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.

 

Hubbard Street Premieres Fluence (preview)

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in Robyn Mineko Williams' "Fluence". Photo by Quinn B Wharton.

This Thursday, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago presents its Fall Series at the Harris Theater. Opening this Thursday and running through Sunday, the program features two returning works from master choreographers Mats Ek and Ohad Naharin, plus the world premiere of Alejandro Cerrudo’s Cloudless and the Chicago premiere of Robyn Mineko Williams’ new work Fluence, which premiered last month in Minneapolis, MN.

Williams received the news in August that she is the recent recipient of the 2013-2014 Princess Grace Choreography Fellowship Award. “It’s bonkers,” she said. “I’m still shocked about it, but I’m really excited.” The grant money that goes with the award went to fund this new work for nine dancers. As a former Hubbard Street dancer, she knows the dancers well and set to work putting together a creative team. Robert (Robbie) F. Haynes composed an original score, Burke Brown provided his expertise in lighting and fashion designer Hogan McLaughlin created intricate costumes. “My creative team has been so awesome,” said Williams. “They’re all so open to anything I have to say and they’re geniuses on their own. They’re cool, laid back people. I think that’s why I stayed so calm throughout the process.”

According to Williams, the definition of fluence “is a stream of particles crossing a unit area, usually express as the number of particles per second”. Another definition references magical/mystical influence. “I thought both were apropos for the work,” she said. She was inspired by the ideas of individualism and solitude and the creative team took off from that. “We’re still learning how we collaborate,” said Williams. “We’re kind of going from our guts. It’s instinctual.”

The fact that her work is being presented along with choreographers like Ek and Naharin, not to mention her colleague Cerrudo, could make a girl nervous, but she is only grateful. “It’s cool. I feel really lucky to have this opportunity. If I’m doing anything, I’m just trying to be myself.”

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s Fall Series at the Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph St., Thursday-Sunday, Oct 10-13. Performance times vary. Tickets are $25-$99; call 312.850.9744 or visit hubbardstreetdance.com/fall.

 

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’s 2013-2014 Season

Hubbard Street dancers Jessica Tong and Jesse Bechard in Alejandro Cerrudo's "One Thousand Pieces". Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

Kylián, Naharin, Ek, Duato, Forsythe. Five big names – perhaps the biggest – in European-based choreography will be represented by Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in the 2013-2014 season. Add in a reprise of resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo’s full company, Chagall-inspired One Thousand Pieces, plus a world premiere from him next June and it looks to be another amazing season for the 36-year-old troupe. All performance will be held at the Harris Theater (205 E. Randolph).

I’m super stoked about getting to see One Thousand Pieces again. I was very melancholy leaving the theater last year, after seeing it for the second time. I didn’t want it to be over. Set to music by Philip Glass, Cerrudo creates a vivid, beautifully surreal world in water, glass and blue.

Over the years, Hubbard Street has challenged me to expand and/or change my perception and likes/dislikes of choreography. Some of my favorite works now are from choreographers I had never heard of growing up in Central Illinois. It will be interesting (and fun!) to see which of the five superstar international choreographers will come out on top at the end of next season. (Front runner: Forsythe, by a hair.)

Former Hubbard Street dancer Robyn Mineko Williams, now making quite a name for herself as a choreographer, will also create a new work for the company to premiere in October. Also of note, Terence Marling will succeed Taryn Kaschock Russell as the new director of HS2 – congrats!! – and Lucas Crandall returns to Chicago to fill Marling’s former role as Hubbard Street’s rehearsal director.

Fall Series – October 10-13, 2013: Passomezzo (Ohad Naharin), new work (Robyn Mineko Williams), Casi-Casa (Mats Ek), and the Compass quintet from AZIMUTH (Alonzo King).

Winter Series - December 12-15, 2013: One Thousand Pieces (Alejandro Cerrudo).

Spring Series – March 13-16, 2014: All Kylián! Sarabande, Falling Angels, 27’52″, and Petite Mort.

Summer SeriesGnawa (Nacho Duato), Quintett (William Forsythe), world premiere (Cerrudo).

Benjamin Wardell/The Nexus Project: It’s Complicated

Benjamin Wardell and Michel Cintra.

