This year's Chicago Dancing Festival, which finishes up Saturday with a free extravaganza at the Pritzker Pavilion, has been fun, uplifting, broad and deep. Certainly we've seen a lot of new faces, just as the increase in offerings has also attracted key supporters, Mayor Rahm Emanuel — a regular attendee — among them.
But founders Lar Lubovitch and Jay Franke also managed some interesting themes, including a mini-tribute to Martha Graham. Through the 1970s, Graham was eminence grise, overshadowed a tad in the following decades of post-modernism.
But Thursday's impassioned Auditorium Theatre performance of her "Embattled Garden," set in Eden, by members of the Graham troupe, proved as exciting as any fest offering. It's as if this 1958 piece has enjoyed breathing room and can be viewed with the reverence heaped on other midcentury arts, a heavily stylized ritual with colors as bold as Mondrian's and tension as gnarled and febrile as Jackson Pollock's. The set, a fascinating modernist design by the late Isamu Noguchi, is one of the stars.
Other Thursday highlights: River North Dance Chicago's delightful mastery of Charles Moulton's "Nine Person Precision Ball Passing;" Victoria Jaiani and husband Temur Suluashvili glowing with beauty and chemistry in "Giselle"; and another star partnership, Penny Saunders and Alejandro Cerrudo, as part of the fantastic Hubbard Street Dance Chicago ensemble in "Petite Mort." Lubovitch's "The Legend of Ten" employed its corps as a roiling ocean, as well as a distilled East European folk chorus.
Wednesday's program at the Museum of Contemporary Art was framed by Richard Move's singular tribute to Graham, combining camp impersonation and loving homage in one. Move, in drag as Graham, played host/hostess, including one remarkable enactment of basic Graham technique, his rendition of "Lamentation" and her insightful comments and barbs.
Also on Wednesday, Faye Driscoll and Jesse Zaritt performed her zany, anarchic exploration of one couple's loopy love, with simulated sex moves part of a kind of lunatic sandbox play date. In "Habituation," Chicagoans Julia Rhoads, Kim Goldman and Meghann Wilkinson made up a nervous, giggling trio seemingly inventing their dance on the spot.
One word looms as Saturday's finale nears: historic.
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Pritzker Pavilion inMillennium Park
Tickets: Free; more information at chicagodancingfestival.com