Alejandro Cerrudo was not even a gleam in his father’s eye when Hubbard Street Dance Chicago was founded in 1977 — the same year that artist Marc Chagall gifted to the city of Chicago a set of six blue-toned stained-glass panels that he dubbed “America Windows” to celebrate the U.S. as a place of cultural and religious freedom, detailing the arts of music, painting, literature, theater and dance. That shimmering work of art is on display in the Art Institute of Chicago, a short walk from Harris Theater, where “One Thousand Pieces,” HSDC resident choreographer Cerrudo’s dance jewel as inspired by Chagall’s art, is back by popular demand after its premiere in October 2012.
Like Chagall’s masterpiece, everything about “One Thousand Pieces” glistens: the shifting glass panels that reflect the dancers’ movements (set and costume design by Thomas Mika); the polished floor of the stage, at one point skimmed with water to be flicked into droplets by the dancers’ feet; the dancers themselves, as they glissade across the stage as smoothly as skaters on an ice rink. In a felicitous coincidence, even the name of the composer, Philip Glass, suggests shimmer and shine.
Of the artwork that inspired Cerrudo’s choreography, Chagall said, “For me a stained glass window is a transparent partition between my heart and the heart of the world. Stained glass has to be serious and passionate. It is something elevating and exhilarating.” And although Cerrudo has made it clear that his intention was never to turn the windows into dance, in many ways he has. “One Thousand Pieces” displays all the traits Chagall noted: it is serious and passionate, elevating and exhilarating.
Glass’s mesmerizing, looping score, which melds selections from his works spanning 1976 to 2006, is just as much at the heart of “One Thousand Pieces” as is Chagall’s artwork, and Cerrudo’s choreography is in perfect sync with Glass’s music. The dance vocabulary that Cerrudo draws on for the piece — smooth, gliding movements, folding and enfolding like the refraction of glass itself — is so rich that it never repeats. All is graceful, and it is refreshing to see a young choreographer who is comfortable with grace. No need to mar the flow with the jarring movement that finds its way into much contemporary dance, whether appropriate or not.
Helping to secure the audience’s attention is the division of the piece into three parts, separated by a 20-minute intermission, for a total running time of 90 minutes. Part I introduces the full company — magnificent, as always — before a breathtaking subpart, “Interlude,” in which dancer Jonathan Fredrickson dangles above the audience, narrating “the old story of love” while swimming in the air. The suspended storyteller is not gratuitous: his narration segues smoothly into Part II, where dancers in twos and threes seem to illustrate that old story. Featured were Alice Klock, David Schultz (subbing for Quinn B Wharton), Bryna Pascoe, Jason Hortin, Jacquieline Burnett, Ana Lopez, Jessica Tong, Garrett Patrick Anderson and Jesse Bechard. Triple clouds of steam and the wet stage floor amplify the drama.
But the most powerful moments come in Part III, where the entire ensemble undulates as one organism, with small contractions, performed in perfect unison. Dance doesn’t get more compelling than this.
One Thousand Pieces
Hubbard Street Dance Chicago
Harris Theater for Music and Dance in Millennium Park, 205 E. Randolph Dr., Chicago
Through Dec. 15, 2013
Tickets $25–$99 at Hubbard Street Dance Chicago or 312-850-9744
Photos: Todd Rosenberg