Review: Hubbard Street Dance Chicago Puts Some Heat in Winter With Of Hope

The Hubbard Street mission is to awaken the human spirit through contemporary dance. That is a lofty mission in the contemporary world but I think that they have succeeded with Of Hope. The Hawk was out on opening night with slicing winds that nearly squashed my spirit in a short walk to the Museum of Contemporary Art. The evening was worth the battle from the first dance, "Love Infinite," which featured the entire Hubbard Street ensemble. The choreography by Randy Duncan set the dial for joy as the dancers moved in perfect harmony to the original music by Ira Antelis.

The costumes by Luis Razo flowed in perfect step with the dancers spinning like tops. The entrances and exits peeled back and added layers of movement that filled the stage. I would say that these dancers evoked that feeling of awakening from the mission statement. This is whole-body dancing that pulls from the African American and Indigenous traditions. The body is alive and firing on all cylinders.

The second dance was "Georgia," choreographed in 1987 by Lou Conte, the founder of Hubbard Street. It is a sweet duet featuring dancers Morgan Clune and David Schultz. It is also a contrast to how much the company has evolved from dance as a story or the interpretation of a song. This version of the Hoagy Carmichael classic is sung by Willie Nelson, which was enough to make me misty. The dance illustrated the emotions of bittersweet memories of a place, a time, and a person named Georgia. It was a lovely tribute to Conte and the most balletic dance in the show. It also felt like a departure from the energy continuity of the show but the buzz was back with the second half of the show.

Aaron Choate and Abdiel Figueroa-Reyes. Photo by Michelle Reid.

The third dance was a world premiere from choreographer Aszure Barton called "A Duo," featuring Aaron Choate and Abdiel Figueroa Reyes. This was a stunning duet with martial arts and Japanese influences. Back in the day, Shaolin kung fu movies were the jam and could be seen at almost every movie theater in Chicago's Loop. Choate and Figueroa-Reyes are beautifully costumed in flowing pants and vests designed by Rémi van Bochove. The dancers contort their bodies to look like very old men with long arms in the beginning and then morph into warriors that mix Shaolin with some Kabuki influences. I loved the music "Miu and Shaolin Mantis" by Marina Herlop. I hope that "A Duo" goes into the Hubbard Street repertoire for future dance series. Aszure Barton is a choreographer to watch. This is the most original and fresh dance interpretation I have seen in a long time.

The finale was a tribute to Chicago house music legend Frankie Knuckles. "Dear Frankie" was a shimmering recreation of dances at the Warehouse on the west side of Chicago. The Warehouse is where the term house music began. The music for "Dear Frankie" was by Darrin Ross, mixing "Requiem for Jay B," "Lights Eternal," and "We Gon Be Alright" into an ecstatic near-religious sound. Rennie Harris is the choreographer and is heard on the soundtrack as well. The narration tells about the Warehouse as a sanctuary for Black and queer kids with Knuckles as the father figure.

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago Company. Photo by KT Miller.

The Hubbard Street company shines in this dance with era-perfect costumes by Imani Sade in bright colors flickering in the lighting design by James Clotfelter. It took me back to the '70s, wishing that I could be in that crowd dancing wildly in the same way that people got the Holy Ghost in a church setting. Harris blends breakdance, pop-locking, and funk to recreate the origins of the raves. "Dear Frankie" is a tribute to Chicago as the birthplace of an art form that spread the world over. The chorus of "We Gon Be Alright" echoed in my ears as I subjected myself to the Hawk wind as I left the museum. Mission successful in awakening this human spirit and making me feel the movement in my soul.

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago is under the artistic direction of Linda Denise Fisher-Harrell, who brought a wealth of experience as a dancer for Alvin Ailey and performed works by Judith Jamison, Geoffrey Holder, and Ulysses Dove. Fisher-Harrell is keeping the company on a steady trajectory of new work while honoring classic contemporary roots. The mission of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago is in good hands in a city with a wealth of arts and cultural institutions.

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago's Winter Series: Of Hope is playing through March 3 at the Edlis Neeson Theater in the Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E. Chicago Ave.. I saw Program A and Program B in the series features world premiere dances by Maria Torres and FLOCK, aka Florian Lochner and Alick Klock. I highly recommend that you check it out. For tickets and more information, please visit w,ww.hubbardstreetdance.com. One more thing- your program or ticket will get you free admission to the MCA's exhibits.

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Kathy D. Hey

Kathy D. Hey writes creative non-fiction essays. A lifelong Chicagoan, she is enjoying life with her husband, daughter and three dogs in the wilds of Edgewater. When she isn’t at her computer, she is in her garden growing vegetables and herbs for kitchen witchery.