Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Chicago band California Wives signs to Vagrant Records

For those longing for the sound of  '80s synth music, Chicago band California Wives should fill that craving.
The group recently announced that it has signed with Vagrant Records, home to such artists as Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes, Missy Higgins and Pete Yorn.

"We were excited to sign to Vagrant because it gave us the opportunity to work with a great producer who pushed us to think outside of our tendencies as musicians," California Wives singer/guitarist Jayson Kramer said in a statement. "The newer instrumentation and arrangements were a result of that relationship in the studio. We are thrilled to be a part of such a terrific roster of musicians at Vagrant and we can't wait to put the new music out there."

California Wives is currently in the midst of wrapping up their debut full-length album, but you can hear one of their favorite tracks, "Marianne," by clicking here to listen and grab a free download.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

"Excel Saga" director Shinichi Watanabe among guests appearing at Anime Midwest convention in Lisle

Director Shinichi "Nabeshin" Watanabe, known for the comedy anime series "Excel Saga" and its spinoff, "Puni Puni Poemy," will appear at Anime Midwest 2012 set for July 6-8 at the Wyndham Hotel & Convention Center in Lisle.

Nabeshin has been quoted as saying that he places great importance in making viewers laugh. Stating that he values laughter as much as tears, his preference is to motivate viewers to have fun and enjoy a show. 

He reasons that his success stems from provoking the same, strong emotional investment—in a humorous way—as a traditional, sentimental story does.
He joins numerous other stars at the convention. The complete guest list can be found online at

Featured special events at Anime Midwest include a cosplay masquerade contest, anime screenings, autographs, fan panels, workshops, a date auction, a formal dance, and two rave dances in addition to many other events.

More information about Anime Midwest's events, guests, and more, can be found at

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Chicago band Mathien bringing unique sound to Summer Camp Music Festival


Chicago band Mathien has been carving out its own niche on the music scene through its energetic blend of pop, rock, funk and soul.

Mathien,, will perform May 25 alongside other bands like Primus, Jane's Addiction, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Dirty Dozen Brass Band and Michael Franti and Spearhead at the Summer Camp Music Festival at Three Sisters Park in Chillicothe, IL.

More information about the festival is available by going to

I had the chance to talk to Mathien frontman Chris Mathien about the upcoming festival.

Q - A lot of the bands set to play at the Summer Camp Music Festival might be called jam bands. Do you consider Mathien to be a jam band?

The short answer is “no.” Of course there are aspects of the "jam" style as well as many other genres that we incorporate into our sound, but we're definitely more of a song-based group.

Q - There are a lot of great bands set to play at the festival. Anybody you are looking to hear? Will you have the chance to perform on stage with any of the other acts?

Personally, I'm most excited for Primus, Pretty Lights and Common. I know some awesome bands like Zmick and a few others are hosting some jams; we plan on being part of at least one of those jams.

Some of your songs are vastly different from each other and there doesn't seem to be one song that sums up the band's sound. Can that be both a good and bad thing?

To me, variety is the spice of life. Each song takes on its own character and it's great on one hand because no matter what we do, no one can ever say "that doesn't sound like Mathien!"

In addition to that, some of my favorite records have some very wild genre shifting going on ("My Aim is True" by Elvis Costello, for example).

I understand that certain music lovers like things wrapped up in a little box, but that's just never been the way I've created my art.


Q - What are the band's main musical influences?

70’s soul music and 90’s alternative rock and hip hop.

Q - What goals did you have in forming the band at Southern Illinois University Carbondale? What made the band want to relocate to Chicago?

I didn't have any specific goals in mind when I formed the band, everything we accomplished down there was a result of our natural progression as a group. We relocated to Chicago simply because I signed to Midwest Music Group. 

If that never had happened, I'd quite probably still be living and making music down there.

The band is recording three new songs. How is the process going and what should people expect? Will you be building on the band's last album?

Actually, we are putting out a full length record. This wasn't our initial plan, but once we got back in the studio, I think everyone was feeling so good that we all agreed doing an EP would be half steppin’ in a way. 

The vibe has been great: adding Omar on drums has taken our energy to a new place; I've hit a stride as a writer and the morale of the band is high. People should expect some high energy rock n' soul! 

