A stark, almost monochrome, vision dominates Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s Winter Series, which features remounts of three works by Canadian choreographer Crystal Pite. Presented in the cavernous Harris Theater, A Picture of You Falling (2008/10), The Other You (2010), and Grace Engine (2011) seem sections of a single ballet, one that places Magritte’s man in the bowler hat hatless in a desolate landscape. The three works are similarly costumed in black suits and lit in a cinematic style that uses light to direct the eye to figures arrested in restricted zones of the stage, set to soundscapes that distill and magnify the quotidian noise of urban life: the sounds of cars, trains, planes, and drones woven into the kind of wind that accelerates through canyons made by high rises—both inhuman and manmade. These pieces reveal fixations that can perhaps be summarized as a probing of the body’s relationship to technology: mechanized technology that has altered how we move and digital technology that has altered how we see.
A Picture of You Falling is a duet for a woman and a man (Jacqueline Burnett and Elliot Hammans) set in a semicircle of light trees, each with a single round spotlight at the tip of the stalk, like cameras poised to capture a single subject from every angle. The figures are anonymous, together the same way they are alone, meeting without heat or friction. A voice (Kate Strong) narrates the action in spare terms, indicating body parts (“This is your hand.” “This is your back.”) and alluding to memories (“This is where it happened.” “You remember the wind and the taste of salt.”). The detail is left for bodies to elaborate and articulate, as the darkness is punctuated with brief spots of light, offering snapshots of imperfect recollection, the man centered on his mark, the woman fading away as she walks through them. “This is the place: interior,” says the voice.
The Other You repeats the scenario, this time as a duet for two men (Andrew Murdock and Michael Gross). Same clothing. Same place. Interior. Gross starts in a crumpled position on the ground, using one hand to activate his other joints and limbs—isolations that demonstrate the self’s alienation from itself. He encounters another man—himself and not himself—his mirror image and opponent—son semblable!—son frère! They wrestle and manipulate each other, bark like dogs and howl silently, as the empty sound of the wind fills the empty spaces of the theater, a vaudeville act, a nightmare.
Grace Engine opens the stage to more light and more traffic, interposing amplified footsteps with silhouettes, masses of people with the sounds of motors. The dancers are a machine, one that executes magnificently. Highlights include a duet for two women, silkily done by Rena Butler and Alice Klock. The silent scream is a motif that is transmitted from person to person, indiscriminately gesturing at a discontent that never manages to seem motivated by a particular cause, personal or universal.
As a program, the conjunction of these pieces presents difficulties—mainly that there’s not an inkling of pleasure in it, nor any concession to entertainment. The mood from start to finish is industriously dark, and the brilliant physicality of the dancers is not matched by an investment in the intention that could so evidently be mined in each piece, especially the two duets, which appear to have been made for a far more intimate perspective than a theater the scale of the Harris can offer. While this Winter Series was eagerly devoured by a Chicago audience hungry for Pite’s work, it seems to reinforce Hubbard Street’s current condition of aesthetic homelessness.
Hubbard Street Dance Chicago at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph, $25-$110, (312) 635-3799 or hubbardstreetdance.com.