Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Dance COLEctive Review Posted

In January, I reviewed the Dance COLEctive's winter production Meet Me There. The review appears in Clef Notes Concert Journal's Spring 2010 Issue. If you get your hands on a copy of the magazine, you should also see my review of Joffrey's Nutcracker as well (which was darn difficult to write for some reason). Thanks in advance for checking out Clef Notes--so much happening in the Chicago arts scene!

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Luna Negra Spring Program

Thank you again to Clef Notes, as I had the opportunity to review yet another enriching Chicago dance production this weekend. Luna Negra Dance Theater, a dance company showcasing the work of Latino artists and choreographers, presented their spring program, which included an exciting new work based on the life of Frida Kahlo, in addition to two popular works from the company’s established repertoire. Per usual, details will remain sparse here, as my full review will reveal my overall impressions of the production (find it in the upcoming Clef Notes Concert Journal for the Arts Summer 2010 issue). I will say that all three pieces were remarkably different from one another, showcasing Mexican influences in wide and varied ways. I viewed one of the most aesthetic modern dance pieces I’ve seen in years, as well as some laughter-inducing, comical choreography (in Quinceanera). It was certainly an exciting program. Luna Negra’s dancers are masters of their craft, and they bring a unique flavor to modern and classical disciplines. I believe this is the close of their Chicago 2009-2010 season, but I recommend checking them out next season.

Sunday Smorgasbord at Zed451

My friend Imran and I made an amazing brunch discovery today—Zed451. We were originally headed to Orange, but, after putting our names in for the 30-minute wait, he suggested we check out whether Zed451 (right across the street on Clark) has brunch—and, oh man, do they ever! We walked in and were greeted by an uber-friendly hostess, whom we asked about the brunch menu. She informed us that there is no brunch menu at Zed451, but then showed us something far better—the brunch buffet (or Harvest Table, as they call it). She took us past the fruit bar, the pastries, the breakfast salads, and the cheese station, and told us about the French toast and vanilla oatmeal at the fifth and final station. Imran and I were pretty much sold the second we saw the pastries (which, ironically, we didn’t even end up eating).

But wait, that wasn’t even all of it! In addition to five different breakfast bars, she starts to tell us that chefs from the kitchen bring food to your table as you’re eating. Then, when you set your stone (yes, stone) at the edge of the table, they come by with an amazing assortment of marinated meats and fish that, true to the Brazilian steakhouse that they are, the chefs carve right there at your table. Okay—we were completely sold. Better yet, there weren’t too many people there, so we were immediately shown to a table by the window (from which we could see the long lines at Orange).

We made our first (and only) trip to the buffet, where I filled up with couscous salad, marinated mushrooms, potato salad, roasted tomatoes, three different kinds of cheese (I can’t even remember which ones—there were so many from which to select), and vanilla oatmeal with dried cranberries, raspberries and shaved almonds. Imran and I both resolved to come back for the French toast later (but never made it!) As we started in on our plates of pure deliciousness, the chefs started to bring food to the table in small skillets. The first plates included hash browns and Cajun/maple-rubbed bacon. I’m not usually a big bacon person, but... Oh. My. Goodness. This wasn’t just any bacon: it was melt-in-your mouth bacon, and I wished I’d had room to eat more than just one strip of it!

The chef who continued to drop off food at our table showed up, after the bacon and hashbrowns, with fresh, hot cinnamon buns complete with warm, drippy icing. Soft, steamy and delicious, we tore through the first pair in minutes. After taking our empty dish, our chef showed up unexpectedly with two more. (What? Endless cinnamon rolls? Heaven…) He joked with us about how quickly we devoured the first helping, and all I could do was stare, wide-eyed, at the second batch, and wonder how I was going to make room for another of those gooey goodness-y cinnamon rolls in my already stuffed stomach. I had tried so earnestly to pace myself at the buffet, in order to save room for the meats, but those cinnamon rolls filled up every last inch of stomach I had left.

