Hubbard Street Dance Spring Series Review — From Masculine/Feminine to Balanchine

Hubbard Street Dancers in I am Mister B by Gustavo Ramírez Sansano

In place of its usual offering of three main courses, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago offers a wider range of tastes in its Season 37 Spring Series at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance: a couple of complementary appetizers, followed by two small plate entrées, capped off by a not-too-rich dessert. The pacing prevents palate fatigue and keeps the audience on their toes as much as the dancers.


Garrett Patrick Anderson in Sarabande by Jiří Kylián with, from left: Michael Gross, Jason Hortin and Kevin J. Shannon


First off, those complementary appetizers, a pair of yang-yin pieces choreographed by Jiří Kylián, whose ballet training, first in his native Czechoslovakia and later at the Royal Ballet School in London, grounds his work with precise technique. Sarabande (a dance in triple meter) opens dramatically, with elaborately worked18th century gowns suspended above six male dancers in plain white Ts and black pants (costume design by Jake Visser) — establishing the high-contrast edge that informs both of Kylián’s pieces. Joop Caboort’s effective lighting seems to project from the gowns themselves onto the dancers, highlighting every muscle in their anatomies when the men remove the Ts and use them as props.




Set to a partita by Johann Sebastian Bach, electronically arranged by Dick Heuff — think violins in outer space with loud dripping sounds— Sarabande challenges the dancers with its high-stakes choreography, and the Hubbard Street dancers, as always, rise to the challenge. The piece holds the audience’s attention throughout.



Falling Angels by Jiří Kylián


Moments after Sarabande ends, Falling Angels begins, the yin to Sarabande’s yang, with eight female dancers in black shorts, their legs bare — an upside-down version of the bare-chested men. All eight dancers remain on stage throughout, moving to a phased-percussive score by Steve Reich performed live by Third Coast Percussion. Both pieces are part of Kylián’s “black and white” works choreographed in the late 1980s for Nederlands Dans Theater.



Ana Lopez, left, and Jacqueline Burnett in Cloudless

An intermission serves as a palate cleanser before two short pieces. The first is Cloudless, by Hubbard Street’s resident choreographer, Alejandro Cerruda, set to music by Nils Frahm. In it two dancers (Ana Lopez and Jacqueline Burnett on the night I attended, both very strong) reflect and shadow one another, entwining their athletic limbs in elaborate knots. Even when they are not touching, the connection between the two is palpable.



Jason Hortin in A Picture of You Falling by Crystal Pite


Then for a little something different comes Crystal Pite’s A Picture of You Falling. Pite created not only the choreography but also text, voiced by Kate Strong, that overshadows music by Owen Belton. Pite’s work premiered in Ottawa in 2008 as a duet; Hubbard Street is premiering a solo version, with Jason Hortin in a bravura performance on the night I attended, defying gravity by maintaining his balance through a series of tortured movements in response to the narration, a marionette jerked by a sadistic puppeteer.


Johnny McMillan in I am Mister B by Gustavo Ramírez Sansano


Much fanfare preceded the world premiere of the last work, I am Mister B, a riff on the work of George Balanchine, set to the music of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Danced by the company, the piece was choreographed by Gustavo Ramirez Sansano, a onetime Hubbard Street dancer and artistic director of Chicago’s sorely missed Luna Negra Dance Theater, which disbanded in 2009.




How urgently I am Mister B speaks to the audience — and it literally speaks, with one the dancers delivering lines written for the piece by novelist Mario Alberto Zambrano, a former Hubbard Street performer — depends on the listener. I found this meta work — a contemporary dance about modern ballet — oddly dispassionate. Blue jackets with black velvet lapels and ribbon ties (costume design by Branimira Ivanova) transform the dancers into an army of Balanchines —  another paradox, considering that Mr. B. was one of a kind.






Hubbard Street Dance Chicago Season 37 Spring Series


Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph St., Chicago


Through March 15, 2015


Tickets from $25 at Hubbard Street or (312) 850-9744




Photos: Todd Rosenberg


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