Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s Fall Series Review — A Menu of Old Favorites and New Flavors

Diners returning to a favorite restaurant may be torn between ordering the usual — they know it will be good — and trying something new. At Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s Fall Series, patrons must order off the tasting menu, with a little of each, starting off with an amuse bouche of a world premiere by American choreographic legend Twyla Tharp. After that they can move on to works they may already have seen and want to see again by Spanish-born Nacho Duato and the inventive Swedish choreographer Johan Inger. At the end of the evening, everyone is pleasantly sated.

David Schultz, Garrett Anderson & Meredith Dincolo in Twyla Tharp's "Scarlatti"

Tharp created her new work, Scarlatti, expressly for Hubbard Street and named it for the Baroque Italian composer Domenico Scarlatti whose eight piano sonatas inform it. Indeed, the ensemble resembles an animated keyboard as the 17 dancers skitter across the stage with mini-leaps in what must have added up to an enormous outlay of energy during the 30-minute piece.

 

The lightness of the music and the dancing was reflected in the airy, layered costumes — some form-fitting, some fluttery — designed by fashion icon Norma Kamali, who didn’t hesitate to mix stripes, plaids and crescents in black and white with flashes of chartreuse. The fabrics united the dancers, but each costume was different, allowing the dancers to emerge as individuals rather than the single organism that sometimes marks a Hubbard Street piece.

Twyla Tharp rehearsing dancers for "Scarlatti"

 

The asymmetrical, irregular movements Tharp choreographed were at once edgy and fluid as the dancers crisscrossed the stage. The effect was whimsical and fresh, organic and as varied as nature itself. At times the dancers moved like the gentle ebb and flow of water and at other times like insects, their feet flexed and quick. Hubbard Street dancers maintain their technique at the highest level, and all deserve praise. Even so, David Schultz can be singled out for bringing a little extra spice to his role.

 

Arcangelo, choreographed by Nacho Duato, followed. Although Duato’s signature style of achingly slow, unfolding movements differs in many respects from Tharp’s, music bridged the two pieces as Duato drew on the work of Baroque composer Arcangelo Corelli as well as Allesandro Scarlatti (father to Dominico). And like Tharp, Duato named his piece for the composer.

Ana Lopez & Kevin Shannon in Nacho Duato's "Arcangelo"

 

That similarity aside, however, the two pieces differed in most other ways. Duato, who is credited not only with choreography and staging but also with scenic design and costume design in Arcangelo, may be a bit of a control freak. That can lead to a certain sameness in his pieces, as beautiful as they are.

 

In Arcangelo the all-brown costumes and background did nothing to liven the piece. Perhaps that’s what Duato wanted, because the audience is forced to look at the eight dancers rather than their costumes. And in a Duato piece, especially as danced by Hubbard Street, the dancers always merit the audience’s attention as they merge  — becoming one spider-like creature or a many-armed Buddha — and then diverge. Their movements are elegant and enigmatic.

 

Three raised areas in the floor added little to the staging and at times obscured the dancers’ feet. The velvety brown curtains were put to better use, with the dancers twisting and hiding within them and, as the piece ends, riding a dangling curtain upward as it lifts off the floor.

 

Arcangelo premiered in Madrid in May 2000 and was first performed by Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in September 2010.

Meredith Dincolo in Johan Inger's "Walking Mad"

Back by popular demand was an audience favorite, Walking Mad. Johan Inger created the work in 2001 for Nederlands Dans Theater; it premiered at Hubbard Street in December 2008. It’s an irresistible, crowd-pleasing work.

 

What distinguishes Walking Mad from the earlier pieces in the program is its emphasis on storytelling. Each of the nine dancers is a colorfully attired character from central casting. They interact with one another, more often colliding than intertwining. They don party hats and toss clothing in the air. We may have no real idea what they are trying to communicate, but their quirky and surprising movements are great fun to watch.

 

Much of the fun of Walking Mad arises from the contrast of the music, Maurice Ravel’s Bolero, to what is happening onstage. We’ve heard Bolero so many times that we think we can predict the strutting choreography that will accompany it. Instead, Inger’s dancers move in very un-Bolero-like ways.

 

Shaping much of the movement is a brilliant prop designed by the choreographer, a wooden wall section that constantly changes shape, arranging itself into a V to shelter a dancer or separating into pieces. Doors within the wall open and close, and dancers emerge or disappear through them. Dancers flip part of wall onto the stage and dance on it, turning it into a petite stage. And mostly, dancers slam into the wall as if to say, “I’m getting nowhere, but I’m going to keep trying anyway.” The nine dancers probably finish each performance covered with bruises, but the effect — as comic as it is painful-looking — is worth it.

 

One program note: The three half-hour pieces in the Fall Series are separated by two half-hour intermissions. Perhaps the dancers need to rest up between pieces, but the timing makes for a restive audience and an unnecessarily long evening.

 

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago Fall Series

October 13 at 7:30 p.m.

October 14 at 8 p.m.

October 15 at 8 p.m.

October 16 at 3 p.m.

Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph Drive

312-850-9744 or hubbardstreetdance.com

 

Photos: Todd Rosenberg

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