Needless to say, by the time they brought the meats around, Imran was the only one of us able to indulge. The beef looked amazing, with juicy marinade dripping from the meat as the chef carved it. The salmon looked amazing, too. I wasn’t sure about the maple-syrup-laden waffle with chicken on top that they brought to Imran, but he seemed to enjoy it. Our chef said it took him three months to try it, but once he did, he was hooked. I just kind of stared at it with skepticism, although I would have tried it if I weren’t already bursting at the seams.

Aside from the positively indulgent food experience, I have to mention that the wait staff and the chefs are the friendliest conglomeration of people I’ve ever encountered working in a restaurant. The chef visiting our table told us that he loved being able to bring the food to the customer and see them smile. Like everyone else working there, he seemed genuinely happy to be there and to be contributing to the satisfaction of many a stuffed customer. Our waiter was energetic and cheerful, too, as was our hostess.

Sunday brunch is still the best meal of the week. Zed451 made it that much better. Thanks, Imran, for having a nose for food. What a great way to start the week!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Chicago College of Performing Arts' Vivid '10

During a high-stress work week, there is nothing quite like letting the pressure dissolve away on the strains of a little Tuesday night jazz. This particular Tuesday, I had the pleasure of attending Vivid ’10, a series of performances by the Chicago College of Performing Arts, which included both jazz and musical theatre. Surprisingly, this fabulous concert was free to the general public (thanks to some serious contributions by supporters of the school), and I’d by lying if I said I was anything but blown away by these students.

At first, I had a little trouble reconciling the setting with the content: while I love Auditorium Theatre (Roosevelt University's theatre, and the venue for Vivid), somehow it just seemed incongruous to hear jazz there. A huge theatre lacks that intimacy of the cozy jazz club, where the music completely envelopes you, scoops you up, and takes you away. In a club, the music literally reverberates right through you because the musicians are right there with you, performing only feet away. You can move in your chair, bob your head, and no one thinks twice about it, because, well, it’s just impossible to sit still! But at Auditorium Theatre there’s this air of formality that’s so counter to the casual jazz scene.

I certainly felt this way as we listened to the Swing and Hard Bop selections opening the program. I felt too far away and restricted. This was definitely bob-your-head music, but when I looked around, everyone was still (I was still subtly jammin in my seat, regardless, but it was a little uncomfortable). The Swing performers impressed me immediately. It was shocking to me that these were college students, but then again, if you understand the jazz history at the Chicago College of Performing Arts, not to mention the talent of the faculty, then you know not to expect anything but the best from these “kids.” Angelo Hart, the first of the night’s pianists, enthralled me, despite the fact that his solo time seemed to be much less than the saxophonists (isn’t this always the case, though? Oh, those saxophonists…). Honestly, I’m always saying that bass is my favorite jazz instrument, in large part because I feel like bass is so underappreciated yet so integral to the music, but I will always have a soft spot in my heart for pianists, thanks to my mother. Plus, when I watch and even meet jazz musicians, the pianists always seem to have so much heart, so much personality—I swear they’re always smiling.

After Swing, we moved into Hard Bop. Head of Jazz and Contemporary Music Studies Paul Wertico was narrating the event, by the way, providing a succinct history of the jazz movements we were viewing, which I highly appreciated. I’m all over the Hard Bop, and Adam Rongo did an amazing job on the alto sax. I have a difficult time calling out any one musician over the other in this program, as they were all stellar, but I have to admit that the saxophonists throughout the night were highly impressive.

When we finally got into the ECM pieces, the venue made sense. The sound filled up the entire auditorium, with Danny Markovich’s sexy echoing sax engulfing the house. I immediately had goose bumps, as I often do when listening to/viewing great art. Big sound needs a big auditorium, so the setting finally made sense.

Of course, moving into the Avant-Garde selections, I had to guard my ears. Literally. I just can’t do it. There’s just too much sound, it’s too cacophonous. I mean, there’s more order to it than that, but still. They did “Miles Runs the Voodoo Down,” and I pretty much checked out. I thought, um, can we go back to earlier Miles, please? I tried, I really did, but it’s just too much.