It’s going to be a progression away from "Alpha Male" just as that album was a progression away from "Hello Again," our first release.

Q - I understand your studio is next door to McCormick Place. Are you worried about the upcoming NATO conference? If you guys could perform for a world leader, who would it be?

I'm gonna stay away from that area during the conference. I watched some YouTube videos of the NATO protests and it was just bunch of fire and smoke. 

World leaders? I've always kinda had a thing for Margrethe II who is the queen of Denmark. Plus I think she’d dig our sound.

Q - Explain the story behind the title of your last album, "The Night I was an Alpha Male." What are the major themes on the album?

The title is kind of playing off of the fact that I'm a mostly non-confrontational and peaceful dude. Every once in a while I have these spells of authoritativeness. 

This is why I called the album "the night..." thus giving it a temporary feel. The major themes of that record are masculinity, partying, girls and also the social state of things. 

When I wrote that record my goal, concept-wise, was to create a sound that rocked and was funky, but not to the point where it becomes a novelty. 

I wanted to make sure my lyrics came from an honest and heartfelt place.

Q - You changed drummers this year. How is Omar Jahwar fitting into the lineup and what do you think he brings to the lineup?

I kind of touched on it earlier, but he is just so full of energy and has a positive attitude. I love having him in the group. He's always happy and willing to do whatever it takes to make these songs the best they can be.

Q - You guys are in a contest to play at Summerfest this summer. Is that another goal of the band, to play at Summerfest?

I really hope we get in. What kind of band wouldn't want to play the world's largest music festival?

Q - What are the band's short term and long term goals? How do you think the band fits into the Chicago music scene?

Right now our goal is to get this record out to the world and to tour extensively. I have a great feeling about this record and I think the quality of the album is ultimately going to take our band to bigger, better places. 

I think we fit into the Chicago scene in a unique way. Sure, we're a little poppy, but no one sounds like us and when it's all said and done, that's how the world will remember us.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Alicia Witt balances music with acting, will perform in Chicago this month


For actress Alicia Witt, music is as much a part of her life as acting.

Witt, a familiar face through her roles on such TV shows as "Friday Night Lights," "Law And Order," and "Cybill" and through films like "88 Minutes," "Two Weeks Notice" and "Mr. Holland's Opus," will release a live CD, "Alicia Witt Live at Rockwood," on May 24, the same day she will perform at Subterranean, 2011 W. North Ave., Chicago.

Jess Godwin and Lying Delilah also are on the bill. The show starts at 8:30 p.m., and tickets are $10, available at

I had the pleasure of interviewing Witt last year prior to her performance at S.P.A.C.E. in Evanston, and recently talked to Witt,, again about her recent projects.

Q - Great to talk to you again. It's great that you're coming back to the area, and that you will be releasing your live CD the day of the Chicago show. What should people expect from the show?
Great to talk to you again too! I can’t wait to play Chicago again, this time right in Wicker Park and with the awesome Jess Godwin and Lying Delilah opening for me. It’s a full night of girl rock power!  

I’m planning on playing most of the tunes from the new album, "Live at Rockwood" at the show, but I will also play a few that are too new to be on the record, and maybe a couple from my last EP as well. My band and I are flying in from LA.

Q - In the span of 24 hours, your Kickstarter campaign not only fully funded your new CD, but also went toward funding your first studio album. Was the Kickstarter campaign more successful than you imagined? 

Yes, it blew me away. I'd never ever done a Kickstarter before, but many of my indie musician friends have, so I thought I’d go for it.

I wrote a special Kickstarter song and made what I believe to be an uber goofy video to go along with it,, and went for it. The morning after I’d launched it, I woke up to find that I’d met my goal, which meant that this album immediately went into hyper speed to be ready in time for the first show on my spring tour, which is Chicago. 

I’m then going to Denver, New York, Boston, Austin, Oklahoma City, Atlanta, Nashville and finishing up at Hotel Café in L.A., on what is now my album release tour. 

As I write this I’m in the final days of the Kickstarter campaign and we are still raising money for the studio album.
I really have no words for how it feels to know that there are so many people out there who want to bring my music into the world. Putting out my own music has been a dream of mine for pretty much my whole life.

