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The Chicago
Sinfonietta with FootworKINGz and Kuumba Lynx

When: 8 p.m. Saturday

Where: Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan

Tickets: $26-$50
(students $10)

When: 4 p.m. Sunday

Where: Wentz Concert Hall, North Central College,
171 E. Chicago, Naperville

Tickets: $40-$50
(students $10)

Info: (312) 236-3681, ext. 2;

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Updated: September 13, 2013 6:40PM

The Chicago Sinfonietta is known for its high performance standards, championing of young performers and a strong orchestra-audience connection.

It’s also known for its innovative programming, which kicked into a high gear in 2006 when founder and then-music director Paul Freeman premiered David N. Baker’s Concertino for “Cell Phones and Orchestra,” a performance that got national attention.

When Mei-Ann Chen was named music director in 2011, one of the first things she said to Executive Director Jim Hirsch was that they continue to embrace Freeman’s “vision of thinking outside the box.” In keeping with that mission, the 2013-14 season opens with old melodies and new beats.

Chen and Hirsch turn to a unique collaboration for “eMotion,” two concerts that showcase the urban dance culture juxtaposed against a newly commissioned arrangement by Sam Shoup that mixes classical masterworks and explosive footwork from Chicago hip-hop troupes FootworKINGz and Kuumba Lynx.

When Chen went to a FootworKINGz rehearsal, she was thrilled with what she saw.

“It was fascinating to see how the dancers distill and interpret the music in their movements,” Chen says.

“Art is there to stimulate; art is there to provoke. We’re not playing it safe; we’re taking risks. Our hope is that in the process we’ll create something really memorable. That is our journey.” Shoup’s new suite blends five scenes from Tchaikovsky’s “Swan Lake.” FootworKINGz will dance in two sections of thework. This flows into Florence Price’s “Symphony No. 1, Movements 3 and 4,” which features the footwork of Kuumba Lynx.

“The unusual collaborations help stretch the envelope of our repertoire,” Chen says. “We are trying to see how we can interpret old works with new angles but in no way compromising the music.”

(In the second half of the program, the Sinfonietta performs Khachaturian’s “Sabre Dance” and Rachmaninoff’s “Symphonic Dances, Op. 45.”)

Kuumba Lynx is a not-for-profit arts and education organization, and the dancers in the ensemble range in age from 11 to 17. Several FootworKINGz dancers started with this troupe. Christopher Thomas is the lead choreographer for the performance set to Price’s music.

“This performance has the potential to ignite some cross-cultural dialogue,” says Kuumba Lynx Executive Director Jacinda Bullie. “We’ve been working hard to make this a great experience for everyone.”

FootworKINGz is the professional arm of Kuumba Lynx. They are considered the best of the best. The troupe has competed on “America’s Got Talent” and “America’s Best Dance Crew,” and members have toured with Madonna.

This is the troupe’s first performance with a classical orchestra. The street style dance is an extremely energized, lower body movement (speeds up to 160 beats per minute) that evolved over 20 years ago as a response to Chicago’s roots in both house and juke music.

FootworKINGz member and choreographer Trevell Johnson is no stranger to classical music. As a dance student at Columbia College Chicago, he had to defend footworking when fellow students said it wasn’t a real dance style.

“So I branched off and did a footworking piece set to classical music,” Johnson recalls, “just so people could understand where we come from. I just wanted them to know this is a dance style that can be put to anything.”

To prepare for the Sinfonietta challenge Johnson says he watched videos of “Swan Lake” ranging from classical ballet to breakdance versions.

“To make something perfect for a different audience, for a different class of musician is where the pressure is,” Johnson says. “The challenge really comes from being accepted and making sure everything is on point and entertaining.”

Mary Houlihan is a local freelance writer.

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