So, after intermission, when we were treated to a big band ensemble, I was feeling much more comfortable. Regrettably, I couldn’t stay for the entire show. However, when the program broke off into selections from Sweet Charity, I felt a bit out of my realm anyhow (btw, of course the venue was perfect for the musical theatre selections, too). So, having lost myself in more than an hour of foot-tapping, goose-bumping jazz, I snuck out of the auditorium and enjoyed a quiet stroll downtown to the El. And I had completely forgotten about work.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Happy "22nd Birthday" to Me!

Every once in awhile, it’s just nice to bust out your favorite songs in front of a bunch of strangers (and a handful of friends)…

I have to put in a bit of a plug for Trader Todd’s, the self-proclaimed best karaoke in Chicago. Of course, there’s plenty of backing for this claim, as you’ll see in the credentials listed on their Website, or experience first-hand if you drop by. Honestly, I’ve never gone anyplace else for karaoke in the city, so I can’t make a comparison.

One of my favorite things about Trader Todd’s is that every once in awhile (about once a year), they send me an email telling me I’ve won a free party. Which means that I, and twenty of my friends, get to come to the bar for free drinks for an hour, along with a 20%-off food discount. Oddly enough, I only put my name on that list once, January or February 2009, and three weeks ago, there in my inbox was an email informing me that I’d been selected for a free party again.

Now, Trader Todd’s is a pretty quirky place. First, you’ve got the nautical paraphernalia hanging all over the walls and the ceilings. Before the karaoke starts, they flash pictures on flat-screen televisions which include the most random assortment of people’s tropical vacation photos you’ve ever seen. And the Emcee/DJ—the Skipper as they call him—well, he’s an eccentric character if you’ve ever met one. He’s a bit pirate-esque, only lacking the eye patch and striped shirt. He’s generally grumpy (okay, honestly, if you had to listen to a bunch of tune-deaf patrons butchering classic songs seven nights a week, you might be crabby, too), but every so often he’ll just say or do something completely unexpected. He’ll decide to interrupt the string of patrons hopping up on stage, by breaking out his own karaoke performance. He’ll insult singers (okay, that’s pretty much expected). Every so often he’ll throw in a compliment.

On Friday night, we requested Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’”—my go-to karaoke choice—already knowing that he hated that song (it was banned for awhile). He grumbled a bit when I put in my request, but, when we finished singing it, he announced to the club that it was the first time he actually heard Journey and liked it. Woa. Compliment from the Skipper? The night had started on the right foot.

A number of my friends dropped in for the evening, most of them bringing more friends, until we had a huge group. One of Vinny’s friends (probably Jim-Bo) started telling everyone it was my birthday (since I’d won the free party and all), and while at first I tried to set other people straight, eventually I just went with it. I spent the evening telling everyone it was my 22 birthday (haha). Around midnight most of the crew headed out, thanking me for the party and wishing me happy birthday as they left. It had been another great night at Trader Todd’s. Happy Birthday to me!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Spring and Snowflakes

Had a pretty good feeling that it would snow on the first day of spring this year. Having been born and raised in the Midwest, I know that this is fairly common. I also know, however, that snow on the first day of spring is usually the last snow, or close to it. March is a funny month. You can beware the Ides, or you can get smart and just beware the entire 31 days.

Two days ago, Mother Nature was teasing us with temperatures near 70, and full sunshine. On Thursday evening, Kat and I took a long walk after work—the first I’ve taken outside since fall. As the sun headed west, the temperatures dropped rather swiftly, but it still felt amazing to be out in the sunshine. The lake path was bustling, some of the fencing along the sand had already been removed, and a group of die-hard volleyball players were manning a net on the beach. That day, everyone joked about the beautiful weather, and the impending weekend snow. Sure enough, I awoke to see the heavy snowflakes falling this morning, and they’ve remained steady all day.

