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Eclectic shows on the horizon at Chicago Shakespeare, Hubbard Street Dance

DanCaspersen with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago rehearses “Quintett.” | © Todd Rosenberg Photography 2012

Dana Caspersen, with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, rehearses “Quintett.” | © Todd Rosenberg Photography 2012

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◆ Through June 3

◆ Chicago Shakespeare Theater, 800 E. Grand on Navy Pier

◆ Tickets, $35-$45

◆ (312) 595-5600;


◆ May 31-June 3

◆ Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph

◆ Tickets, $25-$94

◆ (312) 850-9744;

Updated: June 29, 2012 8:39AM


Ontroerend Goed is a Belgian company that tries to stretch the traditional definition of theater. Widely known in Europe and beyond, the ensemble — whose name translates roughly as “Feel Estate” — now is being discovered by Chicago audiences as it stages the U.S. premiere of its production “A History of Everything” at the Chicago Shakespeare Theater.

Criss Henderson, executive director of Chicago Shakespeare, has been watching the company’s productions for several years trying to find just the right one for his theater.

“I even participated in one of their shows called ‘Internal, in which five performers are paired with five spectators, and each ‘pair’ engages in individual 25-minute interactions that involve the most probing questions,” said Henderson. “Afterward they do a sort of group analysis, and later, each person receives a personal letter in the mail. It was amazing.”

“A History of Everything,” a co-production with Australia’s Sydney Theater Company (run by actress Cate Blanchett and her husband, Andrew Upton), is a somewhat less up-close and personal show. But no one could accuse it of lacking ambition as, true to its title, it conjures — in reverse chronological order — everything from the invention of agriculture, to the age of dinosaurs, to the formation of the solar system.

Director Alexander Devriendt, now 35, began his foray into theater at the tender age of 16, starting out by getting involved with a group of poets. Along the way, he and his friends began organizing festivals, and as Devriendt puts it, “I just bumped into theater and the whole idea of live performances on the brink of doing several different things, and after we won a theater prize the label sort of stuck.”

“We formed Ontroerend Goed about 12 years ago, and we tend to look at theater as a form of play, a sort of game,” Devriendt continued. “And because we don’t really know the rules, we don’t really know when we are breaking them, and that gives us a lot of freedom.”

“A History of Everything” grew out of Devriendt’s wide-ranging reading list that included books by the British evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, the American scientist who also has explored aspects of evolution, Jared Diamond, and Christopher Hitchens’ critique of religion, God Is Not Great. (“I’m an atheist,” said Devriendt, “but I DO believe in something — beauty.”)

“Very few people use these sorts of book for works of theater,” said Devriendt, “but I find them inspirational, and for ‘A History of Everything’ I wanted to be exact.”

“A lot of scientists say human beings are really insignificant — that we are a joke. How do you deal with that? I decided to use my actors’ memories, as well as my own, to take an egocentric view of history. We start in the now, and in 90 minutes work our way backward in time, to when there were no humans at all. ”

The company’s next projects include “All That is Wrong,” in which an 18-year-old girl makes a list inspired by that title, and “Fight Night,” which Devriendt describes as “something of a critique of democracy, in which the actors try to get the votes of the audience.”


William Forsythe, now 62, is the American-bred choreographer who, since 1984, has worked primarily in Germany, becoming a major force in putting a fiercely modernist face on classical ballet. As part of its Summer Series at the Harris Theatre, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago will become the first U.S. company to dance Forsythe’s 1993 work, “Quintett,” set to the music of British composer Gavin Bryar. It will reprise the work June 30 when Forsythe receives a Lifetime Achievement Award from the prestigious American Dance Festival in Durham, N.C.

“Quintett” is a deeply personal work — created to celebrate the spirit of Forsythe’s wife of seven years, Tracy Kai-Meier, a dancer (first with the San Francisco Ballet, and then with his Ballett Frankfurt), who died of cancer in 1994, at the age of 32. He calls it “the love letter she never got to see,” because while it was created when she was still alive, she was too ill to see it performed.

“ ‘Quintett’ doesn’t work in a narrative way, and Tracy is not a figure in it,” said Forsythe. “It has a theme and variations structure, and working on it I had in my mind something Tennessee Williams wrote [in “Orpheus Descending”] about a woman walking by a graveyard at night and hearing voices that say ‘Live, live.’ I wanted to do a piece about living, not dying, because Tracy was a California girl who was ferocious about living.”

Also on the program will be a reprise of Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin’s “Three to Max,” and resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo’s “Malditos,” set to Alexandre Desplat’s soundtrack for the French film, “The Beat That My Heart Skipped.”

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