Hubbard Street Dance Chicago: A judicious choice of choreographers that creates a revealing evening.

Reviewed by Alvina Ruprecht

Categories: Dance

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Photo. Tod Rosenburg . Falling Angels by Jiri Kylian, music by Steve Reich.

There is no doubt that Hubbard Street Dance Chicago is focusing on an extremely contemporary realm of performing bodies that is having important consequences on the way we see “dance” and on the way we speak of an activity called “dance”” but which definitely needs a new designation . Let’s just say, last night we saw and heard “life in movement” as the Company prefers to name what it does.

In keeping with this orientation towards corporeal research, the Hubbard Street Dance has brought together some of the most important names in contemporary dance whose works were already created earlier in Europe. However, presented together in this special evening, the connections and the links between all these choreographers become all the more obvious and extremely revealing: the way their perception of the moving body and its relationship to sound and choreographed movement, appears to be even more closely tied to recent technology, to the way bodies are exposed and defined through contemporary images, videos, tablets, iPhone, all the means currently at our disposal to project and redefine the human creature, without necessarily showing the audience these sources directly. Whizzing throughout the internet, human consciousness becomes the expression of disarticulated body parts that almost appear to disengage themselves from the human brain and become involuntary reactions , provoked by the physicality of sound around them.

Harmony, continuity are no longer relevant whereas elements such as the disincarnated human voice, or loud percussion effects that send the bodies off into different directions at one time, or conditioning created by exercises of different kinds, define the patterns of movement that the choreographers are playing out on stage. Robots and very sophisticated technology have taken over the space, have created a powerful physical energy that stirs up human creatures and pushes them forward in spite of themselves. What are we watching? What is happening to the body in contemporary choreographed movement? For a non-dancer such as I am, one can only guess.

This might sound fuzzy but it isn’t really, because what we saw during this performance was an intense and sometimes beautifully flowing interaction of bodies pumped up by sound, by percussion and by a whole variety of lifeless objects that reconstructed the space, as bodies flew across the stage , grabbing each other, and redefining their relationship with the space that opened up during each sequence. One Flat Thing conceived by choreographer William Forsyth 16 years ago (created in Frankfurt in 2000) is not particularly new but it took on a new meaning in this collection of works that seemed to have been touched by Forsythe’s own vision.

Twenty tables pushed together, construct multiple performance levels on the stage, allowing 14 dancers to work simultaneously, underneath each other or on top of each other or even slide in between the tables and appear to work in between the levels, at times even appearing to fly over all the levels at once , or to congregate behind the tables and in front of the tables . There were frozen moments that take us back to Pirandello, there was slow motion bringing us nearer to cinema, there was a tension between  classical balletic movements and all forms of performance, with  exciting results. However it did last for 20 minutes and soon it all becomes a corporeal blur, a form of exciting chaos that has all the performers melting together under the growing tension of the beat that eventually restored the sense of unity .

Out of the five individual moments, those that elicited the most sympathy from me were the “monodancedrama” by Crystal Pite (A Picture of you Falling) and the group choreography by Jiri Kylian (Falling Angels) based on the percussion by Steve Reich. The fact that “falling” is related to both is no doubt a pure coincidence

Crystal Pit’s one man sequence presents a strong female voice, speaking directly to the young man, over a background clicking of what sounds like a huge camera taking snapshots. “Someone is taking a picture of you falling” the voice declares in metallic tones . It’s almost a threat, or an astute prelude to what is about to happen. In fact, it becomes a detailed study of this human being as he falls: his collapsing joints, his loss of balance, the weakening of his articulations, a self mocking portrait of a body being transformed by its apparent loss of control but which , on the contrary, reveals a highly rigid control over every muscle in the body, the sort of control one sees in the work of comedians on the silent screen. An amusing paradox which made me regret the fact that it only lasted five minutes!

There was also Falling Angels. This dialogue between a group of 8 female dancers and the percussion score by Steve Reich was a glowing example of the work of Jiri Kylian. It was created for the Nederlands Dans Theatre in 1989 and was first performed for the Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in 2014. Powerful because of the way the music energized those female bodies, generating what appeared to be much military might, collective symmetry, growing anger, threatening stances, bodies that “attacked”, advanced, twisted, lunged, leaped. As the beat came faster, the women followed in a breathtaking display of synchronized corporeal energy that gave us the impression they were plugged into a machine and the choreographer kept turning up the energy.  Béjart’s Rites of Spring, located  somewhere between torture, military training, and rage. The black costumes of the dancers highlighted the bodies as the lighting played a very important role with hands and faces (like masks) sliding  in and out of the shadows.

At times disturbing, more often fascinating, this collection of well-chosen works created an important landscape of live movement, showing us how the term “Dance” engulfs everything that is related to live performance and how the choreographers feed off each other as they advance their research.

This was a single performance on November 22. Perhaps next year , the company might be able to stay a day or two more.


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