Chicago Dance Tour – Day 3+4

In 2008, Stephen White and Bill Hamar crafted a tour to Chicago that soon became one of their all time favourites. Its combination of architectural walking and boat tours, entrances to galleries, dance performances, and even a cooking class combine to capture the heart and soul of this magnificent city. I was excited to join them for my first trip to Chicago this last May 1-7th.

Follow me on Day 3+4 of the tour after the break:

Day 3: Chicago

Braving the 12 degree celsius weather, the group headed off for a tour of the Joffrey Ballet’s new studio facility at the Joffrey Tower.

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The building was absolutely gorgeous, and a custom facility for this ballet company. The first 5 or so floors are occupied by the company, with residential condos above (although only a frieght elevator is shared). The facility houses multiple studios for professional work as well as the dance school, offices, costume shop, and dancers lounge/kitchen. Each floor was decorated with images of the company and it’s proud history all stemming from the vision of Mr. Arpino and Mr. Joffrey.

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Above are two of my favorite parts of the tour. On the left is the costume shop. Now I was on strict instruction here not to take any photographs that would reveal the creation of any costuming for upcoming productions. In the interest of protecting artistic integrity, you’ll see just the scope of the room, and that 20 of us just barely fit into it. There wasn’t a lot of extra square footage in that shop, and every inch was organized and utilized. We, unfortunately, didn’t get to meet Travis from the costume team, but local costume guru Pamela Martin tells me that he’s fabulous. And, of course, the costumes that we did see spoke for themselves.

On the right is a pointe shoe locker. That’s right. There is an employee at the Joffrey solely dedicated to shoes. This employee makes sure that each dancer is fitted and stocked appropriately and her “delivery” of shoes arrives for her in a little locker in the hallway of the rehearsal floor.

After the tour, the torrential rain ruined any plans for a picnic. But this gave us an opportunity to try some of the famous Chicago deep dish pizza. It was…an experience. You may fight me on this one, but I’m not a fan of so much dough, and I never thought I’d ever say that there was too much cheese on it (cheese makes up a large part of my culinary world). But, there you go. Hey, maybe you’re into slugging your gut with a brick of pizza. No judgement.

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We then moved on to the Chicago Art Institute, where Nathan and I proceeded to spend many hours quietly perusing the museum. Our approach to museums is to slowly make our way through until we can’t possibly see another religious figure, piece of ancient pottery, or appreciate the significance of a renowned work. Sometimes this means spending hours, and sometimes this means agreeing to take a few stabs at the museum, returning with fresh eyes and legs on another day. I’ll share photos of just two of my favourite things (A Toulouse-Lautrec marketing poster, and an Austrian coffee service set from 1901 – I’d buy it now!):

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On the itinerary that evening was a Broadway Musical production of “Anything Goes.” Nathan and I had opted out of that part of the tour, but our tour mates had a wonderful time. As for us, we had an evening of wine and charcuterie courtesy of everyone’s favourite american grocer, Trader Joe’s (I’m still drooling over the prices of wine and cheese!).

Day 4: Chicago

Having the morning and afternoon free, Nathan and I decided to make the trek to the Museum of Science and Industry. A museum mostly geared towards little kids, but it definitely entertained us big kids as well. Below is a dissected pointe shoe, to display the shock absorbing qualities, and an antique bicycle, part of a display of cycling technology through history: “The Art of the Bicycle.”

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The evening brought one of the highlights of the trip for me: the production of “Othello” by the Joffrey Ballet in the historic Chicago Auditorium Theater. The theater itself was opulent in gold and marble, and reminded me completely of the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco where the San Francisco Ballet performs. A quick wikipedia search reveals that the Chicago Auditorium was built in 1886 and the War Memorial in 1916, with no apparent link between the architects and the designers, but perhaps there was influence there, as the interior of the house is especially similar.

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The production and the company itself was breathtaking. The Joffrey is a model example of modern “Contemporary Ballet” style. The choreography by Lar Lubovitch (a Chicago Native) uses contemporary movement while still highly technical, showcasing the impeccable training and ballet technique of the dancers. The core was strong, displaying bodies of various heights and sizes (to a degree – it’s still ballet we’re talking about here, but still, this was refreshing to see) and the principals were effortless in their craft: weightless jumps, exquisite lines and honest, expressive theatre (no overacting here which is impressive for a Shakespearean tragedy). The sets were simple, but not stark, and both the sets and the costumery sat somewhere between modern and what we would traditionally expect from this classic work. This was my first time seeing the Joffrey, and they have fast become one of my favourite North American ballet companies. I hope that one day Dance Victoria can share this company with you. (Image courtesy of the Joffrey Ballet).

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