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‘The Art of Falling’ Review — Hubbard Street Dance + Second City = Magic

By Leanne Star

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Hubbard Street + The Second City in 'The Art of Falling'

“The Art of Falling” couples two Chicago entertainment institutions Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and The Second City comedy troupe — for a knockout program even greater than the sum of its already formidable parts. Indeed, the only letdown of the collaboration will be when it ends and audiences go back to seeing these troupes solo and discover that a key ingredient is missing.



Joey Bland & Travis Turner


That successful pairing works on every level. Its magic is almost like a romance — appropriate given that a love story is at the heart of the narrative, which pairs The Second City players Travis Turner, as a dancer (and he’s clearly picked up some moves from Hubbard Street) wooing an afraid-to-commit Joey Bland. Their story is all about learning to trust, to accept support, to discover that when we fall we might not have to pick up the pieces all by ourselves — that there may be a whole community to catch us, like a graceful web of Hubbard Street dancers.



Dancers Jesse Bechard, Alice Klock, Michael Gross, Emilie Leriche & Jonathan Fredrickson surround The Second City's Carisa Barreca (center)


The collaboration plays to existing strengths of both troupes, making them even greater. Hubbard Street, in the early days of Lou Conte, often incorporated comic moments into its works, a surefire way to involve audiences, even non-dance fans. As the company evolved, humor was set aside for the most part for a focus on pure movement with strong, Euro-style choreography. This is not to say that after this collaboration the company should add slapstick to their routines but that it might want to consider adding more narrative elements to pull in audiences.



Rashawn Scott (right) embraces Tim Mason


In parallel fashion, “The Art of Falling” imbues the comedy of The Second City with a grace that too often is missing from their routines in the quest for laughs. Even that staple of The Second City, ad lib, takes on a whole new dimension in this production, as the troupe’s Tawny Newsome, in a dynamite turn as Bland’s grandmother, spins a few words from audience members into a laugh-out-loud narrative, all of it illustrated in real time by dancers, who ad lib to music throughout their training.



Kellie Epperheimer, Alicia Delgadillo, Kevin J. Shannon, Jane Rehm, Jacqueline Burnett & Ana Lopez form a typewriter


The Hubbard Street dancers shine as always, rising to the challenge of portraying not just the angst that seems to be their stock in trade these days but anything and everything. In “Typewriter,” with music by Leroy Anderson, Alejandro Cerrudo choreographs a keyboard of dancers — Jacqueline Burnett, Alicia Delgadillo, Kellie Epperheimer, Ana Lopez, Jane Rehm, Kevin J. Shannon — in stunning syncopation.



Tim Mason, Jessica Tong, Carisa Barreca


The dancers morph into other office fixtures: chairs, a mailbox, a vending machine, even a Newton’s cradle desk toy, with each member transmitting kinetic energy to the next. Their movements are not only graceful and pleasing but revelatory of the everyday objects we take for granted. Choreographer Terence Marling puts dancers Carisa Barreca, Jesse Bechard, Jonathan Fredrickson, Michael Gross, Alice Klock and Emilie Leriche into spinning swivel chairs for a “White Office Swan” inspired by Tchaikovsky. In “Wicked at Heart,” choreographed by Robyn Mineko Williams, Alicia Delgadillo transforms into an inflatable doll pumped up by a desperate Jason Hortin.



Carisa Barreca, Tim Mason, Rashawn Scott


Some of the credit for the high level of dancing should be paid to “The Art of Falling” director, Billy Bungeroth, who applies his theatrical background to this truly cross-disciplinary collaboration in a way that brings out the best in dance. Indeed, when Act II opens with an excerpt from “Second to Last,” with strikingly beautiful choreography by Alejandro Cerrudo set to Arvo Pärt’s haunting “Spiegel im Spiegel,” as lovely as it is this piece of pure dance created for an earlier work and totally disconnected from the narrative feels almost too ethereal and hard to grasp.



Carisa Barreca & Tim Mason


“The Art of Falling” takes full advantage of the stage at Harris Theater, a much larger space than The Second City typically occupies, through the clever use of video (design by HMS Media), projecting onto suspended screens the images of dancers traversing the floor, sometimes on their bellies, to give the effect of making them weightless objects floating through the air.




Just as the audience hopes for a successful resolution to the love story at the heart of “The Art of Falling,” let’s hope this stunning collaboration returns for more audiences to enjoy.




The Art of Falling


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


Through October 19, 2014


Tickets starting at $25 at Hubbard Street Dance




Photos: Todd Rosenberg


Published on Oct 18, 2014

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