It starts with two men working with 12 different choreographers separately, then they take the material and remix it. In the meantime, funds need to be raised, a venue found and confirmed and the final product created. Much like the mind behind The Nexus Project – it’s complicated. Benjamin Wardell is not new to the Chicago dance world. He danced with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago for four seasons in a wide range of works by Nacho Duato, Alonzo King and many by resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo, among others. After he left Hubbard Street, most thought he’d retired from dance and/or moved away. Lucky for us, he didn’t.

Before coming to Chicago, the Memphis-native danced for the Cincinnati Ballet and Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet. Now a freelance dancer (a touring stint with Azure Barton and Artists and currently with Lucky Plush Productions), he’s also teaching at Extensions Dance Center, Visceral Dance Center and occasionally at Lou Conte Dance Center. He’s the official videographer for Luna Negra Dance Theater and River North Dance Chicago as well as a freelance photographer. He also does repetiteur work setting piece from the Hubbard Street rep around the country and is in charge of the company’s summer intensive program in Iowa. “I’m all over the place,” he said. “For me, that’s great. My brain is in 20 places at once. Whenever I would get into a company, I would eventually feel compressed by the lack of variety. Even just going in the same building every day. Now, I’m in so may place that I stay calm to make sure I don’t forget anything. That lifestyle works better for my internal make-up.”  For the upcoming project he’s teaming up with dancer Michel Rodriguez Cintro (of Hedwig Dances) and a dozen local choreographers for an exciting and ambitious project tentatively scheduled to premiere later this fall.

RB sat down with Wardell earlier this year to talk about his career, past and present.

Hubbard Street is currently in collaboration with Alonzo King/LINES Ballet. You’ve previously said that working with Alonzo for a long period of time is transformative and that it changes the way you dance. Is it also emotionally taxing?

Yes. He pushes really hard. The work is not particularly emotive, but it’s emotionally taxing because you’re always pushing really hard. He expects you to always be generating thought. In a way, your creativity with your movement maxes out, because he always wants it to be different every time and you perform the same piece like 130 times, but if you do it the same 2 or 3 times, he’ll call you out on it. “You need to explore that section of movement in a different way.” Part of the transformation was how to get creative doing the same movements and embracing the constant change. One of the good things is it prevents that subtle death of the choreography where it starts to look comfortable.

When you decided to leave Hubbard Street, what was going through your head?

I started to realize I wasn’t built for companies. It’s becoming easier to freelance and the sound of being in control of what I was doing was appealing. I thought it was pliable for me to do. I got to the point where I’d achieved all my institutional goals. At this point, I’d rather make something new that’s a “swing and a miss” than do a masterpiece that was made for someone else. I found myself at this place where I wanted to be generating stuff rather than learning choreography. That combined with I was getting into video and photo work and wanted to explore those avenues. I needed to be on my own in a way that I could do a lot of things. I had a vague thought about wanting to produce work, but that was the least part of my original plans. 

Why did you call the new project The Nexus Project?

I’d been calling it the “Two Man Show” since it’s inception, but I though that was a little generic for product packaging. I talked to a friend of mine that does marketing and he said I should have an overarching name. “The Nexus Project” was the first thing I came up with. The idea for the project, having all the choreographers and an open rehearsal process for the second half, is that the two of us, rather than being in a bubble, are the crossing point for all the spokes.

How did you pick Michel?

He choreographed for The A.W.A.R.D.S. Show and I was like “who the fuck is this guy and how have I lived here for two years and not know him?” I saw Chino (Michel’s nickname) dance and was shocked that he would be in this city and I had no idea. So I introduced myself. I need to find another guy that I can share the stage with for an hour and be on even ground with and who is available to do the amount of rehearsals needed. That list was short, because of all the demands.

How did you pick the choreographers (*listed below)?

It took me three or four months to hash out the project, it was a pretty slow process. It started off with just wanting to explore male duets. So a two-man show, then I started to think about my particular strengths and weaknesses. I’m not good with or particularly good at generating movement. That was a bit tricky. So what if I work with other choreographers? What am I good at? Outside of dancing, my secondary talent or other interest is coordinating people and finding connections between disparate parts, partly because my brain exists in that place. The way that things connect is how I see thing. I love complexity, so I should make a complicated process, because I’m going to feel at home in it. It’s going to tap into my capacity spectrum. Part of it was wanting to deal with the hierarchy of dance. Every choreography has a different methodology, but the way dance gets made is essentially the same in terms of the choreographer coming into the room and being in charge and making a piece and then leaving. That basic structure doesn’t really change. I’ve never been in a process that has more choreographers than dancers. Let’s try that. And, frankly, I just like the number 12.

