Hubbard Street Dance Chicago at The Joyce

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in Bardo, photo by Todd Rosenberg

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago‘s performance at The Joyce Theater on Saturday night featured works that exemplified the athleticism and team effort of the company’s twenty sophisticated dancers. It’s unfortunate that the four choreographers relied heavily on props, lighting, and literal gestures to convey a message and “wow” the audience, rather than delving more deeply into the choreographic possibilities that the dancers – as well as the audience – would have certainly appreciated.

Japanese choreographer Toru Shimazaki’s Bardo, which explored the journey between life and the afterworld, opened with an ensemble of twelve dancers vigorously nodding their heads in unison, swinging their arms, and stomping the floor to the percussive rhythms of “Saltarello” by Dead Can Dance. One dancer ran in circles around the perimeter of the stage, perhaps departing from a community as she began her journey. The athletic dancing in the opening scene, along with the music and drastic changes in lighting, was powerful and memorable. But many other sections of Bardo were too literal or overly dramatic, such as the repetition of people walking across the stage from one square of light to another, or the image of a convulsing woman under harsh light as a man dressed in black towered menacingly over her. The lighting changes lost their effect by the end of piece, and the choreography grew monotonous. What was most interesting overall were the moments of intimacy and sensuality between a couple that could be detected among the fierce ensemble dancing.

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in Palladio, photo by Todd Rosenberg

The passion and raw energy that I sensed in Bardo were absent from Nacho Duato’s Con Perdut (Lost Heart), a short duet performed by Alejandro Cerrudo and Penny Saunders with singing by Maria del Mar Bonet. According to the program, the piece would be filled with “sensual and fiery moves”, but I found the choreography to be lackluster, with too many trivial gestures and not enough three-dimensionality. There was little chemistry between Cerrudo and Saunders, and although they needed to be more expressive on an emotional level, their connection certainly could have been enhanced by richer, more intricate partnering work.

Extremely Close, choreographed by HSDC dancer Alejandro Cerrudo with piano music by Philip Glass and Dustin O’Halloran, relied heavily on stage props in an attempt to make the piece more interesting and unique. White feathers swirled about the stage as dancers slid from graceful, flowing movement into sharp, angular positions, and the space was continually reconfigured as dancers rolled square white backdrops around the stage. The soft, dreamlike quality of the piece was mesmerizing, but Extremely Close could have been just as effective and beautiful without the added feathers and white backdrops. Cerrudo’s choreography for the closing duet – danced by Jessica Tong and Cerrudo, replacing an injured dancer – was incredibly sensual and suggestive of a parting of two people. Their lingering kiss, however, seemed like a cop-out, as there are more challenging and interesting ways (not that a kiss isn’t interesting) for a choreographer to convey a connection between two people. And Cerrudo’s final act – pulling a black carpet over Ms. Tong and the feathers, as he buried a memory – could have been conveyed with movement rather than depending on props. Below is an excerpt from Extremely Close.

Artistic Director Jim Vincent’s Palladio, to Karl Jenkins’ music of the same title, was a tribute to Italian architect Andrea Palladio’s 16th-century principles of architecture, but that was never apparent to me. The athletic, fast-paced ensemble dancing was performed well, but there was no choreographic variation nor did the piece gain momentum as it progressed. Unflattering and distasteful costumes along with black fabric and ropes suspended from the ceiling created a busy, unappealing look on stage. Dropping the fabric and ropes to the floor at the end of the piece was merely for dramatic effect.

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago has a gifted, highly capable cast of dancers. I look forward to seeing the company in more choreographically compelling works that are equally challenging for them and the audience.

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