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Fearless at Forty

When terpsichorean stars align, magic can happen. Such is the case with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, a troupe founded 40 years ago by Lou Conte and directed by the indefatigable Glenn Edgerton since 2009. Edgerton comes to his role with a prestigious pedigree: Having danced 11 years with the Joffrey Ballet before taking the helm at Netherlands Dance Theater for a decade, his curatorial skills are in full flower as he and his 16-member troupe celebrate Hubbard’s four-decade anniversary.

Performance

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago: 40th Anniversary Tour

Place

Irvine Barclay Theatre, Irvine, California, September 30, 2017

Words

Victoria Looseleaf

Hubbard Street Dancers in “One Flat Thing, reproduced” by William Forsythe, from left: Ana Lopez, Florian Lochner, foreground, David Schultz, and Alicia Delgadillo. Photograph by Todd Rosenberg.

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In a concert featuring works by Nacho Duato, William Forsythe and Robyn Mineko Williams, the company looked racehorse-sleek, sinfully sensuous and altogether in command of a diverse choreographic palette.

Duato’s 1983 “Jardi Tancat” (Catalan for “Closed Garden”), was made for NDT’s junior troupe, where the Spaniard then danced. His very first work, it won the International Choreographic Workshop prize in Cologne and fueled Duato’s meteoric rise. Set to the heartbreakingly beautiful Catalan folk songs of María del Mar Bonet, it’s filled with both melancholy and passion as it tells the story of people working barren land while praying for rain that fails to fall. (“Water, we asked for water; And You oh Lord, You gave us wind…”)

Evoking a specific geographical-cultural context (Duato was born in Valencia, Spain, his work often influenced by the tug of the Mediterranean), “Tancat” features three couples moving amid an enclosure of sticks or, conceivably, naked trees (set and costume design by Duato), their sense of community also aligned with feelings of desperation and hope.

The pairs—Jacqueline Burnett and Michael Gross, Alicia Delgadillo and Kevin J. Shannon, Alice Klock and Andrew Murdock—offered fluid footwork and rhythmic swagger as their durable spirit shone in the face of hardship. Matching the musical and choreographic vigor, sometimes swift, sometimes surprising, as in a Klock-deployed somersault, this dance could also be seen through today’s political lens, the recent floods and hurricanes delivering devastating blows to humanity.

On a completely different note, Duato’s “ViolinCello” (a duet from his “Multiplicity: Forms of Silence and Emptiness,” the 1999 work that won the 2000 Prix de Benois), performed by Ana Lopez and Florian Lochner, is an insouciant look at Bach, with a bewigged and Baroque-costumed Lochner “playing” his instrument, i.e., Lopez, with his bow.

While this may be regarded as an objectification of women, this is visual humor, and when Lopez landed on Lochner’s knee, it gave new meaning to the current form of protest, #TakeAKnee. In addition, this homage to Bach serves as a love letter to composers and their music.

Forsythe’s work, “One Flat Thing, reproduced,” is the embodiment of fierce intensity. Featuring 20 steel-framed tables that take up most of the stage and 14 dancers cavorting in varied states of freneticism—gliding, sliding, jumping, skidding and ducking between, over and under and the tables, as well as hand-slapping motifs and pushing and pulling bodies through the so-called set —this is inspired chaos.

Set to an uncomfortably industrial score by Thom Willems, the 2000 work also showcases dancers being aggressively hostile at the same time demonstrating the glory of split-second timing and teamwork. While former President Barack Obama once wrote of “The Audacity of Hope,” these Hubbard Street movers, along with firebrand Forsythe, prove that “The Audacity of Dance” never fails to astonish and delight in this timeless classic.

Completing the program: Mineko Williams’ “Cloudline” premiered earlier this year in Chicago, and was bookended by a billowing swath of parachute silk. A former Hubbard Street dancer, Mineko Williams made use of a pastiche of tunes (heard on tape), including music by Jherek Bischoff, Sufjan Stevens and Arthur Kent’s and Sylvia Dee’s “The End of the World,” as sung by Julie London.

Often hampered by dark lighting (design by Burke Brown), this dance was also threaded with couples—Murdock and Burnett, David Schultz and Klock, and Gross and Lopez—all wearing street clothes designed by Branimira Ivanova. Technique again ruled and typical push-pull motifs were punctuated by daring lifts.

Occasionally resembling a dance marathon from the 30s, the work highlighted unison slo-mo walking and a requisite running segment, with Elliot Hammans also executing an energetic solo. The dancers themselves were responsible for manipulating the fabric, which took on various sea guises, including ripplings and swellings that contributed to a floaty feeling. (The use of fabric is nothing new, with Alvin Ailey’s “Wade In the Water” from his 1960 masterpiece, “Revelations,” perhaps the epitome of H2O.)

The bursts of three-minute songs, however, lent a “So You Think You Can Dance” vibe to the otherwise fluid choreography, with the London-sung anthem having an eerie quality, and the work’s final image, that of a lone woman on stage, resonating, the silk also reduced to nothingness.

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago is one of America’s national treasures, and under Edgerton’s insightful and dedicated stewardship, the troupe continues to bring the art of dance to new and very pleasurable heights. Congratulations are in order!

Victoria Looseleaf


Victoria Looseleaf is an award-winning, Los Angeles-based international arts journalist who covers music and dance festivals around the world. Among the many publications she has contributed to are the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, Dance Magazine and KCET’s Artbound. In addition, she taught dance history at USC and Santa Monica College. Looseleaf’s novella-in-verse, Isn't It Rich? is available from Amazon, and and her latest book, Russ & Iggy’s Art Alphabet with illustrations by JT Steiny, was recently published by Red Sky Presents. Looseleaf can be reached through Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Linked In, as well as at her online arts magazine ArtNowLA.

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