Is there a choreographic theme to the show?

No. This is one of the aspects of the show that I’m most proud of – the process. It wasn’t one of my goals, it’s something I realized had happened once the process was set. The 12 choreographers have that truly rare consequence-free environment. That have two dancers who can do pretty much anything they can come up with, who are willing to try whatever, from the most risky to the most strange. We will do whatever you ask us with zero judgment. They get 12 hours of rehearsal each and they get to keep the work, but they’ve given us permission to use them. The choreographers came from wanting to represent the community, to give credit to all the stuff going on. I want people to have total freedom. At the end of February, whether they’ve finished their piece or not, I’m done with that phase of the project and need to move onto the second, which is the remixing process, an open rehearsal process (for donors) and putting the show together. A big part of why the second part is open is that studio time is our favorite time as dancers and yet we never let anyone in. 

What are your hopes for The Nexus Project?

In terms of the final show and guaranteeing it being not terrible, priority number one is “Don’t Suck!” Especially if you’re trying something new. It’s terrifying because this is all my little new idea and I haven’t had any experience with it aside from having a choreographer set work on me. The basis of the show that will make it at the very least not a waste of time, is that they’re going to come see some good damn dancing. You’re going to see two real good male dancers who are real good at dancing with each other and can hold a 60-70 minute show no matter what we’re doing. I felt like we would get better at dancing together more quickly if we had to work with a bunch of different choreographers than if we were spending the same number of hours just doing our own thing. It’s hard to avoid self-indulgence when you’re totally in charge. Having to go from style to style, I feel like we’ve gotten to know each other’s dancing fairly quickly.

For more details on The Nexus Project and to donate to the Kickstarter campaign (ends Wednesday, Jan. 23!) click here.

*Choreographers include: Harrison McEldowney, Francisco Avina, Autumn Eckman, Robyn Mineko Williams, Julia Rhoads, Penny Saunders, Ron De Jesus, Jonathan Meyer and Julia Rae Antonick (Kechari), Nicolas Blanc, Jonathan Fredrickson, Matthew McMunn and Daniel “Brave Monk” Haywood.

 

Robyn Leaving The Nest

Robyn Mineko Williams. Photo by Cheryl Mann.

This weekend Hubbard Street Dance Chicago (HSDC) presents its Summer Series at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance (May 31-June 3).  The three-piece program concludes another stellar season for the group and sets the bar high for next season, their 35th.   Another conclusion this weekend is the tenure with the company of dancer Robyn Mineko Williams.  The matinee on Sunday, June 3rd will be her last Chicago performance with HSDC.  (She will dance with them this summer at the American Dance Festival – June 29-30 and on tour in Aspen, CO. – July 6-7.)  The three-piece, mixed program includes HSDC Resident Choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo’s cross-company collaboration with Nederlands Dans Theater (NDT) Malditos, the U.S. premiere of William Forsythe‘s lush, emotional Quintett and Ohad Naharin‘s choreographic mash-up THREE TO MAX.  Williams, always a stand out in Naharin’s works, will dance this final piece for her HSDC finale.  ”She’s done a lot of Ohad’s work.  It’s kind of her forte,” says HSDC Artistic Director Glenn Edgerton.  ”Robyn is a fantastic force of nature in everything she does.  I might start crying…I love her.  She’s a special lady.”  The feeling is mutual.  Williams tears up multiple times talking about leaving Edgerton and the dancers she adores.  Anyone witnessing her dance feels like they know her.  She’s a friend, a sister, a lover.  She dances with open, honest, heartfelt grace.  Her eyes sparkle with a sly, wickedness that intrigues, making you want to know all her secrets.

