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2014 Summer Session Shows, July 24 and August 8

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Ballet Chicago is primarily a Balanchine-oriented ballet school which regularly gets a show together, in December their Nutcracker and in mid-May, some mixed repertory, adding a few guest performers and mostly leaving out the lowest divisions, as the Ballet Chicago Studio Company. (The matinee Nutcrackers do give the littlest ones some stage experience.) And over the summer, like other schools, they conduct summer programs.

On July 24th, I went along to see the middle-divisions summer-school show, and I took with me the modern-dance fan who couldn't get over the performance of Balanchine's Divertimento No. 15 that the Ballet Chicago Studio Company opened their program with in the Harris Theater in May. The program consisted of three parts, two modern dances made for the occasion, seventeen ballet excerpts, and six Spanish dance numbers prepared for the summer session. The students here were from all over North America and also from Mexico and Brazil.

My interest was mainly in the ballet section of the program, and I'll get off my chest right away my main complaint: The numbers were mostly fragments of movements of Balanchine ballets, familiar to me if not to my friend, and so, regardless, they ended before we were ready for them to end. The dancing (and the choreography) was of such high caliber we wanted more!

And that brings me to my reason for posting, because the upper-division show will go on tomorrow, August 8, so we'll have a chance to get more. I even have hopes that the numbers will consist of complete movements, but the earlier show had some unexpected fun - solos were danced simultaneously by two or three dancers, and we could compare their individual qualities, not to mention enjoy the outstanding "naturals" we spotted here and there - placed so we could see them best! - not necessarily the biggest or oldest-looking, but moving beautifully as though they hadn't needed to study it. The others' qualities were "merely" flowing and gracefully phrased; easy, accomplished.

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The 2014 Advanced Intensive Showcase on August 8 was similar to the Summer Course Showcase on July 24 but even more enjoyable - all ballet, 14 numbers with longer fragments, and all but one were Balanchine choreography: from his Swan Lake, the minuet from his Divertimento No. 15, "Bidin' My Time" from his Who Cares?, with "Strike Up the Band" from that as a rousing ensemble to end the program, both solo variations from his Tchaikovsky pas de Deux, a fragment from his 1967 Valse Fantaisie, about half of his Serenade, including the first movement, pas de deux, waltz, and 'Russian' dance. And I gathered the age range reached into a few more years later, 20 or so.

Like the earlier show, solos were performed by multiple performers simultaneously and/or multiple times, inviting comparisons and adding to the fun. And like the earlier show, there were some "naturals" here and there on stage; not having escaped the notice of those arranging the performance, they were placed for easy viewing, without distorting the overall design. I thought this "school show" was a "class act" in many ways, not the least of which was the choice of recordings for the musical accompaniment: With longer pieces, we could pay a little more attention to their quality, too, hearing the multiple melodic lines clearly enunciated but kept in perspective and enjoying lively tempos which never rushed the dancers.

Unlike the earlier show, which took several weeks of preparation, this one took two. Just to make sure we were properly incredulous, Dan Duell took the stage for some closing remarks at the end: "Not bad for two weeks' work," he remarked modestly. If that was received with warmth less than pandemonium, it was probably because the house was mainly filled with dancers' families, who know better than this innocent spectator how much work goes into it. I could just be amazed and delighted. Dancers make the difficult look easy. And graceful, and beautiful! And so musically aware, in this show.

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