I’ve been doing it in earnest for the last 4 1/2 yrs, but this takes it to a whole new level and I can’t explain how grateful I am. This Kickstarter campaign has, if anything, made me even more inspired. 

I cannot wait to play this album release tour, and to start recording my new album as soon as possible.

Q - What was it that made the Rockwood Music Hall show so special?

It was just right. I had actually never played with the band I played with at that show in that configuration before, first off.. 

Martin Rvas, who is an incredible singer/songwriter in his own right that I’d become friends with, was playing bass/guitar with me for the first time, and Ray Rizzo is an amazing drummer who I played with at some of my earlier shows in New York, but it had been at least three years since we’d played together so the songs were pretty much all new to him.

We had one rehearsal before the show. and then from the moment it began, I just had that feeling in the pit of my stomach like "Yes!"  It was also a really terrific crowd that night, the room was packed, but they were really listening, plus the acoustics at Rockwood are pretty perfect and they just started offering recording in multi-track, which makes it easy to mix/master. 

So at the end of it, I thought there was a decent chance we might have a kickass live album on our hands.

Q - Do you have the songs picked out for the studio album? What goals do you have for the album?

I don’t quite have all the songs picked out yet. I’m still in the process of figuring out who will produce it and where we’ll record, etc. 

There are so many, many songs to choose from, many of which I’ve never played at a show, so it remains to be seen.
Q - Speaking of acting, you just finished shooting the independent film "Pasadena." What drew you to the project? Do you have any dream roles?

"Pasadena" might be one of my favorite films I’ve ever been a part of. We just finished shooting it two days ago and although it’s not edited and I haven’t seen it yet, it was really special. 

It’s a dark family dramedy by first time writer/director Will Slocombe that takes place over Thanksgiving, with the black sheep daughter (which would be me) coming home for the first time in 15 years. 

Peter Bogdanovich played my dad and he is truly an incredible actor. I don’t know if people realize that. 

I have a feeling they will be blown away by his performance in this. It was only a two week shoot, but the script is so, so good and the characters are so well drawn. Nina is completely unbridled and has no filter, so she offends people left right and center, but has a really good heart and is brutally honest, which I really responded to. 

I miss playing her already!

Q - You are also in "Cowgirls N' Angels," set for release on May 25. How was it like working with your "Friday Night Lights" costar Madison Burge again?

It’s crazy, I actually had been talking to Madi on the phone earlier in the day when I told her about this film I was doing; she told me that she was auditioning for it the next day so I was very excited at the thought of working with her again. 

Then, she called me later that night and said they had straight offered her the role!! We were screaming at the top of our lungs with excitement! We didn’t have too many scenes together, but just to get to spend so much time with her again was amazing, we became very close during FNL.

Also, my friend Frankie Faison, who I’d worked with on the film "Away From Here" just six months prior in New York, was in the movie too! We spent long nights drinking whiskey and playing backgammon.

"Cowgirls" was one of those films where the entire cast/crew stayed in the same Courtyard Marriott and we became like a real family over the five weeks it was filmed, so it was a very special experience all around.

Q - Other actresses like Zooey Deschanel also have successfully balanced music and acting. Is it hard to balance the two? Do you think you would ever prefer being a musician over being an actress? 

It’s not hard balancing the two, it’s just hard trying to find the time to do everything I want. As of now, I’m still pretty much organizing my music career on my own, booking my own shows, running my online world, etc., so it’s extraordinarily time consuming. 

But I don’t have a choice. This is my dream and it’s all so worth it when i sit down to play a show, or release an album.  

That being said, I started acting because it was also my dream and it made me feel alive and enthralled, and that is still 100 percent true, so I don’t see myself ever giving that up. 

If anything, my music has made me fuller as a person. It’s like this huge part of me that I denied for so long, or that wasn’t ready to come to the surface. So now when I’m acting, I’m going home and writing a song, or writing lyrics in my spare time on set.

And between jobs, I’m literally never sitting around waiting for the phone to ring any more. If I could ultimately do both in equal parts, I would be the happiest girl on earth.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Chicago music scene mourning death of Lucky Boys Confusion guitarist

The Chicago music scene is mourning the death of Lucky Boys Confusion guitarist Joe Sell.

