Ensemble Espanol
  • Dean Paul
  • Ensemble Espanol

There may be budgetary motives behind the fact that there’s more than the usual number of Chicago companies in this year’s annual Chicago Dancing Festival—the terrific free, multiday dance showcase, under way this week. But a spokesperson for the festival offers another reason: feedback in previous years that too few local companies had been included.

And Thursday night’s nearly all-Chicago program at the Auditorium Theatre didn’t seem to leave anyone in the audience pining for more out-of-towners. Among the highlights:

• Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s scenes from Casi-Casa, in which choreographer Mats Ek turns klutzy domesticity into something miraculously fluid.

• Ensemble Español Spanish Dance Theater’s Bolero, Dame Libby Komaiko’s quintessentially Spanish vision in red and black, with Picasso as a backdrop.

• The Joffrey Ballet’s Episode 31, choreographed by Alexander Ekman in a version commissioned by the festival. Introduced by a video that shows the dancers taking parts of the work out to State Street, Millennium Park, and even for a ride on the el, Episode 31 is a surreal large ensemble piece performed to percussion and voice—including readings of verse for kids. Enormously demanding for the performers, who were perfection, it combines a freaky take on military-style regimentation (think drum and bugle corps, minus the instruments) with flashes of classical ballet. It’s riveting.

This year’s festival lineup also includes local groups Chicago Human Rhythm Project, Natya Dance Theatre, and Giordano Dance Chicago, along with Lar Lubovitch Dance Company—the ensemble’s New York, but Lubovitch is Chicago. As in previous years, festival events are free, with standby tickets available at the box office for those that are “sold out,” like tonight’s all-solo program at the MCA. No promises, but if you’re willing to stand in line, chances of getting in are good.

And tickets aren’t an issue for the concluding Celebration of Dance, scheduled for 7:30 PM Saturday at Millennium Park’s Pritzker Pavilion—it’s unticketed and open seating, but get there early unless you’re happy on the lawn.

Saturday-night audiences will see Ensemble Español’s Bolero, as well as Chicago Human Rhythm Project’s In the Beginning, a new piece by Lane Alexander and Bril Barrett, commissioned for this year’s festival. Also on the program: Samuel Lee Roberts of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, dancing In/Side to Nina Simone; Jerome Robbin’s Interplay, performed by the Joffrey; and Wake Up, a hip-hop-infused piece by another company new to the festival, Philadanco.

More information and the full program are here.