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Hamburg Ballet and Abraham.In.Motion dance companies make a stop in Chicago

 
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The Hamburg Ballet. 'Sinfonie vGustav Mahler Ballet vJohn Neumeier.' Pictured: Kiren West with ensemble. | COPYRIGHT HOLDER BADEKOW

The Hamburg Ballet. "Sinfonie von Gustav Mahler, Ballet von John Neumeier." Pictured: Kiren West with the ensemble. | COPYRIGHT HOLDER BADEKOW

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Hamburg ballet in “Third Symphony,” Feb. 19-20; Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph. $40-$95. (312) 334-7777; harristheaterchicago.org.Kyle Abraham/Abraham.In.Motion in “The Radio Show,” Feb. 20-23; Museum of Contemporary Art Theater, 220 E. Chicago. $28. (312) 397-4010; mcachicago.org.

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Updated: February 14, 2014 11:43AM



We may still be in the doldrums of a frigid February, but the arrival of visiting dance companies always feels like a harbinger of spring in Chicago.

Among the troupes headed here during the next few weeks is the Hamburg Ballet, the grand-scale German company led for more than 40 years by Milwaukee-bred choreographer John Neumeier. It will perform his monumental “Third Symphony,” created in 1975, and set to the Gustav Mahler masterwork. A six-movement ballet of immense beauty and virtuosity that explores themes of creation, death, love, loneliness and the very nature of existence, the evening-length piece will be performed at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, where, just last year, his lavish ballet, “Nijinsky,” thrilled audiences.

Arriving at the Museum of Contemporary Art Theater will be Kyle Abraham/Abraham.In.Motion, a relatively small but ultra-contemporary ensemble making its Chicago debut with “The Radio Show,” a piece created by Abraham, who was named a 2013 MacArthur Fellowship Award winner.

Here is what both choreographers had to say about their work:

We may still be in the doldrums of a frigid February, but the arrival of visiting dance companies always feels like a harbinger of spring in Chicago.

Among the troupes headed here during the next few weeks is the Hamburg Ballet, the grand-scale German company led for more than 40 years by Milwaukee-bred choreographer John Neumeier. It will perform his monumental “Third Symphony,” created in 1975, and set to the Gustav Mahler masterwork. A six-movement ballet of immense beauty and virtuosity that explores themes of creation, death, love, loneliness and the very nature of existence, the evening-length piece will be performed at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, where, just last year, his lavish ballet, “Nijinsky,” thrilled audiences.

Arriving at the Museum of Contemporary Art Theater will be Kyle Abraham/Abraham.In.Motion, a relatively small but ultra-contemporary ensemble making its Chicago debut with “The Radio Show,” a piece created by Abraham, who was named a 2013 MacArthur Fellowship Award winner.

Here is what both choreographers had to say about their work:

± JOHN NEUMEIER:

Q. Of all of Mahler’s nine symphonies, why did you choose the Third, which also happens to be his longest?

A. It was an instinctive choice, and since then, his music has become one of my greatest sources of inspiration. Early in my career I thought I could transform each of Mahler’s notes into movements. Today I have choreographed to most of the symphonies except for two, which are too huge for a ballet company to maintain in a repertoire. The Hamburg Ballet has danced this piece all over the world, and it also is in the rep of the Ballet de l’Opéra National de Paris and the Royal Swedish Ballet.

Q. “Third Symphony” began as a tribute to John Cranko, the British choreographer fabled for his work with Germany’s Stuttgart Ballet, who died at the age of 45. What was Cranko’s influence on you?

A. I used just the 4th movement of the symphony, a trio to “Night,” for a gala in honor of Cranko; the entire symphony, which involves a cast of about 50 dancers, followed a bit later. It was Cranko who, without seeing me himself, invited me to join the Stuttgart Ballet as a dancer, so he was the one who got me to Germany. He was a great storyteller and also choreographed extraordinary pas-de-deux.

Q. What recording of the Mahler did you select?

A. Leonard Bernstein’s recordings have really moved and inspired me. In the beginning I asked him to conduct for my ballet. He was unable to do so, but was very kind, and spoke to me about the work — the beginning of a great dialogue.

Q. You are a masterful dance storyteller and have created many full-length ballets. Did you have some sort of narrative in mind as you created this piece?

A: No. My “Third Symphony of Gustav Mahler” marked a completely new approach to choreography for me — the establishment of a new form of dramatic ballet. It tells a story that cannot be expressed in words. The drama results from my subjective reaction to the music — without literary reference or source.

± KYLE ABRAHAM:

Q. You were born in Pittsburgh in 1977, but didn’t start professional dance training until quite late. What was the evolution?

A. I was a big rave kid in my teens, and I also played cello and piano. And although I went to a lot of concerts, plays and museums with my family, we didn’t see dance, and I’ve yet to even see “The Nutcracker.” But when I was a junior in high school my friend suggested I audition for a Caribbean-style musical, and I was cast in it. And before my senior year, my teachers arranged for me to take summer dance classes on a scholarship. I started with Luigi-style jazz classes and then moved into modern and ballet.

Q. What inspired “The Radio Show”?

A. Growing up in Pittsburgh I listened to two radio stations — WAMO, FM and AM. The FM station played contemporary R&B, hip-hop, some of Beyonce’s songs. The AM station had more of an old soul sound, with The Temptations, Smokey Robinson and Otis Redding. In early 2010 the station was sold and the format changed. One of my favorite things was WAMO’s call-in segments, and I would call in all the time — trying to be, say, the 15th caller so I could win tickets to a Prince concert. My other influence in this piece was my dad, who was very athletic and coached basketball, who picked me up after every rehearsal at school, and who didn’t initially understand dance, but admired the commitment and hard work it involved. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s [disease] and aphasia, so I wanted to look at the loss of communication both with him, and with my favorite radio station.

Q. What is the score for “The Radio Show”?

A: It’s eclectic — a mix of classic soul and hip-hop, plus call-in radio excerpts, some static sound and also experimental, abstract music by Ryoji Ikeda and Alva Noto.

NOTE: Immediately following the Feb. 21 performance of “The Radio Show,” audience members can join Abraham and his dancers for an informal dance jam with R&B tunes mixed by DJ Ayana.



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