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A DANCER’S EYE: Hubbard Street Dance Chicago at The Pillow

As a whole, I was pleased with the program and the dancers certainly performed with passion and without flaw.

Becket — Last night I saw Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, a company that, at least in the United States, is at the top of the contemporary modern dance world. While the program was beautiful and well structured, and although it featured expert dancers, I was not all together impressed.

The first piece on the program, “N.N.N.N.,” was intriguing. It was performed by four dancers and was choreographed by William Forsythe. I had the opportunity to attend two choreography workshops at Boston Ballet (2011 and 2012), where one of my teachers was Helen Pickett. Now a seasoned, renowned choreographer herself, she trained and danced with Forsythe. I learned many of the modalities of movement that Forsythe created. One in particular that I noticed with this piece was “manipulation.” “Manipulation” is a term to describe taking one part of the body and moving it with another. For example, if I take one arm with the other and raise it above my head that is a form of “manipulation.” A “manipulation” can be large or small, from moving the fingers to moving the whole body, or even another body. It also has “true weight”; if I lift my arm up with my hand, I am picking up the full weight of my arm. All this was very apparent throughout the piece and it was interesting for me to watch these “modalities” work together in a full performance.

Jessica Tong and Jason Hortin of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in excerpt from "Second to Last" by Alejandro Cerrudo. Photo by Hayim Heron
Jessica Tong and Jason Hortin of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in excerpt from “Second to Last” by Alejandro Cerrudo. Photo by Hayim Heron

The second piece was by far my favorite. Interestingly enough, the excerpt from “Second to Last” was choreographed by Alejandro Cerrudo, resident choreographer of Hubbard Street. He also presented a piece in the program for Aspen Santa Fe Ballet at the beginning of the Pillow season. It was hauntingly beautiful and very clean. The choreography was very musical and fluid. I could tell immediately that Cerrudo has been influenced by Netherlands Ballet Theatre,and, more specifically, by Jirí Kylián’s “Petite Morte,” one of my favorite pieces of choreography. As choreographers, we all are inspired and draw from one another. We help each other grow; we give one another new ideas and ways of movement.

“A Picture of You Falling”, by choreographer Crystal Pite, was interesting in that a voice narrated the theme of the dance. The piece was short but powerful, with sharp movements, rebounding, and breaking at the joints.

“Waxing Moon” too, by Robyn Mineko Williams, was very strong and dynamic.

Hubbard Street Dancer Jacqueline Burnett in "Waxing Moon" by Robyn Mineko Williams. Photo by Todd Rosenberg
Hubbard Street Dancer Jacqueline Burnett in “Waxing Moon” by Robyn Mineko Williams. Photo by Todd Rosenberg

Lastly, there was “Solo Echo,” again by Crystal Pite. It opened with snow falling against a black background. Special lighting lit the snow at different heights against the backdrop. The choreography, while exciting, did not necessarily suit the music, the beautiful Brahms Cello Concerto. “Dance is music made visible,” according to George Balanchine. With this piece there were moments in which a dancer jumped wildly, although the music was a slow cello strain, or a light musical flurry while dancers slowly moved across the stage. Although this may have been an interesting experiment, it was unsuccessful and jarring. I even closed my eyes at one point to listen to the beauty of the music, since, before that, the discordant dancing distracted me from hearing it.

What I saw by way of choreography was recycled ideas and not much that jumped out and excited me in a new way. But, as a whole, I was pleased with the program and the dancers certainly performed with passion and without flaw.

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