Thursday, April 16, 2015

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago

April 16, 2015

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago makes periodic stops in Madison. Last night, in preparation for an upcoming Italian tour, the company performed five eclectic works in an almost-full Overture Hall in the Overture Center. HSDC has become a breeding ground for emerging choreographers and of the five dances, two were created by Hubbard Street-bred dance-makers.

The evening opened with Jiri Kylian's Falling Angels, a rhythmic percussive powerhouse dance for eight women. This dance could stand alone, yet it relies on innovative lighting patterns which isolate dancers and heighten suspense. Chock-full of unison movement and never letting up, in sharp boxes of white light, the women gesture sharply, shake their hands like tambourines, drop abruptly into squat positions, and slide across the floor on their bellies slowly propelled by one elbow at a time like injured seals crawling to safety. Soloists break the unison pattern from time to time, traveling in sharp shafts of light, separating themselves from the others. To the pulsing music of Steve Reich, they tug at their simple black unitard costumes, pulling the fabric away and letting it snap back like some strange heartbeat, shifting to different parts of the body—chest, back, stomach. In one striking moment, as a soloist assumes a series of Egyptian-looking profile shapes through a narrow hallway of light downstage, the remaining dancers at the back, pierce another shaft of light with their hands and legs, then withdraw to the dark again as if their limbs are detached, floating in space.

Pacopepepluto is Hubbard Street dancer and resident choreographer, Alejandro Cerrudo's contribution to the evening. In three simple, supple solos, scantily clad men ripple through the space to the crooning of Dean Martin. Snippets of humor and the precise articulation of the performers pleases the eye, yet the costuming is arbitrary (flesh colored dance belt), and Cerrudo relies on the music only to move the dance along. Brief glimpses of humor fail to develop, no relationship among the three soloists is revealed, any recognizable repetition to the material is lacking. The dance feels like a string of random, albeit beautifully executed, steps.

In Waxing Moon, former Hubbard Street dancer  Robyn Mineko Williams' piece opens with the striking image of a solitary man sitting on a folding chair. A second man joins and departs, and the lone figure left sitting erupts in a fit of angry gesture. Pounding fists and grabbing head builds to more frantic movement and precarious balances on the wobbly chair. Quickness and stillness alternate as a duet between the men develops, manipulating each other by the head, through smooth lifts and falls. A female figure enters literally coming between the men (a love triangle?). As she is seamlessly lifted and passed between them, a clear relationship among the three evolves. But a final duet between the sitting man and the woman muddies the original relationship, and a beautiful last image of a spinning, horizontal woman seems disconnected from the rest of the dance.

The evening's highlight came from Canadian choreographer, Crystal Pite. Less is more in A Picture of You Falling. Highlighting the mesmerizing virtuosity of solo dancer Jason Hortin, this dance is a five-minute explosion of articulate isolations and impossible contortions of the human body. At once hinging back on his knees, and simultaneously pulsing small sections of his torso, Hortin shifts through illustrations of an abstracted fall. It's as if Pite has taken a series of snapshots of various people in the awkward action of falling, and strung them together in a dance. Hortin in a dark suit coat and pants, flows through these contorted shapes, arresting the movement in unthinkable positions-torso going one direction, limbs going the other. His fits and starts match the compelling sound score mix of text and arrhythmical pulsing sounds with uncanny precision.

Nacho Duato's ritualistic Gnawa closed the program. Dark and slow, a dozen dancers shift lines and pairings, trading positions—first men, then women—to a medley of tribal flute-like music. As a community, they circle in tight proximity to each other with their arms intertwined, the men swing the women forward as if on hinges. The effect is of a giant bell, ringing each time the women's bent knees are hoisted up. Duato accents the strong group work with a faun-like duet. Clad in nude-colored form-fitting costumes, this other-earthly pair literally spring from the group, seamlessly emerging and retreating. Stylistically, their quick level changes and spritely legwork contrast the large group's more deliberate actions. The piece gains a heaviness as dancers align candles across the length of the stage and under dim lighting they ceremoniously shift from lines into a tight group, again interlinked by arms, and again, bell-like, lunging side to side while rolling their heads. 

The piece ends as it began, with the duet couple advancing through the larger group. But by this time, no matter how compelling the image and how energetic the previous duets, dim lighting remains for so long that at the end of the evening, it feels a struggle to keep one's eyes open.