Okay, snow. Bring it on. Because soon—so soon you can already smell it in the air—summer will descend upon Lake Michigan, Millennium Park, the Mag Mile, and all will be well in Chi-town. In fact, all already is well, as the excitement for the season builds and Chicagoans increasingly take to the outdoors. In fact, last night one of my friends mentioned that they’d seen the first sailboat of the season out on the lake this week. Sally forth, lone sailboat. Soon, you’ll be joined by many others. We can hardly wait.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010


Call me “un-Chirish” but I just couldn’t get into St. Patrick’s Day in Chicago this year (btw, that term, “Chirish,” is up there on my annoyance meter with people who pronounce Chi-town “Shytown”). To be fair, I’ve been under the weather, and am on a slew of meds including antibiotics attempting to eradicate a mysterious ear infection that has come back around for the second time in a month. Drinking any amount of alcohol (particularly green alcohol), just doesn’t appeal to me right now, and mixing it with meds probably wouldn’t be the best idea.

So, on Saturday, I didn’t even go to see the green river. Granted, once you've seen it once, you don't really need to see it again (see below pics of last year’s green river). I do have to admit, however, that I’m disappointed that I missed out on the chance to ride one of the river boats with Kat and watch as they dyed it green. That opportunity probably won’t come around again; but on the other hand, it was freezing cold and raining on Saturday.

Last year on St. Patrick’s Saturday, my mom was in town and we spent most of the day at Navy Pier at the annual flower show. It was much preferable to the drunken masses, which we only encountered briefly as we stopped to check out the green river before heading out of downtown. But I am no prude. On St. Patrick’s Day proper, 2009, you could find me sipping Guinness in an Irish bar with my friends, and we stayed out half the night. Yes, it was a Tuesday, but last year it didn’t matter—I was newly unemployed. So, I had a good time.

Right now, I’m watching the sun set out my window, while my uncomfortable ear continues its constant ringing. I grabbed a sandwich on the way home, and patrons of Division Street’s many Irish-themed bars were already spilling out of the doorways, clogging up sidewalks, and walking in front of buses in bunches of green. Part of me is the tiniest bit green (with envy, but not about the walking in front of buses part), but honestly, right now, I really just want to rest so that I feel good by the weekend. :)


Click here for the whole story on the Green Chicago River tradition.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Sunday Afternoon at the IMAX

Spent another lovely couple of hours at the Navy Pier IMAX today, catching Alice in Wonderland with my friend Joy. I have to admit, it was nothing compared to Avatar, but I suppose it’s just a losing situation to even try and compare another 3D movie to Avatar. Frankly, I loved that movie. My friend Imran and I went to see it a couple weeks ago (bless you, Imran, for seeing it a fifth time with me!) and while I agree that, yes, the plot was lacking, the visual effects were stunning. I surprise myself by saying that I love something lacking a great plot, being the literature lover that I am, but the way the foliage popped off the screen and the action just jumped at you--it was downright enthralling. The time flew by, and I felt my emotions being tugged in a variety of directions throughout the film.

So, I went in with expectations that were a bit too high for Alice in Wonderland. About halfway through the movie I remembered I was wearing 3D glasses and wondered where in the world the 3D effects were. Here and there something popped out, but, honestly, the trailers preceding the movie were more visually exciting than the movie itself. There was so much potential for 3D throughout Alice, but so little of it was exploited. Additionally, part of what made Avatar’s 3D effects so spectacular was the wide palate of colors that just jumped off the screen at you. Not surprisingly, Alice being a Tim Burton film, it was rather dark. So, in addition to the toned-down 3D effects, you had muted colors, and the film came off a bit flatter than I was hoping for. I’m not suggesting that you don’t go see it-—it’s fun. But it may not be worth the cost of the IMAX.

Even so, I find myself falling in love with the IMAX. I think I’d only been to one IMAX film prior to moving to Chicago, and usually I just can’t justify the cost, but all this 3-dimension film making is just so exciting (well, when they do it right)! So, even though it seems to take me fifteen minutes to find the IMAX every time I go to Navy Pier (yes, I got lost for the second time), when I do find it, it’s always a great time. Next time there’s a great 3D film out, I'll be at Navy Pier wearing my big plastic glasses.