On this Memorial Day, along with celebrating those who serve our country and those who have sacrificed their lives serving, RB gives tribute  to Williams who has  danced in the Chicago-area her entire life, first in Lombard, as a scholarship student at Lou Conte Dance Studio, for four years with River North Dance Chicago and as a HSDC company member since 2000.  ”I’ve been here forever,” she says from the company’s West Loop studios.  ”This was my 12th season.  It’s been awesome.  When you’re dancing with the company so full-time, it’s all-encompassing.  I feel like I’m ready to take on new challenges.”  When asked what she’s going to to next, before answering, she shrugs and giggles.  ”I know I want to stay in the dance realm and I want to keep choreographing.  I’d love to perform still, just at a different intensity level.”  Her choreography will keep her connected to HSDC.  HS2 continues to perform Harold and the Purple Crayon:  A Dance Adventure, which she co-created with HSDC Rehearsal Director Terry Marling,  and they may be adding Recall, her piece from last season’s danc(e)volve to their rep.

RB sat down with Williams early one morning before company class.

What was the reaction when you told everyone?

Oh…(tears), I’m choked up just thinking about leaving the people.  Every week Glenn asks if I”m sure this is really what I want to do, so I have to be strong in my decision.  I adore him so much.  These small opportunities I’ve had over the last few years with “Harold’”, danc(e)volve and the Art Institute, I’ve realized that I love the challenges of making new things and collaborating with different artists in different mediums.  That’s something I’d love to be able to do more of.  It’s difficult when you’re in a company.

Are there artists you’d like to work with?

Aszure (Barton).  I’d love to work with her again.  I’ve gone to a couple of auditions…trying to put my feelers out.  It’s such a shockingly different world for me.  It’s such a different way of thinking.  I still love dance and I’m not ready to leave it.  I’m ready to see what else is out there and work on collaborations.  I feel like I’m being a little naive and risky taking this leap, but one day it all focused in for me and I thought “this is right”.  I’m open to change.  I’m hoping something comes my way.

You know, they’re auditioning for Disney princesses down the hall today.

Hmm…maybe I should break out my 16 bars.

What were some of your favorite pieces at HSDC?

“Minus 16″, because I grew up with that piece.  It’s the piece that’s in me the most – that I know the most.  I got to do it with so many different people.

Did Ohad come set it on you?

Yes, that’s why it has a special place.  Ohad and Mari (Kajiwara) came.  They were here for about a month and it was this intense workshop process.  It was the first big thing I did with the company.  It was really a game-changer for me.  

What else?

I loved doing “Passomezzo” (Naharin).  I felt like that was a chance that was given to me to hold some ground.  ”Walking Mad” (Johan Inger), “Gimme” (Lucas Crandall), “Lickety-Split” (Cerrudo).  These pieces are some of the pieces where I felt like someone was giving me a chance.  Jorma Elo (“From All Sides”, “Bitter Suite”), he really played a pivotal role for me in the way I approached movement.  His words, though sometimes few are very softly spoken, resonated strongly and allowed me to perceive and explore in ways I never had before.  Super cool experience.

Can you tell me a little something about each of the directors you’ve worked with at HSDC?  Something they taught you…

Lou (Conte)…I worked with him, technically, for like a month, but I grew up with him.  He taught me to be strong.  You have to have a certain level of confidence in yourself to be successful.  Jim (Vincent), in a similar vein, had the ability to make your attributes work for you, especially in your frame of dance.  Take advantage of what you have and explore those qualities, because that’s what makes you special.  Glenn…I’m not crying…he’s taught me so much.  He instilled such trust…(crying)…

So, your last show…

Chicago, then ADF and Aspen.  I think Aspen will be my last show.  My Mom will be there.  They’re doing “Harold”, so the second company will be there.  I’m excited about the Chicago show.  I have the opportunity to go out doing something I’m proud of and that represents what I do.  I’m excited.  I hope I don’t get too crazy and fall off the stage.

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago Summer Series, Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph Dr., Thursday, May 31 – Sunday, June 3.  Tickets are $25-$94.  Call 312.850.9744 or visit www.hubbardstreetdance.com.

Thoughts on HSDC’s danc(e)volve – for real!

Johnny McMillan in "Never was" by Alejandro Cerrudo. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

Over the weekend on the MCA Stage, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago (HSDC) presented nine new works created by HSDC dancers/choreographers and the winners of HSDC’s 2010 National Choreographic Competition. danc(e)volve – preview here – proved to be an interesting and intimate look into what makes HSDC tick: its artists.  Tickets for the four shows were sold out early, but there are tickets still available for the upcoming shows this weekend except for Saturday, which is already sold out.  (Hint: get your tickets now!)

