Hubbard Street Dance Chicago Winter Series: Live review
Nothing fails on Hubbard Street’s latest program, through December 5 at the Harris Theater, but a few things happened opening night that I would call extraordinary. The first of these was Tabula Rasa, the dance Ohad Naharin made to Arvo Pärt’s score of the same name for Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre in 1986. It’s been in the company’s repertoire almost seven years now, brought back at regular intervals. To see how it’s evolved is to see how Hubbard Street, and dance itself, have evolved. With so many steps built on the collecting then shedding of energy—one recurring element is something Naharin calls a “spit”—the stage-filling first movement used to be a torture chamber. Dancers violently executed each element, relieved to be rid of one only to be immediately attacked by the next. It was a titanic piece the company would scale like Everest.
Now it’s a sea the dancers negotiate by trimming a sail here and twisting a rudder there. Tabula has lost none of its power in the process—it’s still an object lesson in compositional brilliance—but what you notice is a company in full control of the narrative. This is most strikingly apparent in the second movement, where Naharin’s sequence of short stories (two men and a woman display what looks like the summary of their relationships over a lifetime; a lone female breaks from the group to turn penitently until her eyes are met throughout a rotation) are given new rhythms that show these dancers are peerless corporal actors. I may know Tabula better than any other piece of choreography and yet there were dozens of alignments, connections and details that I’d never noticed before this performance. Hubbard Street is perfectly primed for Naharin’s world premiere March 17–20 which, just so you know, is an event of enormous cultural significance for this city.
The other diamond Hubbard brought to the Harris was Pablo Piantino and Penny Saunders in the fourth duet of Jirí Kylián’s Mozart masterpiece, Petite Mort (here at 3:15). At this stage in the game—Petite is danced the world over, and almost old enough to order itself a drink—performers (and répétiteurs) should be finding new ways to make these steps sing, not ossifying them into irrelevance. From their almost-late opening to a carousel lift barely off the ground, Piantino and Saunders were full of agency, ideas and nuances. Christian Broomhall and Kellie Epperheimer were similarly alive in the first duet, although I wasn’t sold on Elke Schepers’s staging on the whole. Getting there, staying here., by young Palestinian-American dance maker Samar Haddad King, was a good opportunity to meet the new members of Hubbard Street 2 (Jamal Callender, Nicholas Korkos and Katie Scherman apprentice Emilie Leriche, all superb), but somewhat hostage to its scattered megamix score, something Gregg Gillis might come up with if commissioned for Cameron Crowe’s remake of Garden State. The junior ensemble was so outclassed choreographically that the excellence of its members was muted.
Dutch dancers premiered resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo’s Malditos in Holland in October; Hubbard Street’s debuted it at Washington’s Kennedy Center last month. A joint production of HSDC and Nederlands Dans Theater’s junior ensemble, NDT II, dancers from both companies played a part in its transatlantic creation. Comprised mostly of duets, Malditos transpires on three planes—choreography, lighting (by Tom Visser, transcendent) and music (Alexandre Desplat, Patrick Doyle, Pärt and David Lang)—shifted out of sync. We see dancers in an anemic, golden-orange spotlight interrupted by darkness and replaced by a man dancing a solo washed in steel-blue tones. The score plays straight through, but stops later, leaving the couple that’s entered afterward marooned in silence. One leg of the tripod is always sinking into sand. The vibrancy of these misaligned elements was invigorating in its smart simplicity; Richard Serra’s 1970s installation Delineator came to mind. New company member Jesse Bechard made a huge impression here, as did Jacqueline Burnett. Ana Lopez and Benjamin Wardell took their fluency with Cerrudo’s style to the bank, and vice versa. Rather than adding another piece to his rapidly growing stack, Cerrudo gave us an excavation into what’s already there: Extremely Close (2008) gets several oblique nods, as do Blanco, Deep Down Dos, Lickety-Split and Off Screen. All are finely crafted, deeply gorgeous works. Malditos is another, but will the sun will ever rise on Cerrudo’s dark, distrustful world? Or is his question whether it will ever rise on ours?
Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s Winter Series continues at the Harris Theater through December 5.