Hubbard Street Dance of Chicago brought contemporary lines, chic silhouettes, and a corporate sensibility to the Carlson Family Stage at Northrop Auditorium on January 30th , 2016.
The company opened with Crystal Pite’s Solo Echo. Seven dancers moved across a very shadowy stage in movement sequences inspired by Mark Strand’s poem Lines for Winter. Though the dark lighting design seemed integral to the piece, the effect often made it difficult to see what was happening onstage and gave off a melodramatic impression.
Solo Echo is one of those dances during which it snows onstage. Remember when it used to be crazy to see onstage precipitation? Snow and rain aren’t just for Singin’ in the Rain or The Nutcracker anymore. Unfortunately, that means the choice came off as cliché.
Pite choreographed several, stunning motifs that brightened my experience of Solo Echo. In them, the dancers took on a series of poses that gradually varied from one another in a way that simulated slow motion movements like level changes: it reminded me of looking at pages of a flip book.
I was disappointed, however, when this technique was overused as the piece continued. The repetition deadened the impact.
One of my favorite things is when I am watching a dance and can sense that its intricate layers of choreography been thought through, that there is a clear structure behind them. The second piece in the program, William Forsythe’s N.N.N.N., made me feel that way. The dance combined complex, nuanced movement patterns ranging from pedestrian to gestural to exceptionally athletic. The scene onstage was clever, colorful, sometimes even clownish a la Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin, or Lucille Ball.
I was pleased to see that both women and men exercised agency during the partnering sequences. Watching N.N.N.N. felt like trying to decipher a code. It left me wondering about the choreographic and rehearsal processes.
When working with a choreographer to develop a piece, dancers often fill in the blanks to a level of nuance and intricacy likely beyond a choreographer’s control (assuming the choreographer isn’t a maniac or micro-manager). But, does there come a point when dancers aren’t supposed to fill in the blanks, or, at least, are only supposed to fill in certain ones? N.N.N.N. made me wonder: at what point does the choreographer stop and the dancer start?
The third dance of the evening was an excerpt from Alejandro Cerrudo’s Second to Last, about fifteen minutes of floaty, seamless partnering. Though the movement asked a lot of the dancers—especially the men—the piece lacked substance.
What was the choreographic justification for all of these duets? Were the dancers paired just for the beauty of it? Were they separated just for the poignant effect? Did the movements they did have any symbolic significance, or what Cerrudo’s sole intention to produce a series of captivating, moving images?
If this piece was to be taken as an abstraction, I would have liked to have seen a bit more geometric variety. Of course, I wonder if I would have had the same reaction had the piece been performed in its entirety.
Last up was Nacho Duato’s Gnawa. Rhythms and melodies that evoked North Africa and Duato’s native Spain pulsed as the dancers leapt in and out of unison movement, shifted from lines to circular patterns, lunged among shadows and pools of candlelight, and ran with long, grounded strides. Often, the dancers linked together by embracing around the shoulders.
Though Gnawa lagged a bit in the middle—maybe because of the intensity of the opening section’s lifts, kicks, and jumps—I found it engaging overall. I was especially captivated by way that Duato incorporated isolated movements of the head to ornament larger movement patterns.
Part of me wonders if my perspective on this might be jaded. Like the snow, for example. Onstage precipitation is cool! Still, it makes less of an impact these days. Like nudity, onstage precipitation could make an impact if there is a reason integral to the piece for it to happen. Otherwise, it comes across as gratuitous or distracting.
As a dancer—and a recovering perfectionist—I feel odd writing this. But, if there comes a point when the humanity of a work of art (or art form) is streamlined away, then Hubbard Street Dance’s recent performance at Northrop Auditorium reached that point.
I love when movement is clear and well-rehearsed, as it was in each dance of the night. My favorite kinds of dancers move expansively and perform engagingly. Hubbard Street’s dancers did just that. But, this program came across more like a machine than a collection of artworks. It sure was polished, but lacked a certain charm.