as Albrecht lays in mourning at Giselle’s gravesite.

The true beauty of this ballet reveals itself when a veiled ballerina in a white gown passes quickly through the background. Then, a chorus of ballerinas, looking at once morbid and bridal in black to white ombre costumes, gather on stage for a series of perfectly in sync numbers that brought the audience to applause in the middle of scenes.

At first, Giselle’s gravesite sits undisturbed in the background of the scene, perpetuating the somber, mysterious setting. Giselle soon rises from her grave in a stark white dress that contrasts sharply against the twilight background, setting her apart from the other ghosts.

The audience soon learns that the ghostly women are deceased maidens in the vengeful Wilis army, who dance to death any man who crosses their path. When Giselle joins them, she regains her strength and love fueled passion when she protects Albrecht from the dead army.

While their love story is a beautiful sight to see unfold on stage, the costumes and scenery in the second act – designed by Peter Farmer – are entrancing. Giselle, together with the female ensemble, move so seamlessly across the stage that they begin to look like one enchanting mass of white veils. The only distraction from the beautiful sight is the footwork of the ballerinas, so impressive that audible gasps could be heard throughout the theater.

The show opened with recognition of Creative Director Ashley Wheater, who is celebrating his 10th anniversary with the Joffrey Ballet. Giselle runs through Oct. 29 at the Auditorium Theater. For tickets and more information, visit http://www.joffrey.org/giselle

Young trick-or-treaters enjoy high-rise Halloween

By Angela Gagnon | Staff Writer

 

For city-dwelling kids, Halloween is usually an indoor affair conducted in the safety of their own high-rise homes, with frightful decorations adorning the lobbies and hallways.

It may not be the same as trudging through a dark neighborhood and braving the outdoor elements to carefully ring a stranger’s doorbell, but it is a wonderful alternative.

Some condos—like Harbor Point (155N. Harbor Dr.)—host parties for residents with costumes, food and entertainment. Most offer the opportunity for kids to trick-or-treat within their own buildings, in small groups on Halloween night. Trick-or-treaters stop at units whose residents have volunteered to hand out treats. Neighbors leave bowls of candy outside their doors if they will not be home, while others answer the door dressed in creative costumes. 

Harbor Point resident Carolina Patino looks forward to October 31 every year. “It starts with a pizza party for all residents,” Patino explains. “One of the halls is decorated as a haunted hallway with strobe lights and spider webs.”

Residents also collaborate to decorate full hallways and entire floors. “It’s always an awesome time,” says Patino. You can celebrate the season locally by attending the City of Chicago’s Halloween Gathering on October 21. Festivities are set to kick off at 2 p.m. with a Family Festival in Millennium Park.

The Parade of Artists will follow at 6p.m., starting at Columbus and Balbo and heading north to Monroe St. Additionally, Chicago Park District will host its annual Halloween Family Dance at Maggie Daley Park Field-house on October 27 from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Costumes are encouraged, and family-friendly activities—including a mini-pumpkin patch—will be provided.

For more specific information about your building’s Halloween celebrations and schedule, check with your property management company.

Sinfonietta’s “Dia de los Muertos”

Audience members embarked on a musical journey that traveled through the dark reaches of the human soul to a light and hopeful mood when the Chicago Sinfonietta presented its seventh annual Dia de los Muertos concert at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, October 31 at the Symphony Center (220 S. Michigan Ave.)

The program, which honors the Mexican Day of the Dead holiday, paired classical works with spooky silent films from the Chicago Film Archives.

Music Director and Conductor Mei-Ann Chen kicked off the evening in rousing style, leading the orchestra in “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” a homage to Chicago’s home team — the Cubs — standing in this year’s World Series.

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Sinfonietta Conductor Mei-Ann Chen (Nagarkatti)

Once the audience settled down, the annual favorite concert began with Golijov’s passionate “Last Round,” evocative of a fight for life in a losing battle, with two string quartets doing metaphorical battle with each other. This was followed by the overture to Beethoven’s tremendous “Coriolan,” which featured themes of life, death, and transcendence.

Next, darkness danced across the screen with the first of two silent films, provided by the Chicago Film Archives, shown to the accompaniment of the foreboding strains of an early version of version of “Night on Bald Mountain” (made famous by Disney’s Fantasia).

During the second half of the concert, the mood became more lighthearted, beginning with contemporary composer Carlos Rafael Rivera’s “Popol-Vuh,” a musical interpretation of an ancient Mayan creation story. The piece’s four movements progressed through a shifting soundscape tinged with sadness, but also hope.

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“Dia de los Muertos” audience members (Nagarkatti)

The second half continued with “Danse Macabre,” a jaunty work depicting skeletons and the spirits of the dead who come out to play on Halloween night. Death plays the fiddle, summoning the dead to dance. A 1922 silent film by the same name was presented with this piece, courtesy of the Chicago Film Archives. The film featured well-known Chicago dancer and choreographer Ruth Page in the role of “Love.”

The dance of life and death continued with the Chicago premiere of “PizziCuban Polka,” which started out with a plucked violin and riotously erupted into a celebratory mood familiar to anyone who has heard the mambo.

The concert ended with “Sones de Mariachi” by Blas Galindo, an upbeat tribute to indigenous Mexican folk songs.

Prior to the concert and during the intermission, the audience was invited to participate in several engagement activities relating to the evening’s theme. These included a costume contest for those in their finest Dia attire, masks, and a photo booth. Audience members also enjoyed face painting, marigold making, and an “ofrenda,” or altar, where people could celebrate their lost loved ones.

— Shanti Nagarkatti

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