Hubbard Street Does It Again

Hubbard Street dancer Meredith Dincolo in "Fluence". Photo by Quinn B Wharton.

I realize it’s redundant for me to exclaim how spectacular Hubbard Street Dance Chicago is, but…well, they are. Last night’s opening night performance of the Fall Series at the Harris Theater was standard in its phenomenal performers and thoroughly entertaining choreography, but with a few surprises. Works from master choreographers Mats Ek and Ohad Naharin, plus a new work from Princess Grace Award winner (and former Hubbard Street dancer) Robyn Mineko Williams and a world premiere duet by resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo showcased the company’s talents from top to bottom.

The first surprise was the emergence of Williams as a thoughtful choreographer that can hold her own with the best of them. Not a shock since we’ve seen her work before, but Fluence was the first time she and her handpicked creative team put it all on stage in a longer, cohesive piece. Quirky chaotic moves turn into a slow duet. A group twitches alongside a lone dancer in his own world.  And then came the bubbles. Yes, bubbles. The delicate spheres came raining down creating a serene, space-like atmosphere. A sole column filled with smoke disintegrated in a puff above dancer Meredith Dincolo, whose solo ended the work with a horizontal disjointed backstroke.

Hubbard Street never lacks for stunning duets in their works, but Surprise #2 is, this time, the couples are female. Emilie Leriche and Alice Klock connect effortlessly in Fluence and Ana Lopez and Jacqueline Burnett in Cerrudo’s Cloudless proved a perfect pairing for his intimate choreography. Cerrudo’s newest work, his 12th for the company, features a dark (obviously) stage, stripped bare with two industrial chandeliers highlighting the dancers. Although we may have seen some of his deft duet designs before, they look completely different (dare I say, even more intimate) set on two women.

The rest of the performance was – no surprises here – stellar dancing of audience favorites Passomezzo (Naharin) and Casi-Casa (Ek). Naharin’s romantic, human duet was at times rough, sweet, funny and endearing with some really difficult, knee-killing dancing by Kellie Epperheimer and Johnny McMillan. The company danced Ek’s work for the first time last season and they have really settled into the piece. Comfortable and at ease, they breezed through the extreme choreography with style and aplomb. Here, the men shined. Quinn B (“Legs”) Wharton opened with a smart, sassy take on the “TV Man” solo and the trio of McMillan, David Schultz and Jesse Bechard gets better and more poignant with each viewing.

Shout out to costume designer Hogan McLaughlin for his futuristic take on leotards in Fluence and a hearty BRAVO to lighting and tech director Matt Miller.

Hubbard Street’s Fall Series runs through Sunday, Oct. 13 at the Harris Theater. Tickets are $25-$99; call 312.850.9744 or visit hubbardstreetdance.com.

 

CDF13: The Harris at 10! Anniversary Special

Tamako Miyazaki and Brooklyn Mack in "Diana and Actaeon pas". Photo by Sarah Weymar.

Opening night of the 7th annual Chicago Dancing Festival (CDF13) was in honor of the Harris Theatre‘s 10th anniversary – and what a celebration it was. A packed house was treated to a star-studded, eclectic evening of beautiful dancing. It is an amazing thing watching local audiences witness for FREE what I am humbly privileged to see all the time as a dance writer and from the reaction (thunderous applause, mini standing ovations and, what I can only call, whooping), they enjoyed it as much as I did.

Pieces are announced by a Let’s-get-ready-to-ruuuuuuuumble! voice over giving pertinent details of the upcoming work. The show started off with a bang – or stomp – with a CDF13 commissioned work by local artists Lane Alexander and Bril Barrett. Chicago Human Rhythm Project busted out some crazy mad beats in a showcase of a groovy, partially improvised master tap class. Shout out to the ladies Donnetta Jackson and Starinah (“Star”, yes she is) Dixon. The flaptastic opening was followed by Hubbard Street Dance Chicago performing Little Mortal Jump (2012) by their resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo. (If you’ve ever read my blog, you know I’m a huge fan of AC.) This fun, theatrical work never ceases to impress. Retirements and injuries updated the original casting and added new, interesting timing and phrasing choices. The slow-motion duet near the end by Ana Lopez and Jesse Bechard always gives me goosebumps. A woman sitting near me started a chorus of “Bravos”, while a number of people jumped to their feet with enthusiasm.