Unlike most HSDC programs, this new works festival serves up multiple shorter pieces averaging 15-minutes a pop.  It’s like going to your favorite restaurant for a five-course chef tasting.  You aren’t sure what you’re going to get, but you’re confident you’re going to like it.  Unlike a big, gluttonous meal like an Ohad Naharin work, with a number of smaller pieces, you get varying tastes:  an amuse bouche, a palette cleanser, complex notes, sweet and light and the one course that wow’s you.  If you don’t like one course, something completely different is coming next.  (Hmm…note to self:  remember to eat before the show!)

Each work in danc(e)volve looked remarkably like the dancers that choreographed them, which is testament to their honesty as an artist.  The natural way they move embedding itself into their art.  Many took the opportunity to play with traditional conventions, pushing the definition of what the audience is used to seeing.  Lighting effects – shout out to lighting designer Matt Miller! – (downstage footlights creating shadows on the back wall), entrances and exits (utilizing the side door in the audience), even starting/ending points (music beginning in darkness or the dance ending in darkness, while the music still plays).  Some were greeted with tentative applause (is it over?), others with a murmur of surprised approval.

Resident Choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo’s duet Never was, at seven minutes one of the shortest pieces, served as the main course of each program.    Placed in the middle of Programs A and B, his newest work takes trademark moves (a quick sauté in second, a perky parallel pop up like a pencil, a partnered promenade slide in plié) and distills them into their purest essence.  You see moments of Cerrudo’s previous works woven in and watch as he hones his craft before your eyes.  Straight up props to Emile Leriche and Johnny McMillan (two of the younger dancers in HS2) for their strong showing in this dense, intense piece.

Other pieces of note:  Robyn Mineko Williams’ Recall,  a techno-infused meditation on memory with some breaking tossed in for fun; Penny Saunder’s humorous and slightly creepy Vaudevillian  Bonobo; and Terry Marling’s thrice, which completely transformed from its previous incarnation, twice (once) that premiered last December.   Many of the works used the dancers from HS2.  It was nice to see the younger dancers perform at home (they tour a LOT) and in challenging works made by their HSDC mentors.

Hubbard Street presents danc(e)volve, Jan 26 – 29

MCA Stage, 220 E Chicago, 312.397.4010

Hubbard Street Evolving

HS2 dancers Johnny McMIllan & Nicholas Korkos in Clébio Oliveira's "The Fantastic Escape of the Little Buffalo". Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

The West Loop studios housing Hubbard Street Dance Chicago (HSDC) were bustling last week when I stopped by in preparation for dance(e)volve, a two-program, two-weekend set of performances showcasing in-house choreography opening tonight on the MCA Stage.  Bad news up front:   this weekend’s show are already SOLD OUT!  Tickets are still available, but going at lightening speed, for next week’s run (Jan 26 – 29).

As a natural evolutionary step from HSDC’s Inside/Out Choreographic Workshop that is held every summer, Artistic Director Glenn Edgerton picked certain pieces from last year to be expanded, reworked and presented in the MCA’s intimate theater.  Along with the HSDC and HS2 choreographers, two National Choreographic Competition winners from 2011 will show new works.  HSDC company member Penny Saunders takes inspiration from Vaudeville traveling shows, while Clébio Oliveira ponders the human/animal connection.  New dances from Jonathan Fredrickson, Alice Klock, Johnny McMillan, Robyn Mineko Williams, Taryn Kaschock Russell, Terence Marling as well as a duet by HSDC Resident Choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo also appear on the programs.