Sell was found dead Tuesday on Chicago's West Side. Visitation for Sell, a 1996 graduate of Naperville Central High School, will be from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. May 18 at Grace Pointe Church, 1320 E. Chicago Ave., Naperville. A funeral service will be at 10 a.m. May 19 at the church.

"We are saddened and devastated to hear the news of our band member, friend and brother Joe Sell's passing," Lucky Boys Confusion said on its Facebook page. "The five of us have toured, recorded and performed as one for the last 15 years. More importantly, we've all grown up together. There simply are no words right now."

Lucky Boys Confusion's vibrant blend of  rock, punk, ska and hip-hop has garnered a strong fan base since its formation in 1997 and the band has been working on new music.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Musician Glen Phillips pushing forward after injury almost sidelines career

A freak accident almost put an end to musician Glen Phillips' career.

Phillips had to relearn how to play the guitar after severing nerves in his left arm in October 2008 when a glass coffee table he was sitting on gave way.

But Phillips,, wouldn't let the injury sideline him, and on May 17 will perform songs from his lengthy career at Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago, with Jonathan Kingham.

The show starts at 7:30 p.m. and tickets are $25, available at

Next month, Phillips will return to the area with his fellow Toad the Wet Sprocket when the band performs a free show at 8:30 p.m. June 23 at the Arboretum of South Barrington's Block Party & Music Festival. More information is at

Toad the Wet Sprocket is working on its first new studio album since 1997's "Coil," and will perform two new songs at the show.

I had the chance to talk to Phillips about his current activities.

Q - Do you see this tour as another step in your rehabilitation? How has the tour been for your physically?

These days I feel like I don't have to make apologies for my playing any more. I still try to push myself to use my affected fingers more than I have, but I generally feel like I'm as close to healed as I will get. 

It's been fine physically - my hand locks up here and there but luckily never while I'm playing.

Q - I imagine a lot of thoughts were going through your head after your accident. Has your rehabilitation gone better than you expected?
I was pretty amused. I'd been hoping something would happen to give me a new challenge, but certainly didn't expect that this would be the way it came. 

I got a little more frustrated later on. I'd hoped I'd recover more completely, but I'm lucky that I can play guitar, and lucky I didn't get more seriously injured. 

Plenty of people have died after being attacked by a coffee table.

Q - How did you go about choosing the songs you play on the tour? Is each show different? Do you think the tour is a good representation of your career?

Q - I usually just write down 40 songs and play whichever 20 or so feel right for the evening. I like to be able to read the crowd and keep the show spontaneous. 

There are songs from my solo records, Toad, WPA and other projects. It's a pretty broad sampling.

Q - How did you hook up with Jonathan Kingham and how do you like working with him?

I met Jonathan at a songwriting conference in Durango, CO. We hit it off and toured a bit, and became fast friends. 

He backs me up on a fair portion of my set, and has also joined Toad as our utility (keys, guitar, mandolin) player and tour manager. I love touring with him.

Q - After the Old Town show this month, you will be coming back to the area next month with Toad the Wet Sprocket. Was it last year's tour that made the group want to do it again this year?

We've been able to get over some of our history over the last few years and enjoy being a band again. It's been a slow process, but we're doing it our own way and are keeping our own pace.

Q - How is the new album coming along? When can fans expect it to be released?

The album is going slowly, but well. We just cut a few more songs in the last two days. We're not spending every day in the studio - mostly it's being done at home, between touring and other projects. It should come out late this year or early 2013.

Q - Do you view Toad The Wet Sprocket as your main project these days? What's the status of your side projects, like WPA?
Solo is my main focus. Toad works best for me when I think of it as a side project. 

Obviously with a new album it will take more focus for a while, but it's just one part of what I do. I hope there's more time for WPA - we've been wanting to do more together, but it can be hard to juggle all the time.

Q - The music business seems to be constantly changing. Is it easier or harder to be a musician these days?
It's easier and harder. There are great new tools, and everyone has access to them, which means it's easier to make music and get it out there, but since there's a whole lot more stuff out there it's hard to be heard above the noise floor. 

