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Dutch project shows Americans in best light
HEDY WEISS Dance Critic, Chicago Sun-Times

August 8, 2006

It may have been the hint of Europe in the title that lured huge crowds to the Athenaeum Theatre last weekend for Dance Chicago's Dutch National Theatre Project. But it was the American dancers and choreographers on display who most often stole the show. Perhaps that is just what curator John Schmitz had in mind all along.

I caught Sunday's performance, which started off with a bold, heated rendition by River North Chicago Dance Company of Paul Christiano's very difficult, tango-infused "Balada para un loco," set to the music of Astor Piazzolla. Christiano has a unique choreographic vision -- erotic, gymnastic, full of fearful symmetries and explosive energy. The River North dancers -- Brittany Blumer, Sean Hilton, Jason Hortin, Mari Jo Irbe, Jae Hoon Lim and Jessica Wolfrum -- threw themselves into the piece with dangerous, thrilling abandon.

Lauri Stallings, the former Hubbard Street dancer who has quickly forged a high-profile choreographic career (and was recently selected for a three-year stint as resident choreographer with Atlanta Ballet), created a real show-stopper with "The Language Project," a thrilling fragment of a world premiere. This work for three angst-ridden couples -- set to music by Max Richter, and performed on a stage stripped to its bare brick outer walls -- confirms she has already developed a stark, quirky, highly expressive movement language very much her own.

Stallings has a fascinating ability to capture the psychological aspect of relationships through the use of twisted gestures, complex rhythms and unusual lighting (bravos to designer Margaret Nelson). And her spectacular dancers -- Matthew Adamczyk and Allison Walsh (of the Joffrey Ballet), along with Sebastian Nichita, Maiko Tsutsumi, James Johnson and Allison Anich -- infused "Language" with a palpable ferocity.

The audience went wild for Stallings' piece, as well as for the work of a veteran choreographer -- Joffrey artistic director Gerald Arpino. His "Ruth, Ricordi Per Due" -- a duet for a man haunted by the memory of his beloved, set to music by Albinoni -- kept the crowd riveted, as did the breathtaking performance of Joffrey stars Maia Wilkins and Willy Shives.

River North artistic director Frank Chaves also left a powerful mark with "The Mourning," a rapturous duet set to poetic Russian songs performed by Bielka Nemirovski. The piece was danced to stunning effect by Nichita and Tsutsumi, both of the Dutch National Ballet.

Also among the offerings was "Enchanted," a demanding, highly dramatic love-hate duet. This haunting work by choreographer Altin Naska, director of foreign exchange for Dance Chicago, is set to the music of Thomas Newman and was performed by the cool, long-limbed Natalia Hoffman and her partner, Altin Alexandros Kaftira, also from the Dutch company. Though technically adept, these two are rather stiff and uneasy performers who seemed more concerned with getting everything precisely right than with giving themselves over to the emotion of the work. They returned in Krzysztof Pastor's "Wie Lange Noch?" a dramatically sharp duet to the Kurt Weill song, and also joined the ensemble of Tamara Michalczyk, Aaron Rogers and Christiano in Naska's rather derivative "Into the Agape."

Also on the program were Eddy Ocampo's "Strolling in Tube Socks," an overly cute piece of comic relief, and "Kay's Lilt," Randy Duncan's large work for a band of angels in which the Dutch Ballet's dancers tried hard to be part of the ensemble but looked distinctly lost.

Supplying beguiling interlude riffs was the Chicago-based band, Gunnelpumpers.

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hweiss@suntimes.com

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