Maximum Affect: Hubbard Street Dances Forsythe at ADF

This is a Hubbard Street Dance Chicago year at the American Dance Festival, and seeing them last night at the Durham Performing Arts Center brought two hours of solace, wonder and joy on a very bad no good day at the end of the worst week I can remember since George Wallace roamed the land.

The program repeats tonight, 7 PM. Read my review in full on, but here’s an excerpt and a few photos of the magic. (Company PR photos, not from last night.)

Forsythe makes what I call “industrial-strength ballet.” It will strip the pretty off your picture of ballet right quick. But it is beautiful. Not only is Forsythe among the most inventive choreographers (his picture could be in the dictionary next to the word), his work is honest. Every thing in it rings with truth, and the dances are unburdened with the overtwisted conceptual preciousness of so much dance theater. There’s no room for neurosis in a Forsythe action sequence.


Hubbard Street Dance Chicago performs William Forsythe’s Quintett. Photo: Todd Rosenberg, courtesy HSDC and ADF.


Hubbard Street Dance Chicago performs William Forsythe’s N.N.N.N. Photo: Todd Rosenberg, courtesy HSDC and ADF.


Hubbard Street Dance Chicago performs William Forsythe’s One Flat Thing, reproduced. Photo: Todd Rosenberg, courtesy HSDC and ADF.

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.

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