Sinfonietta leaps into a new season

Mei-Ann Chen
Chicago Tribune

The Chicago Sinfonietta puts its marketing gimmicks proudly onstage for all to see. The eclectic orchestra’s first program of the season under director Mei-Ann Chen, heard Monday night at Symphony Center, grafted flamenco and tap dance onto familiar classical orchestral pieces for which far different choreography was originally intended. Did it work? The enthusiastic crowd clearly thought so. My reactions were more mixed.

One of the works, Roberto Sierra’s “Fandangos,” was the most obvious candidate for added-on dance, since its steady underlying Spanish rhythms and swirls of pungent color found their natural complement in the poetic flamenco dancing of Wendy Clinard, of the Chicago-based Clinard Dance Theatre.

Clinard was joined by fellow flamenco artist Marisela Tapies and the tap dance virtuoso Cartier Williams for a nimbly choreographed excerpt from Borodin’s “Polovtsian Dances” (from “Prince Igor”). You would have thought their disparate dance styles would clash, but they were remarkably well-integrated, beautifully done — and they meshed surprisingly well with the orchestra’s blunt vigor.

Four sections from Stravinsky’s 1919 “Firebird” Suite gave Williams an additional chance to dazzle, not least with his spectacular bursts of staccato tap dancing in “Kastchei’s Infernal Dance.” Too bad the added layer of percussive pattering dulled the iridescent colors of Stravinsky’s orchestration.

Chen’s program began with two movements from William Grant Still’s “Afro-American Symphony” and ended with Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade.”