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Hubbard Street's 30th Anniversary Opener Delivers

If I had ever forgotten why Hubbard Street Dance Chicago has been one of my favorite dance companies to watch for over a decade, their recent performance would have been a sure and swift reminder.  HSDC just completed their 2007 Fall Series at Chicago's HarrisTheatre for Music and Dance, running September 26-October 7, and most certainly did not disappoint the crowd.

For those of you who have somehow been sheltered from Chicago's dance scene,

Hubbard Street
is one of the staples of Chicago dance (and American dance, for that matter) currently celebrating their 30th season.  Formerly led by founder Lou Conte, and now under the direction of Jim Vincent who joined with the company in 2000, HSDC has created its own niche where there was none before. Unique to all the companies in the Chicago area due to its blending of unparalleled grace, athleticism, humor, skill, and versatility, HSDC constantly delivers programs prepared to invoke joy, laughter, thoughtfulness, and awe.

The company's Program B, performed October 3-7, presented four independent works by an eclectic mix of international choreographers (another reputation the company holds that works so well to their advantage).  The evening included B-Sides (12" Mix) by the American choreographer and HSDC dancer Brian Enos, Passomezzo by Israeli-born choreographer Ohad Naharin, Rassemblement by Spanish choreographer Nacho Duato, and Sechs Tänze by Czech choreographer Jirí Kylián.

Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately, the program did not start with an extremely strong piece. Safe, yes. Strong, no. Enos' B-Sides (12" Mix) premiered during the fall series, and while it was good and entertaining for the first half, it seemed to lack that extra layer of substance. The work was aesthetically pleasing, with a slithering morphing that accentuated the lithe and precise dancers. But while I did not find myself particularly drawn to the piece, I will chalk it up to the fact that it was competing with works I have seen multiple times before and have had the opportunity to observe and connect with.

One of the characteristics of

Hubbard Street
that connects the company to a wide audience is humor. This lighthearted personality is shown exquisitely in both Passomezzo and Sechs Tänze. Passomezzo, a duet for a woman and man first commissioned almost twenty years ago, is set to the recognizable "Greensleeves," and is very much a display of the raw emotion and play that occurs within relationships. Quirky, nuanced, playful movement with an almost childish candor ensues from the moment the female, Cheryl Mann, joins the male, Jamy Meek, onstage. At times reminding me a bit of Robin Hood: Men In Tights, the two dancers present a series of juxtapositions: desperate versus calm, angelic versus grounded, desire versus disdain. 

Sechs Tänze, on a similar level, is a playful work that gets the audience giggling every time. (I've seen it several times and witnessed the same reaction.) In an octet created just over twenty years ago and set to Mozart's "Sechs deutsche Tänze," Kylián creates a set of vignettes full of overdramatic, flamboyant physical comedy. The dancers first appear onstage looking rather dignified with powdered wigs with a courtly renaissance air about them, yet soon remind me more of children playing cops and robbers than ladies in waiting.  And let me point out there are rolling ball gowns (not worn by the women) and swords involved; you really have to see it to believe it.

Yet in this particular program, the work that stood out the most was Duato's Rassemblement, an emotionally stunning piece created back in 1990 and first performed by

Hubbard Street
in 1999.  Set to the music of Haitian composer Toto Bissainthe and toying with voodoo traditions and expressions of the enslaved, the dance seethed with life, affecting the audience in a very visceral and unspoken way. Throughout the piece it retains a very tribal, earthy atmosphere full of passion. The work is wonderfully crafted, effectively calling on the dancers, music, and lighting to convey a wide range of ever-changing emotion from sorrowful to soothing, hopeful and supportive to mourning. Prince Credell stands out in his role as a hunted victim, moving with such strength and control in an eerily animalistic fashion, while Cheryl Mann is beautiful and inspirational in her honest performance that is the epitome of a strong well-weathered woman. The narrative lends itself to a message, perhaps a political or social statement. But to be quite honest the audience need not read into the dance or analyze it to gain anything-the work is quite poignant for those just willing to sit and absorb. 

If you are a lover of dance, if you hate dance, if you have never been to a dance performance or if you have been to a million…if you think anything outside of ballet or jazz is weird, you must see

Hubbard Street
. They will not only be returning to Chicago for their 2008 Spring Series that runs March 26-April 5, but they have an impressive touring schedule as well. Check it all out at

Hubbard Street dancers in Palladio, performed in Fall Series program A.  Todd Rosenberg Photography, courtesy of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago.

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From This Author Christine Benson

Christine Benson is a dancer by trade, receiving a BFA in Dance Performance from Arizona State University and completing her early dance training at various (read more...)

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