Williams’ and McMillan’s works are featured on Program A (Jan 19,20 & 28,29).  I sat in on rehearsals for these very different pieces.  Williams showed her choreographic chops by teaming up with Marling for last year’s hit Harold and the Purple Crayon.  Her new work, Recall stems off the concept of memory.  “I’m fascinated by how different memories work and from one scene people have a similar memory, but a different perspective.”  Set to a driving beat by The Chromatics and an original score by Chris Menth (parts are reminiscent of Canadian band Men Without Hats classic song Safety Dance), the 15-minute piece combines walking in a maze-like patterns and shifts in tempo where some dancers move in slow motion.  It reminded me of the inner workings of a clock, only with Williams’ smooth dance style and personality showing through.  “Glenn wanted me to try something different from Inside/Out,” she says.  “I walked into the studio with no ideas, no music…nothing.  I worked like that for three days.  It’s amazing what starts to develop in such a short time.  With these dancers, they bring so much to the table that it’s much easier for the choreographer.”  Williams’ piece has a techno rewind vibe, but McMillan’s new work Path and Observations takes a more earthy, grounded path.  With a soundscape of Sami folkloric music (Pekka Lehti, Mari Boine), he incorporates autumnal leaves and emotional movement with moments of stillness.  “The first 40 seconds of the piece are two people on stage in stillness,” McMillan (who just turned 20 on Tuesday) tell me.  “It allows the audience to take in everything, to sit there and think, maybe go off in their own thoughts before they have to watch the dancing.”  Promoted from apprentice to HS2 this season, he’s always been interested in choreography and created his first dance at age 16.  “It was a ballet piece with 21 girls.  It wasn’t very good.  There were a lot of bourrés.”  He’s excited to see his new work on the stage this week and is a perfect example of the creative evolution from Inside/Out to danc(e)volve.

Hubbard Street presents danc(e)volve: Jan 19-22 & 26-29

MCA Stage, 220 E. Chicago, 312.397.4010, Tickets are $35

 

 

Adventures in Dance

"Moniquilla and the Thief of Laughter". Photo by German Anton.

This weekend, two local dance companies are staging children’s shows set to entertain both kids and adults alike.  Hubbard Street Dance Chicago‘s (HSDC) second company, HS2 brings back last year’s hit Harold and the Purple Crayon at the Harris Theater and Luna Negra Dance Theater (LNDT) launches its children’s dance series Luna Niños with the Chicago premiere of Monaquilla and the Thief of Laughter at Stage 773.  Both one-hour performances are interactive, incorporate video projections and designed specifically for young audiences.  Ticket for both shows are $15.

HS2 premiered Harold in 2010 at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC and then to packed houses here in Chicago (read my preview here).  This year’s show based on the beloved children’s book by Crockett Johnson promises a new cast and vamped up lighting design (Mattew Miller) to compliment the sets and projections (Ryan Wineinger) and costumes (Rebecca Shouse).  Chicago composer Andrew Bird provides the music with HSDC dancer Robyn Mineko Williams and HSDC Artistic Associate Terence Marling choreographing.

Moniquilla and the Thief of Laughter, which premiered in Spain with Titoyaya Dance Project in 2008, has its U.S. debut this Saturday.  Created by LNDT Artistic Director Gustavo Ramírez Sansano, Moniquilla is a mystery adventure styled after Scooby Doo and Indiana Jones (Sansano’s favorites as a kid).  Moniquilla enlists the help of her friends Matias and Veronica to help her find out why the children across the world can’t laugh anymore.  A narrator and video projection/sets by Luis Crespo help the story along, but it is the audience that ultimately must solve the mystery.  A bicycle with sidecar, swinging axes, snakes (egads!), spies, and of course a villain add to the story set to a dramatic score including Prokofiev’s Dance of the Knights from Romeo and Juliet and classical flamenco music.  “It was a  good chance to use music that I loved, but never found the right fit for,” says Sansano.  “When I was thinking about the music, I thought a lot about Walt Disney.  He used to make all the soundtracks for the movies.  Every single movement was in the music.  It was real choreography.”  Just because it’s for kids doesn’t mean this choreography is simple.  Sansano’s trademark style involving fast, quirky movements with seamless transitions is on full display along with some slapstick moves reminiscent of the Keystone Kops.  I sat in on a run of the first half of the show last week and I can’t wait to see how it ends!  It’s fun, funny, and as Sansano says, “a treat for the senses.”

Hubbard Street 2, Harold and the Purple Crayon, Dec 3&4 at 2pm

Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph, 312,334,7777

Luna Negra, Moniquilla and the Thief of Laughter, Dec 3 at 10a & 1p, Dec 4 1&4pm

Stage 773, 1225 W. Belmont, 773.327.5252