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

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.


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.


“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

Big Windy Man

img_0507a2webUpon graduating from high school in the 1950s, Big Windy Man traveled from his native West Virginia to Columbus, OH, the northern metropolis where his sister lived. He arrived with talent, ambition and a homegrown appreciation for Tennessee Ernie Ford.

“He sung about the coal mines,” says Big Windy. “That’s where I grew up.”

After he won a few singing contests at the nearby 502 Club, Windy joined a band, and “traveled on the road with them a little bit.”

In 1965, he came to Chicago and began playing “all over the city.” He favors the chrome passage under the Wabash Bridge.

“I like the acoustics and I like the people,” he says. “They’re real cool, man.”

— Daniel Patton

Miro Swing jazzes up the River Walk

img_8995webMiro Swing is a five-piece Gypsy jazz band that frequently perfroms at Cyrano’s on the River Walk. “We thought this was a cool place to come and play music after work,” says guitarist Stephen Kelly.

Although formed only a few months ago, the musicians have gigged together in various lineups for years, and they share a passion for the genre made famous by legendary Beligian-born French guitarist of Romani descent, Django Reinhardt.

(Pictured, l to r: Stephen Kelly, Lee-Ann Sharp, Red Weber, Teri Foster, John Garza. Photo by Daniel Patton.)

— Daniel Patton

Millennium Park’s world of sound

The Millennium Park Summer Music Series is difficult to define. Afrobeat, Kiwi Fusion, Brazilian Funk, and Psychedelic Congolese give it an international flavor; but American blues, indie, and soul bring it all back home. Throw in gospel, folk, and samba and it becomes impossible to tell exactly what the bi-weekly concerts at the Pritzker Pavilion will sound like. Curator David Chavez is fine with that.

David Chavez - Juan F Hernandez-web

David Chavez (photo: JF Hernandez)

“Right now, what’s happening with music is that the idea of genres — and borders within genres — is sort of fading,” says the Logan Square native. “For example, the relationship between Sub-Saharan African music and rockin’ blues is strong. The trick is keeping a balance.”

Mr. Chavez has programmed the series since last year, when it became the singular groovechild of the city’s two former Millennium Park weekly music events: Downtown Sound and Music Without Borders. He takes in concerts, researches reviews, and attends conferences to help “provide the best music possible without being stuck.”

This summer’s performances have included New York indie rockers Blonde Redhead, legendary funk saxophonist Maceo Parker, and London Afrobeat artist Femi Kuti, son of Fela Kuti, one of the greatest artistic and political forces of the last century. Each act filled the pavilion with friendly crowds enjoying what were likely the funkiest twilight picnics in the country.


Femi Kuti performing at Millennium Park.

Mr. Chavez’ has kept this kind of beat throughout his career. It began with a “hobby of DJing back in college at UIC” that was heavy on house music before graduating to world music and, later, funk and soul.

His influence within the Chicago scene expanded along with his tastes. He became program director for the South Loop’s dynamic cultural club, The Hothouse, incorporated live music into his DJ sets, and formed “Sound Culture,” a company that produces world music events throughout the city.

Now, with the official title of Program Coordinator of Creative Industries for the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, he says his job has become “a series of things.”

“A lot of it is having strong relationships with booking agents and managers and planning out far in advance to know when the artist is touring again. It’s constant communication with their tour managers about all their needs.”


José Tapia and family enjoy a concert

Among the performers scheduled for August are the Congolese psychedelic dance band Mbongwana Star on the 11th and multi-genre Chicago instrumental group Tortoise on the 25th.

A few years back, Mr. Chavez helped launch Chicago Made, a showcase of homegrown creative talent that makes regular appearances at festivals like South by Southwest in Austin, TX.

Although his efforts have helped enhance the Windy City’s reputation as a metropolitan musical motherlode, Mr. Chavez is quick to credit the artists and the “vibrant scene” for making it happen.

“People really recognize that Chicago is a really creative city and a great place to launch a career,” he says. “There are so many music rooms. The caliber is high. You can go out any night of the week and hear amazing music.”

And when it comes to Monday and Thursday nights in the summertime, he makes a good case for choosing the Millennium Park Summer Music Series.

“It’s one of the most beautiful settings for live music performances in the world,” he says. “I talk to a lot of artists who perform all over the world, and this is one of the best, according to them. Outdoor, free, skyline. You really can’t beat it.”

— Daniel Patton

Christian Cohran

IMG_0315web3Ronald Christian’s pitch perfect high notes and Malik Cohran’s five-string bass lines draw more than mere appreciation from passersby on Michigan Avenue.

Whether they’re performing a stripped down rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” or accompanying a prerecorded instrumental track of “My Girl,” the duo lays down a groove that frequently inspires people to dance on the sidewalk.

— Daniel Patton

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