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Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in a dazzler of a program

A work best described as “Balanchine-gone-wild,” courtesy of Spanish choreographer Gustavo Ramirez Sansano. A look at the nature of male and female eroticism and ritual by way of that European master, Jiri Kylian. A knockout solo about heartbreak by way of a Canadian-based genius named Crystal Pite. And a piece for two women, by Alejandro Cerrudo, open to many interpretations.

On top of all this add eye-popping virtuosity, whimsy, mystery, and an unusually eclectic mix of sound, music and speech. And there you have it: Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s breathtaking (and all too brief) spring engagement at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance. Playing to a packed house at Thursday’s opening night, it was worth wondering whether the company’s immensely successful collaboration with The Second City this past fall had elicited faithful new fans. If not, they (along with anyone else in need of some bedazzlement) are advised to head to the Harris Theater.

HUBBARD STREET DANCE CHICAGO

Highly recommended

When: Through March 15

Where: Harries Theater for Music and Dance,

205 E. Randolph

Tickets: $25 – $99

Info: (312) 334-7777;

http://www.harristheaterchicago.org

Run time: 2 hours and 15 minutes with two intermissions

First (although it serves as the expertly pace program’s grand finale), the world premiere commission: Ramirez Sansano’s “I am Mister B.” It’s a knockout, and while it is bound to become one of Hubbard Street’s signature pieces, I couldn’t help thinking how much fun it would be to see it on a New York City Ballet program — immediately following a performance of the George Balanchine work, “Theme and Variations,” that it so brilliantly and whimsically deconstructs and raucously reassembles.

Balanchine’s work, set to music from Tchaikovsky’s ever grand and thrilling “Suite No. 3 for Orchestra in G Major,” is an abstract ballet driven by that choreographer’s use of complex patterns and various groupings engaged in bravura classical feats driven by a glorious score. Ramirez Sansano shifts to a contemporary dance vocabulary, speeds things up even more than Balanchine did, adds several layers of vaudevillian goofiness, devises a pas de deux of intense grandeur, and generally whips his ensemble of 12 dancers into a beguiling frenzy of entrances and exits.

The entire cast is dressed in Balanchine’s favored outfit (black trousers, white shirt, blue jacket and black ribbon tie, designed here by Branimira Ivanova), creating an antic effect that brings to mind the performers in the Philip Glass opera, “Einstein on the Beach,” who were dressed like the physicist of the title. The set (by Luis Crespo), is a series of graceful deep purple silk curtains that are opened and closed with almost winking playfulness, suggesting the formality of ballet while simultaneously debunking all its conceits in the most lighthearted way.

Ana Lopez and Andrew Murdock of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in “I am Mister B.” (Photo: Todd Rosenberg)
Ana Lopez and Andrew Murdock of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in “I am Mister B.” (Photo: Todd Rosenberg)

The whole thing begins as Jesse Bechard arrives in the guise of Mister B who begins to explain the genesis of his school and company (the text is by Mario Alberto Zambrano). His speech takes on an ever-escalating speed that seamlessly sets everyone dancing as the words morph into motion.

The uniformly superb dancers included Bechard, the exquisitely lyrical Jonathan Fredrickson, Johnny McMillan, Andrew Murdock, David Schultz, Kevin J. Shannon, Jacqueline Burnett, Alicia Delgadillo, Kellie Epperheimer, Emilie Leriche, Ana Lopez and Jessica Tong. This is one of those pieces that you will want to see over and over again.

The program opens with back-to-back Kylian pieces demanding killer technique. “Sarabande” is an absolutely stunning anatomy of the male sex drive. Under the erotic “suspended clouds” of six lavish 18th century female gowns, with a score that mixes primal beast-like sounds counterpointed by the elegant, electronically arranged music of Bach, six male dancers (with the remarkable David Schultz leading an ensemble that included Murdock, McMillan, Fredrickson, Jason Hortin and Garrett Patrick Anderson), move from orgasmic frenzy to release. “Falling Angels” is the female counterpoint to “Sarabande,” with eight women (Burnett, Delgadillo, Epperheimer, Leriche, Lopez, Tong, Alick Klock and Jane Rehm) engaging in a hypnotic perpetual motion machine of a fertility dance that is set to Steve Reich’s “Drumming: Part I,” played live by the outstanding musicians of Third Coast Percussion.

Performed as a sort of entra’acte on the program are Cerrudo’s lyrical, enigmatic and suggestive “Cloudless” (beautifully danced by Lopez and Burnett), as well as the astonishing “A Picture of You Falling,” a solo reimagined from a full-length work by Pite, an in-demand choreographer who must eventually be conjoled to create a piece for Hubbard Street.

Hubbard Street Dancer Jason Hortin in “A Picture of You Falling” by choreographer Crystal Pite. (Photo: Todd Rosenberg)
Hubbard Street Dancer Jason Hortin in “A Picture of You Falling” by choreographer Crystal Pite. (Photo: Todd Rosenberg)

Performed to unforgettable effect by Jason Hortin, whose body seemed to be remote-controlled as it enacted the most contorted, spasmodic moves, the piece captures a man’s mental, emotional and physical breakdown and resurrection. Think “Beckett for the body,” and you have a hint of the quality of this extraordinary piece that is set to one of the most imaginative, haunting, rhythmically precise soundscapes imaginable (the work of Owen Belton, with a voice-over by British actress Kate Strong).

This is, quite simply, a must-see program.