‘Princess Grace Awards’ Review — Hubbard Street Dancers Perform Cutting-Edge Choreography at the MCA


Andrew Murdock, Jacqueline Burnett and Jonathan Fredrickson in 'Waxing Moon'

The regal American film actress Grace Kelly — doubly regal after she married Prince Rainier of Monaco to become Princess Grace — died more than 30 years ago in a car accident triggered by a stroke, but her death hasn’t slowed her influence as a fashionista or as a muse. The Princess Grace Foundation awards grants to emerging talents in theater, dance and film, and the results of some of that largesse are on display as Hubbard Street Dance Chicago performs the creations of three Princess Grace Foundation award-winning choreographers for its “Winter Series” program, “Princess Grace Awards: New Works,” at the Museum Of Contemporary Art Chicago.



Emilie Leriche in 'Counterpoint'


First up is “Counterpoint,” choreographed for seven dancers by Kyle Abraham, a 2013 MacArthur Fellow as well as a Grace grantee — twice. “Counterpoint” opens with static as its soundtrack and fuzzy lighting, giving the effect of watching the dancers on an old black-and-white TV set. But soon the lighting (by Dan Scully) sharpens, crisscrossing the stage with shafts of light. At the same time the real music kicks in: Johannes Brahms “First Piano Concerto in D Minor” and “Tu Non Mi Perderai Mai,” by Icelandic composer Jóhann Jóhannsson.



Jessica Tong, left, and Johnny McMillan in 'Counterpoint'


The movements, first slow and twisting, become increasingly balletic. The piece is cool, abstract, cerebral — perhaps too much so. A program note explains that Abraham originally intended to collaborate with Chicago footwork pioneer DJ Rashad and that the electronic composer’s sudden death this year caused the “Counterpoint” to “become a work of isolation and abrupt uncertainties.” That abruptness is problematic, especially at the end, and without climaxes the piece feels unfocused. The Hubbard Street dancers, as always, execute their moves flawlessly. Layered, peek-a-boo costumes by Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung add interest.



Jonathan Fredrickson, foreground, and Jacqueline Burnett in 'Waxing Moon'


Hubbard Street dancer and choreographer Robyn Mineko Williams amps things up in “Waxing Moon,” getting more mileage out of a simple folding chair that becomes a mini-stage than most choreographers coax out of a pile of props. The punchy original music by Robert F. Haynes and Tony Lazarra inspire a palette of interactive movement between the three dancers, from quick, quirky steps to a lovely, lyrical pas de deux. In a signature lift, a male dancer spins a female dancer (Jacqueline Burnett or Emilie Leriche, depending on the performance), like the rotor on a graceful flying machine. Filmy/stark costumes by Hogan McLaughlin and lighting by Burke Brown add to the atmosphere.



Jason Hortin, foreground, and ensemble in 'Enter Woven'


Founder and artistic director of RUBBERBANDance Group Victor Quijada wraps up the 113-minute program up with “Enter Woven,” a piece whose undulating movements highlight the athleticism of the Hubbard Street ensemble as the dancers move in waves like a sea anemone driven by the ocean — or more aptly like a graceful gang rumble interrupted by a breakdance or two. Original music by Jasper “Lil’ Jaz” Gahunia, and muted camo costumes by Marilène Bastien nourish the organism.




Despite their strengths, these pieces suffer from being performed together, with a certain sameness in much of the choreography, lighting and costuming. Touches of color, both chromatic and figurative, would have been welcome.






Hubbard Street Dance Chicago ‘Winter Series’ Princess Grace Awards: New Works


Edlis Neeson Theater at the Museum Of Contemporary Art Chicago, 220 E Chicago Ave, Chicago


Through Dec. 14, 2014


Tickets $35 at Hubbard Street Dance or 312-850-9744




Photos: Todd Rosenberg


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