Washington Ballet dancer Brooklyn Mack and Tamako Miyazaki of the Columbia Classical Ballet and Dortmund Ballet stunned in the Diana and Actaeon pas de deux. I wasn’t familiar with this pas based on a greek myth where a goddess turns a man into a deer like a 1935 balletic version of Beauty and the Beast. The casting of Miyazaki (tiny, pale and petite) and Mack (tall, dark and massive) was perfect. Both were exceptional dancers showing off technical tricks in a classic forum. While Miyazaki breezed across the floor with fleet footwork, Mack defied gravity with amazing jumps. Those jumps!** A friend said it was a switch leap, jete coupe with a 520…huh? I still can’t quite figure out what that is, but WOW! And he did it more than once. Not to be outdone, Miyazaki more than held her own with beautiful extensions, pristine pointe work and top-like turns. Her fouette run in the coda with a double every other turn and a lightly landed triple to finish was only topped by the supported turns with Mack that were so fast, furious and frequent that I lost count. (Yes, I do count them). Get thee to the Pritzker Pavillion in Millennium Park to see this for yourself on Saturday at 7:30 pm. What a way to end Act I.

The only work that seemed to leave the audience perplexed was festival co-founder Lar Lubovitch‘s Crisis Variations (2011), which was likely from a lack of exposure to this style. Set to a musical suite of the same title, and played by the amazing Le Train Bleu, Crisis was difficult and dischordant from the start. The swooping, circular flow that I love about his choreography was absent here, likely on purpose, but I missed it. The dancers of his company began in formations on the floor and for most of the dance, the majority stayed on the floor as if grounded by a magnet or unbearable burden. A couple performed a dependent and (again) difficult duet, climbing and resting on top of one another as if struggling and helping each other at the same time. Perhaps that was the point. Something can come out of a crisis that is unique, strong and loving, but not necessarily pretty.

Brian Brooks in "I'm Going to Explode". Photo by Christopher Duggan.

New York-based artist Brian Brooks followed with a quirky solo I’m Going to Explode (2007). Beginning in a chair on stage left, the suited and ready for work Brooks took off his shoes and jacket, walked to the other side of the stage and started swishing his arms from front to back, then side to side. The movement became more frenetic as if he indeed was going to explode. He looked like a human washing room, but with the cycle going backwards. He started off crisp and dry and ended soaked and disheveled. As he made his way back to the chair, the audience couldn’t wait for him to put his shoes back on before starting to clap. Rounding out the show was a balls-to-the-walls performance of Stanton Welch’s Son of Chamber Symphony by the Joffrey Ballet. This work, created for them last season, demonstrated the opposite end of the classical ballet spectrum. With inside-out tutus, impeccable, off-kilter technique to a contemporary score, Son is almost a ballet inverted. My notes are basically a list of the cast as every dancer brought their ‘A’ game and then some.

It was a spectacular night of dance to open the festival. It makes me proud to be a Chicagoan. I can’t wait to see what happens next.

**UPDATE: I sat next to Brooklyn Mack at CDF’s Dancing in Chicago show last night (08/22/13). He told me the jumps are a twist on a 540, not 520 as I originally reported. Here is a video of a Le Corsaire pas. The male dancer does two 540s at the beginning, so you can see the base of Mack’s incredible jump.

Hubbard Street’s danc(e)volve 2013: Review

Hubbard Street 2 dancers Emilie Leriche and Felicia McBride.
Hubbard St 2 dancers Brandon Lee Alley and Emilie Leriche.
Hubbard St dancers Quinn B Wharton and Jessica Tong.
Hubbard St dancers Jonny McMillian and Jesse Bechard.
Hubbard St dancers Alice Klock and Jonny McMillan.
HS 2 dancers Richard Walters and Lissa Smith.
Hubbard St dancers Garrett Anderson and Alice Klock.

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago is known for taking choreographic risks. From bringing top European choreographers like Mats Ek to the Chicago stage to commissioning works from emerging artists to cultivating in-house talent with danc(e)volve: New Works Festival 2013. Some risks are bigger than others. Some pay off, while some get chalked up to a learning experience. This “risk” showcased in the two-week run of performances at the MCA Stage, pays off big time. Usually, there is one piece that sticks with you, one that stands out – a favorite. Not here, all six new works are sharp, unique and satisfying.

The choreographers range from the more experienced – HS2 director Terence Marling, former Hubbard Street dancer Robyn Mineko Williams and soon-to-depart, new Mom Penny Saunders to the younger, just-starting-out HS2′s Andrew Wright. Wright proves he has a bright future as a choreographer opening the show with Agape. Utilizing his fellow HS2-ers, he goes from a twitchy opening female solo with dancers running and reaching for something unattainable to a freeing second section where the dancers run in abandon with their arms and heads flung back. The second company commands the stage in this opening piece, especially Emile Leriche, who will join the main company this fall. She’s strong, subtle and stunning. When she’s on stage, you simply can’t take your eyes off her. At times, she seems to dissipate like a puff of smoke.

