Due respect must be paid to Dance Chicago co-founder John Schmitz: When the festival was inaugurated here in 1984, it took place at a lot of small venues and was, in his recollection, 'pretty chaotic.' He describes an era when Chicago had very little to offer in the way of dance, companies and dancers worked in isolation and audience members, especially those new to the dance experience, were hard to come by. Nevertheless, after deciding against starting his project in San Francisco, Schmitz soldiered on and now commands a solid month of performances at Lakeview's Athenaeum Theatre.
Pictured: The Houston Metropolitan Dance Company, which performed during Dance Chicago's opening weekend.
The logistics alone are daunting: Three hundred works are performed by more than 130 companies on 12 programs running multiple evenings each. Schmitz plainly draws a line linking his populist approach to the wealth of choices he now has. As he puts it, 'Dance Chicago has tried to eliminate the pretension that surrounds the dance world' and said, 'there's an effort in most concert dance to distance it from the riffraff of society.' He elaborated: 'Today, dance has gotten back into the street, and back into people's lives. When we started, dance was more obscure and no one really thought of going to performances. There wasn't a lot of social dancing going on, no hip-hop crews and all these things we see today. Now, though, it's hard to run into anyone who's young who doesn't dance in some way; the body awareness that people have, the talent level of dancers coming into the system is profoundly advanced. It's vital.'
It's also catching on, to hear him tell it, citing New York's Fall for Dance Festival as a borrower of Dance Chicago's show-it-all formula. 'It's nice to see the East Coast copy us for a change,' he said, although he added 'they didn't pay me a nickel for the idea.' It's worth noting that it's become much easier to make sense of all the programming he offers: www.dancechicago.com improves every year and has matured, like the event itself, into a well-organized way to see the dance you love, or be introduced to your latest obsession.
Dance Chicago 2008 runs Nov. 7-30 at the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport. Call 773-935-6860 or visit www.dancechicago.com for tickets and more information.
As if the festival smorgasbord wasn't enough, there are many more dance happenings also going on this month:
—Mark Yonally's Chicago Tap Theater previews its holiday tradition, Tidings of Tap, among other works at this month's About Dance. Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington, Nov. 13, 6 p.m., free.
—Journalistic integrity precludes me from swooning too much about Distance Forward, the fall program by Same Planet Different World—I'm a regular performer with the group. The fact sheet says that it's a four-piece mixed bill, and features choreography by Molly Shanahan, Ashleigh Leite, Shapiro & Smith and Same Planet co-director Joanna Rosenthal. At the Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn, Nov. 14-15 at 8 p.m. and Nov. 16 at 2 p.m. $20/$15 students and seniors; www.spdwdance.org
—Shared evenings are becoming a more regular occurrence at Link's Hall, and that's good news. For the same ( always low ) price, you get twice the artistic vision, and presenting companies get to join forces and share loyalists. Julie Mayo and Colleen Leonardi are on the bill with Cities of the Head, with guest choreographers Eliza Diener-Brazelle and Ashley Valo contributing. Link's Hall, 3435 N. Sheffield, Nov. 14-15 at 8 p.m. $15; www.linkshall.org
—I've waxed wonderful about the Dance Intersections series before, and this next installment should be no exception. Jan Bartoszek, of Hedwig Dances, and Lucky Plush Productions' Julia Rhoads take on the same score for an evening that will underline the two choreographers' divergent yet equally attuned sensibilities. Dance Intersections: ReSound, at the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington, Nov. 19, 6 p.m., free. The program repeats Nov. 20 at the Harold Washington Library, 401 S. Plymouth entrance, 12:15 p.m., free.
—Los Angeles-based queer performance artist Tim Miller has made Chicago a second home lately: His Charged Bodies program brought him here for four months of mentorship of three talented and promising young performers. Their cooperation with Miller will culminate in two shows and, as a bonus, Miller will debut new work in progress. The program's at Link's Hall, 3435 N. Sheffield, Nov. 21-22 at 8 p.m. $15; www.linkshall.org
—There's nothing wrong with Lar Lubovitch's mesmerizing, immaculate dances, although one does begin to yearn for more passion and risk. The New York-based company's superb dancers—many of whom will be familiar to Chicago dance fans—make the watching easy. It's at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph, Nov. 22 at 7:30 p.m. $45-75; www.harristheaterchicago.org
—Walking Mad uses a ubiquitous classical score—Ravel's Bolero—to draw you in, and a short, angled wall to facilitate stunning unpredictability. Johan Inger's 2001 piece, seldom seen in the United States, will join the repertoire of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, along with a new work by director Jim Vincent and the return of Strokes Through the Tail. It's at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph, Dec. 3-4 at 7:30 p.m. and Dec. 5-7 at 8 p.m. $25-86; www.hubbardstreetdance.com
—Muntu Dance Theatre is Chicago's premier practitioner of African dance, growing each year by leaps and bounds. Their fall concert is a selection of dances from West Africa, accompanied by hypnotic percussion by the Koutero Orchestra. Transformation is at the Gary Comer Youth Center, 7200 S. Ingleside, Dec. 4 at 7:30 p.m. for $25, and Dec. 6 at 8 p.m. and Dec. 7 at 3 p.m. for $27.50. www.muntu.com
—Finally, be sure to read the Windy City Times interview with Lane Alexander next week on Barbatuques' Thanksgiving weekend engagement at the Harris Theater.