Hubbard Street Dancers Make Outstanding ‘RE / TURN’ | Chicago News
âSweet are the uses of adversity. (Thanks, William Shakespeare.) And if you need proof of this maxim, I suggest grabbing Hubbard Street Dance Chicago (HSDC).
The adversity facing the 44-year-old began even before the pandemic made live performances impossible. Not only was he starting to face general financial difficulties, but he was losing his spacious home in the West Loop where several studios were used for rehearsals as well as classes open to the public. It has also seen the departure of a longtime artistic director, a highly productive resident choreographer and many of his seasoned dancers who have retired or moved elsewhere.
But now, given the already notable changes that have accompanied the recent appointment of Linda-Denise Fisher-Harrell as artistic director, the business is clearly flourishing.
The company was founded by Lou ContÃ©, a powerful contemporary dance troupe much admired by Chicago audiences, as well as dance enthusiasts in many other cities around the world. Conte invited Fisher-Harell to join the company at the age of 19. She went on to become the Principal Dancer of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, where she served an excellent 13-year tenure.
The phoenix-like rebirth of Hubbard Street was on full display Friday night in a aptly titled âRE / TURNâ program, which featured three fascinating and superbly performed pieces:
“Jardi Tancat”, a masterpiece by Spanish choreographer Nacho Duato which has been part of the company’s favorite repertoire for many years;
The world premiere of “The Seen”, a work by Jermaine Maurice Spivey, a member of the Kidd Pivot Project, whose wonderfully adventurous choreographer Crystal Pite has worked with HSDC in the past;
And the debut of “BUSK”, an astonishing piece by Azur barton, which also has a history with Hubbard Street. And while these pieces are a mix of vintage and new, and have very different musical roots, all three seemed to capture some aspect of the emotional fabric of the past 19 months.
Fortunately, a number of the company’s most distinguished and longtime dancers, Jacqueline Burnett, David Schultz, Andrew Murdock, Kevin J. Shannon and Elliot Hammans, were back in great shape, along with more recent additions including Alyssa Allen, Alexandria Best, Craig D. Black Jr., Michele Dooley, Michael Garcia, Alysia Johnson, Adam McGaw, Abdiel Figueroa Reyes and Simone Stevens.
The program opened with the magnificent âJardi Tancatâ (in Spanish for âJardin closâ). It begins in silence as three couples dressed in simple, autumn-colored clothing drop to their knees and engage in what is clearly a prayer for rain. They are peasants, framed by a circle of simple, leafless white tree trunks of Duato’s modernist design.
And as the instantly alluring music of Catalan singer Maria del Mar Bonet kicks in, the couples swirl around the stage in various pairings and patterns that are both wonderfully organic and mystical.
There is an irresistible magic in the fluidity and rhythms of the dance and dance in Duato’s piece, the dancers suggesting a deep attachment to the land and to each other, and with the loud, rhythmic sounds of the chirping sounds of ‘invisible birds adding to the mood sometimes. The six dancers – Burnett, Black, Allen, Shannon, Johnson and Murdock – were superb.
If âJardi Tancatâ is a question of flow, âThe Seenâ by Spivey (created in collaboration with the 14 dancers of the company), is animated by an incessant, often provocative, even robotic, flow of staccato human discourse.
The text and “music” are by Spivey, and this speech suggests conflicting sensibilities, several of the dancers approaching strategically placed microphones as they rhythmically count combinations of single numbers and bicker over their perceptions of relationships, events and associated misunderstandings.
The truth of any given notion is hotly debated, and certainty and uncertainty are constantly at play in this piece which could easily be captioned “Viewpoints”. It is an intriguing experience, of course, and one that must shake the brains of dancers, even if they are used to the complex counting involved in learning new choreographies.
Barton’s complete play “Busk,” and impeccably staged here by Jonathan E. Alsberry, closed the program and was nothing short of phenomenal. Unsurprisingly, it got the public on their feet.
On a wide range of music – from Moondog, to Saint-SaÃ«ns, passing by the Russian composer known as Ljova, among others – it opens in near darkness from which a man, initially slumped over a small bank of steps, and dressed in black Gray jersey pants and a hoodie that totally erases his identity, emerges. There is a certain strangeness and acrobatic alienation of bravery in the way he and everyone who follows in various scenes move. And the overall effect – with a chorale of vocals, traffic noises and other scores being part of the mix – goes from sensuality to madness, with alternating moods that demand a technique of bravery and dramatic intensity.
Three of the male dancers – Murdock, Hammans and Reyes – were particularly noteworthy in this work which I hope not only to see again, as it will be part of the Summer Series, but I think it should be renamed “Mad Monks”.
Upcoming programs for the company’s 44th season are Spring Series, âRE / CONNECTâ at the Museum of Contemporary Art, from March 2 to 13, 2022
Follow Hedy Weiss on Twitter: @HedyWeissCritic