With a packed touring schedule, we rarely get to see HS2 perform alongside the main company. It was nice to see the younger dancers mixed in with the more seasoned dancers. Marling’s ditto, a trio with HS2′s Leriche and Brandon Lee Alley dancing with Ana Lopez, blurred the lines between first and second company. Alley showed considerable skill partnering the always stunning Lopez. Saunders’ Adalea featuring six dancers from the main company had some fun with chairs, ending with a tumbling, tossing, physical duet with Jesse Bechard and Johnny McMillan. As a lovely extra, at the end of the first act, a video made by the dancers of their trip with DanceMotion USA was shown giving us a glimpse into some of the adventures they had while in North Africa and Spain. Pictures and video from the trip with voice over from the dancers reveal an inspiring once-in-a-lifetime adventure.

Jonathan Fredrickson’s Límon-esque For the Wandered was a meditation in white for five dancers incorporating text via hidden microphones inside movable starched white mounds of material. Most of the new works were somber, focusing on the complex construction and the dancing, but Marling’s stop…stop…stop. was a lighter, humorous romp set to a mambo with the dancer’s voices remixed on top like an audio thought bubble. HS2′s Lissa Smith and Richard Walters were perfect as a shy, awkward potential couple manipulated by the dashing Quinn B Wharton as a mentor/matchmaker. Wharton’s intermittent sly solos a fun, quirky interlude to the actions of the couple. Mineko William’s Grey Horses closed the show with the black brick back wall exposed creating a darker, starker stage.  Again mixing dancers from both companies (props to Leriche – again – and Walters!), she used the stark setting to create another dance of shadows across the back wall with beautiful solo work by Alice Klock. Set to music titled Ghost Come Morning by Robert G. Haynes, the final image of Klock and her shadow fading in to the dark brought an otherworldly feel.

Most performances are already sold out, but there are ticket still available for the Sunday, June 16 shows. Get them here now!

Slideshow Photo Captions: All photography by Todd Rosenberg.

Emilie Leriche and Felicia McBride in “Agape” by Andrew Wright.

Brandon Lee Alley and Emilie Leriche in “ditto” by Terence Marling.

Quinn B Wharton and Jessica Tong in “Adalea” by Penny Saunders.

Johnny McMillan and Jesse Bechard in “Adalea” by Penny Saunders.

Alice Klock and Johnny McMillan in “For the Wandered” by Jonathan Fredrickson.

Richard Walters and LIssa Smith in “stop…stop…stop.” by Terence Marling.

Garrett Anderson and Alice Klock in “Grey Horses” by Robyn Mineko Williams.

 

 

Hubbard Street + LINES Ballet: Review

Hubbard Street & LINES Ballet dancers in Alonzo King's "Azimuth". Photo by Margo Moritz.

What happens when two very different top contemporary companies combine talents for a much-anticipated joint appearance including a premiere commissioned by the Harris Theater in honor of its 10th anniversary and funded in part by a grant from the Joyce Foundation? You get an amazingly danced, slightly overwhelming, long-ass show. Last night Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and San Fransisco-based Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet took the stage for the Chicago premiere of a new collaborative work by King presented with an older work (Rasa) from King and a work by Hubbard Street resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo. As the culmination of a years-long process that included a three-week residency at the University of Irvine and the world premiere collaboration of Azimuth, it is a historical dance feat, for sure, but this felt like a LINES Ballet show with Hubbard Street as mere guest artists.

King has a unique approach to choreographing, pushing the dancers to always investigate and make choices with their movement. This makes for interesting, ever-changing dancing, but at times proves tiring for the audience and with works pushing 40-minutes a piece, a little editing would go a long way. His philosophical base of construction is a bit too heady for my taste, but what he gets out of the dancers is astounding. His dancers are beautiful creatures with legs, arms and technique for days that move in a way that is uniquely King-created. There is something in the way they move their arms that is breathtaking. Courtney Henry, Keelan Whitmore and Michael Montgomery were stand outs in this super talented group.

As if thrown in as a quirky palette cleanser between King pieces, Cerrudo’s Little mortal jump offered lighter fare with its whimsical, theatrical humor. The ending duet between Jesse Bechard and Ana Lopez (my favorite part) is usually clouded in dark, foggy lighting that adds to the ethereal quality of the slow-motion duet. Last night’s lighting was much brighter (showing dancers behind boxes, the couple exiting upstage, etc.) losing some of its magic.

