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Jazz Meets Tradition in Hubbard Street's Energetic Dance
By Karen Anne Webb

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago broke like a wave onto the Kingsbury Hall stage on Nov. 19 with all the verve and originality one expects from this eclectic little company.

And the company’s dancers and directors presented a program to highlight its eclectic nature. One of my favorite dance idioms is that of dancers with exquisite, classically trained bodies blending their training with contemporary movement. Nacho Duato’s “Gnawa” (had to look this one up—it refers to a number of Moroccan entities, including a Sufi fellowship and a style of music) contained the bill’s most evocative use of this idiom.

Duato’s movement and overall use of the stage are just gorgeous. Most pronounced in a central pas de deux featuring Penny Saunders and Tobin Del Cuore, his movement flows like a stream tripping blithely along its watercourse. As in his “Cor Perdut,” the two dancers aren’t so much discrete entities as two poles of one body.

The 14-member corps provided profoundly beautiful moments when they entered bearing lit vessels like oil lamps and danced with the same sense of rippling and flowing in this subdued, lambent light. The close of this piece (in which they gather up the lamps and group together) underscores the fellowship that the title suggests. Everything about this piece—the lighting, the music, the Afro-Middle-Eastern tweaks of classical movement, the draping of the women in black—drew together to create a profound sense of having been transported to another culture, another time, another place.

Jiri Kylián’s “Petite Mort”—no, it’s not a double entendre—is likewise evocative. It whisks us away to Europe in—oh, let’s call it the late 1700s. I am a self-admitted Kylián groupie, but this was my first exposure to anything from his “Black and White” ballets. (If you’d like to see the whole set, they’re available to rent or buy on DVD from various sources around the Internet.)

“Ballets” is a good term for this generation of work: The partnering and overall movement quality is such that, if you don’t look closely, you could easily believe that the women were dancing on pointe. Lines are very clean, and there is a pristine crispness about the movement that fits well with the Mozart score. And yet, it’s Kylián, so its aesthetic blends the classical and the contemporary. If Duato’s work is about flow, Kylián’s here is about ebb and flow. His couples create beautiful, musically mobile sculptures. His sense of musicality is less the babbling brook flowing than waves on a beach rolling in and over each other.

And if double work is not your cup of tea, heck, the piece opens with a male corps dancing with fencing foils. Because of the publicity generated over Ballet West’s upcoming “Romeo and Juliet,” I kept expecting them to split into Capulets and Motagues and launch into one of the battle scenes from that ballet. What Kylián does with them is more in keeping with Mozart and his era—a dance that is partly balletic and partly based on the courtly forms of the time. Taken together, the disparate elements capture the sense of the program note, a quote from Faust asserting that what is best in life is for a man to be victorious in battle, then die in the arms of the woman he loves.

While Kylián’s and Duato’s works are moving on a visceral level, the other two works on the bill lend themselves more to intellectual appreciation. Jim Vincent’s new “Uniformity” has moments where it has the 1984-ish feel of Hans van Manen’s “Polish Pieces” (albeit a monochromatic jazz version of the theme). Choreography between men and women is strained to the point of being combative. David Lang’s music, with its metallic clanks, underscores the idea of a mechanized society. Only when the stage and dancers morph into a scene harking back to the ‘60s can men and women overcome their barriers and embrace. The moral may be that the Hippies had it right and the Yuppies got it wrong.

The piece listed in the program as “Kiss” wasn’t. (This work by Susan Marshall is a unique love duet done on hoists to music by Arvo Pärt.) It was Julian Barnett’s “Float,” to the music of Mum, which was listed in the original publicity for this show. Competitive like sections of “Uniformity,” but also playful, it was a nicely constructed little jazz duet from choreographer Barnett, whose background is in break dancing. But again, its appeal was less visceral and more intellectual. (The clip of “Kiss” on Hubbard Street’s website, in contrast, looks stunningly beautiful on all levels.)

The one drawback of showing this specific collection of works together was that everything was done in shades of black, white, and grey (even the hippies were in a subdued khaki palette), under subdued lighting. Though the choreography and execution were all that a dance-o-phile could wish, by the end of the evening, I was craving color and feeling the onset of Seasonal Affective Disorder.

karen [at]


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