The big success stories are all outliers, so there's not much to learn from it except that doing it your own way and being authentic to who you are is more important than ever. There's more livings in music, but less huge careers.

I don't think that's a bad thing at all, and the indie world has never been more vital and interesting. Great music is being made. That's the important thing.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Chicago band The Future Laureates expands sound on new CD, reaching out to new audience


For its third studio album, Chicago band The Future Laureates wanted a sound that more captured its live sound.

Fans will be able to judge for themselves when the band,, performs Saturday, May 12, at Subterranean, 2011 W. North Ave., Chicago, as part of a CD release party.

Cobalt and the Hired Guns and Tree also are on the bill. The show starts at 8 p.m., and tickets are $10, available at

I had the chance talk to the band's three founding members (Danny Surico (guitar/vocals), James Hyde (bass/vocals) and Matthew Daigler (ukulele/vocals) about the new album.

Q - "Fortress Sessions" is the band's third studio album. What goals did you have for the album and do you think you achieved them?
Matthew: We wanted a more professional sound and we wanted a sound that captures our live show more.  I would say it’s generally more professional sounding and I think that we’re closer to getting it to our live sound, but it’s hard to capture that.

Danny:  I think along those same lines, we wanted to capture the energy of our live sound a bit more while also treating the recording process as a separate process than our live shows.

Q - The band decided to expand its sound on the album. Was that a case of the band wanting to create new challenges?

Matthew: No, I would say it’s more that we wanted to try new things and do what was best for each song.  If we felt that was including some new instrument, then we would do that.

Danny:  For example, the inclusion of violin, organ, percussion, trumpet—those are instruments we don’t typically play with live but were instruments that we felt complemented a number of these songs quite well.  So we said, “What the hell? “Let’s feature them on the record!”

The album touches on many themes, such as hypocrisy on the song "Convert Them in Convertibles." What messages were you trying to get across?

Danny:  I think it’s important for me when I’m writing lyrics to have a variation of themes from song to song.  I get a bit bored when I’m listening to an album and every song pretty much sounds the same and talks about a slight variation of the same theme (love being the most common example).  

So I’m aware of that when I’m writing my lyrics and I try to steer clear of that. While there are love songs on this album, I was trying to avoid the typical clichés that people often hear in love songs.

On the other hand, “Convert Them in Convertibles” is a catchy pop song about religious hypocrisy (even I admit that’s a little strange); “Song for My Grandchild” is about the failure of our politicians to represent the American people; “Serenity” is based on the Serenity prayer.  

“Galahad’s Song” is about being at the point of actualizing one’s potential—something I think we are closer to as a band with this record. So, there are a variety of messages, and I hope people can take something a little different away from each song when they listen.

Q - Your faith also seems to play a large part in the band's music. What would you like people to take away from your songs?

Danny:  Well, for me, faith is an issue I struggle with. It is not easy for me, and I find that I constantly am challenging my own beliefs and reflecting on what God’s role is in my life.

I think that is actually a good thing. When people think they have faith and God completely figured out, that can sometimes be a barrier to new ideas and new beliefs. 

So I wouldn’t say my faith appears in all my lyrics, but at this point in my life it is something I am working on and coming to understand, so my lyrics sometimes reflect that internal inquisitiveness.

James:  We’re not trying to push any particular religion or beliefs on people, but the presence of faith, or the references to faith and God in our music come out of our experience and our beliefs.  

We’re not trying to hide our faith, and that comes through in some of our songs.

Q - Ellis Clark is someone who has been around the Chicago music scene for a while. How did the band hook up with him and what do you think he brought to the table?

James: We were connected with Ellis through Michael Teach and CAUDog records. Ellis does the sound engineering and producing for the label. I think he brought a strong voice in the studio that we wanted and needed to refine the arrangements of the songs.

Because he has a lot of experience both as a musician and a producer, he has a great instinct for what improves a song, and what might not be working. He’s also not afraid to tell you.

Q - How was the experience of playing at this year's SXSW festival? What were the highlights for you?

James:  It was our first time at SXSW, and one thing that struck us was the magnitude of it. There were a LOT of people. But all those people had come to see live music and discover new bands.  