Obviously, with King choreographing the new work, the LINES dancers were at an advantage, but the fact that Azimuth looked like another all-LINES piece is a testament to the Hubbard Street dancers’ chameleon-like talent to assimilate. Some adapted quicker than others – Jacqueline Burnett, Johnny McMillan and Kellie Epperheimer were all featured in solos.  Epperheimer was also featured in a soaring quintet aided by Hubbard Street men (Jonathan Fredrickson, Garrett Anderson, Bechard and David Schultz) that had her diving, floating, skimming, jumping and climbing around the entire stage. Yet, when all 26 dancers were on stage moving together, it was a lot to take in. The dancers I’ve spoken with all say it was an inspiring process and I’m sure they have all grown from it, while gaining new friends as an added perk.

Hubbard Street + LINES Ballet at the Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph, through Sunday, March 17. Tickets are $25-$99; visit www.hubbardstreet.com or call 312.334.7777.

 

 

Chicago Dance 2012 Highlights

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre dancers in "Revelations". Photo by Christopher Duggan.

Nothing says end-of-the-year-review time quite like the last day of the year…am I right? My proficiency in procrastination aside, now is the time to reflect on the past year and look forward to new, exiting surprises in the next. Here’s my Dancin’ Feats year-end review for Windy City Times that came out last week noting 12 memorable performances/performers of 2012, but I wanted to add a few more things.

Looking back at my notes and programs from the year (yes, they are all in a pile, I mean filing system, in the corner of my bedroom) I am so thankful for all the wonderful dance I get to see. Narrowing it down to 12 “top whatevers” was not an easy task for there were too many people and performances to name. Here are some other performances that are still in my thoughts:

Alvin Ailey Dance Theater in Ohad Naharin’s Minus 16. Although Revelations is still amazing, seeing this company in more contemporary work was refreshing. And the audiences at Ailey performances are a show unto themselves.

Paris Opera Ballet and American Ballet Theatre‘s performances of Giselle were stellar for their star-studded casts on opening night, but ABT’s Sunday matinee with real-life couple Yuriko Kajiya and Jared Matthews stole my heart.

Luna Negra Dance Theater founder Eduardo Vilaro brought Ballet Hispanico to town with former Chicago dancers (Jamal Callender, Jessica  Wyatt and Vanessa Valecillos) back for a rep show at the Dance Center to much acclaim, while current director Gustavo Ramirez Sansano continues to take the company in new and fascinating directions.

The Seldoms, in their tenth year, deconstructed the Harris Theater and traipsed around the world to collaborate with WC Dance in Tapei, while tackling the ongoing arguments around climate change with artistic director Carrie Hanson’s trademark wit and intelligence.

Before Hubbard Street Dance Chicago turned 35 this fall, it said goodbye to retiring, beloved dancer Robyn Mineko Williams. Artistic Director Glenn Edgerton completed his goal of presenting all five master European choreographers in the rep with the acquisition of Mats Ek’s Casi-Casa. Ek’s work took the company to a new level, but I’m still haunted by their dancing in William Forsythe’s Quintett from the summer series.

The Joffrey Ballet performed Forsythe’s In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated in their regular season and at the Chicago Dancing Festival. I was proud to be an official CDF blogger for the second year in a row. New to the fest this year was Giordano Dance Chicago, now celebrating 50 years. And Muntu Dance Theatre of Chicago hit 40!

River North Dance Chicago dancer Ahmad Simmons deserves a mention for his work in Ashley Roland’s Beat, particularly his performance on the Pritzker Pavillion stage in Millenium Park.

Special thanks to Catherine Tully of 4dancers.org for her continuous and generous encouragement and insight. Thanks lady!

Dance writing-wise, I’m thankful for the opportunity to write for Front Desk Chicago, Windy City Times, 4dancers and Dance Magazine.

I could go on (and on…), but tomorrow is a new year and I look forward to seeing more incredible dancing and dancers in our most awesome city. Happy New Year!

 

Hubbard Street Shines in Ek’s Work

Hubbard Street dancers Ana Lopez and Alejandro Cerrudo in Mats Ek's "Casi-Casa". Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

Opening night of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago‘s Winter Series at the Harris Theater last night marked the first time a U.S. company has presented the work of Swedish master choreographer Mats Ek. Well-known in Europe for his theatrical creations for stage and film, Ek has worked with acclaimed dancers like Sylvie Guillem and Mikhail Baryshnikov. Now, with the help of dancers Ana Laguna and Mariko Aoyama, he takes our very own Hubbard Street dancers to new, extraordinary heights in his 2009 work Casi-Casa. A mash-up of two of his previous works, Appartement and Fluke, Casi was originally created for Danza Contemporánea de Cuba in 2009. Also on the program, Aszure Barton’s grand Untouched and two works by resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo.

