Contrasting a mixed repertory program of dance by four different choreographers, presented by Thodos Dance recently at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, and this weekend’s program of four works, the remarkable Czech-born choreographer, Jiri Kylian, performed by Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, is revealing in the approaches of the two companies in this spring season.
Thodos showed four different, distinctive voices in unrelated works. Hubbard Street, while not doing a retrospective of Kylian’s creative genius, (more than 100 works over the last 40 years), selected four pieces, dating from 1989 to 2002. His oeuvre is wide-ranging. As these pieces unfolded there was no distinct through line but you could see common elements among them: partially dressed and undressed bodies, tremendous physicality and energy, even in slow motion, a focus on relationships and often intertwining bodies, insistent pitches of sound and noise, either manipulated sheets of Marley flooring strips, some of which clattered to the floor when dropped from the flies, vocalizations, drumming, repeated shaking hand movements.
The program opened with “27’52” “, the title revealing the length of the piece, from 2002, and performed by 3 couples: Kellie Epperheimer and Kevin J. Shannon, Meredith Dincolo and Jesse Bechard, and Ana Lopez and Garrett Patrick Anderson. Entering one at a time onstage and moving as if warming up and rehearsing while the house lights are still up, the six dancers settle, as house lights go out, into a fascinating push/pull dynamic in their pairings, seek and are sought, with a final exquisite duet by Lopez and Anderson.
Dirk Haubrich’s electronic score includes a persistent high pitched tone that reminded me of an annoying tea kettle whistle or a train whistle that never stops, and incorporates text in multiple languages. It underscored the driving, often jagged movements as the dancers sometimes play with or hide under the rubber Marley strips, or disappear into two strips held aloft as if walking into the abyss.
“Petite Mort”, translated as “little death”, set to music by Mozart, is one of Kylian’s best known works, and has been in the Hubbard Street repertoire since 2000. It is a treasure to watch every time, as the six men work their swords skillfully, either “swishing” them in the air, or moving them on the floor with their feet, are then joined by six women moving from upstage to engage on the floor between the swords lying there among them in sexy interplay.
Bare arms and legs are splayed out in wide positions, and stand out perfectly against the black background, with men dressed in nude colored briefs, the women in the same colored corsets. As noted in the program, the “romantic images of battle, beauty and eroticism appear-and disappear.” Against this is the wonderful play of the women mostly hidden, except for heads and arms, behind six black strapless ball gowns and gliding back and forth across the stage. If you can recall the Moiseyev Dance company’s signature dance of men in long red capes skimming across the floor as if floating, you get the idea.
The last two works, which I’ve not seen before, were breathtaking in their unique approach, lighting and music. “Sarabande” is for six men and was intended to be “wild, manic-a little crazy”, according to Glenn Edgerton, Artistic Director of Hubbard Street and former dancer with Nederlands Danz Theater, who previously danced this work.
The men, lying on their backs, under suspended ball gowns not unlike those in “Petite Mort” but more ornate and colorful, create striking, erotic images of power and vulnerability. A Bach partita for solo violin, electronically arranged and manipulated by Dick Heuff, and their moving bodies, slapping hands, and vocal exhortations produce much of the eerie sounding score. Costumed in black tights and white tee shirts, their upper bodies appear to be lit from underneath the gowns.
Fluttering fingers, then wildly shaking hands, then rapidly moving feet add to a sense of sexual urgency as Andrew Murdock, Jason Hortin, Johnny McMillan, Garrett Patrick Anderson, Jonathan Frederickson and David Schultz stamp, yell, hide in, chop the air with explosive gestures and discover themselves. But it is Schultz who stands out. His intense solo, to ever increasing loud sound, is mesmerizing and a stunner as you watch the sensual undulations of his rippling body.
One of Kylian’s black and white ballets, “Falling Angels” is equally sensual but quieter, exploring the female psyche, and danced beautifully by Jacqueline Burnett, Meredith Dincolo, Kellie Epperheimer, Alice Klock, Emilie Leriche, Ana Lopez, Bryna Pascoe and Jessica Tong. Set to Drumming, Part I, by Steve Reich, and performed by the marvelous Third Coast Percussion, the ensemble work and repeated dance phrases also have a mesmeric quality that keeps you glued to your seat.
Kylian’s work strips away façade and cover, exposing the essence of pure movement to reveal not only sexual games and relationships but also essential emotion.
This program will be repeated Saturday, March 15, 8pm and Sunday, March 16, 3pm. At the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph Street.
Tickets are $25-$99.
For tickets or more information visit the Hubbard Street website, 312-850-9744, or 312-334-7777.
Photos by Todd Rosenberg