It was a banner year for dance in Chicago, with spectacular productions from the city’s leading tap, jazz, contemporary and ballet companies. The year was filled with remarkable performances from masters who were at the top of their fields, as well as many exciting, emerging dancers on the rise. More than some of the year’s standout works turned to storytelling, with ballets and several short works inspired by fairy tales and classic novels; others were dazzling with technical and musical complexity. Here are the top 10 dance shows of 2023.
“Tempo, Rhythm and Time” By Chicago Tap Theater in February: Chicago Tap Theatre’s 20th anniversary show at the Den was its best mixed performance on record. Among the night’s highlights: exciting improvised solos by artistic partner Sterling Harris and director Mark Yonally, a ferocious musical riddim by Martin “Tre” Dumas III, several alumni cameo appearances, and a tap dance set to Weather Report’s “Birdland.” There is a joy bomb in the form of – all with a live band.
“Somewhere in Between” at the Dance Center in March: Alice Klock and Florian Lochner’s artistic partnership developed further in 2017, when they began improvising together at the end of their time dancing for Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. Now expanded into a six-piece ensemble collectively called FLOCK, the group has brought a new, full-length stunner to Dance Center, culled from dreams, imagination, and childhood memories. Thoughtful and unnerving at the same time, “Somewhere Among” isn’t exactly nostalgic, merely hinting at its unabashed, raw beauty predecessor that washes over the viewer.
“Elements” At the Museum of Contemporary Art in March: Of the many excellent options, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s strongest outing this year may be its two-week run at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Unlike the massive Harris Theatre, where most house dramas are staged, the MCA offers the chance to see every minute detail. Those who won a spot in the sold-out spring series called “Elements” — but not everyone won — were invited to the company premiere of Lar Lubovitch’s revolving 2010 treatise on mid-century art, combining John Coltrane’s “Favorite Things” with Dijon-toned Jackson Pollock was done. fund. Other highlights: Alysia Johnson as her gorgeous self on Kyle Abraham’s terrific solo on “Show Pony” and Thang Dao’s “Nevermore,” a starkly beautiful love story inspired by cross-cultural fairy tales.
“Celebrate Giordano” At the Harris Theater in April: Giordano Dance Chicago wrapped up its 60th season in style, starting with a simple, sweet, ballroom-inspired opening by alumnus Michael Taylor. Founder Gus Giordano’s fresh new arrangement of the big band tribute “Sing, Sing, Sing,” revived by current artistic director Nan Giordano, has served as an example of his father’s signature style. More recent revivals like Liz Imperio’s “La Belleza de Cuba” and Ron de Jesus’ 2003 tour de force “Prey” brought back memories of the past few decades; plus a brand new Kia Smith piece for the 25-dancer super troupe that combines Giordano dancers with South Chicago Dance Theatre.
“Supreme Love” At the Dance Center in April: Jumaane Taylor has become a lone wolf in recent years, retreating from a period of feverish creation and balancing choreography with a new role leading the Chicago Human Rhythm Project. But the 2016 revival of her masterpiece, which honored John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme,” proved once again just how good Taylor is. Jazz music standouts Christina Carminucci, Ayan Imai-Hall and Shanzell Page joined and formed a unique quartet that wielded sonic magic with local musicians Justin Dillard, Brent Griffin Jr., Marlene Rosenberg and Isaiah Spencer.
“The Little Mermaid” By Joffrey Ballet in April: Choreographer John Neumeier’s flawless stunner, based on Hans Christian Andersen’s 1837 tale, is as far from Disney as it gets. The Joffrey Ballet was finally able to perform last spring after years of delay due to the pandemic. It was definitely worth the wait for reasons too long to list here — but here are three: Dylan Gutierrez as the bumbling, funny prince; Victoria Jaiani, who spends half the ballet in impossibly long trousers imitating fins and the other half on new legs in a deliberately awkward and unbalanced manner; and Yoshihisa Arai as the Sea Witch deliver remarkable final performances as Joffrey retires from his storied career.
Arpino Centennial Celebration At the Auditorium Theater in September: On the 100th birthday of Joffrey Ballet co-founder Gerald Arpino, dancers from seven U.S. ballet companies gathered at the Auditorium Theater to perform favorite works from his prolific catalogue. While some Aprino ballets have aged better than others, his impact on ballet and Chicago—bringing Joffrey home to roost in 1995—is undeniable. A two-day celebration and exhibition of his best works has never been clearer, with “Birthday Varieties” at the top of the list, “Suite Saint-Saens” and “L’Air d’Esprit”.
“Frankenstein” By Joffrey Ballet in October: With career-breaking performances by José Pablo Castro Cuevas and Jonathan Dole, “Frankenstein” capped a breakout year for narrative ballets. Cuevas and Dole, as the famed chemist and her complex creation respectively, elegantly captured the nuance of Mary Shelley’s characters; Her shorter piece, “Hummingbird,” was masterfully danced by the late choreographer Liam Scarlett, who will be featured at the Joffrey next February. Given that Scarlett’s death in 2021 is a horrific backdrop, it would be easy, even understandable, for Joffrey to allow himself to overdo this ballet. Far from it, it is spectacularly spectacular and one of the most remarkable events of the year.
Köklü Dance Theater At the Auditorium Theater in November: A knockout mixed bill proved that Deeply Rooted were not just at the top of their game; She sets the bar for modern dance in Chicago. Emani Drake’s performance of Keith Lee’s “Mama Rose” solidifies her place as one worth watching; It’s not easy in a company of such good dancers. This one-night performance was one of the best in the company’s 25 years, with a jaw-dropping revival of Ulysses Dove’s “Vespers” and a timely premiere grounded in artistic director Nicole Clarke-Springer’s intergenerational struggle for civil rights. history.
“The Jungle Book has been redesigned” At the Harris Theater in November: Harris Theatre’s decades-long love affair with British choreographer Akram Khan has been a win-win for audiences. Khan is back for the fourth time since 2019, bringing a 21st-century spin on Rudyard Kipling’s “Jungle Book” with his eponymous ensemble. As always, Khan has created an immersive and fantastical visual and audio world with a top-tier design team, as well as a dance language intricately woven from Khan’s diverse influences and the human, mammalian and reptilian requirements of ballet. This includes narration, hand-drawn animation and physical theatre. There is a lot to understand; perhaps too much in one sitting. Yet Khan is and remains unquestionably a prodigal voice in today’s contemporary dance. We are lucky.
Lauren Warnecke is a freelance critic.