Golden Morning in the Gold Coast

When I awoke this morning, sunshine was seeping in through the slats of my window blinds. When I looked out and saw blue skies, I couldn't help but smile. After opening my windows to the fresh air, I decided to get up and go for a walk. I bundled up (it was still quite chilly, despite the deceivingly warm look of the sunshine) and grabbed my camera. I've been wanting to get out and take pictures of my neighborhood before I leave it in May. I adore the architecture in the Gold Coast, and I'm going to miss it. But, I had to finally admit to myself that I've been living just a tad bit beyond my means here. Of course, it's not as though I won't come back to the Gold Coast to go out, shop, and eat, but for the next few months, I'm going to relish the convenience of living just north of the Loop and enjoy everything the Gold Coast has to offer. I'll probably take many more pictures, but here are some snapshots from this morning:

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

A Random Evening in March

On the El ride home tonight, everyone got kicked off the train at Grand and State. I was a tad frustrated, as I’d waited for ten minutes for the stupid train in the first place, after having just missed the previous train by a hair. You’re thinking that ten minutes isn’t really a big deal. But let me tell you, ten minutes ticks by ex…ta…reem..ely s…lowwwly, when you’ve had a long day and just stumbled out of the gym after strength training with the trainer. There I was in all sorts of disarray—wearing half gym clothes, half work clothes, hair falling out, still sweating, juggling the gym bag, purse, water bottle, phone—praying that the train would arrive before my exhausted arm muscles ceased shaking and just dropped all my stuff altogether. When the train finally arrived I couldn’t get a seat, but positioned myself so that I could bolt the heck outta there the second we arrived at my stop. But then we never arrived at my stop.

So, after getting booted out at Grand, I found myself and all my stuff scrunched in a mass of people impatiently waiting for the current train to leave, so that we could catch the next one. Only, it didn’t. They promised us a new train would be arriving shortly, but that’s kind of impossible when the old one is still sitting there with its doors closed. Sigh. I waited ten more minutes. The train started moving for five seconds then stopped. *&#$>/#*!!?? I became so impatient that I could no longer take it (I’m an extremely impatient person and I admit it freely), and hauled my tired but stubborn bones up the stairs and out of the El and walked the whole ten or so blocks home. I decided to “console” myself with a Shamrock Shake on the way. Hey, what better way to end a workout than with a calorie-fest? And not just any calorie-fest—a March-specific celebration for the taste buds.

At least it was beautiful for the walk home, even if the sun had long since set. So many people were eating on restaurant patios already! Yes, it was the first warm day since fall. It was still nearly sixty degrees outside as I approached home (so lovely; such a break from the winter!!!), but something about sixty degrees in March is different than sixty degrees in, say, June. As much as we want to ignore it, there’s still that bite to the air. But hey, if people want to bundle up and eat outside the second we get a taste of spring, I’m certainly not the one to point fingers. After all, here I was sipping on my ice cold Shamrock Shake, coat hanging wide open, calves exposed to the wind above my running shoes. Even after a long day, even after feeling physically exhausted, I couldn’t help but revel in it.

I’m glad the CTA was stopped, because it forced me to take advantage of a beautiful early spring evening. Plus, for all I know, it could have saved my life. I found out that the Redline was all backed up because of this—thank you, Chicago police for keeping commuters safe.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

“Where Do We Go, Nobody Knows”

Imagine a giant revolving door: one that’s big enough to fit five to ten people in each pocket as it rotates. You step in with a handful of your closest pals. You stay in the revolving door as it goes round, but some of your friends slip out, and new ones step in. You keep revolving, because you haven’t decided on another destination just yet. In the meantime, you find that your circle of friends has reshaped itself several times over, and you start to wonder whether you should step out of the revolving door, perhaps heading in the same direction of one your friends who has slipped out, or keep running in circles. This is how I feel sometimes, as I keep remaking my circle of friends in the oscillating lives of twenty-somethings in a big city…

Yes, another of my favorites is leaving Chicago. Kat got a job in NYC, so she's heading east in a few weeks. With all of these people leaving, I’ve decided that the least you can do is enjoy all the going away parties. So, that’s what I’ve been doing, repeatedly. Last night about twenty-five of Kat's friends gathered for a big going away dinner at Bijan’s Bistro on the Near North Side. I’d never been to the restaurant before, but the atmosphere was warm and inviting, with an eclectic clientele, which is something I always appreciate. Plus, the food was fabulous. (I had the grilled portabella mushroom tartine, and a side of grilled asparagus—I was in a healthy mood last night.) As far as I could tell, there were satisfied nods and empty plates across the board.

