Hubbard Street Dance Chicago Spring Series Review — Inventive Israeli Choreographers Underscore Hubbard Street’s Strengths

Dance vegans — those who limit themselves to a strict dance diet, sans gravy — may want to skip Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s Spring Series. It is full of meat, making it one of the most satisfyingly eclectic meals the contemporary dance company has served up lately.


The Spring Series is served in two tasty courses, both concocted by Israeli choreographers who shuffle pieces of past work to create something new. First comes “Three to Max,” a new work created for HSDC by Ohad Naharin, who has served as artistic director of the acclaimed Tel Aviv-based Batsheva Dance Company since 1990. Next up is the world premiere of “Too Beaucoup,” by Batsheva’s associate artistic director and house choreographer, Sharon Eyal, and Gaï Behar.

Ohad Naharin's "Three to Max"

“Three to Max,” a collage of several of Naharin’s previous creations, moves to an eclectic musical mashup that ranges from J.S. Bach’s “The Goldberg Variations,” as performed by Glenn Gould, to the Beach Boys’ “You’re Welcome.” Added to the mix are pieces from ambient music pioneer  Brian Eno , Indian singer songwriter Luck Ali, Japanese indie artist Rayon, the British electronic group Seefeel and Maxim Warrat, a.k.a. Naharin wearing his composer’s hat. A central section includes counting aloud, with numbers shouted out in an indecipherable language, a dancer’s Esperanto.

In their earth-toned tanks and tees and capri jeggings the dancers look like weekenders anywhere. But the troupe’s ability to move as a single organism turns the dancers into something more than human, something more like extraordinarily graceful extraterrestrials. Each of the dancers toes Hubbard Street’s extremely fine technical line: Jesse Bechard, Christian Broomhall, Jacqueline Burnett, Alejandro Cerrudo, Meredith Dincolo, Kellie Epperheimer, Jonathan Fredrickson, Jaura Halm, Jason Hortin, Ana Lopez, Pablo Piantino, Penny Saunders, Kevin Shannon, Jessica Tong, Benjamin Wardell and Robyn Mineko Williams. Even in such a talented ensemble, Tong and Wardel stood out in “Three to Max.”


Sharon Eyal's "Too Beaucoup"

Naharin’s choreography is at once distinctive and surprising. He engages the audience with a progression of movements that would be impossible to predict and yet equally impossible to imagine differently. “Three to Max” begins with the slow pantomime of a male dancer whose movements are then echoed by a female dancer as if she were learning a new language. From there the male dancers command the stage with a rhythmic jig, followed by seated female dancers who rotate their hips like waves on the seashore. Later the dancers take turns lifting their shirts and doing some modified mooning — modestly exposing their flesh, reminding the audience that they are human, not dancing machines.

Penny Saunders and Pablo Piantino in "Three to Max"

Conversely, in “Too Beaucoup” (“Too Too Much,” entitled with intentional redundancy), the dancers, clad in flesh-toned unitards, whitish contact lenses and wigs, appear like statues, metaphorically stripped of their humanity. But the costuming — by choreographers Eyal and Behar — eventually allows the individuality of the dancers to emerge. Eyal, a protégée of Naharin, draws obvious inspiration from him but also follows her own muses. One of the most striking differences in their work as seen in “Too Beaucoup” is that Eyal and Behar allow the usually synchronous Hubbard Street dancers to break out of the mold in subtle ways, perhaps with an individual dancer a half-beat away from the others.


Benjamin Wardell and Anna Lopez in "Too Beaucoup"

Individuality pops out in the piece’s musical mix as well, with contributors too numerous to name, bits and pieces of everything from Vicious Pink to Cole Porter. The dramatic lighting design by Avi Yona Bueno transforms the stage from deep to shallow in an instant, animating the unitard-clad dancers into a bas relief from a Greek frieze.


Both “Three to Max” and “Too Beaucoup” leave the audience feeling pleasantly full.

Photos by Todd Rosenberg.

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago Spring Series at the Harris Theater in Millennium Park, March 17–20.





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