Words about Dance
March 18, 2016 – Hubbard Street’s Spring Series, this weekend brings a varied program to the Harris Theater stage. Beginning with Gustavo Ramirez Sansano’s I am Mister B, a theatrical, fun work, and ending with Lucas Crandall’s Imprint, the hallmark of the program is blending theatrical elements with the company’s signature grace and athleticism. While the Hubbard Street dancers can always stand on their own in their dancing abilities, the added sets, props, and theatrical narratives help add a little fun to this particular program, setting it apart from the season’s earlier lineups.
I am Mister B, starts the program with large, deep blue, gossamer curtains designed by Luis Crespo framing the stage. Each of the twelve dancers portrays Ramirez Sansano’s idea of George Balanchine’s choreographic persona. Spoken text helps give the piece context, and busy dancing, traffic patterns, and moving curtains add excitement. As a newcomer to this piece, I was left with many questions. I wondered why Ramirez Sansano chose to make a piece about Balanchine, why he chose to do it on a contemporary company, and what it had to do with Hubbard Street. Missing important background information (wishing I’d attended the pre-performance discussion), and having missed the premiere of the work and subsequent performances of it, the piece felt to me like it didn’t quite fit with my idea of Hubbard Street’s brand. Perhaps it is an oddity in the cannon of the company’s contributions to contemporary modern dance. With more time to think on it, I look forward to connecting Balanchine’s contributions as a contemporary ballet choreographer to Hubbard Street’s rich history in blending classical and contemporary forms. From a less critical standpoint, however, and as an avid Balanchine lover myself, the work brought lightheartedness to the beginning of the program, with music by Tchaikovsky alluding to Mr. B’s crowd favorite, Theme and Variations. Comical, warm performances by the dancers tied this package up with a nice tidy bow.
The Impossible, a 2014 piece by Alejandro Cerrudo follows I am Mister B, taking the lighthearted mood to a much heavier place. I found myself pulled deep inside Cerrudo’s world, grasping emotions as the dancers create explicit images of an old couple reliving moments from their past. The work, focusing in themes of “memory, mortality, partnership, and the resilience of the human spirit” strikes some poignant heartstrings with tender moments, and keeps the audience involved with theatrical elements. Danced beautifully by Ana Lopez, Andrew Murdock, Jessica Tong, Jesse Bechard, and Florian Lochner, the two main couples, and the principal male dancer carry the dramatic narrative with a touch of comedy, and their own flare of personality. The Impossible envokes Cerrudo’s signature as his smooth partnering and quirky touch remind us just who is at the helm of the work. Heavy in concept, Cerrudo’s keen ability to pull stark beauty from larger than life ideas leaves me rooted in my seat, needing some time to recover emotionally (in a good way).
Finally, Lucas Crandall’s Imprint introduces the first and only new work on the program. Inspired by ideas of collective consciousness with heavy input from the dancers, Imprint shows images of herd behavior and mob mentality. Dancers are dressed in tight black body suits, designed by Branamira Ivanova, with their faces covered up to their foreheads. Women strut in heavy, heeled boots as the ensemble creates allusions to an urban scene with walking patterns. Covered faces foster a cold sense of anonymity as costume and set contribute to a chic and futuristic feel. Walking patterns open the piece in scattered, pointed paths as dancers pass each other, and occasionally bump or brush into each other. In spattered occasions, dancers stop dead in their tracks to face the audience and pull their costume down from their face, only to stare for a moment, and cover themselves again. The haunting image sticks with the audience and creates a brilliant cold opposite to the following section of the work. The middle section takes us back toward the theatrical theme of the night with dancers mouthing words along with music, bopping and dancing as casually as if they are out with friends. Crandall uses the lip of the Harris Theatre stage to bring the dancers closer to the audience than they’ve been all night. This part of the work especially, pushes boundaries, expanding the classic proscenium stage just beyond its regular reach. Dancers leap down into the empty orchestra pit, challenging the audience perception of where stage ends and audience begins. I thoroughly enjoyed having the dancers off the stage, wiggling and bopping along to rhythm-heavy music in a spontaneously loose interlude. Emerging from the pit, dancers wear flesh colored undergarments, pulling extra attention to their leggy bodies. A rhythmic, primal pattern of running ensues with live drumming. The bounding leaps and quick pace of the dancers invokes images of gazelles running from a predator. As before, Crandall’s precise use of trafficking is especially effective in communicating theme. “I’m curious about what triggers this behavior in nature,” he explains,“and I’m especially interested in why—and how—stampedes end. Rather than looking at them from a dramatic perspective, I’m researching their mechanics. My creative process in the studio, in collaboration with the dancers, has been to construct complex, dynamic movement patterns with groups, then disrupt those patterns, or subject them to a variety of interventions.” Imprint feels like a brilliantly exciting backwards journey through the evolution of herd animals and leaves me feeling like my own inner animal has been exposed.
Spring Series sets Chicago dancer-goers up nicely for the reinstallment of Hubbard Street’s collaboration with Second City in The Art of Falling.