We filled up a long table consisting of about six four-tops pushed together. Seated this way, it can always be a bit awkward to socialize, particularly when you don’t know most of the dinner guests. It’s difficult to communicate with people on the other end of the table, and someone in the middle can easily become trapped half in/half out of conversations happening on either side. I honestly had a great time and engaged in a wide range of interesting conversations (lucky to be sitting next to a rather animated couple), but there’s inevitably an awkward lull when the couples break off into their own personal chat, and the dispersed single people kind of sit there searching for some way to insert themselves into conversations that have already gained good momentum without them. Sometimes, you just become a third wheel, but I find that I don’t really mind it anymore. After a month-long dating marathon that has left me drained, disgruntled, and desirous of alone time, I’ve found that the occasional silence doesn’t bother me, and even as more and more of the people around me are coupled up, I’m quite content to be on my own.

It was good to catch up with people I’ve met at previous outings but didn’t really know that well yet, and to celebrate Kat’s moving on to bigger and better things in NYC. But it’s still tough to swallow the fact that the overwhelming majority of great people I meet in this city don’t stick around for too long.

I am always looking for patterns, clues, and signs in life, and I have to admit that I find it rather interesting that I have still not made any serious ties that would keep me bound to Chicago. I continue to maintain a handful of Chicago friends, most of whom don’t plan to settle here, I don’t have a significant other, and I have a job with a company that has offices around the country and even the world. I almost start to wonder if things are lining up for me in such a way that I can break free from Chicago if/when I want to. Once again, I am reminded of the below portion from Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon, which I have quoted in a previous blog post:

[T]he people living in the Great Lakes region are confused by their place on the country's edge--an edge that is border but not coast. They seem to be able to live a long time believing, as coastal people do, that they are at the frontier where final exit and total escape are the only journeys left. But those five Great Lakes which the St. Lawrence feeds with memories of the sea are themselves landlocked, in spite of the wandering river that connects them to the Atlantic. Once the people of the lake region discover this, the longing to leave becomes acute, and a break from the area, therefore, is necessarily dream-bitten, but necessary nonetheless (162).

Chicago on the Cheap?

Chicago is not a cheap city. Making the most of living in Chicago on a tight budget can, quite frankly, be a pain in the neck. I’m always on the hunt for free events, concerts, food, etc., but it’s a whole lot easier to come by that kind of thing in the summer than it is in the winter. Thank goodness the weather’s warming up, people are beginning to emerge from their winter cocoons, and outdoor Chicago will soon be bustling with (much free) activity again.

It helps that I have the luxury of attending, on average, two dance performances each season, as a reviewer for Clef Notes. This is enough to keep my soul from starving for the arts, but not enough sustenance to come close to satisfying my desire for culture. It’s always such a tease to receive the huge, jam-packed Excel sheet that my editor sends me just before we go to press each quarter, so that I can make my dance recommendations for the next season. Each monthly calendar teems with more cultural activity than one person could ever hope to consume over the course of thirty days. Plus, well, when I look at all those rows of events in the spreadsheet, I feel nauseated by how much money it would cost to even see a small handful of concerts/exhibits/performances. Let’s be honest: the arts ain’t cheap. Especially in this city.

Yet, if you follow the crumb trail, and do a bit of digging, I’ve found that you can satisfy your craving for the arts without breaking the bank. I still rely on Metromix and Yelp Chicago to help me navigate the events and venues of the city, but I was more than thrilled to discover this website for all things free in Chicago: ChicagoFree.Info. The month of March alone is filled with free jazz concerts, free wine tastings, free cooking courses, free lectures… you name it, and there’s something for everyone. I cannot believe I only just discovered this site. It might just become my Chicago Bible.