Collaborations can sometimes be risky business. But in the right hands—and feet—they can have wondrous results. Case in point: Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and Third Coast Percussion, also Chicago-based, brought a dreamy, sometimes dazzling, sometimes delirious blend of music and dance to the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts over the weekend.
Performing excerpts from a full-evening 2018 commission, which comprised the program’s first half, the troupes made use of original music by British composer Dévonte Hynes (better known as Blood Orange), with choreographers Emma Portner and Teddy Forance doing terpsichorean duty. The concert began with a musical interlude, “Perfectly Voiceless,” a minimalist shock of sounds played and arranged by Sean Connors, David Skidmore, Robert Dillon and Peter Martin on a variety of mallet-driven instruments. Setting the mood, the percussionists proved a virtuosic panoply of aural clarity, the Wallis’ acoustics sublime.
As several of David Kim’s panels descended from the rafters, eight dancers began swirling onto the stage in Portner’s “For All Its Fury.” The dancemaker, who has been married to actress Ellen Page for the past year but is best known, perhaps, for performing in and choreographing Justin Bieber’s 2015 “Life Is Worth Living,” which to date has racked up some 50 million YouTube views, served up a riot of seemingly non-stop moves interspersed with slo-mo posturings and still tableaux for her charges.
Clad in Hogan McLaughlin’s Shaolin monk-like costumes—brown tunics and skirts—the dancers also helped showcase Rena Butler. Standing apart from the group, Butler, sporting a neo-ruched top and shorts, was divine in her slinky, sexy stances, her legs an ode to feral felines, with the others often assaying militaristic unisons and fluttery arms as they darted through and around the panels.
Also credited in this number: Sylvia Plath’s poem, “Mushrooms,” which this viewer was unable to detect, although one dancer cavorted with a piece of plastic, as the theme of sustainability continued in Forance’s “Everything Must Go.” Returning in McLaughlin’s simple tops and culottes, the performers again executed deft unisons, abetted by the percussionists, who not only provided a heart-throbbing score but a veritable wall of sound. The moves were Pilobolussean and insistent, with lots of writhing and lunging. Forance, who has performed with Lady Gaga, Madonna and Usher, to name a few, was not shy with his footwork, giving the dancers a variety of steps while also looking ebullient, whether in leaps or on the balls of their feet. And while Jim French’s lighting design tended to tip towards amber throughout the evening’s first half, there was also a sense of mystery enveloping these beautiful bodies.
It seems that no rep program is complete these days without a work by Ohad Naharin, erstwhile director of Batsheva Dance Company (1990-2017). And Glenn Edgerton, who has been at the helm of Hubbard Street since 2009, having danced with the Joffrey Ballet and Netherlands Dance Theater, as well as having directed the latter troupe for a decade, has impeccable curatorial taste.
With “Ignore”—an excerpt from Naharin’s “Decadance/Chicago” set to “Fur Alina” by holy minimalist Arvo Pärt and featuring the “lyrics” of a 1972 Charles Bukowski poem, “making it,” with voiceover by Bobby Jene Smith—five women proved indefatigable, compelling and the embodiment of power. As the poem builds in intensity—and wry humor—beginning with the words, “Ignore,” “Ignore all,” “Ignore all concepts and possibilities,” the quintet in Rakefet’s black, one-shouldered dresses, also repeat and build upon quirky moves and poses. Resembling a blend of Greek statuary and animatronic beings, whether crouched on all fours or simply pointing a toe, these gals—Jacqueline Burnett, Alicia Delgadillo, Kellie Epperheimer, Adrienne Lipson and Butler—need never worry about being ignored.
On a completely different note, three skimpily clad men (Craig D. Black Jr., Florian Lochner and Michael Gross, each wearing Rebecca M. Shouse’s near transparent dance briefs), provided a joyous romp in “Pacopepepluto.” A work by the company’s resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo, this series of brief solos is set to feel-good oldies by Joe Scalissi and Rat Packer Dean Martin, including the latter’s “That’s Amore.” In other words, this piece was unadulterated entertainment and rollicking good fun, with testosterone fueling explosive leaps and turns.
Completing the program: Crystal Pite’s “Solo Echo,” a haunting work originally made for Nederlands Dans Theater in 2012. Talk about yearning, hope and indomitability, the dance was inspired by Mark Strand’s poem about death, “Lines for Winter,” and featured music from a pair of Brahms’ cello sonatas. It opened with a man, motionless on stage against a background of falling snow (lighting by Tom Visser, stage design by Jay Gower Taylor), who is coming to grips with the end of his life. Pite, the recipient of the Benois de la Danse in 2017, has said that, “the character is echoed—copied, reiterated, by seven different dancers . . . portrayed through both male and female bodies.”
Lyrical, passionate and teeming with beauty, the work ebbs and flows with duets, solos and group gambits, shadow images mirroring one another, with bodies occasionally frozen in knotty shapes. Pite infuses her architecturally splendid vocabulary with an array of sculpted shapes, evocative lifts and static arabesques, the dancers in private pain and sometimes offering silent, open-mouthed screams. The ubiquitous blackness, including costumes by Joke Visser and Pite, is ever-present, while the snow is both hypnotic and a harbinger of that cold sleep of death.
Linked hands, however, do offer hope, but as a lone man in a pool of light remains at work’s end, we understand that we, too, are alone, albeit able to, mercifully, take comfort in art. Pite gives this to us in spades and for that we are grateful, as we are for the hugely talented and generous dancers of Hubbard Street.