Lezlie Gray in Ballet 5:8’s BareFace by Julianna Rubio Slager. Photo by Kristie Kahns.
Lezlie Gray in Ballet 5:8’s BareFace by Julianna Rubio Slager. Credit: Kristie Kahns.

Female-enhanced dance performances, contemporary art exhibitions, and highly-anticipated plays are blossoming all over Chicago this April.

On Earth Day, Ballet 5:8 presents the world premiere of BareFace (April 22) at Harris Theater for Music and Dance. The women-led company reimagines the myth of Cupid and Psyche from a female perspective. Set in a future post-apocalyptic world, the work refects on pollution and features a stage design made of 95 percent recycled material.

“Stories are told from the vantage point of the storyteller. And throughout history, most storytellers have been men. This imbalance has left women on the outside, trying to find their stories within the masculine framing of each narrative. The myth of Cupid and Psyche follows this well-worn narrative pathway,” explains Artistic Director and Resident Choreographer Julianna Rubio Slager.

“But what if, instead of viewing the women as bit players and supporting actors, we let their viewpoint take center stage? In BareFace, the story is told uniquely from Psyche’s older sister’s viewpoint and audiences will see female athlete artists in all of the leading roles,” continues Slager, who choreographed the piece. “We’re excited to present a modern version of this classic myth where audiences will see females as both the protagonist and antagonist and elevate female voices to dominate the stage.” 

The Joffrey Ballet will perform John Neumeier’s new interpretation of The Little Mermaid (April 19-30) at Lyric Opera House. “Marking the largest production ever mounted by the Joffrey, the long-anticipated Chicago premiere of The Little Mermaid closes out an extraordinary season of milestones, including the record-breaking remount of Anna Karenina,” says President and CEO Greg Cameron.

Partly inspired by the city’s 2023 “Year of Chicago Healing” initiative, PARA.MAR Dance Theatre presents three performances of Pivotal (April 14-15) at the Epiphany Arts Center, while Hedwig Dances introduces two premieres via its Spring Production (April 14-22) at the Ruth Page Center.

For one night, Chicago’s Trinity Irish Dance Company and M.A.D.D. Rhythms will join New York-based tap dance company Dorrance Dance (April 22) to celebrate American tap and Irish step dancing at the Auditorium Theatre. “We are thrilled to be hosting this novel collaborative evening of dance” says Auditorium Theatre CEO Rich Regan. “It will be electrifying to witness the cutting-edge Dorrance Dance make their Auditorium debut alongside two of Chicago’s favorite top-notch percussive dance companies.”

Gio Swaby. My Hands Are Clean 4, 2017. Courtesy of Claire Oliver and Ian Rubinstein. © Gio Swaby. Photo by Ian Rubinstein

Blackness and womanhood is visually explored in Gio Swaby: Fresh Up (April 8-July 3) at Chicago’s Art Institute. “Swaby’s work in textiles is firmly rooted in her own personal history and in a desire to make art that is approachable and accessible to a broad audience, but in particular to Black women and girls,” explains the Art Institute of Chicago’s Melinda Watt, chair and Christa C. Mayer Thurman Curator of Textiles, who organized the exhibition with Katherine Pill, curator of contemporary art, Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg.

“[Swaby] offers her viewers the possibility of seeing themselves reflected in her work, and of seeing themselves on art gallery and museum walls, where they are underrepresented,” continues Watt. “Swaby’s intention of creating more nuanced images of Black sitters who are empowered to be themselves, beautiful but not idealized, is a message that I and my colleagues are honored to share with our visitors.”

Puerto Rican artist, educator, and community organizer Edra Soto examines the influence of Afro-diasporic cultures on Puerto Rico’s decorative architecture in Destination/El Destino: a decade of GRAFT (April 22-Aug. 6). With more than a dozen sculptures occupying 2,400-square-feet of Hyde Park Art Center, this marks Soto’s largest solo exhibition. “I am excited to see the conversations this exhibition fosters and what will become next for Edra,” says the show’s curator Art Center Director of Exhibition & Residency Programs Allison Peters Quinn.

As part of Expo Chicago (April 13-16), which showcases contemporary art from around the world, Expo Art Week (April 10-16) will take place in museums, commercial spaces and other sites across the city. Presented with Choose Chicago and Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, participating venues include the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, the Museum of Contemporary Photography, Mana Contemporary, the DePaul Art Museum, and Wrightwood 659 (below). 

Kongkee: Warring States Cyberpunk (April 13-July 15) presents the anime work of London-based Chinese artist Kong Khong-chang, otherwise known as Kongkee. Presented by Alphawood Exhibitions at Wrightwood 659, the show includes multi-screen videos, wall projections, neon installations, and ancient Chinese objects that juxtapose the past and a futuristic Asia.

Shattered Globe Theatre presents the U.S. premiere of London Road (April 21-June 3) at Theater Wit. The experimental musical features book and lyrics by Alecky Blythe, music and lyrics by Adam Cork, and direction and choreography by Elizabeth Margolius. “In the spirit of abundance, London Road provides us with a wonderful opportunity to compensate and showcase as many artists as possible,” says the company’s Producing Artistic Director Sandy Shinner. “This new musical is about a community overcoming monumental obstacles with celebration and growth, a theme that mirrors both the times we live in and SGT’s own success as we emerge from early-pandemic closures, producing exciting new theater while expanding our communities and networks of artists.”

Shattered Globe Theatre’s U.S. premiere of London Road features Leslie Ann Sheppard, Linda Reiter, Tina Muñoz Pandya, Christina Gorman, Anne Sheridan Smith and Rebecca Jordan. Photo by Jenn Udoni/Franco.

Julia Rowley stars as an art guitar player in Chelsea Marcantel’s comedy Airness (April 21-May 21) at the Citadel Theatre in Lake Forest, while Valerie Curtis-Newton directs the Chicago premiere of Last Night and the Night Before (April 6 -May 14) at Steppenwolf’s Downstairs Theater. The drama by Donnetta Lavinia Gray explores Black, queer, and familial love.

Kate Fry, Janet Ulrich Brooks, and Amanda Drinkall are among the cast members performing in The Cherry Orchard (through April 30) at Goodman’s Albert Theatre. “As I contemplated leaving Goodman after thirty-five wonderful years, there was no doubt in my mind that I wanted to direct The Cherry Orchard,” notes Robert Falls, who adapted the work. “Widely considered Anton Chekhov’s finest, most challenging achievement, it still ranks supreme as a human comedy with tragic overtones for audiences and theater-makers alike. I’m thrilled to be working with a remarkable company of actors and designers to bring this luminous play to life.”

AstonRep Theatre Company concludes it 15th and final season with Julia Cho’s quirky dramedy The Language Archive (April 28-May 28) at The Edge Off-Broadway Theatre. “As AstonRep’s last production, this play is a special send-off about connecting with others on a level that goes beyond just words,” notes Director Dana Anderson. “It is my hope that the themes of this show amplify and reflect the legacy of our company, built on lasting friendships and the desire to express our truest selves.”

Ms. Arvia is a Rebellious columnist and movie critic; entertainment ghostwriter; award-winning artist; and grant-winning filmmaker.