The San Francisco Ballet

The Midwest’s most prestigious dance festival, now in its sixth year, kicks off Monday night at the Harris Theater and culminates with a whopping outdoor performance on Saturday evening at Millennium Park. The whole shebang is curated by the local-dancer-turned-dance-do-gooder Jay Franke and the choreographer Lar Lubovitch, and, remarkably, all of the events are still free. “We are still bringing in money, but that becomes challenging as we grow larger,” said Franke in a June interview for this story. “Our donor base is growing, but I feel like we are still missing some major corporation and foundation support.” That hasn’t stopped the founders from experimenting with the line-up and trying new things: The 2012 fest features Monday’s all-Chicago night—a first—with performances by Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, the Joffrey Ballet, and event first timers Giordano Dance Chicago. Here are four other highlights:

A scene from the documentary Pina (2011)

  1. The fest commissioned New York choreographer Larry Keigwin—a master of making magic with regular folks like us—to create Bolero Chicago, which we wrote about here. It stars 50 regular, non-pirouetting Chicagoans who were recruited in a massive casting call. It will be staged at tonight’s All-Chicago engagement at 7 p.m. at the Harris Theater and Saturday’s Celebration of Dance at Millennium Park (7:30 pm). NOTE: All tickets for tonight’s Harris performance have been reserved, but there is a stand-by line that will start an hour before the performance. Stand-bys will be seated in the no-show seats 15 minutes prior to the show. Last year, all stand-bys were accommodated.
  2. The Oscar-nominated 2011 documentary Pina, about the German post-modern pioneer Pina Bausch, is visually stunning—true eye candy for designophiles and dance lovers alike. Part of the daylong companion film fest on Tuesday from noon to 8 pm. at the Museum of Contemporary Art.
  3. In addition to the usual exquisite execution by its dancers, the riveting San Francisco Ballet nails the art of costuming and staging every time. Their stunning France-born ballerina Sofiane Sylve partners with 2010 Dancer of the Year Vito Mazzeo in the pas de deux from Sleeping Beauty on Wednesday at the Auditorium Theatre (7:30 pm) and in a Christopher Wheeldon-designed pas de deux from Continuum at Saturday’s grand finale at Millennium Park (7:30 p.m.). Tickets for the Wednesday performance have been reserved, but the same stand-by rule applies: A line will start an hour before the performance.
  4. Anytime we can see a Mark Morris number staged, we go. The Houston Ballet presents the Morris piece Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes—with the compelling piano score being played live—at Saturday’s grand finale at Millennium Park (7:30 p.m.).