Words about Dance
December 12, 2015 – On this uncharacteristically warm December weekend in Chicago, the city’s own Hubbard Street Dance Chicago presents its jam packed Winter Series at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance.
The program begins with loud, pumping, urban jams that usher in Hubbard Street’s second company, Hubbard Street 2. Choreography by Yin Yue, one of two artists selected through the company’s International Commissioning Project highlights an unmistakable Hubbard Street flair, proving Yin Yue a wonderful choreographic match for the company. Lighting by Julie Ballard creates depth and interest to an otherwise simple color scheme, as dancers are dressed in loose fitting taupe and black. Ballard’s design takes chances in a way that propels her lighting artistry to a level I’ve never seen from her before. At times the dancers are just barely lit, causing audience to squint, lean forward, and ask for more, and just in time, Ballard delivers, shoving a pointed and direct shaft of light across the darkness. Like a pinball cascading through a machine, the HS2 members ricochet points of energy through their bodies with fluidity and precision, delivering performances so strong that even the smallest misstep becomes incredibly obvious. Luckily, and impressively though, there are very few missteps in Friday’s performance. A Glimpse Inside a Shared Story is arguably one of the most exciting pieces of the evening.
The second work, Waxing Moon by former Hubbard Street dancer Robyn Mineko Williams is slightly underwhelming after Yue’s powerhouse opener. Moon slows the pace considerably, almost too much. The main company appears slightly reserved in this work, performed Friday by Michael Gross, Emilie Leriche, and David Schultz. Icy performances distance the piece and interactions between dancers lends a cold feeling to the work, even against a warm water-colored backdrop. Simple costume design by Hogan McLaughlin keeps focus off of the two men in the piece but highlights beauty in Emilie Leriche’s thin form, and Mineko Williams’ use of the large stage for just three dancers is refreshing.
Out of Keeping, the third work of the evening, immediately presents a stark white backdrop with a large white panel invading the left side of the stage where thick black wings would normally hang. LED light bars block dancers from entering and exiting this side of the stage, immediately setting up a new configuration for the traditionally proscenium stage. Jeweltone costumes contrast the white, but the variegation of color, and the large movements of many dancers at once proves slightly overwhelming at first, especially directly after the previous piece. The color proves more satisfying when couples emerge in same color pairings, and finally, when the entire ensemble arranges a line, the depth of the stage and the colors blend beautifully in their spectrum. The movement of the work is graceful, less aggressive; a nice change of pace from the Hubbard Street’s usual grounded, sliding, and fierce state of being. Soft flutters, and relaxed limbs are a simple pleasure in contrast to the usual fervency of the company.
Music for this piece is prevalent until suddenly, it’s not. I found the sudden drop-out exciting, as I was then aware of every crinkle of a coat, breath of my neighbor, or shuffle of a foot. Perhaps unintentionally, the work breaks the fourth wall by illuminating audience firmly, and wildly aware, silent, in their seats. The audible breathing of the dancers and the squealing of skin burning on marely, provides a welcome warmth as we see their humanness irradiated. A highlight moment in this work comes when all five of the women are finally on stage together at the same time, with no men. The five women performing on Friday night look very different from each other in this moment, some of them taller, some small. Personal habits, and individual colorings of the choreography, appear, perhaps unintentionally but add welcome and rare variance as individualities are highlighted. Clearly I was following a feminist train of thought here, because as I watched the last parts of Out of Keeping, I realized that Winter Series is entirely women choreographers. Thank You, Hubbard Street. Thank you for that.
Finally, Crystal Pite, last on the bill, left me without much to say (in a good way) about her work Solo Echo, originally created for Nederlands Dans Theater in 2012. I was stunned from start to finish as the images by lighting designer, costume designer, and stage designer came together with stirring choreography and incredibly open performance by the dancers, contrasting their earlier, reserved conduct. Solo Echo begins with snow falling, intensely lit from the sides in just a horizontal shaft on the vertical expanse. The darkness of the theater in juxtaposition with the bright light makes the snow look as if it is glowing. I wondered if this snow was fiber-optic lighting, until it begins to gather on the stage and be swept about by the dancing. In a later movement of the work, the backdrop of snow is finally fully lit, providing the scene for the entire ensemble to dance as one organism. Connected in a centipede-type arrangement at first, dancers stand backed up to one another, noses touching the back of the head in front. The ensemble oscillates like this, stretching apart, but still staying physically connected, until it explodes apart, and dancers splay every which way. Somehow though, Pite manages to make each individual dancer appear to continue to exist as part of the same centipede organism from before. The dancers are their own versions of the same organism. An image that sticks particularly hard is when dancer Alicia Delgadillo is thrust from the group, turning abruptly to see the rest of the ensemble lunging toward her, mouths wide open, as if to show her the backs of their throats. Delgadillo’s reaction gives pause to audience and highlights her vulnerability as she stares down all the other, gaping humans in front of her. Pite, in an interview provided in the program explains that the snow, the cold, and the programming of this particular work on a Winter Series bill are important for the piece. She says, “There’s a kind of melancholy, a nostalgia, that appears in people at this time of year, which is why programming Solo Echo in the winter months is probably a good thing.” As an avid hater of winter, this work actually had me wishing that it’d be snowing heavily when I left the theater. The work spit me into the balmy, black Chicago night ready to stare down the many versions of my own self, and thoroughly impressed, as usual, by Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and its icy fierceness.