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Top dance for summer 2024

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Free dance outside is kind of Chicago’s thing. All summer long, the city’s beloved SummerDance is a weekly chance to hit the dance floor in the golden hour. See Chicago Dance moved its free pop-up performances to the summer in 2021, when dance outside had become one way to soldier on during the pandemic. And long-running festivals like Dance in the Parks bring the pros to you, giving free performances in parks all over the city. To this, we add a few newcomers, like a second helping of Joffrey for All in Millennium Park, and toward the end of the summer, a joy bomb celebrating the entire 10-company Chicago Black Dance Legacy Project cohort with performances as eclectic as this great city. There’s plenty to catch in the A.C., too, including Visceral Dance Chicago’s surprising revival of “Carmen.maquia,” first realized by one of Chicago’s best (and sadly gone) contemporary companies. Indoors or out, when it comes to dance — there’s something for everyone this summer — everywhere you look.

The Function: The independent work of “Fly Honey Show” progenitor and choreographic alchemist Erin Kilmurray is deeper and messier — evident in an hour-long warehouse edition of “The Function,” first seen at the Museum of Contemporary Art last year. Here, Kilmurray pours from her career-long commitment to surfacing the underground, formalizing the informal, breaking norms and pushing at performers’ and audiences’ boundaries. Fridays May 24 – June 14 at the Land and Sea Dept., 3124 W. Carroll Ave.; tickets $10-$25 at erinkilmurray.com

Chicago Dance Month (or months?): A few years ago, See Chicago Dance shifted its annual advocacy campaign from April to June, with free chances to see dance extending through the entire summer. A celebratory kickoff event at Navy Pier features African, Mexican folkloric, hip hop and more, teasing a full slate of pop-up performances at the pier and all around the city. New this year, a Dance Month After Dark series for grown-ups features burlesque, drag, contortion and smutty storytelling. Free and ticketed events run June 1-Aug. 31; details at seechicagodance.com

Mandala Makers: More than most, Mandala South Asian Performing Arts platforms an expansive range of South Asian diasporic experiences and expressions, with the annual Makers Festival quickly becoming a landmark event of its kind. The danciest day of the months-long, city-wide fest includes public workshops and performances by New York-based Jiva Dance, Bay Area collective Ishami Dance Company and Maya Rau, whose unbounded interests include Bharatanatyam and Konnakol blended with rap, and blurring the lines between classical and contemporary themes. June 2 at Northeastern Illinois University, 5500 N. St. Louis Ave.; free. Details at mandalaarts.org

Joffrey for all: Last year’s rare summer appearance from the full Joffrey Ballet company in Millennium Park was so special, they’re doing it again! The evening kicks off with dance classes on the lawn, followed by a program chock full of choreographic titans: Justin Peck (The Times are Racing), Cathy Marston, Christopher Wheeldon and Yuri Possokhov. The latter created a world premiere expressly for the occasion, celebrating Victoria Jaiani’s remarkable 20 years in the company (thus far). June 16 at Millennium Park’s Pritzker Pavilion, 201 E. Randolph St.; free. joffrey.org

Jeraldine Mendoza and Dylan Gutierrez at Joffrey for All. (Katie Miller)
Jeraldine Mendoza and Dylan Gutierrez at Joffrey for All. (Katie Miller)

Flamenco Passion: Ensemble Espanol’s annual festival is one of the year’s best opportunities to see one of the foremost Spanish dance companies in the U.S. — whose nearly 50-year history and commitment to a variety of genres has garnered them access to the best of the best in the field. Among those are La Lupi and Curro de Maria, who return after making a splash in 2022. Antonio Najarro, former artistic director of the National Ballet of Spain visited last winter to stage his gorgeous “Viejos Aires” — a thrilling work he cites as a defining moment in discovering his distinctive style — that only now gets its company premiere. June 7-9 at North Shore Center for the Performing Arts, 9501 Skokie Blvd., Skokie; tickets $25-$55 at 847-673-6300 and NorthShoreCenter.org

Carmen.maquia: Chicago audiences have only had two chances to see Gustavo Ramirez Sansano’s exquisite, Picasso-styled interpretation of Georges Bizet’s opera “Carmen” in the 12 years since it premiered at the tail end of Luna Negra Dance Theater’s lifespan. In what appears to be a move toward resuscitating Sansano’s work here, Visceral Dance Chicago tackles the immensely challenging spectacle for their MCA debut. June 28-30 at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, 220 E. Chicago Ave.; tickets $25-$175 at visceraldance.com

Visceral Dance Chicago’s revival of “Carmen.maquia.” (Gustavo Ramirez Sansano)

Dance in the Parks: The O.G. of free park performances takes an all-new, professional dance show on the road to every nook and cranny of the city for nearly a month. Many performances are customized with youth dancers from the neighborhood, while the pros (and the weather) consistently bring the heat: Familiar faces like dancers Stephanie Cihlar, Marco Clemente and Sam Crouch return, plus great (and accessible!) choreography from Crouch, former Chicago Dance Crash director Jessica Deahr, fan-favorite Jackie Nowicki and Project Bound co-leads Emily Loar and Ashley Deran, for starters. July 9-26 in various Chicago Park Districts; free. danceintheparks.org

Rhythm World: The heart of this landmark tap dance festival hosted by Chicago Human Rhythm Project is its classes, but lucky for us, the all-star cast of world-class instructors embarking on Chicago in July gives performances throughout the month, too. Among the highlights: a long-gestating new work from CHRP artistic director Jumaane Taylor combines Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” and Ornette Coleman’s “Shape of Jazz to Come,” the latter played live on stage with the dancers at the DuSable Black History Museum on July 14; a reliably sweet set at the legendary Jazz Showcase July 16; and featured soloists Jason Janas, Naomi Funaki and Cartier Williams hitting the wood all month long. July 12-21 at various locations; all performances are free, except for the gala at Jazz Showcase. chicagotap.org

Dance for Life: Born out of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, this annual fundraiser has supported the health and wellness of Chicago’s dancers for decades. So, it’s a great cause — and a whole lot of fun, too, bringing together heavy hitters from ballet, jazz, contemporary and percussive dance to celebrate the end of the summer season. New this year: Ballet 5:8, Praize Productions and Winifred Haun and Dancers make their DFL debuts. And Randy Duncan steps back from creating his customary finale; Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s Jonathan Alsberry steps up to fill those very big, very joyful shoes for the first time in… forever. Aug. 10 at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Ida B. Wells Drive (gala after party at Venue SIX10, 610 S. Michigan Ave.); tickets $45-$500 at 312-341-2300 and auditoriumtheatre.org

Emani Drake and Elijah Richardson for Dance for Life. (Todd Rosenberg Photography)
Emani Drake and Elijah Richardson for Dance for Life. (Todd Rosenberg Photography)

Divination: The Dancing Souls of Black Folk: After last year’s pilgrimage to Ravinia, the 10 companies under the Chicago Black Dance Legacy Project umbrella return downtown for a collective season finale tapping into themes of legacy, ancestry and the divine. Familiar faces from previous CBDL cohorts like NAJWA Dance Corps, Muntu Dance Theatre, Hiplet Ballerinas and Deeply Rooted Dance Theater join newcomers Praize Productions, M.A.D.D. Rhythms, The Era and more for a smorgasbord of dance styles on one of Chicago’s biggest summer stages. Aug. 24 in Millennium Park’s Pritzker Pavilion, 201 E. Randolph St.; tickets free with reservation at chicagoblackdancelegacy.org

Lauren Warnecke is a freelance critic.



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