Hubbard Street stages bold experiment for 40th season

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A scene from Peter Chu’s “Space, In Perspective,” the “immersive” work receiving its world premiere by Hubbard Street Dance Chicago at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance. (Photo: Todd Rosenberg Photography)

Experiment. Take risks. Those are guiding principles for all great art and with “Space, In Perspective,” Peter Chu’s new “immersive” work, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago has taken them to heart with a vengeance. This choreographic adventure also turns out to be the ideal way to kick off the company’s 40th anniversary season — a formidable milestone for any cultural institution, but most notably for a contemporary dance company.

HUBBARD STREET DANCE CHICAGO IN ‘SPACE, IN PERSPECTIVE’ Highly recommended When: Through Sept. 24 Where: Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph Tickets: $65 Info: Run time: 1 hour and 10 minutes, with no intermission

Reena Butler and Kevin J. Shannon in the Hubbard Street Dance Chicago premiere of Peter Chu’s “Space in Perspective.” | TODD ROSENBERG PHOTOGRAPHY

Reena Butler and Kevin J. Shannon in the Hubbard Street Dance Chicago premiere of Peter Chu’s “Space in Perspective.” | TODD ROSENBERG PHOTOGRAPHY

It is no secret that the Hubbard Street dancers are sublime movers whose seamless ensemble esprit suggests they are invisibly connected at the hip. But what happens when you release them from the carefully framed parameters of a proscenium stage, and, in what could easily have become a logistical nightmare for both performers and spectators, let them dance in usually hidden corners of the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, with the audience up close and personal? And what happens when, in the process, you very cagily flip the ordinary positioning of performer and audience?

I confess I am no huge fan of interactive projects which all too often end up being frustrating and unsatisfying. But Chu (who oversees his own Las Vegas-based, multidisciplinary company, and is widely known for his work on the Fox series “So You Think You Can Dance”), has found countless ways for both parts of the performer-audience equation to play their part in a most enjoyable and ultimately transfixing way.

It all begins in the Harris Theatre lobby, where a strictly limited audience of 400 (the company will perform two shows on certain evenings) gathers for informal instructions. Then it’s off to the races as you can choose to walk in one of several different directions, following the subtle hints of ushers, dancers and meticulously timed music cues as you make your way through the art hall, or into an elevator, or step outside the building to walk down the long concrete ramp that leads to the theater’s loading dock. Each person will see a slightly different show depending on the path they follow. But be assured, by the end of the hour-long show’s first half, all roads lead to Rome and there is an exquisite half-hour finale you can watch from a chair.

What did I see? To start, a trio of dancers rolling down the ramp in sculptural, acrobatic positions, with choreography by company member Alice Klock. Then, in a small dressing room just beyond the dock, I found a sensuous quartet of dancers (Rena Butler, Minga Prather, Kevin J. Shannon and Myles Lavellee) interweaving themselves with great intimacy on a chair in front of a makeup mirror. Moving to an adjacent dressing room I caught the sinuous video of a dancer’s arms projected onto a corner wall. Soon, as the full audience began to coalesce in a spacious backstage space, so did the dancers, in various combinations, including a notably beautiful mirroring exercise between Jacqueline Burnett and Alicia Delgadillo, who reappear in a more elaborate duet later on. Finally, a large number of performers segued among the crowd and at one point began engaging people in brief bits of social dancing that brought smiles to many faces.

Gradually, almost imperceptibly, everyone then began heading into a large space (with many seats), where a giant amorphous projection changed into the image of a large dancer moving in slow motion. The live dancers (from both the company and HSDC’s Professional Program) began to arrive. And for the next half hour or so, they performed Chu’s beautiful choreography — singly, in pairs and as a grand ensemble that alternately suggested a primal rite and the inexorable motion of waves. The dancing was uniformly superb, with the tall, eye-catching Adrienne Lipson a standout.

Meshing ideally throughout were the ideally mixed score pieced together by Djeff Houle (everything from “This Land Is Your Land” and the bluesy “St. James Infirmary,” to vintage pop standards and electronic music), the earth-toned unitards by Hogan McLaughlin, lighting by Marcus Doshi and projections by Sven Ortel. But with Hubbard Street it is always the dancers who exert the most hypnotic effect.

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