Winter Series 2010 Review - Hubbard Street Dance Chicago's Offering

Dancers as proficient in technique as those in Hubbard Street Dance Chicago could probably transform the hokey pokey into high art. But with such perfection of movement as a given, much of the audience’s experience depends on everything else: choreography, music, lighting, costuming. Those features vary widely in the four old and new pieces the company presents in its 2010 Winter Series. The result is something for everyone — but these sometimes conflicting visions also raise questions about the company’s identity and direction.

Tabula Rasa

Tabula Rasa

The program opens with a nod to the past with Ohad Naharin’s Tabula Rasa. Commissioned by the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre in 1986, Tabula Rasa (“clean slate”) was staged for Hubbard Street by Naharin and Adi Salant in 2004. In the world of contemporary dance, 24 years is a lifetime, but the piece remains fresh, drawing strength rather than fustiness from its foundation in old-school, Martha Graham–style modern dance. In the longest segment, all 10 dancers sway like blades of grass to the hypnotic, heavy-on-the-strings music by Estonian composer Arvo Pärt. Then suddenly, one dancer tilts toward the ground, seemingly doomed by gravity, just as another dancer scoops her up. The gutsy move elicits a gasp from the audience. Other dancers repeat the fall-and-rescue sequence, like a team-building exercise elevated by grace and split-second timing. That timing underlines the symbiotic ensemble that Hubbard Street has become. The dancers move as a single organism, giving even more power to those moments when dancers separate. Tabula Rasa might be improved by more such separations and surprises.

Tabula Rasa

Tabula Rasa

Malditos follows Tabula Rasa. A new work choreographed by Hubbard Street dancer and resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo, Malditos doesn’t seem far removed from the piece that precedes it. The audience sees the eight dancers clad in similarly neutral tones against a stark backdrop — perhaps too stark in the case of Malditos, which appears to be set in a prison yard or gangway, with a streetlight that fluctuates between being too dim and too bright and sometimes clanging music from the film The Beat That My Heart Skipped. The backdrop fits the title — Malditos is Spanish for “the damned” — but it also seems at odds with the wonderfully lyrical dancing. It would take more than one viewing to grasp all that takes place in the piece as the dancers separate, pair off, and reassemble in new combinations.

Getting There Staying Here

Getting There Staying Here

Getting There Staying Here

When the dancers from Hubbard Street 2 strut their stuff in another new piece, Getting There, Staying Here, a new variable get factored in, in this case the technique of the dancers. Good as they are — and David Schultz is a real standout — they lack the uber-synchronization that characterizes the main company. With choreography by Samar Haddad King and a mix of music from folk to rap, “Getting there” harks back to the early days of Hubbard Street, when gymnastics and pop ruled. The piece is uneven, elevated by a rap pas de deux and an interweaving of all six dancers to Bob Dylan’s A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.

Petite Mort

The program ends with a Hubbard Street classic, Petite Mort, choreographed by Jiri Kylian to two piano concertos by Mozart. Created for the Nederlands Dans Theater in 1991, Petite Mort was first performed by Hubbard Street in 2000. The piece deserves its place in the canon, and any contemporary dance lover who hasn’t seen it, should. Petite Mort is a French idiom for “orgasm,” and Hubbard Street performs it with unbridled sensuality, from the male dancers setting phallic swords into motion, to the women in flesh-colored corsets dancing in and out of freestanding ball gowns. Bright, witty, and breathtaking, Petite Mort gives the audience food for thought as well as reason to smile.

Penny Saunders and Alejandro Cerrudo

If a newer work like Malditos is not as immediately satisfying to some viewers as a relative chestnut like Petite Mort, that is to be expected. For a dance company to evolve, it must move beyond the classics and take risks. If anything, Hubbard Street may need to take more risks and to put its perfect dancers to even better use.

petite mort

Photos: Courtesy Hubbard Dance Chicago

Secure your seats today for the Winter, Spring and Summer Series and get 20% off single ticket prices, plus full subscriber benefits including free ticket exchanges, same seats for every performance, and more. Call the ticket office at 312-850-9744 today.

Harris Theater in Millennium Park

Saturday, December 4, 3:00 p.m. (Family Matinee)
Saturday, December 4, 8:00 p.m.
Sunday, December 5, 3:00 p.m.

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