Review: Hubbard Street Dance Chicago Brings Exquisite Craft and Depth to Of Joy

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago closed out season 46 with a program titled Of Joy. Passion, joy, and dancers in peak performance mode were on display much to the audience's pleasure. Of Joy's four pieces showcased internationally known and award-winning choreographers. Two Chicago premieres, an encore from the winter production Of Hope, and a piece created from the diaspora of Caribbean-Latin heritage.

Right out of the gate, Echoes of Our Ancestors crackled with energy. Choreographer Maria Torres brings a vision of the cultures that make music, spiritual experiences, and movements of Caribbean-Latin people. The music by Philip Hamilton has the sound of rain, African drums, and the rumbling horns of salsa with the chatter of a country market. I recognize the ecstatic movements of African dance that have the spiritual element of gratitude and getting lost in the spirits of the Ancestors. I saw inspiration from the martial art of Capoeira mixed in. This was infused with the sinuous movements of salsa against the brilliant colors of lighting designer Aja Jackson. Luis Razo's flowing costumes of brilliant colors and flowing fabrics put a finishing touch on the visual composition of a dance performance.

Abdel Figueroa-Reyes. Photo by Michelle Reid.

Company member Aaron Choate stunned in a solo performance of choreographer Kyle Abraham's Show Pony. Costume designer Fritz Masten outfitted Choate in a one-piece that looked painted-on. Abraham chose a composition by Jlin called Hatshepsut for the Egyptian pharaoh who brought wealth and exotic goods to her land. Choate's dancing was appropriately regal and precise. Show Pony was a regal celebration bathed in a prism of color by lighting designer Dan Scully. Choate was a part of Duo in the winter performance Of Hope.

Aszure Barton's choreography for Duo took on a new twist as danced by Shota Miyoshi and Cyrie Topete. The Kabuki-infused style of the performance for Of Hope is different. Miyoshi and Topete begin with the evolution-inspired movement from humans being closer to primates, and then the Shaolin martial arts shone through. Composer Marina Herlop's music is called "Miu" and "Shaolin" with an Asian fusion sound. Barton shows her roots in choreography for Martha Graham and inspiration from Twyla Tharp as did Hubbard Street founder Lou Conte with the sharp and angular movements. Duo is a fury of precision and grace accented by fashion designer Rémi Van Bochove's deconstructed formal wear and lighting design by Nicole Pearce.

Michele Dooley. Photo by Michele Reid.

The finale, Impasse, is a surreal pastiche from Swedish choreographer Johan Inger. I saw a kinship to fellow Swede Alexander Ekman's choreography Midsummer Night's Dream by the Joffrey Ballet. What starts as a trio of people who enter through a door becomes an orgiastic melange of dancing with limbs connecting and getting wilder as the door shrinks. I felt a bit of an Alice in Wonderland play on hallucination and size-changing. Impasse features the entire cast in a range of costumes designed by Bregje van Belen. There were echoes of Josephine Baker (a stunning Michele Dooley) in a glittering catsuit and feathered headpiece, an appearance of Jacqueline Kennedy's pink suit and pillbox hat from November 1963, and glasses from the Jackie O era mixed with a full-on clown. The dancing was a study of control and fluid movements as a metaphorical sky fell on the dancers leaving one tiny door. Inger also designed the set fleshing out a vision of apocalyptic surrealism. Tom Visser designed the moody lighting for Impasse.

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago is a leading company in Chicago's rich cultural landscape. I saw them in the early 2000s and they have since evolved into an era of unique and rewarding risk-taking. Artistic director Linda-Denise Fisher-Harrell comes from an extraordinary career in dance and that influence is apparent as Hubbard Street takes Lou Conte's vision and beautifully expands it. I highly recommend that you make a point of seeing Hubbard Street Dance Company whenever they are performing.

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago's Of Joy runs for three performances this weekend. The final one is today May 19 at 3pm at the Harris Theater at Millennium Park, 205 E. Randolph St. For more information, please visit www.hubbardstreetdance.com or www.harristheater.org.

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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.