This past Sunday, the Chicago Sinfonietta put a fresh spin on the iconic tutu-clad imagery of Tchaikovsky's ballet, Swan Lake, thanks to some fancy stepping from two local dance troupes. The hip-hop crews FootworKINGz(FWK) and Kuumba Lynx Performance Ensemble joined the Sinfonietta at Wentz Hall in Naperville for eMotion, a program that explored dance and music as both a method of communication and a healing art form.
The FWK Crew is renowned for touring with Madonna and appearing on national television in both America's Got Talent and America's Best Dance Crew. The ensemble is the professional outgrowth of Kuumba Lynx Performing Ensemble, a non-profit arts and education organization which was formed as a response to public school funding cuts, poverty, and social injustice.
The evening opened with a surprise not included in the printed program - Rimsky-Korsakov's "Flight of the Bumblebee". The bombastic music was the perfect accompaniment for the dancers, who moved their feet so quickly that it looked like somebody had hit the fast-forward button. The performers danced in a line at the front of the stage. It would have been nice if they'd had more room; some of the dancers seemed a bit constrained by the small space.
The next work was the Orchestral Dance Mix. Former 80s rocker Sam Shroup arranged this five-movement suite, which links selections from Russian composer Piotr IlyichTchaikovsky's Swan Lake Suite, op.20 with excerpts from African-American composer Florence Price's Symphony No. 1. The FWK (performing choreography by Trevell "TeeJay" Johnson and Stephen “Stepz" Gregory) glided through the "Scène" movement with sweeping arm motions over a blur of intricate steps. In the "Valse", the dancers' feet pinpointed the tiniest rhythmic subdivisions of the beat. An ideal match between the troupe and the music took place in the "Danse éspagnole", where the vigorous stomps brought a flamenco flavor to the stylized Spanish music.
During the Florence Price, Orchestral Dance Mix, the Kuumba Lynx Performance Ensemble presented charming vignettes of teen life (choreographed by Christopher "Mad Dog" Thomas). The cast included a girl performing balletic movements while holding a scarlet umbrella; a young lady channeling 90s TV character Steve Urkel with her glasses and a dress fastened by suspenders; a cool guy sporting Usher-like shades; and a young man clad in a football jersey.
The FWK and Kuumba Lynx joined forces to close out the first half of the concert with Aram Khachaturian's Sabre Dance from Gayaneh. Each of the dancers performed solos with blindingly fast footwork. One young lady dazzled the audience with an impressive series of pirouettes.
It’s worth noting that that the FWK and Kummba Lynx have probably earned some new fans from this performance. There were quite a few young children in the audience, and most of them were doing their best to emulate the dance steps in the lobby during intermission.
After intermission, the Chicago Sinfonietta took center stage for Sergei Rachmaninoff's Symphonic Dances, Op. 45. Conductor Mei-Ann Chen and the ensemble took full advantage of the first movement's range of character from the whimsical to the robust. The second movement found the orchestra at its lyrical best as they relished the exotic, Tim Burton-esque waltz. Despite some ensemble problems, the Sinfonietta presented the third movement with admirable attack and pizzazz.
Those who either couldn't attend the performance or would like to see it a second time are in luck. WYCC PBS Chicago filmed the program's first performance the previous night at Symphony Center. The concert will be part of a program which will include interviews and rehearsals with a range of Sinfonietta staff and musicians. This broadcast will air on WYCC Channel 20 later this fall.