Do the dancers at Hubbard Street Dance Chicago ever have an off night? If so, they never show it. Few companies can match the technical perfection and unity of movement of Hubbard Street’s dancers, so the deciding factor for the success of a performance at HSDC is typically the choreography. In the case of the Summer Series program, the level of that choreography is high, with two previously performed pieces, Malditos and Three To Max, sandwiching a new dance, William Forsythe’s haunting Quintett.
Malditos (“The Cursed”), choreographed by Hubbard Street’s resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo, has mellowed since it premiered in December, its music and lighting softened to bring out the sensuality of the piece and to put the focus on its shifting, lyrical movement. One costume addition is a subtraction that permits an even closer alignment of the human body with the movement: immersed in Tom Visser’s subtle lighting, the peerless Ana Lopez dances bare-breasted with Garrett Anderson, Pablo Piantino and Jesse Bechard in turn. Joining them are Jacqueline Burnett, Penny Saunders and Kevin Shannon, all flawless.
Hubbard Street is the first American company to perform Quintett, an honor bestowed by the work’s New-York born choreographer, who ought be happy with the results. Forsythe created the five-person Quintett (the German spelling of quintet) for Ballet Frankfurt in 1993 as a tribute to his wife, dancer Tracy-Kai Maier, who died of cancer at age 32. The music that is integral to the piece is British composer Gavin Bryar’s scoring to the reedy voice of a street person singing the poignant hymn Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet. The looped lyric works as a meditative chant, an overarching “om” that frees the mind to focus on the movement.
Quintett is a challenging work to perform, and dancers Meredith Dincolo, Penny Saunders, Jonathan Fredrickson, Jesse Bechard and Kevin Shannon meet that challenge fearlessly, slapping limbs and flexing feet, coaxing grace out of awkwardness. Costume designer Stephen Galloway puts the women in vibrant blue and orange, the men in green, black, and deep purple, casting the dancers as colorful weeds breaking through the cracks of an abandoned parking lot.
That gritty urban effect is reinforced by a sheet-like backdrop and a couple of industrial looking props—a convex mirror of the sort that might aid cars backing out of an alley and a large light projector. The props serve little purpose, however, and may distract from the dancers.
Quintett imparts an interesting perspective for viewing Israel choreographer Ohad Naharin’s Three To Max, which premiered at Hubbard Street a year ago. With the similar feel of an ad hoc urban playground, Three To Max is powered by 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, with the dancers interjecting vocalizations into the mix to shake things up even more.
The idiosyncratic movements are at once organic and robotic, with the dancers taking turns to lift their shirts and do some modified mooning — modestly exposing their flesh, reminding the audience that they are human, not dancing machines.
Hubbard Street Dance Chicago Summer Series
Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph Dr., Chicago
8 p.m. Friday, June 1 & Saturday, June 2; 3 p.m. Sunday, June 3
Tickets: $24 – $94; 312-850-9744 or hubbardstreetdance.com