Although last on the evening’s program, Ek’s Casi is what everyone came to see. Even founder Lou Conte was there to witness his company make history. And make history they did, for once they raised the bar for themselves, the audience, the city and the country by excelling in this work, they can never go back. The cast of 12 dancers was stellar, but it was the staging and choreography that transfixed. Casi-Casa was stunning, ugly, casual, urgent, funny, human, disturbing and wonderful. Ek’s way of taking a mundane gesture or activity and turning it into something alternately beautiful, endearing and disgusting is true brilliance. With a cast of misfit characters like TV Man, Vacuum Woman, Stove Couple and Door Couple, the 40-minute piece flies by and leaves you wondering just what the hell happened. No, really…WTF just happened? Poking, sniffing, sighing, spitting, grabbing and whistling mix easily with insanely difficult, breathtaking dancing set to a score as schizophrenic as the characters. Vacuum cleaner-wielding women dance an OCD-frenzied jig, a couple struggles to stay together while tragedy roasts in an oven, and a man makes being a couch potato an art form. The work has everything you never thought you’d see on stage in a dance and then some. There is a sexual undercurrent throughout – a hand to the breast, a foot to the crotch, a groping embrace – that is sometimes nonchalant, purposeful, sad and almost crude. One of the most beautiful moments was a delicate, loving duet between Jesse Bechard and David Schultz. A section with no dancing had yellow and black caution tape zig-zagged across the stage as Hitchcockianly dangerous music blared as if to say, what happens in between these walls should not be seen. But Ek lets us look anyway.

Barton’s Untouched is a beautiful work that brilliantly showcases these dancers talents. Originally created on Hubbard Street in 2010, Barton incorporated bits of the dancers personalities into the movement. Even though a few of the performers have changed, the delicate intimacy of the gestures remain, punctuated by strong technique and creative partnering. With a lush red curtain pulled back on stage right as a backdrop and an almost formal informality to the structure, it is reminiscent of Edwaard Liang’s Age of Innocence, but on LSD. It’s just a little off. Where Liang’s duets are pristine with a feminine sense of longing, Barton’s transforms the women – Ana Lopez and Kellie Epperheimer – into wounded birds seeking freedom. Where Liang works within the structured lines of Victorian court dances, Barton takes that framework and alters it with syncopation and weight. Unexpected moments of impatience – a fast hip bounce, a dancer frantically running in place – dot the more serene essence of the dance. The dancers are at home in this piece. Plus, anything that begins with the gorgeous Meredith Dincolo in a floor length dress is assured to be spectacular.

In between Barton and Ek was a suite of dances by Cerrudo. Both have his penchant for dark lighting and mood, but to different ends. Blanco, a study in minimalist movement for four women, and PACOPEPEPLUTO, a tongue-in-cheek romp for three men to Dean Martin songs, highlight the rising choreographer’s serious and light sides. Both used similar movement vocabulary with results at the opposite ends of the dance spectrum. The audience seemed in awe of the raw physical beauty of the women, but the charming men – Johnny McMillan, Schultz and Pablo Piantino – captured their hearts wearing nothing but dance belts. Recently named to Crain’s Chicago Business’ “40 Under 40″ list, Cerrudo shows what he can do with just music, lighting and bodies. While all the dancers deserve high praise, Cerrudo gets a special mention. With his busy schedule traveling the world setting his work, he hasn’t graced the Harris stage – aside from choreographic bows – since last March. He showed that he still has the chops to hang with and stand out in this amazing group of dancers. Bravo!

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s Winter Series runs through Sunday, Dec. 9 at the Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph. For a 20% discount on tickets use the code: CASI at www.hubbardstreetdance.com/winter.

Hubbard St Shatters Own Glass Ceiling

Hubbard St dancer Jonathan Fredrickson in Alejandro Cerrudo's "One Thousand Pieces". Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

The lights dim, the audience settles and music begins to play. The tone is set for an evening of wonder and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago does not disappoint. One Thousand Pieces, inspired by Marc Chagall’s America Windows at the Art Institute of Chicago, celebrates the company’s 35th anniversary season with the first full-length work for the company and the first full-evening work by one choreographer – resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo – around a central theme. Bringing both the main company and HS2 dancers on stage together for this world premiere, Cerrudo takes this world-renowned company to a new level of its ever-reaching creative heights.

