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‘The Art of Falling’ returns as dance partners with comedy

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and The Second City in "The Art of Falling," at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance. (Photo: Todd Rosenberg)

“The Art of Falling,” the ingenious, winningly synergistic blend of dance and comedy created by Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and the Second City, created quite a sensation when it first arrived on the stage of the Harris Theater for Music and Dance in 2014. It went on to generate a similar response a year later when it traveled to the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles.

Now, “due to popular demand,” this highly original multimedia work is back at the Harris, where a second viewing only confirms the skill and originality with which its creators and performers have intertwined two art forms that, in so many ways, are polar opposites.

Think of “The Art of Falling” as something of a beauty and the beast venture in which the peerless dancers of Hubbard Street — who cast a palpable poetic spell over the audience — are the personification of beauty, while their “partners,” the witty, problem-plagued improv masters of Second City, supply the more pedestrian situations and knowing laughter.

The seamless intertwining of the two is a remarkable feat, and is the work of a massive team: Five choreographers (Alejandro Cerrudo, Lucas Crandall, Jonathan Fredrickson, Terence Marling and Robin Mineko Williams); director Billy Bungeroth; writer Tim Mason (with Carisa Barreca, T.J. Jagodowski, Kate James and Chris Redd, plus the Second City casts); an ensemble of six actor-comedians (Barreca and Mason, plus Christina Anthony, Joey Bland, John-Michael Lyles and Tawny Newsome); 23 dancers (including six Hubbard Street 2 performers and a cameo by Hubbard Street artistic director Glenn Edgerton); a most artful music director/composer/sound designer (Julie B. Nichols); lighting designer Michael Korsch and those video mavens, HMS Media.

Highly recommended
When: Through June 19
Where: Harris Theater for Music and Dance,
205 E. Randolph
Tickets: $30 – $109
Info: (312) 334-7777;
Run time: 2 hours and 10 minutes with one intermission

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and The Second City join forces in "The Art of Falling" at The Harris Theater for Music and Dance. (Photo: Todd Rosenberg )

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and the Second City join forces in “The Art of Falling” at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance. (Photo: Todd Rosenberg )

A second viewing brought new clarity to the many ways of falling: falling from the sky in an airplane catastrophe; falling (or being pushed) from one stage of life into the next; falling on one’s face (as in a terrible performance). Of course there is the act of falling to the ground with the grace and ease of a superbly trained dancer. And there also is the realization that falling in love is its own sort of dance — an experience that can set you dancing.

The primary through-line in the two-hour show involves a variety of couplings. There is the new-found relationship between two gay men: Richard (the resolutely stolid Joey Bland), who has a terror of dancing and commitment, and Gerry (the fleet, lean John Michael Lyles), a contemporary dancer. There is the interaction between two passengers on a plane, with Tim Mason as a comic who works as a corporate trainer “humanized” by Christina Anthony, the soulful, unstoppably talkative woman in search of revenge against an unfaithful husband. There is Maria (the sensational Newsome), a mystical but practical Old World grandmother who pushes her grandson (Bland) into fully living life. And there is the free-floating office temp (Barreca, a buoyant blonde) who wants to connect, but whose name no one bothers to remember.

The most sublime pairings come in “Second to Last,” five exquisite pas de deux choreographed by Cerrudo, and set to the achingly lovely music of Arvo Part. Each pairing is more breathtaking than the next as danced by Alice Klock and Michael Gross, Kellie Epperheimer and Kevin J. Shannon, Ana Lopez and Andrew Murdock, Jessica Tong and Jason Hortinc, and Jacqueline Burnett and Jesse Bechard. The Hubbard Street dancers rise and fall, and circle and soar as if they are a single organism rather than a pair. And they have a transfixing effect on the audience.

Choreographer Terence Marling displays a touch of genius with “White Office Swan,” a brilliant, giddy-making riff on “Swan Lake,” with the dancers (plus Barreca), seated on wheeled office chairs, careening into near-classic formations as Tchaikovsky’s familiar score drives them on at ever greater speed. Cerrudo’s “Bicycle Ride” plays cleverly with perspective, with movement on the floor seen from aloft by way of video. In Robyn Mineko Williams’ hilarious “Wicked at Heart,” a man (Hortin) puts the moves on his inflatable date (Alicia Delgadillo), who deflates at just the crucial moment. And Marling and Williams also have devised a very funny “inside dance” sequence in which a tyrannical choreographer (Newsome as a cross between Twyla Tharp and some old-school Russian) calls out a wildly complicated set of counts for her choreography.

Alternately earthy and otherworldly, “The Art of Falling” is a rare hybrid — an unlikely cross-pollination of two already strong species that results in something that is truly a breed apart.

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and The Second City join forces for "The Art of Falling" at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance. (Photo: Todd Rosenberg)

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and the Second City join forces for “The Art of Falling” at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance. (Photo: Todd Rosenberg)

One final note: The cross-pollination of audiences has been a major goal of this project, with the hope that the Second City crowd would discover the more esoteric world of contemporary dance. Following the 2014 premiere of “The Art of Falling,” Hubbard Street sent out about 1,250 postcards to first-time patrons with the offer of an exclusive one-time discount on tickets for the company’s next engagement at the Harris. According to Zachary Whittenburg, the troupe’s manager of communications, the initiative has had a notable (if difficult to precisely quantify) impact.