Hubbard Street Dance Chicago presents its 39th season Spring Series at the Harris Theater, featuring four evocative works that powerfully touch on what breaks people apart and what brings us back together.
Lucas Crandall, the rehearsal director for Hubbard Street, begins the show with Imprint, a work presented in two distinct halves. The first sets an eerie tone, with 14 of the company’s 16 dancers in heeled boots and black turtleneck body suits that rise to cover their faces, striding purposefully across the stage to cold, tapping synth music, all elements in a futuristic machine. Occasionally the dancers would congregate and then separate; someone would expose his or her face or break out in a burst of jagged, lunging movement, but even these individual moments were eventually repeated, as though each expression of “individuality” were a glitch in the smooth operation of the machine. Eventually, the masks came down, and the dancers sat on the edge of the stage and removed their shoes. The music pivots to Shirley Ellis’s “Nitty Gritty” and the stage becomes a swinging 1960’s party; the change is electric but also disturbing, with the shift from machine to human so abrupt. One by one the dancers are pushed or pulled from the stage into the orchestra pit, as if this short-lived exuberance were too much for the machine to handle.
The second half began in silence, as two dancers slowly crawled from the pit to the center of the stage, wearing flesh-tone costumes that bared as much skin as the bodysuits covered up. Thus began an intimate pas de deux, set first to silent curiosity as though each dancer just realized the other existed, then to the soft, poetic Aria from Bach’s Goldberg Variations, with a duet full of compassion. The pair was joined onstage by the rest of the company in similar costumes and a live drummer in the corner offering an improvised, primal beat. The romantic pas de deux dissolves and so does the raw human connection, reforming into an increasingly anxious competition for each dancer to lead the group around the stage, ending in a full-on sprint. Crandall was inspired by the formation of stampedes, and the blur of arms and legs as the runners chased each other is mesmerizing, as is watching the mood onstage deteriorate from caring and connected to self-concerned and competitive.
Two works by Spanish choreographer Nacho Duato follow, offering more direct storytelling. Violoncello, a duet from Multiplicity, Forms of Silence and Emptiness, in which a seated male dancer plays a woman’s torso as though she were a cello, is clever and a unique approach to a duet. However, an underlying theme of unrelenting mastery at any cost–as Jacqueline Burnett danced around Michael Gloss he would play her arm or leg if her torso were not available–resonated far less with me than did Duato’s passionate Jardí Tancat (“Closed Garden”). Set to Catalonian folk tunes, the six barefoot dancers in this earthy piece transport the audience to a place where the backbreaking work of sowing and harvesting the land is interspersed with plaintive appeals for rain and duets that express the humanity behind the labor.
Crystal Pite’s Solo Echo finished the evening, tying together themes of unity and destruction through various depictions of “a man reckoning with himself at the end of his life,” as Pite explained. “The character… is portrayed through both male and female bodies, and through various physiques and strengths. Each performer is a distinct and nuanced version of the character, and the connections between them evoke a man coming to terms with himself.”
The focus on opposites is striking: for example, the black, baggy pants and sleeveless vests the dancers wore that reminded me of army fatigues, contrast with the dancing, flickering lights on the back wall, which calls to mind gently falling snow. Pite finds fluidity in tension, using it to make connections through gorgeous small moments that build to become larger. My favorite instance was of a hand on a back that rippled into a static running pose, bringing to mind a frozen speed skater or a runner at the starting block. By the end, the constant shattering and reforming of bodies and thought through movement became the thread that tied all four works together for a riveting evening.
Hubbard Street Dance Chicago “Season 39 Spring Series” runs from March 16-19th at the Harris Theater. Tickets are $30-$102 and can be purchased online through the Harris Theater or by calling the Hubbard Street Ticket Office at 312-850-9744.