The curtain opens at the Harris Theater to a lone dancer (Jonathan Fredrickson, hanging briefly on to the ascending curtain) in front of stunning visuals. Blue hues flood the stage highlighting moveable set pieces, some opaque, some clear, some reflective, that look like staggered pieces of glass. A special mirrored Marley floor adds to the reflection/glass theme. Costumes are subdued with dark sheer tunics with a hint of pink or blue underneath for the ladies and dark blue pants with sheer black shirts for the men. The score, a collage of music from Philip Glass and designed by Cerrudo, completes the mood. Once the awe of the scene takes hold. The audience is ready for the dance.

Dancers slide in and out of duets, trios and group work with control and ease. Cerrudo features some – Ana Lopez and Garrett Anderson in frequent, lovely duets threaded throughout, Fredrickson, Jacqueline Burnett, Jessica Tong, Meredith Dincolo and Jesse Bechard – but it’s the moments with all 24 dancers on stage together that really make an impact. The end of Part 1 has everyone doing the same movement, but in alternating directions off three vertical lines having a reflective effect – aided with the mirrors behind them – as if they are multiplying. An interlude between Parts 1 and 2 has Fredrickson floating above the audience like the spirit “Ariel” in The Tempest (from a way too visible harness) reciting a romantic text from an excerpt of Glass’ Einstein on the Beach: Knee Play 5 (*full text below). It could be a nod to the angel or literary figure from the Windows, but that seems to literal for Cerrudo. It’s more likely a love letter to art, to dance, to Glass, to his company, to his fellow dancers and to the audience.

Hubbard St dancers in Alejandro Cerrudo's "One Thousand Pieces". Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

Part 2 brings together the brilliance of the choreography, sets, costumes (both by Thomas Mika), lighting (Michael Korsch), special effects (fog courtesy of Big Shoulders Productions) and dancing in a perfect storm of magic. Shining sparkles dot the floor looking like someone scattered shattered glass across the stage. As dancers move across, the realization hits that it’s water. Three light/fog columns flow down like waterfalls and dancers appear through them from the darkened stage behind to dance in the water. Simply gorgeous.

With that visual still in mind, the shock of intermission was a disappointment and it was a bit difficult to get that vibe back for Part 3, which continued with fantastic dancing from the entire Hubbard Street crew. All the dancers brought their A-game (new company members Laura O’Malley and Quinn Wharton fit in seemlessly), but the true star of the show was Cerrudo himself.  If he’s thinking about topping this any time soon, he better get started now. Wow.

One of the dancers posted to “come get lost” on his Facebook page yesterday. It’s easy to get lost in this world Cerrudo creates completely. A program note quotes Chagall, “Stained glass has to be serious and passionate. It is something elevating and exhilarating.” Serious, passionate, elevating, exhilarating – the perfect description of One Thousand Pieces.

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago presents One Thousand Pieces at the Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph St., through Sunday, October 21. Tickets are $25-$99. Call 312.850.9744 or visit hubbardstreetdance.com.

Harris Theater box office: 312.334.7777.

*Original text source: Samuel Johnson:

The day with its cares and perplexities is ended and the night is now upon us. The night should be a time of peace and tranquility, a time to relax and be calm. We have need of a soothing story to banish the disturbing thoughts of the day, to set at rest our troubled minds, and put at ease our ruffled spirits.

And what sort of story shall we hear ? Ah, it will be a familiar story, a story that is so very, very old, and yet it is so new. It is the old, old story of love.

Two lovers sat on a park bench with their bodies touching each other, holding hands in the moonlight.

There was silence between them. So profound was theire love for each other, they needed no words to express it. And so they sat in silence, on a park bench, with their bodies touching, holding hands in the moonlight.

Finally she spoke. “Do you love me, John ?” she asked. “You know I love you. darling,” he replied. “I love you more than tongue can tell. You are the light of my life. my sun. moon and stars. You are my everything. Without you I have no reason for being.”

Again there was silence as the two lovers sat on a park bench, their bodies touching, holding handls in the moonlight. Once more she spoke. “How much do you love me, John ?” she asked. He answered : “How’ much do I love you ? Count the stars in the sky. Measure the waters of the oceans with a teaspoon. Number the grains of sand on the sea shore. Impossible, you say. Yes and it is just as impossible for me to say how much I love you.

“My love for you is higher than the heavens, deeper than Hades, and broader than the earth. It has no limits, no bounds. Everything must have an ending except my love for you.”

There was more of silence as the two lovers sat on a park bench with their bodies touching, holding hands in the moonlight.

Once more her voice was heard. “Kiss me, John” she implored. And leaning over, he pressed his lips warmly to hers in fervent osculation…

Johnny-Come-Lately

HSDC dancer Johnny McMillan in "Quintett". Photo by Cheryl Mann.

