Who says death can't be fun? Just look at Mexico's most famous holiday—the Day of the Dead, which has been thriving for centuries among pagans and Christians alike. West coast multimedia artist John Jota Leaños capitalizes on the, um, vitality of that tradition in his 2008 political satire Imperial Silence: Una Ópera Muerta.
Everyone here is a skeleton—the ultimate leveling device for Leaños, who says he "identifies as part of the mainly hybrid tribe of Mexitaliano Xicangringo Güeros called 'Los Mixtupos.'" Comic cartoon animations (a faux-naif alphabet song, reworked nursery rhymes, a trip to the underworld via lowrider, and a report from the Dead News Network) anchor this 80-minute work, which also features live music and dance. A four-piece new-wave mariachi band from Arizona, Los Cuatro Vientos, plays in skull makeup, providing ringing vocals and driving rhythms and accompanying a pair of dancers (also dead) who perform choreography by Chicago-based Joel Valentin-Martinez. Like the rest of Imperial Silence, the dancing mixes old and new: there's plenty of folkloric stamping, but it's interspersed with modern-dance leaps and break-dance dives to the floor. —Laura Molzahn 9/14-9/16: Fri-Sat 7:30 PM, Sun 3 PM, Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E. Chicago, 312-397-4010, mcachicago.org, $10-$28.
No one combines flat-out aggression with disarming tenderness like choreographer Andrea Miller. It's an inflammatory mix, well suited to dirty dancing—which is an apt, if reductive, way to describe her 2009 Blush, the hour-long sextet that will introduce Miller's New York-based Gallim Dance to Chicago in October. Why "blush"? Here's one reason: the performers wear white paint that gradually gets rubbed off to reveal flushed bare skin. Set to music ranging from Chopin to indie rockers Wolf Parade, Blush is contained within a rectangle taped on the floor, creating a sense of confinement that ratchets up the piece's hothouse intensity.
Miller was a member of Ohad Naharin's Batsheva Dance Company and shows his knack for quicksilver changes. But her work is also more in tune with women's frailties and strengths. That's apparent in the often comic I Can See Myself in Your Pupil, from which Hubbard Street 2 excerpted a duet for a concert last February. Meanwhile, male vulnerability is front and center in her elegiac Dust, brought to Chicago by Hedwig Dances in 2010. —Laura Molzahn Thu-Sat, 10/11-10/13, 8 PM, Dance Center of Columbia College, 1306 S. Michigan, 312-369-8330, colum.edu/dancecenter, $26-$30.
In honor of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago's 35th anniversary, resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo was asked to create the company's first-ever "full-evening" work and given an inspirational subject: Marc Chagall's famous America Windows. The windows are also 35 years old—installed at the Art Institute in May, 1977, in memory of Mayor Richard J. Daley, who'd died six months earlier. Cerrudo's work, One Thousand Pieces, will be dedicated to current mayor and former dancer Rahm Emanuel, in honor of his commitment to making Chicago "a worldwide destination for dance."
America Windows consists of six panels loosely depicting five art forms (music, painting, literature, theater, and dance) and the American bicentennial. But Cerrudo's piece, set to a "complex collage" of Philip Glass music, won't be a literal translation. Rather, he says, it will be his "personal inspiration, representing the windows in a very abstract way." We probably shouldn't expect to see pictures of Chagall's windows onstage, either. "This is about their atmosphere," Cerrudo says—"the mystery and the magic." —Deanna Isaacs 10/18-21: Thu 7:30 PM, Fri-Sat 8 PM, Sun 3 PM, Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph, 312-850-9744, hubbardstreetdance.com, $25-$99.