The best thing about my “job” as a dance blogger, obviously, is getting to see tons of dance and I’m lucky to be living in Chicago, where the dance scene is flourishing and thriving. One of the reasons our city is becoming a go-to place to see world-class dance is Hubbard Street Dance Chicago (HSDC) And, if you haven’t been paying attention, they just happen to be my favorite company on the planet. Yesterday HSDC wrapped up the season with the final performance in their Summer Series at the Harris Theater. The series had an unusual feel to it, because each of the three works were so different in theme and form. It seemed strange to go from the luscious Untouched to the technique thunderstorm of Following the Subtle Current Upstream to the avante gard, starkness of 27’52”, yet upon reflection, the contrast of the pieces uniquely show a company in transition. HSDC deconstructed, if you will.
I always try to go see each show twice – once on opening night, once on closing matinee – to see the changes or growth of the pieces and the dancers. Plus, it’s always interesting to witness the different reactions of the audiences. For Aszure Barton’s Untouched, yesterday was the fourth time I’ve seen it. The company has really grown in and with the work and it continues to improve with age. It still is elusive to define, but so emotionally and aesthetically satisfying that Barton cannot honestly claim she left any of us untouched. The women with their deep pliés and sky high developés are grounded and gorgeous, but it is the subtle gestures that really stand out. The flick of fingers, one foot flexed, a sudden intake of breath – these are the nuances that will take your breath away. On Sunday, the duet between Ana Lopez and Benjamin Wardell was nothing short of stunning. The gentleness of him outlining her body with his head, then switching to hold her in penché by her neck as if he was choking her was an exercise in love and trust. The fact that it was Wardell’s final show with HSDC, made it beautiful, but bittersweet. The entire cast is solid in this work. I hope it will remain in the rep for a long time.
Alonzo King’s work, originally created for Alvin Ailey, is were the transition comes in. King’s process pushes the dancers to overcome their limitations, real or perceived, to become the best dancer they can be. Not everyone takes to this process equally and since they’ve only worked together for a couple of weeks so far, it is noticeable that some dancers are taking to it faster than others. Wardell, who danced for King’s LINES Ballet before coming to HSDC, has a freeness to his movement that is unparalleled. This being the first in a multi-year collaboration with King and his dancers, I can’t wait to see what he can push them to do in another year. The work itself (even though it is 11 years old now) was fresh, exciting and technically difficult with ample solo work providing glimpses of each dancer in the spotlight. For me, it screams to be danced en pointe. A highlight was a duet performed by Kellie Epperheimer and Jesse Bechard to music that sounded like The Lion King. The final section had the music and dancers picking up speed for a frenzied, but satisfying finish.
Switching gears, the third piece was an abstract work by Jirí Kylián. With minimal sets, quirky music and the dancers literally partnering with the floor by manipulating extra pieces of marley, 27’52” is dubbed as an intellectual and physical game of hide and seek. The curtain opens to dancers on stage rehearsing moves from the piece, while the house lights are still on, catching the audience by surprise. Attention is quickly gained and replaced by surprise, wonder, curiosity, shock and perhaps some confusion. This isn’t something you see every day and the style is so far removed from what local audiences normally see that it isn’t for everyone. Even if it isn’t your style, one can’t deny the intensity, intelligence and sheer fearlessness of the dancers and the fact that you are witnessing a major work of art. Ana Lopez and Jessica Tong: I applaud you from the bottom of my heart.
As a program, it wasn’t as cohesive as say the Spring Series that featured all Israeli choreographers. The Summer Series was rather a statement of taking inventory, regrouping and moving forward. With solid work in the rep, a stunning gallery of dancers and a slew of new and exciting collaborations on the horizon, HSDC is poised to transcend to another level of artistry in the upcoming seasons. The alliance with King, more premieres by resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo, a new work with legend Twyla Tharp and revisiting works from masters Nacho Duato, Johan Inger, Ohad Naharin and William Forsythe, the year to come for HSDC is nothing but blindingly bright.