Words about Dance
Admittedly, I wasn’t all that jazzed about the programming for Hubbard Street’s Fall program. While usually a huge fan of resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo’s large scale works, I was caught wondering just how many of his world premieres Hubbard Street will feature (there’s probably an answer for this somewhere). I guess you could say I went in as a toughened critic, expecting a lot in order to be pleased. I was un-enthused about seeing the new World Premiere by New York City based Brian Brooks, who was recently awarded the first-ever Artist in Residence position at The Harris Theater, an award that was criticized by some for its lack of representation by an artist who actually lives in Chicago.
As usual though, and all negativity aside, Hubbard Street always finds a way to turn my initial bad attitude around, and this time, thanks to the two Jiri Kylian works, was no exception.
As a dance critic, I’m embarrassed to admit that I had never seen any Kylian work in person before. I’ve of course poured over it on the internet, as any true dance fan would, but Falling Angels, Kylian’s 1989 work, first on this program, provided an excellent first taste of Kylian work. Driving drum beats from a musical score by Steve Reich energize the piece from beginning to end and provide endless opportunities for Kylian to play with off-beat, syncopated, and accented movement patterns. The eight women of Hubbard Street appear very homogeneous on stage, melding so closely with each other that at times I had a hard time telling them apart. Dressed in small black leotards and short shorts, these women exude power. At one point, I actually wrote, “Yas Qweens” in my (super professional) program notes, as all eight women flapped their hands like little wings behind their backs, threw their bodies onto the floor, and arched their backs for the final image.
Up next on the program is Sarabande, Falling Angels‘ counterpart with six men. The music score is creepy at first, evoking images of horror movies and creating suspense. I grasped my neighbor’s arm as the music began, lights came up, and the three massive Victorian-style dresses hanging from the rafters of the stage above the six men made the normally powerful and chiseled physique of the Hubbard Street men look oh so small. Sarabande shows Kylian’s humor and genius. In this piece, the men undress themselves, tangle themselves in their shirts, giggle, cover themselves, as if embarrassed, and squiggle about the stage with their pants at their ankles. This sometimes funny, sometimes alarming motif reveals itself as a reflection of masculinity as it is enacted under the shadow of the larger-than-life dresses, which, one can assume represent a feminine figure or influence over the men.
Terrain, the new commission by Brian Brooks uses white marley and white and off-white costumes to create, what seemed like the lack of well, terrain. As the piece begins, it becomes obvious that the dancers themselves create the terrain on the otherwise stark stage, aided by lighting by Nicole Pearce. Mostly noodle-y movement, reminiscent of a dancer with a pinball inside of his or her body, the movement itself is specific to this work, but not altogether groundbreaking, and seems just a little off on the normally gorgeous, long, and pristine Hubbard Street Dancers. The work is, in effect, an elongated exercise in contagions, virtuoso contact improvisation, and flocking; simple choreographic tools applied in a seemingly purposeful manner. Ripples with the entire company of 17 dancers held the most interest for me and reminded me of crashing waves.
Finally, Niebla, Cerrudo’s 15th work for the company opens with a massive laser and fog effect. Michael Korsh immediately steals the show with his lighting design of what look to be lasers projecting a large triangle from the ceiling, and down across the dance floor. Projection creates a foggy, almost floating effect that gets a few gasps at first sight. Cerrudo’s work, known for using large-scale stage effects has always been some of my favorite work on the Hubbard Street programs, but unfortunately Niebla didn’t rank among my top favorite Cerrudo works like Little Mortal Jump and The Impossible. The musical score consisting of music by Bach, Franz Liszt, and Franz Schubert is mostly classical piano, sometimes delicate and soft, and occasionally, in this piece ramping up to feel a little more epic. The six movements or “parts” of this dance blend into one another, sometimes using blackouts to separate the thoughts, but mostly creating a smooth, lilting feel in conjunction with the fog and lasers. Unfortunately, though the dancers are gorgeous, and as I mentioned before, Cerrudo is usually one of my favorite choreographers, the lights were the best part of this work.
Hubbard Street, one of Chicago’s favorite staples never disappoints. Whether an audience member is a jaded Dance critic, or a civilian on a date night, this company provides, without fail, an evening of thought provoking and talent-packed concert dance.