Hubbard Street Dance Chicago Explores the Human Landscape

Written By Sun-Times Wire Posted: 10/11/2013, 06:22pm

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Hubbard Street Dance Chicago presented “Casi Casa” by Mats Ek at the Harris Theater. | ©  Todd Rosenberg Photography

HUBBARD STREET DANCE CHICAGO
HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
When: Oct. 11 and 12 at 8 p.m. and Oct. 13 at 3 p.m.
Where: Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph
Tickets: $25-$99
Info: (312) 334-7777; www.harristheaterchicago.org
Run time: 2 hours and 15 minutes with one intermission

There is something about the way the members of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago move onstage that suggests they just might have developed some uncannyability to share neurons. They are so connected in terms of rhythm, attack, gesture, line and emotion — so thrillingly capable of sending precision-tuned body-to-body signals — that you can almost feel the transmission of electrical and chemical impulses among them. They are amazing dancers — intensely individual, but with the many invariably dancing as one.

Consider “Fluence,” the hypnotic, ideally named opening work on the company’s fall program at the Harris theater for Music and Dance (through Sunday only). It is a new work by 2013 Princess Grace Award winner Robyn Mineko Williams, who danced with Hubbard Street for 12 years, who clearly absorbed the techniques of the many different choreographers engaged by the company, and who, for the past few years has begun to shape an aesthetic very much her own.

In one sense, the movement in her piece is the very opposite of “Fluence,” as her dancers, in movements that are jagged, angular, spasmodic, even robotic, never quite connect in a recognizably human way, even if at moments there is the suggestion of a sexual spark. But after much alienation and searching (and Williams has a real gift for unusual groupings and complex patterning), one dancer finally reaches to the sky in an almost prayerlike gesture, and what was initially a fog-infused atmosphere cedes to an open sky that rains down walls of iridescent soap bubbles. Beyond lovely.

The dancing, by Meredith Dincolo, Alick Klock, Jessica Tong, Emilie Leriche, Garrett Patrick Anderson, Jason Hortin, Andrew Murdock, David Schultz and Johnny McMillan is flawless, intense, hypnotic. The original score by Robert F. Haynes (Williams has a knack for tapping ideal collaborators) is alternately percussive and lyrical. And Hogan McLaughlin’s subtly futuristic gray leotards create just the right tension between chilliness and allure.

Alejandro Cerrudo’s world premiere piece, “Cloudless,” a duet for two women (Jacqueline Burnett and Ana Lopez, always superb) did not benefit from following Williams’ work. Set to a somewhat droning score by Nils Frahm, it was just too similar in its movement vocabulary and overall shadowy landscape. But the duet did raise interesting questions: Is this a look at women exploring their own identity by studying “the other”? Is there a real erotic charge here? Or are these women in a tense if half-camouflaged competition?

There is no doubt about what is going on in Ohad Naharin’s “Passomezzo,” a duet created in 1989 and set to the ironically lovely folk tune “Greensleeves” and other traditional melodies. Naharin gives us a rough-play duet between a man (Johnny McMillan) and woman (Kellie Epperheimer) who can’t live with or without each other, and who seem very well practiced in going for the jugular. The two dancers were sensational, and the battle between them heightened by Epperheimer being at once so petite but so fierce.

The program’s second half was devoted to a true masterpiece of dance theater — Swedish choreographer Mats Ek’s “Casi-Casa,” set to the music of Fleshquartet. Part domestic satire and part absurdist living movie, it includes: A daydreaming husband (Quinn Wharton in a wonderful solo turn) who is promptly pushed off his lounge and sent off to work; a group of mad housewives who wield their canister vacuums like weapons (and Irish step-dance like banshees); a troubled couple who dance around a smoking oven and, best of all, a couple who move through many layers of passion (absolutely stunning dancing by Jacqueline Barnett and Jonathan Fredrickson). The outside, “public” world of the streets catches up with them all at a few points.

The piece could easily do without a strange, overly long sequence in which crime scene tape is strewn across an empty stage. And the final stage picture feels a bit out of synch. But this is a work of immense invention and beauty. And the Hubbard Street dancers are electrifying.

Email: hweiss@suntimes.com
Twitter: @HedyWeissCritic

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