Can’t get enough of too, too much–Hubbard Street smokes the DPAC with its hot Chicago dancing

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago excels at powerlifting. Photo: Igor Larin, courtesy ADF.

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago started their three-work concert at the Durham Performing Arts Center  June 29 with a demanding, emotional, William Forsythe dance. And then they kicked it up from there. Replete with surprising images, balletic grace and precision, the program repeats Saturday, June 30, as the American Dance Festival closes its second full week. Forsythe, who has spent most of his career in Europe and whose work is not widely performed in the US, will receive the 2012 Scripps/ADF Award for Lifetime Achievement and its $50,000 prize prior to the performance. He will participate in a panel discussion (free) in White Lecture Hall on Duke’s East Campus at 4 p.m. July 1.

Forsythe’s 1993 dance Quintett opens the Hubbard Street program. Hubbard Street is the first American company to perform the work; they debuted it in Chicago only a month ago, and the performance here exhibits the freshness of a work newly in repertory. Quintett was originally created for Ballett Frankurt, and all the beautiful forms of classical ballet appear in it—but torqued and supercharged with raw passion and contemporary sensibility. Three men and two women (in wonderfully-colored costumes by Stephen Galloway) share the stage with two stationary objects: a hulking piece of lighting equipment, and a parabolic mirror reflecting the dark stage with it markings so that a road back into infinity appears in the mirror. The machine generates a beam of harsh light, and later projects an image. Its presence is disturbing—it is heavy, unmoving, in the way—but I soon began to think of it as a time machine, or Memory: unwieldy, unceasing in its efflorescence of recall.

All of Quintett’s combinations and re-combinations of characters, all the fast-shifting vignettes, seem to occur in the past, along an endless loop of chanted words. Composer Gavin Bryars made Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet from a looped recording of a homeless man singing that one line, and built orchestrations on top. The music starts as whispered words, and spirals up in volume and lushness before subsiding again. The dance is also made with a spiraling force, and utilizes many moves that create a spiral form, as well as spiraling turns across the stage (it is fantastic to see ballet’s mechanics serving undecorated passion). We pass through regret, longing, anger, all expressed in exquisite port-de-bras, snapping pirouettes, ferocious battements and lunges and lifts that invert suddenly like a turned hourglass. We pass through these things as the music-induced trance deepens, and about the time the machine projects an image of breaking clouds, we get through to better. In actuality, by the time the music stopped, I was feeling pretty blissed out.

The evening’s central piece is the big and showy Little Mortal Jump, by Alejandro Cerrudo (2012), featuring ten dancers and a several very large moveable gray boxes, which turn out to be a lot more active and meaningful than one might guess. The clever costumes (Branimira Ivanova) in black, gray and white gleam under cold smoky lighting by Michael Korsch. To list the music would take an entire paragraph (both music and dance could have been edited down slightly), but it’s an interesting mix, and includes a piece by Philip Glass, without whom it seems currently that no contemporary dance concert would be complete. The dance starts off being amusing, almost slapstick, but after a strange interlude involving Velcro and mirror lights, it turns serious with a splendiferous long duet. As the curtain comes down, no people can be seen on stage, just the boxes, ponderously realigning themselves.

HSDC dancer in TOO BEAUCOUP. Photo: Todd Rosenberg, courtesy ADF.

For the final work, it is back to trance-land, with Sharon Eyal and Gaï Behar’s mesmerizing and hilarious Too Beaucoup. The Israeli choreographers created this 15-dancer work for HSDC, which premiered it in Chicago in 2011. What a stageful of wow. Eyal and Behar also designed the costumes. Each dancer is clothed identically to appear nearly naked in a pale, lightweight bodysuit and a short blonde wig. Under warm yellow light, to a pumping beat, they appear onstage in a pulsing mass, which divides and subdivides, forming groups and lines and columns, all of which ceaselessly cross and re-cross. The movements are often mechanical, but the larger movement of the mass is fervidly organic. At times the flat-footed stamping, the quick about-faces, the angular raised arms, seem tribal, even orgiastic—and at other times, the dancers seem like a troupe of visiting robotic aliens. The movement is continuous, wave-like. Most of the dancers wash off-stage, leaving a single figure dancing like a flute melody to some item in another eclectic soundtrack (by Ori Lichtik, Eyal and Behar), before the tide pours the others back around the one.

This goes on with progressive permutations for a deliciously long time. The choreography delights with its combination of mathematical design and irreverent humor, and shows off HSDC’s stunning abilities with precise ensemble dancing. The dancing itself is–de-lovely.

Spinning the dial with Kyle: ADF sets Kyle Abraham in motion.

“Each year, the American Dance Festival brings, along with the famous and established, at least one company of young talent, and usually those companies and their choreographers turn out to be artists we will hear from again and again. This year the ADF introduces to this area the dynamic Kyle Abraham, who is presenting his 2010 work, The Radio Show, which derives from his life experience of listening to two particular “black” radio stations in his hometown of Pittsburgh.”

Go here to read the full review, published June 27, 2012 on Classical Voice of North Carolina.

This 2010 video from Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival indicates how far Abraham has come in a very short time. On June 16, Abraham helped kick off the Pillow’s 80th anniversary season, and accepted the 6th annual Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award, with its $25,000 cash prize.

The kind of stuff I live for. Scottish Dance Theatre at American Dance Festival

From my review published June 23, 2012 in Classical Voice of North Carolina. Read the full review here.

Kate Weare’s Lay Me Down Safe blew my mental breakers in the first minutes, getting right down to what the best dance does best: It brings experience and understanding through the body and its senses. When the lights came up at the end of this eight-dancer exposé of love and danger, I felt like a selkie caught outside my sealskin—unprotected, revealed; muscle, bone and skin tingling with sensation. Much of this magic is worked with the choreography, which struck me as profoundly female, but the entire visual is important, and of course, the dark, rhythmic music mix (including Nouvelle Vague, Philip Glass and Leonard Cohen). Both the backdrops and the costumes—tunics over skirts—are in shades of warm greys, which change in emotional value when the lighting alternates between sidelights and shadow-casting footlights. All the elements combine to create an atmosphere where tender safety and casual obliteration exist in the same moment—just as in the “real” world.

See rehearsal video here. See video of Drift onstage here.

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