One of the highlights was definitely being able to play for so many new people, who had never heard our music before, but were really pumped up to hear it.  

In that sense, it was really gratifying. The emotional exchange between the musicians and the crowd was a great experience, especially given that we were all strangers.

Q - It's impressive that the band has been able to gain airplay on 140 college and community radio stations across the country. How has the band been able to build its following?

Danny: Well, the short and sweet answer is through a lot of hard work and time. Over time we’ve gotten to be better musicians and write better songs.  

Our live show has improved with the inclusion of new members in our group.

Our presence on social media, on radio, and with bloggers such as yourself helps build our following. So a lot of little things, but the x-factor is time.

Q - What's next for the band?

James:  Well, in the immediate future, we’ll be playing some summer festivals, including Summerfest in Milwaukee. Our more long-term plans are to expand our regional presence into other cities, including a trip in the fall back out to the East Coast where we played last June. 

Maybe even someday we’ll have a song placed in a TV show or movie.

Danny:  We want to tour the country and we want to connect with more national acts. We are not afraid to open for artists and warm up a crowd—in fact, we relish that challenge.  

We continue to push ourselves to reach a point where we can live as self-sufficient musicians. We’re not looking to be famous or be rock stars, but we are looking to make music our livelihood.

Every day, we get a little bit closer to reaching that goal. Our hope is that this new record will be well-received and help us reach new audiences.

We’ll start there, and over time, we believe the rest will fall into place.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Memorial planned for blues great Michael Burks

The family of late blues legend Michael "Iron Man" Burks has announced plans for a memorial and musical celebration on May 20. The event, open to the public, will take place rain or shine at 3 p.m. CST at Riverwoods On The Ouachita, Bradley Ferry Road, in Burks' hometown of Camden, Arkansas. Guests are encouraged to bring instruments, lawn chairs and coolers.

Burks died in Atlanta on May 6 and collapsing at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport following a tour of Europe. The 54-year-old Burks was signed to Chicago-based label Alligator Records.

In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that donations in Burks' name be made to the HART Fund of The Blues Foundation, which aids musicians with health care needs:

"He was rushed to the hospital, but they were unable to revive them," Alligator Records owner Bruce Iglauer said in announcing Burks' death in a post on his Facebook page. "Michael was a sweet man, hugely talented and deeply soulful. I was proud to have him call me his friend."

The preliminary diagnosis for cause of death was a heart attack, according to Alligator Records.

I recently took another listen to his last album for Alligator Records, the appropriately-named "Iron Man," and I realized all over again why he was such a great musician.

Burks' intensely honest, soulful vocals are as much a part of the album as his trademark fiery guitar playing.

His instantly identifiable guitar sound and his live charisma earned him four Blues Music Award nominations. He won the 2004 Living Blues magazine Critics' Award for Best Guitarist.

Burks received a nomination for the 2012 Blues Music Award for Best Guitarist.

Born in Milwaukee in 1957, Burks grew up immersed in the blues, and learned to play guitar at an early age. His family moved to Camden, Arkansas, in the early 1970s. There, Burks and his siblings helped their father build the Bradley Ferry Country Club - a 300-seat juke joint. By this time, Burks was fronting his own band as well as backing several of the blues and R&B greats that passed through town.

Burks left music to raise a family and returned to performing blues in the 1990s.  After self-releasing his first CD in 1997, Burks signed with Chicago's Alligator Records in 2001 and released three critically acclaimed albums.

GuitarOne magazine named his debut album, "Make It Rain," one of the Top 200 greatest guitar recordings of all time. He toured the world, headlining blues festivals, concert halls and clubs.

His status as an Arkansas musical hero was confirmed by his receipt of the prestigious Sonny Payne Award for Blues Excellence in 2006, presented by the Delta Cultural Center, and by his multiple headlining appearances at The Arkansas Blues & Heritage Festival.

Burks had just finished recording his fourth Alligator CD, set for release at the end of July.

Keep his family in your prayers along with Candye Kane, who recently underwent surgery for a recurrence of neuroendocrine pancreatic cancer.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Chiara Mangiameli bringing new vibrancy to flamenco dancing scene in Chicago


Chiara Mangiameli earned rave reviews for her recent performance in the theatrical show "Cascabel" with master chef Rick Bayless.

