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‘Chronicle’ galvanizes second stage of Dancing Festival

Blakely White-McGuire dances MarthGraham Dance Company's 'Chronicle' Chicago Dancing Festival. | PHOTO BY CHERYL MANN

Blakely White-McGuire dances Martha Graham Dance Company's "Chronicle" at the Chicago Dancing Festival. | PHOTO BY CHERYL MANN

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When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday

Where: Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park

Tickets: Free

Info: chicagodancing

Updated: September 25, 2012 10:45AM

Great art is embedded with a potent survival mechanism. Among the very best proofs of this principle is the enduring work of Martha Graham, the godmother of modern dance — a visionary whose striking, highly theatrical, supremely individualistic dances continue to hold audiences in their thrall.

The Martha Graham Dance Company, now in its 85th season (despite numerous “near-death” experiences), seized the stage of a packed house at the Auditorium Theatre on Wednesday night with a performance of her riveting 1936 work, “Chronicle.” The final piece on the impressively varied “Dancing East and West of Chicago” program in this week’s all-admission-free Chicago Dancing Festival lineup, this anti-war masterpiece was breathtaking in the ferocious power of its movement. It was rendered by a virtuosic all-female cast led by the formidable Blakely White-McGuire (as both darkly prophetic figure and force of the future, whose sweeping skirts suggested greater forces at work), and the steely, quicksilver PeiJu Chein Pott.

Also on the program was “Descent,” a beautiful “newly modern” work by the New York-based Brian Brooks Moving Company, that is equal parts physics, architecture, poetry and philosophical musing on the highs and lows of human nature. Brooks uses various balances and counter-balances to suggest the weight of existence. But in one exquisite sequence he also captures the unbearable lightness of being, too, as the dancers simply fan lengths of gauzy fabric into cloudlike shapes.

Seth Orza and Lesley Rauch of Pacific Northwest Ballet gave a richly dreamy, erotic (and ideally narcissistic) rendering of “Afternoon of a Faun,” Jerome Robbins’ ingenious 1953 “ballet studio” reimagining of the more sylvan 1912 Nijinsky original, set to Debussy. (It would be great to one day see both versions performed back-to-back.)

The program opened with Ballet Arizona in George Balanchine’s overly busy “Rubies” (from his 1967 Jewels”). The fleet, immensely engaging Nayon Iovino was the standout, and reminiscent of that great Balanchine dancer, Edward Villella.

Sofiane Sylve and Vito Mazzeo, technically superb dancers from the San Francisco Ballet, performed the pas de deux from “Sleeping Beauty.” Excerpting this kind of showpiece from a full-length ballet invariably gives it the feel of a circus act. Early on, Sylve fell — slipping on a patch of stage wet with sweat from a previous performance. Her bravura recovery was the mark of the quintessential professional.

An unexpected reprise of Alexander Ekman’s little relationship piece, “Two Become Three” (danced by Maeghan McHale and Martin Ortiz Tapia of Giordano Dance Chicago, and first seen Monday), was a reminder of why it is such an audience pleaser.

And now it’s on to Saturday’s gala performance in Millennium Park.

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