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Dance review: Hubbard Street Dance Chicago at the Ahmanson Theatre

April 11, 2010 |  3:52 pm

Hubbardblog Hubbard Street Dance Chicago has long embraced adventuresome self-transformation, which has a lot to do with its progressive artistic flowering.

With Glenn Edgerton as Hubbard’s third artistic director, that growth continues: The 16-member company looked better than ever at its Saturday performance in the Ahmanson Theatre, a presentation of Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance at the Music Center.

Founder Lou Conte, whose Broadway career informed his own choreography, early on introduced his young troupe to the works of other dance makers, including a highly fruitful and noteworthy collaboration with Twyla Tharp. In its 33-year existence, Hubbard Street has evolved from a concert jazz-dance troupe into a sleek, contemporary ballet company, one with a special touch for European choreography.

The Hubbard Street repertory on view this weekend -- pieces by Nederlands Dans Theater’s Jirí Kylián, Johan Inger plus Batsheva Dance Company’s Ohad Naharin -- has been performed here previously by others. These dances don’t work without the highest level of committed athleticism. In the past, the Hubbard Street dancing was tentative and unconvincing. Edgerton, a onetime Nederlands  performer and artistic director, has raised the performances several notches, and the pieces glowed as though made specifically for this group.

Tabula

In Naharin’s “Tabula Rasa” (1986), to a recording of the same name by Arvo Pärt, four couples explored, through abstraction, different phases of human interaction. Naharin, who created “Tabula Rasa” for Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, kept everyone literally and symbolically off balance. The dance itself seemed to rock back and forth. The men and women rushed first one way, then back again, agitated, confused. Using canon form for his leaping, allegro group passages, Naharin made the stage continuously explode, like a series of giant crashing waves.

True connection was hard to find. Dancer Jessica Tong abandoned her partner in search of a different mate. Each time she approached a lone man, another woman rushed to his arms before Tong could arrive. Finally, Tong seemed assured of success, yet as she leaned into her new partner, he stepped aside and she fell to the floor.

The mood shifted for the morose second section. The dancers entered in a line facing the audience, shifting from one foot to the other, proceeding sideways glacially. Naharin’s final image was, if not wholly positive, not completely nihilistic. Tong was carried offstage and another woman cradled her partner.

Kylián’s “27’52” ” (2002, created for NDT) takes its name from the dance’s running time, and its preoccupations are more about form than humanity. The dancers’ twitchy, feral gestures unreeled forward first, then backward, as did the unidentified German and French texts. Dirk Haubrich’s percussive score smashed like shattering sheet glass.

Hubbard2 Lighting fixtures were hung precariously like mobiles (lighting design by Kees Tjebbes), and the six dancers manipulated the rubber-like flooring, pulling it out from under one another’s feet. In the end, they retreated into its folds.

Kylián structured the piece around three central pas de deux, and the performers manipulated one another with cool detachment. The final duet, for Tong and Jason Hortin, bespoke a more human connection, but, again, this was not Kylián’s primary concern. One wishes that it had been more of a priority, because the focus gave the piece an empty preciousness.

Inger wanted to explore themes of entrapment in his 2001 piece “Walking Mad” (made for NDT), to Ravel’s “Bolero,” and the nifty, folding wall that he designed for a set certainly ensnared the nine dancers. But “Walking Mad” is more screwball fun than serious essay, and one almost forgot the tricky split-second timing it took to pull it all off.

The nine dancers of “Walking Mad” are after love and sex -- predictably, the women wanted love, the men sex. One can’t get too angry with Inger for the stereotyping, however, because he is a benevolent creator, making his cast a silly, fallible lot.

Again, the dancers’ risk-taking came to the fore in this piece, as they thumped into the wall, scaled it, and exhibited little in the way of caution. This is the kind of dancing one always hopes to see; how nice to be rewarded.

-- Laura Bleiberg

Related:

Hubbard Street Dance furthers its L.A. reach

Photos: Jason Hortin and Jessica Tong of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago perform "27'52," "  top, and the company in “Tabula Rasa” at the Ahmanson Theatre on Saturday. Credit:  Ann Johansson / For The Times

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