The past few weeks have been pretty good for Johnny McMillan.  In late April, he was promoted from HS2, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago‘s (HSDC) second company, to the main company.  He was immediately cast in William Forsythe’s Quintett (a big fucking deal), which he danced with veteran company members in the Summer Series at the Harris Theater earlier this month.  In addition to Forsythe, he performed a tiny part in resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo’s Malditos – “I was a cross-over girl.” – and sections of the group work by Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin THREE TO MAX.  He’s now setting a new work for HSDC’s in-house choreographic workshop Inside/Out, which will be the third piece he’s made since joining HS2 in 2010.  Did I mention he’s only 20?

That’s a lot to absorb for his petite 5’6″ frame, but he’s enjoying every minute.  “I wasn’t really nervous for Malditos at first, because I was just going on stage and doing three counts of eight,” he said last week from HSDC’s West Loop studio.  “But the first night, I run out on stage, slide, and my whole body goes ‘oh no, there are people here’.  That’s when it hit me.  I’m dancing with the main company.  Everything I’ve wanted in dance is happening.” That he got to dance a Forsythe piece in his first show is a testament to his talent and maturity.  Dancing alongside Ana Lopez, Alejandro Cerrudo, Jacqueline Burnett and Jesse Bechard, McMillan fit right in.  “It was a surreal experience,” he said.  “The nice thing about starting with Forsythe was…it wasn’t directed at the audience.  From the moment you’re on stage, you don’t have time to think about anything but the people you’re dancing with and what you’re doing.  That was nice.  It was just being on stage for 25 minutes and having a blast.  That’s the most fun I’ve ever had with a piece.”

Hitting the ground running, so to speak, he’s already learning tons of rep like Twyla Tharp’s speedy marathon Scarlatti and Sharon Eyal’s brain-twister Too Beacoup, while also rehearsing the three works he’ll perform at Inside/Out, as well as setting a solo on HSDC dancer Penny Saunders set to “Goin’ Out of My Head” by Little Anthony and the Imperials.  “It’s really groovy.  We were in Kansas (on tour) in the airport and I heard this song.  I was outside smoking a cigarette and it was on and – shazam! – this is it”, McMillan said.  “I’m really liking the solo and everything Penny is doing with it.  He’s taking a new approach with this piece, working more with improv than strict, set steps and patterns.  Inspired by memories of entertaining his parent as a child and watching videos of HS2 artistic director Taryn Kaschock Russell’s son Donovan, McMillan found his groove.  “Kids have this carelessness.  It’s always about the music.  I really want to play with this lack of counts and just hearing and feeling the music…not even choreographing to the music, but the way it makes you feel.”

McMillan’s work premieres this weekend along with 17 new works from HSDC dancers and artistic staff in the intimate UIC Theater.  Tickets are still available, but going quickly.  The thing I find most intriguing about Inside/Out and new works programs (there are a ton in Chicago) is that when the tables are turned and the dancers have the opportunity to create the movement, you really get a glimpse at who they are as people, not just as performers.  Don’t miss this chance to see you favorite HSDC-ers in a new light.

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago presents Inside/Out at the UIC Theater, 1044 W. Harrison St, Saturday, June 23 at 5 & 8 pm.  Tickets are $20 ($35 for VIP, $15 for students).  Call 312.850.9744 or visit www.hubbardstreet.com.

 

Thoughts on HSDC’s Summer Series 2012

In a word:  brilliant.  The dancers, the dancing, the choreography, the curation – all of it.  Hubbard Street Dance Chicago‘s (HSDC) Summer Series opened last night at the Harris Theater with a three-work program that solidified the company as an elite group of dancers at the top of their field.  Breaking new ground as the first U.S. company to perform William Forsythe’s Quintett, HSDC proved (again) they have the chops to tackle anything.  HSDC resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo’s cross-company collaboration with HSDC and Nederlands Dans Theatre Malditos and Batsheva Dance Company artistic director Ohad Naharin’s 2011 mash-up of previous works THREE TO MAX bookended Forysythe’s piece for a full, lush, well-rounded evening.

Malditos is a study in shadows.  Dark lighting is a tool Cerrudo uses often, but never with as great effect as in this work.  The dancers slip in and out of the darkness like ghosts appearing and disappearing at the edges of your mind.  The score from the film The Beat That My Heart Skipped by Alexandre Desplat beautifully compliments his    choreography.  The end, where an almost naked Ana Lopez dances duets with three interchangeable men, is breathtaking.  The dancing continues as the lights fade out and back in as a different partner joins her.  Each partner touches her with the top of his head, but she reacts differently to each touch eventually taking over and touching one back with her head before they melt to the ground together as the lights fade.  The duets throughout are stunning displays of love and trust studded with architectural partnering and razor-like technique.  Cerrudo holds his own next to master choreographers Forsythe and Naharin.

