Arts & Minds

Catch up on the latest Jewish and Jewish-inspired performance art and more in Chicago this winter.

February is shorthand for Valentine's Day. And while cards, flowers and heart-shaped boxes of chocolates are the traditional offerings of romance, it also is well worth considering how another form of passion--a love of the arts, whether dance, theater, music or literature --can warm the heart, stir the soul and pierce the conscience. So here's a toast to those who both create art and appreciate it, even in the midst of a Chicago winter.

 

+ Israeli choreographer explores Extreme Romance With Acrobatic Moves:

The Joffrey Ballet's Winter program (Feb. 12-23 at the Auditorium Theatre) is a mixed bill featuring five contemporary works, all under the umbrella title The Times Are Racing . This also happens to be the name of one of the ballets, a piece by Justin Peck, the 32-year-old resident choreographer of the New York City Ballet.

 

In addition to Peck's work, the program will include two pieces set to the music of Igor Stravinsky (one by Christopher Wheeldon and the other by Stephanie Martinez), and the Chicago premieres of two works by Itzik Galili, a 58-year old Israeli-born choreographer who danced with the Batsheva and Bat Dor companies before moving to the Netherlands in 1991, and who has since created more than 60 works for a slew of international companies.

In many ways, the two works by Galili - "Mono Lisa" (set to an electronic score by Thomas Hofs), and The Sofa (danced to the Tom Waits song Nobody ) - can be seen as wildly warped, lust-driven valentines that capture the extremes of relationships with the use of dramatically acrobatic movement.

In Mono Lisa , a man and woman engage in a devilishly difficult pas de deux that takes the form of an intimate love-hate power struggle. In The Sofa a man ruthlessly pursues a woman (with the sofa almost serving as a wrestling mat), and he is then just as relentlessly pursued himself by another man. Think of it as a kind of twisted version of the "Good Morning" number in Singin' in the Rain --and cross your fingers for the dancers' safety.

For tickets, call (312) 386-8905 or visit joffreyballet.org .

 

+ "An American in Paris" charts a post-war romance:

It's a good bet you have caught the classic 1951 film,  An American in Paris , the musical inspired by George Gershwin's 1928 orchestral score that starred Gene Kelly as Jerry Mulligan, a WWII veteran and aspiring artist living the expatriate life in Paris, and Leslie Caron as Lise Dassin, the elusive young French woman he falls for, and pursues with great difficulty.

For their Tony Award-winning stage version of this musical, which opened on Broadway in 2015, director/choreographer Christopher Wheeldon and librettist Craig Lucas drew on additional music from the irresistible songbook of George and Ira Gershwin and made dance a crucial element of the show. They also put a definite Jewish twist on the storytelling. In an early scene, set in 1945, there is a strong suggestion of the still palpable shadow of the Nazi occupation of France as the crowd that gathers on a bread line angrily turns on a hated collaborator. And later we learn that Lise, an aspiring ballerina, is Jewish, and only survived the war because she was protected by a wealthy French family.

The Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook is the first Chicago-area theater to nab the regional rights to the show. It is being directed by Lynne Kurdziel-Formato and will run Jan. 31-March 29. For tickets, call (630) 530-0111 or visit drurylanetheater.com.

 

+ CSO recording captures fearless indictment of antisemitism

For two days in September 1941, at a steep ravine known as Babi Yar just outside Kiev, Ukraine, Nazi forces carried out a mass slaughter in which more than 33,000 Jews--at least half the Jewish population of Kiev at the time--were murdered.

 In 1961, Yevgeny Yevtushenko, the Soviet era Russian poet, bravely published his groundbreaking poem, Babi Yar , in a leading Russian literary journal, written in part to protest the refusal of the Soviet Union (with its own history of anti-Semitism), to recognize Babi Yar as a Holocaust site.

 By July 1962, composer Dmitri Shostakovich had finished his Symphony No. 13 in B-Flat Minor (subtitled Babi Yar ), and despite formidable official interference it had its first performance, in Moscow, under conductor Kirill Kondrashin. Eight years later, Riccardo Muti conducted the first performance of the work in Western Europe, leading the RAI Symphony Orchestra in Rome. And in the Fall 2018, as Music Director of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Muti led the CSO in a series of stunning performances recorded live at Chicago's Symphony Center. Joining the CSO were the men of the Chicago Symphony Chorus and the renowned Russian bass, Alexey Tikhomirov.

That recording has just been released on the orchestra's own CSO Resound label and is available on both CD and as a digital download.

While Babi Yar is the source of the hour-long symphony's opening movement, Shostakovich used four additional poems by Yevtushenko for subsequent movements. And each, in its particular way, suggests the difficulties of life under the Soviet regime - whether touching on the challenges in women's visits to the market, the problems faced by the country's satirists and comics, the fear generated by an ever-looming sense of surveillance, or the courageous spirit of various geniuses throughout the ages.

In a prophetic observation, Shostakovich is said to have told the musicologist Solomon Volkov that "It would be good if Jews could live peacefully and happily in Russia, where they were born. But we must never forget about the dangers of anti-Semitism, and keep reminding others of it, because the infection is still alive, and who knows if it will ever disappear."

 

As for Yevtushenko, he ended Babi Yar with this provocative declaration: "In my blood there is no Jewish blood. In their callous rages all anti-Semites must now hate me as a Jew. For that reason I am a true Russian."



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