Now, Mangiameli,, will bring her production, "A Traves Del Espejo," to the Adventure Stage Chicago, (formerly known as the Vittum Theater), at 1012 North Noble St., Chicago, from May 18 to May 20.

Tickets are $20, available at

I had the chance to talk to Chiara about the upcoming production.

Q - What was you vision in developing "A Traves Del Espejo?" Has it come together as you envisioned? 

The idea came from getting to know my students who are all professionals in varied fields: accountants, lawyers, teachers, etc. I would watch them as they worked incredibly hard in dance class day after day and watch their own reflection in the mirror. 

I would wonder, "What do they see in that mirror? What keeps these students coming back class after class, struggling, juggling work and parenthood to spend time and resources in a small cramped dance studio several hours a week?"  

What started out as simply a student showcase has evolved into a series of choreographies that go back and forth between "reality" or a staged studio setting, and the fantasy that lies on the other side of the mirror: the costumes, the props, live music and of course the emotional range that accompanies every choreography. In other words, the realization of everything they work for and are willing to sacrifice to make their sweat worthwhile. 

It's coming together... my students have definitely exceeded my expectations.

Q - How did you go about choosing the dancers for the production?

All 29 dancers performing have been studying with me for varied lengths of time, from six months to several years. Some have past performance experience, others have never set foot on a stage before. 
Regardless, they all have something to communicate and an undeniable, infectious love for this art form.  

Q - What drew you to flamenco dancing in the first place? As I understand, you first started studying flamenco dancing in Chicago.What did you think of the scene back then and what do you think of the scene now?
As a trained actress (I graduated from the The Theater School at De Paul University in '94), I always recognized the power, inherent drama and emotional life behind flamenco. 

Flamenco guitar grabbed my stomach from the first time I heard it. I wanted to be a part of it, to be inside the music somehow and learning flamenco dance in all its intricacies was the answer. 

I started with Michelle Nascimento, my first teacher who helped form my aesthetic and appreciation of the "cante" (flamenco song), and later took various "pilgrimages" to Seville, Spain. The flamenco community in Chicago is still relatively small but it is expanding and there seems to be more collaboration among the various artists that work in the community. 

Q - What do you enjoy about teaching flamenco dancing? What do your students teach you?
I love the process of figuring out how to communicate information in ways that everyone can understand it. Flamenco teachers in countries outside of Spain have to use an academic approach to explain a style of music and dance that artists in Andalucia, Spain simply grow up with and into. 

As a flamenco dancer you're also a musician, and communicating how to interact with the music and live guitar is challenging when not everyone has an intuitive understanding of it. My amazing students have taught me to be patient and generous. 

Everything I give them, comes back to me in spades and vice versa. Without a shadow of a doubt, I feel the most comfortable in this skin that I've ever felt. 

Q - Your role as Esmeralda in "Cascabel" was your first acting role in more than a decade. What intrigued you about the project? Was it hard pretending that you didn't have an appetite around all that food?
The primary intrigue was being able to incorporate flamenco dance into an actual storyline or plot. Esmeralda was instantly "reborn" after years of self-denial upon tasting the Cook's food. 

The manifestation was a flamenco piece with live guitar that was not originally in the script but was written in for me after I was cast in the role. It was a very emotional and magical experience for me. I felt like I was coming full circle the year of my 40th birthday. 

And yes, not being able to eat Rick Bayless' food was torture :) 

Q - You are involved in several projects, including being a member of Las Guitarras de España. Is there one project that you enjoy the most?
Las Guitarras gave me a break several years ago when I was just starting to come into my own as far as flamenco. I will always be grateful for their support. 

Right now choreographing is something I'm enjoying immensely. Studio Mangiameli which I opened last year and am now preparing to expand, is where my heart is.
Q - Do you have any dream projects or collaborations?
One of my dream projects is taking a "field trip" to Sevilla with my students. Beyond that, I'm endlessly inspired by the music I listen to. 

My stepfather taught me an appreciation for jazz many years ago that I hope to one day incorporate into a new work. Ideas are always stirring, bubbling up, they just don't have names yet.....except for maybe one, OLE!