The performance of Quintett was transformational.  What these five dancers (Meredith Dincolo, Penny Saunders, Jonathan Fredrickson, Jesse Bechard and Kevin Shannon) created on stage was extraordinary.  They are always good, but this was something truly special.  A looped score of a homeless man singing “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet” created a base canvas for the movement to take life.  The repetition let you focus on the relationship of the five characters.  Simple ballet moves like a tendu devant or a double pirouette seemed to take on new meaning.  The piece was created in 1993 in collaboration with five of Forsythe’s dancers.  Three of the original cast – Dana Caspersen, Stephen Galloway and Thomas McManus – worked with the HSDC dancers to set the work over the past few weeks.  The connection, emotion and energy of the dancers was palpable.  Bechard, a strong presence in all three pieces on the program, at times simply defied gravity.  One quiet moment as Saunders rested her head on Bechard’s back for a couple of seconds let the audience catch their breath before being sucked back in to the wonderful whirlwind happening on stage.

Naharin’s piece has the dancers clad in simple jeans and colorful tank and tees. Dressed as civilians, the dancers seemed stripped down to their bare essence.  They were open, honest, subtle, sensual, vulnerable.  Human.  The rich movement sections captured their talents and personalities.  At one point a dancer looks at his hands and then extends them to the audience, giving us what’s there as if saying “here, this is who I am”.  The counting section (where the dancers ascribe a movement to a number as a voice counts to ten, adding new movements each time the counting starts over) and a partially improvised follow-the-leader sections are stand outs.

Three shows remain in the Summer Series.  I highly recommend it.

For ticket information:  hubbardstreet.com, call 312.850.9744 or visit the Harris Theater box office at 205 E. Randolph. 

Thoughts on HSDC Spring Series 2012

HSDC dancers Jesse Bechard & Ana Lopez in Alejandro Cerrudo's "Little mortal jump". Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

As usual, the dancers of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago (HSDC) ruled the Harris Theater stage last weekend. Shocking, right?  First, they were performing two works from last season I already liked, plus a world premiere by resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo.  It was safe to assume, I would be a goner. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no push over.  In fact, it usually takes a lot to impress me, but these dancers seem to always knock it out of the park with energy, style, finesse and a humbleness that belies their collective and individual talents.

Alonzo King’s Following the Subtle Current Upstream, kicked off the performances.  The LINES director set his work on the company last spring and with a year to play inside the choreography, the dancers seem more comfortable and willing to take more risks.  There were a few wobbles in the first all-male section on Thursday, which could be attributed to last minute, lingering opening night nerves or they were really pushing it.  The piece grew stronger with every section as the dancers took bigger risks with the movement. (I’m not sure, but I think one of them even danced right off the marley for a second.)  Kevin Shannon – looking buff – has really grown in the work.  His solo ending the piece was strong and daring.  The duet danced by Penny Saunders and Cerrudo (Thurs) and Kellie Epperheimer and Jesse Bechard (Sunday) is the highlight of the work.  The Cerrudo/Saunders relationship was comfortable, secure and trusting, while Bechard/Epperheimer showed a fresh tension and sensuality.  The same choreography telling two opposing stages of love.  Cerrudo expertly navigates the stage dragging, pulling, lifting and stopping Saunders as if he is a compass guiding her back home.  Bechard lets Epperheimer take the lead offering support, helping her go where she yearns to be.  Also returning from last season was Sharon Eyal’s Too Beaucoup.  Think avant garde aliens acclimating to a futuristic Midwest 8th grade mixer.

It was the duet in Cerrudo’s premiere, Little mortal jump, that still has me transfixed.  Coming at the end of several vignettes in a shadowy haze of black, white and gray, the duet transports the audience to a different realm at one point even transcending time.  The slow motion sequence in the last minutes of the work makes you feel like you were in the movie Inception, taking your breath away with aching emotions, elegant reaches and its technical defiance of gravity.  Bechard again shows his partnering prowess, this time dancing with the exquisite Ana Lopez.   Cerrudo’s love of movies and music front and center in the short “film” clips hinting at past works melded with an eclectic hand-picked score that was spot on. The final image of the couple in a downlit lift center stage after pushing the through a wall of moveable black boxes was stunning.  As they run off into the darkness upstage, the other dancers send the boxes spinning before exiting themselves.  The moment was spectacular warranting a standing ovation for Cerrudo and crew at both shows.

I met a new friend  at intermission.  Max had never been to see a dance performance before.  (Way to start at the top!)  Let’s just say he was impressed.