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On Friday night the Ahmanson Theater was filled with excitement, awe, laughter and a thunderous standing ovation at the conclusion of Hubbard Street + The Second City’s The Art of Falling, presented by the Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance at The Music Center. Dancing, comedy and theater magic joined forces in this amazing evening of 20 scenes connected by cleverly written storylines. The Art of Falling is directed by Billy Bungeroth with choreography by Alejandro Cerrudo, Lucas Crandall, Jonathan Fedrickson, Terence Marling and Robyn Mineko Williams.  It is amazing what the collaboration of two outstanding and long running Chicago institutions have come up with after combining their artists’ imaginations, talents and their budgets together in this innovative way. Egos appear to have been set aside and the two art forms were combined to produce a perfect marriage.

During its 38 seasons Hubbard Street Dance has presented works by such renowned choreographers as Twyla Tharp, William Forsythe, Alonso King, Jiří Kylián, Mats Ek, as well as the very talented artists whose work appears in The Art of Falling. The company has performed globally and it supports some of the finest dancers in the business.

Beginning as a small cabaret theater on the north side of Chicago in 1959, The Second City alumni includes a long list of Comedy’s finest. A small sample of very recognizable names include Alan Arkin, Dan Aykroyd, Gilda Radner, Steven Corbert, John Belushi, Linda Lavin, Jerry Stiller, Ann Meara, Elaine May and Shelley Long. I could fill up the entire article with the names of stars that came out of The Second City. It is a truly amazing organization. How lucky are the rest of us that these two companies decided to combine forces!

Photo: Todd Rosenberg
Photo: Todd Rosenberg

The Resident Choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo opens the performance on what turns out to be a live video feed, sitting in a Whistler’s Mother type pose. After introducing the show with humorous dialogue and dancing with the Hubbard Street ensemble, the fun begins. Sections have titles that give us clues to the action involved; Typewriter, Bicycle Ride, The Rehearsal, White Office Swan, Confession: Or Crash, Thanksgiving, Falling and more. Dancers act and actors move among the dancers. The choreography and direction of The Art of Falling is seamless and deserves a very long run.

There are three definite story threads that are woven throughout The Art of Falling. There is a love story between two gay men; one of which is terrified of falling in love, a new temp employee at a corporation so big that no one can remember her name or explain to her exactly what it is that they do, and an ill-fated airplane flight. The main characters were written and performed by The Second City Ensemble Christina Anthony, Carisa Barreca, Joey Bland, Tim Mason, Tawny Newsome, and Travis Turner.

Hubbard Street1
Photo: Todd Rosenberg

Several sections that stood out in Act I. Typewriter, choreographed by Alejandro Cerrudo has dancers lined up and moving like the keys on an old standard typewriter. It was performed with great precision by Jacqueline Burnett, Alicia Delgadillo, Kellie Epperheimer, Adrienne Lipson, Ana Lopez and Kevin J. Shannon. Bicycle Ride, choreographed by Cerrudo, combined humorous movement with a very inventive use of live video. I will not give away the surprise, just know that up is not always what it appears to be. White Office Swan choreographed by Terence Marling turns an office of temp workers into a frolicking swivel chair romp. Don’t Be Afraid of Love choreographed by Robyn Mineko Williams is heartwarming and has an ending that not only caused the audience to gasp and roar with laughter, but which is very apropos of the section’s title. Questions involved two members of the audience and comedic improvisation skills performed to perfection by Tawny Newsome.

Photo: Todd Rosenberg
Photo: Todd Rosenberg

Act II opens with a series of very sensual duets titled Second to Last (Excerpt) again by Cerrudo. The dancer in me wanted to learn these duets because the movement and the partnering are so kinetic and luscious! There is definitely a movement theme that connects these five duets, but Cerrudo ingeniously alters those movements to keep them fresh and to allow us to see inside and outside of his romantic theme. Second to Last (Excerpt) was performed magnificently to the music of Arvo Pärt by Alice Klock and Michael Gross, Kellie Epperheimer and Kevin J. Shannon, Ana Lopez and Andrew Murdock, Jessica Tong and Jason Hortin, and Jacqueline Burnett and Jesse Bechard. I, for one, would love to see the entire dance.

Tawny Newsome’s performance in Thanksgiving as the family grandmother is truly outstanding. Her comedic timing is brilliant as is her ability to move with the dancer who, in this case, is the Virgin Mary.

Photo: Todd Rosenberg
Photo: Todd Rosenberg

As the evening concludes, love triumphs and humor is found in tragedy. Beautiful dancing, inspiring choreography, delicious theater and endless laughter are combined to make The Art of Falling a show that I would return to over and over again. If you missed it; try to find out where it is being presented. Do not let it slip past you a second time.

I would like to include mention of the Production Staff for this amazing show. The Original Composition and Sound Design is by Julie B. Nichols. The theater magic was realized by the elegant designs and creations of Set Designer Martin Andrew, Lighting Designer Michael Korsch, Costume Designer Branimira Ivanova, Properties Designer Tierra G. Novy, and Video Design and Production by HMS Media.

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Jeff Slayton

Jeff Slayton has had a long and influential career as a dancer, choreographer, and educator. Born in Virginia in 1945, Slayton began dancing as a child in order to correct his condition of hip dysplasia. He enjoyed a performance career in New York dancing for Merce Cunningham, Viola Farber and others. In 1978 he moved to Long Beach, CA. where began teaching at California State University, Long Beach as a part time faculty member. He became a full time faculty member in 1986 and continued to teach at CSULB until 1999. Jeff Slayton was one of the faculty members that helped design the Dance Center at CSULB as well as develop and implement the BFA, MFA and MA degree programs. While in Long Beach, he formed his own company, Jeff Slayton & Dancers, that operated from 1978 to 1983. He continues to stage works in the Southern California area. He is also the author of two books, “The Prickly Rose: A Biography of Viola Farber” and “Dancing Toward Sanity”. For more information on Jeff Slayton please go to www.jeffslayton.org.

1 COMMENT

  1. Hi Jeff,

    I’ve been reading your wonderful dance articles and I’m glad to know that you are lending your gifted writing to sharing about dance in the blogosphere, Unfortunately I missed the Rudy Perez tribute. I’ve been so swamped with “administrivia” at PCC since returning from a year long sabbatical. It almost feels like I was never gone, only more paper work than I have experienced thus far in my 10 + years there. Anyway, I hope that I will see Sarah at least once more before she returns to the East Coast and to Italy. She looked well and still busy as ever herself. So, maybe we can get together some time or meet at a concert. Let’s try to keep better in touch. Give my regards to Martin and sending you good wishes, always.

    Hugs,
    Cheryl

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