Things to Recommend about Dance Chicago

We made our annual pilgrimmage to Dance Chicago at the Atheneaum last night. I love this theater and I usually love this occasion. A small, old-fashioned theater with great sightlines to the stage from anywhere in the place. Lots and lots of local dance groups packed into one evening. Performance, curtain down for a moment, then up for the next group.

A hometown sort of occasion in a big city kind of place. You see friends and relatives coming in with flowers for the dancers, just like what you do when your kid is in the end-of-year ballet recital. At the intermission and afterwards, you see the performers in the lobby. They always look so much younger, and smaller, than when they were on stage.

This night's theme was Jazz Fusion. The result: a smorgasbord of dancing: hip-hop, modern, tap, and even a little bit of ballroom. Hard to choose a favorite when they're all so different. Eddy Ocampo was The Choreographer of choice for the night. First, a piece that was lovely to look at but conceptually a bit shaky, about children drafted into wars. His second piece, for Illinois State University's troupe, also thematically interesting: sort of a riff on the mannerism inherent in ballet. And an intriguing costuming choice: female and male dancers wearing the same black leotard with a deep V-neck opening outlined in lime green. Middle of the leotard also accented with a wide swath of lime green. And why slightly disconcerting to see the male dancers wearing the exact same costume as the women?

My most favorite group: HipHop ConnXion. Brash, edgy, clipped movements. Smart and funny. A great set piece at the end with everyone pulling on tiny black blindfolds and the lead dancer walking across the backs of five other dancers crouched down. Second favorite: MADD Rhythms. Ten or twelve tap dancers, standing in two lines across the stage. Nothing complicated, just tapping. But oh, so good at what they do. I've been watching the same young woman grow up, tap-dancing with this group year after year, showing much self-possession and concentration. The stage miked so that you can hear the staccato cleanness of their tapping. A bit of a look toward the past, presented by dancers in their twenties with lots of years of tapping ahead of them.

My only disappointment: this year, no Joel Hall Dancers. No Gus Giordano dancers, except for a brief and very foggy piece which featured some students from the company. The program seemed to be padded with some works and groups that gave it their all but lacked polish and surprise.