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Dance Review:

"WINTER DANCE FESTIVAL" at The Storefront Theater

BY LUCIA MAURO

One would think, and hope, the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs’ inaugural "Winter Dance Festival" would at least revolve around the snowy season. But this hodgepodge of movement, held at The Storefront Theatre Dec. 13-16, suffered from a severe lack of focus.

Curator Peter Sciscioli assembled an eclectic mix of professional artists, as well as young apprentices from the adjoining Gallery 37 Center for the Arts. Yet the seasoned performers seemed uncomfortably retrofitted into the Storefront’s small space, while the teen participants were not part of a unified theme. That’s unfortunate considering the City’s willingness to support smaller dance companies and Sciscioli’s talents as a dancer-choreographer and ensemble member of Hedwig Dances.

Whatever the reasons for this haphazardly organized celebration of movement scheduled near the time of Winter Solstice, it simply did not live up to its name. Only Luna Negra Dance Theater’s "Breath in Memory" by artistic director Eduardo Vilaro and Ole Ole Puppet and Dance Theater’s final offering of "Tangos de Malaga" and "Solea por Bulerias" demonstrated technical mastery, fire and originality. Yet the artists were hindered by the tight space – particularly evident in Ole Ole’s more massive visual art-dance fusion work, "Shifting Landscapes," involving moving icebergs and dancers flowing across a cloth representing water.

"Shifting Landscape," despite the pitfalls of a cramped stage and melodramatic overtones, was the only true "winter" piece on the bill. And mentally challenged students from the Southside Occupational Storytelling Dance presented a holiday theme as they moved to popular Christmas tunes.

But the bulk of the program consisted of Spanish-themed dance – and not all of it particularly innovative or precise. The young dancers from the CPS Arts Education Program performed a rather cliched folkloric ensemble number with tambourines and a more contemporary "sizzle" routine in red that featured awkward and unoriginal transitions. Students from Kelly High School fared slightly better with their more traditional performances of "Sevillanas" and "Fandangos."

Alyo Children’s Dance Theater performed a more intricate piece based on traditional African drum accompaniment in the style of Southern Senegal and Gambia. Once again, though, a winter-based work would have been more appropriate and revelatory.

The same can be said of Tyego Dance Project’s en pointe-modern sensual pas de deux, "The Owl and the Pussycat," choreographed by August Tye and featuring Aimee Tye and Robbie Cook. However, the pair’s sexiness felt labored, and their close-to-the floor entanglements suffered from tentative execution and an undeveloped theme. Aimee Tye’s lullaby-style solo – an excerpt from August Tye’s "Go’in Home" -- was too brief to grasp its overall meaning and movement aesthetic.

Let’s hope that next year’s "Winter Dance Festival" features greater cohesiveness and continuity.•

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