Irene Hsiao

Hubbard Street at 40: Summer Series at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 8-11 June 2017

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Hubbard Street Dancers Jessica Tong and Jesse Bechard in One Thousand Pieces by Alejandro Cerrudo. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

A human lives 70 years, a dancer 40, if he or she is lucky. A dance company lives anywhere from a season to some centuries, but 40 is a ripe old age most never see in an ecosystem of upstarts built on the blood and sweat of bodily labor. Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, which has changed heads and headquarters (to say nothing of legs) a few times in the past four decades, presented a mixed bill that spanned or at least touched each one at their summer series, Hubbard Street at 40, June 8-11 at the Harris. Presented in a rough reverse chronology, newest to oldest, the performance gave a sense of the company’s evolution and a spectacular testament to the dancers’ supreme versatility.

The evening opened daringly with the duet from Lucas Crandall’s Imprint (2016), both the loveliest segment of that work and the most quiet. The first minutes, danced in silence, almost nude, by the divine Emilie Leriche and Jesse Bechard, offer the raw material of dance—the human body, bare and alone, profoundly lonely outside the range of the smallest points of contact, handprint and handhold, barely warm. But also inevitably in the room there is the most irritating soundscape of human presence—multiple phones buzzing and flashing on and off, whispering, the type of self-conscious coughing that always occurs during the softest, most intimate portions of any music or dance performance, programs falling and hitting the floor with a deafening thwack. As the first blessed notes of Bach’s Goldberg Variations interject into the noise, you can practically hear Glenn Gould hum.

From this, the transition to William Forsythe’s One Flat Thing, reproduced (2000), erupts with 14 dancers dragging 20 metal tables at a full run onto the stage to a grating factory floor score by Thom Willems. Acute gymnastics occur in the thin spaces over, under, and between the tables in patterns that, as decreed by such a landscape, start to look like old-school grid-based video games: Pac-Man, Frogger, Tetris, Donkey Kong. The atmosphere is tense with the threat of metal edges, a game that threatens to reduce the human to a pixel, courageously resisted by an exhibition of physical prowess in a world not built for human survival.

The excerpt from Alejandro Cerrudo’s One Thousand Pieces (2012) also features a monumental set replete with fog, blue light shining out over the lower horizon of the stage, and water dewing the floor—Coco Chanel was said to have advised ladies to remove one item before leaving the house, a dictum that might have served well in a this situation, where scenery was ornamental but not functional, other than the water, which, from a vantage point about a third away from the back of the house, provided more sonic than visual context as feet sloshed against its surface. Balletic in vocabulary, the piece ends with three women in a line, lowering their legs in unison from a la seconde with delicacy and deliberate slowness to touch the floor.

Crystal Pite’s A Picture of You Falling, which premiered on her own company, Kidd Pivot, in 2010, is a brief work of stunning impact, presenting gravity and its opposite and all its metaphorical implications in the simple act of a man (Jason Hortin) falling to the ground in a post-auratic universe of record and repeat, where time, it seems, has finally come under our control through methods that allow us to have each moment again and again, in reverse, from all angles, answering questions with Muybridgean fascination for specificity, while a voice (Kate Strong) at first seems to observe the man (“This is a picture of you, falling. Knees, hip, hands, elbows, head. This is how you collapse. This is the sound of your heart hitting the floor”) but, as the repetitions increase, begins to take command of him. He resists, seems to rise as he falls again and again. He shows us the body’s ability to create the space in which it exists, magnificent.

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Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in The Golden Section by Twyla Tharp. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

Twyla Tharp’s The Golden Section, made in 1981, acquired by Hubbard Street in 1991, looks very much of its moment, a merry manic daredevil roller derby of a piece that looks like a suicide mission the cool kids signed up for, because they’re all wearing matching gold hotpants (dare I say “rompers”???) and grooving up a kitsch storm at heart-stopping speed. Light, bright Jessica Tong takes her solo with ease, joyfully.

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Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in The 40s by Lou Conte. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

Two pieces by Hubbard Street founder Lou Conte close the evening, Georgia (1987) and The 40s (1978). Georgia is a mood piece—a sultry night, a sultry woman (Tong), a phone ringing, a languid duet (with David Schultz). The 40s is another romp for the ensemble, this time in uniform bowties and white soft shoes, brisk and witty, that shows off best a camaraderie a long time in the making.

 

(Irene Hsiao)

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