Every now and again, an event deserves two thumbs up—from two different writers. Leilah Bernstein recently reviewed Hubbard Street Dance Chicago (HSDC)’s performance at the Ahmanson. I too saw the world-renowned contemporary dance company for the first time earlier this month, and they deserve another round of applause. They’re astounding technicians, versatile and knowledgeable movers, and a tight-knit group with dynamic synergy.
I nicknamed the first piece, “the trust game dance.” Remember the trust game? The one where you close your eyes, freefall backwards and trust that your friend will catch you? I always cheated by peeking at the last second. Not Hubbard Street. Tabula Rasa showcased true fearlessness. Over and over again the dancers blindly fell backwards into each other’s arms, timing each partnering maneuver perfectly. They never hesitated—an ability that all dance companies strive for, and a recurring theme of the night. These fluid partnering sequences meshed with fast-paced, cannoned group sections to create one seamless journey.
In the second half of Tabula Rasa, when the loud, energized music softened to a quiet piano and dancers entered in a swaying, single file line, two men and one woman broke free and began a beautiful trio. They started and ended in a memorable group embrace. Though the piece overall lacked explicit narrative, I sensed the dance’s beginning, middle, and end, and sighed with satisfaction as the stage lights faded to black.
As Leilah mentioned, the curtain abruptly opened with the house lights fully up before the first intermission ended, inciting a sea of confused looks from the audience. The dancers warmed up and rehearsed onstage as if we weren’t gawking. Dancers aren’t always the best actors, and HSDC tried a little too hard to recreate the opening audition scene from A Chorus Line, but Jirí Kylián’s masterwork, 27’52’’, named after its 27 minute and 52 second length, made me forgive the unsubtle opening. My dance teacher always tells me to be “a master of my movement,” and this piece showcased the HSDC dancers as just that. Soloists executed intricate, athletic, spiraling phrases to French, German, and English texts. Then, as the music suddenly warped and played backwards, the dancers reversed their choreography, isolating every body part with perfect control. I was dumbfounded. Male-female duos danced to crashes and booms while depicting manipulation and disconnection. Adding to the sense of instability, the floor literally slipped out from under their feet. Dancers sequentially pulled Marley strips into piles at the side of the stage and at the end, three strips came crashing down from the ceiling. “It represents the instability and fragility of life,” explained HSDC artistic director Glenn Edgerton.
The final piece, Johan Inger’s Walking Mad, was my least favorite. A man in a bowler hat stumbled upon a wooden fence and entered a world of anxious, love-crazed characters. A gang of boys in red dunce caps chased after young girls, and the ladies joined them in silly party dancing. While the attempt at comedy added variety to the show, I’d much rather watch Hubbard Street perform the technically challenging, inspiring and innovative masterworks they’re known for.
Leilah and I agree…Encore!
By Marissa Osato
Photograph courtesy hubbardstreetdance.com