Hubbard Street Dance, Chicago

Written by:
Alyssa Schoeneman
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Hubbard Street dancers (from left) David Schultz, Jesse Bechard and
Meredith Dincolo in “Scarlatti” by Twyla Tharp
Photo by Todd Rosenberg

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago – Fall Series

Works by Twyla Tharp, Nacho Duato and Johan Inger
Harris Theater, Chicago
Oct. 13-16, 2011

Be it a piece of choreography or a wooden fence, the Hubbard Street Dance Chicago company members can bring it to life.

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s Fall Series featured an upbeat world premiere from Twyla Tharp, a somber composition from Nacho Duato, and a comical and thought-provoking work from Johan Inger. Though the dancers’ clarity of focus waned a bit at the end of Tharp’s “Scarlatti,” they showed strong focal, spatial and emotional intent during Duato’s “Arcangelo” and Inger’s “Walking Mad.”

Set to seven sonatas and one fugue from Baroque composer Domenico Scarlatti, the highly balletic “Scarlatti” challenged the Hubbard Street dancers to maintain flawless musicality throughout its dense movement score. The work’s intense physicality, complicated choreography and emphasis on unison seemed to internalize some dancers’ focuses both in the beginning and near the end of this piece.

In the piece’s initial movements, the Hubbard Street dancers leaped and lifted one another across the stage in exalted fashion, flapping their arms like birds or clapping at the height of their jumps. Costumed in a mix of leopard print, plaid and striped athletic and casual wear, the dancers peppered yoga-like side planks, triangle poses and dancer poses into their third sonata phrasework. The third section also featured the piece’s first same-sex groupings when Tharp presented the dancers in parallel scenes of innocent voyeurism. Traditional folk dance figures imbued a sense of community in the work’s later sections, but the dancers lacked clarity in their sometimes harried cross-stage petit allegro passes. The piece’s final section, a tag-team style selection of rolling duets with solo moments in between, showcased the dancers’ individual personalities and their technical strengths.

Duato’s “Arcangelo” brought the concert to a darker place through its exploration of heaven and hell. Bright lights peaked out of dark floor mounds as male HSDC dancers assisted their female partners through unique series of lifts and counterbalances; the lifted women often displayed open chests, forward wrists and upward gazes in a clear surrender of will. Though there was little physical interaction between couples throughout the piece, which was set to Arcangelo Corelli’s “Concerti Grossi,” the dancers’ occasionally intertwined limbs and unison choreography indicated a clear connection among them. The introduction of a black silk in “Arcangelo”’s final scene served as a backdrop to one dancer’s physicalized internal struggle. Manipulated by her concealed partner, the dancer exposed isolated body parts to the audience; a “floating” head and two hands tossed skyward were among the pictures created with the cloak. The piece ended on a hopeful note; the woman climbed up the black cloak, supported by her male partner, and the two were lifted into the air.

Inger utilized the energetic nature of Joseph-Maurice Ravel’s “Bolero” to caricature youth, love and loss in his award-winning piece, “Walking Mad.” The work’s initial scene presented a trenchcoat-clad male dancer, who, after climbing onstage out of the orchestra pit, pulled the stage curtain up like a window blind. The seemingly stationary long white fence that the curtain revealed soon took on a character of its own, aggressively rushing downstage and opening to reveal additional dancers. Dancers used the fence to create humorous illusions, to re-purpose the space and to offer elements of surprise throughout the piece. The fence also served as a tenth dancer in a cast of nine, as the dancers jumped on top of it, ran into it and climbed over it, all with a natural ease.

Dancers’ individual personalities shone through in Inger’s work specifically, as they were given specific roles to progress its storyline and were allowed brief moments of improvisation. A quintet of male dancers in particular gave the audience something to laugh about in an awkward, sexually charged portrait of male adolescence. The pelvic thrusting, awkward sidesteps and fishlike floorwork that occurred beneath these dancers’ neon party hats made this section unforgettable. A later, more dramatic duet highlighted a father-daughter relationship at its finest; a female dancer tried to leave her fenced-in yard, only to have her “father” pin her into a corner and hold her like a baby. Inger’s piece climaxed in a section of unison choreography very reminiscent of Ohad Naharin’s work, with deep pliés and geometric directional shifts of focus.

The final scene of “Walking Mad” harked back to the beginning of the piece, presenting the initial male dancer in a bittersweet stop-and-go duet. The man’s abandonment of his female partner put a more mature stamp on the end of the work and challenged the audience to consider human experience as a whole.

Thanks to the maturity and the technical excellence of the Hubbard Street Dance Chicago company’s performance as a whole, it was easy to walk away feeling emotionally and intellectually satisfied.

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