Hubbard Street Dance Chicago returned to Zellerbach Hall to present four complementary dances as part of “Program A.” The dances (1983-2011) were created by four diverse choreographers, Nacho Duato, William Forsythe, Alejandro Cerrudo, and Crystal Pite and, smartly tie together, stylistically and theatrically. The evening dedicated to the memory of one of their founding members, and director of the Lou Conte Dance Studio, the unfaltering Claire Bataille who sadly passed away just two weeks before.
Spanish-born Nacho Duato’s “Jardi Tancat” (Closed Garden) started the performance with an imaginary pastoral piece set on a bleak Catalonian landscape. Exquisitely danced by three couples, the piece is reminiscent of classic modern dances of the 1950s and 60s yet has its own contemporary freshness. It instantly established HSDC’s trademark for superb ensemble work, perfect timing and constant execution–something that carries itself through the other three dances–as dancers lyrically, fluidly toil their small field, bordered by stark fence posts. A good portion of the beginning was danced in silence before Maria del Mar Bonte’s Spanish vocals canopied over up-lifting duets like a fervent breeze. Duato’s mute pastel-colored costuming, stark set design, and dusted lighting made the piece nostalgic and forlorn like an Andrew Wyeth painting of the plains in a Catalonian-flavor.
Nothing could contrast Duato’s work more than that of William Forsythe’s, whose “N.N.N.N” (2015) was surprisingly comedic and playful for the minimalist choreographer. “N.N.N.N.” is a kinetic piece somewhere between the constant movement of a helical spring, aka a Slinky toy, and a Newton’s Cradle, where swinging spheres transmit continuous movement, back and forth by banging into each other. Only here, instead of coils and steel balls, arms and limbs flop, bang, fall, and bounce back from one dance to another until all four dancers and intertwined and constantly moving from momentum. The performance is mostly done in silence except for rigorous breathing that becomes more audible, turning into a syncopated chorus. Flashes of Thom Willems minimalist sounds occasionally explode into the space as the frivolously entertaining movement continued, making its statement about three quarters into the piece.
“Lickety-Split” (2006) is the creation of resident choreographer, Alejandro Cerrudo that floats stylistically between “Jardi Tancat” and “N.N.N.N.” The dance has a similar lyricism, perpetual and light-hearted movement and was performed by three couples. Ryan J. O’Gara original lighting that was recreated by Burke Brown dimly lit the stage, absorbing some of the more subtle aspects of the dance into the shadows. “Lickety-Split” is driven by of Devendra Banhart, Venezuelan American singer-songwriter, visual artist and Bay Area iconoclast. His sliding steel guitars chords add a sultry layer to this dance about the unpredictable layers of love.
“Grace Engine” by Crystal Pite rounded out “Program A” with an impressive ensemble of 15 dancers, moving in full throttle through Jim French’s slashes of dramatic white lighting along with Owen Belton’s deafening train-screeching soundscape. French’s arresting lighting is accented with overhead fluorescent tubes that do little to dispel the dark and foreboding atmosphere, if nothing increasing this threatening environment. Foot floodlights burst on dancers like train lamps, catching them on imaginary railroad tracks in mid movement. Everyone in a hurry, everyone running nowhere fast, hurling by and over other dancers, crossing through crowds and then back again, at times appearing like an unruly mob. At other times they seem to move en masse as if the concrete beneath them is being pulled from under them like a carpet. Their sheer mass was striking, with the group sections the most compelling, and solos and duets murky and pedestrian. “Program A” had a choreography all its own and was a wonderful tribute to Claire Bataille
David E. Moreno