Hubbard Street Dance Chicago at Spoleto USA 2014 — a review

First things first: if you ever go to some sort of cultural programming at the College of Charleston’s TD Arena, buy your tickets early and get as close to the stage as possible. A friend and I had a pretty terrible experience last year for Compagnie Käfig despite sitting in the front row of the concourse level — in seats that looked like they should be perfect.

So for Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, we bought floor seats in the front row. This review reflects that experience, which was pretty much wonderful. Still, I can’t imagine how frustrating the show would have been for folks sitting far from the stage.

The 35-year old company came to Spoleto with 18 skilled dancers, one more beautiful than the next, and a program that varied dramatically in emotional tenor and in influences. The effect was both thrilling and demanding.

Regrettably, the printed program did not list the dancers in each of the four pieces, so I won’t be able to give the individual performers the credit they deserve.

The show began with choreographer Nacho Duarte’s multi-layered Gnawa, The program notes Spanish and Mediterranean influences, but parts of the piece seemed more Eastern than Western to me — in good ways. A beautiful, flowing duet with a male and female dancer was at the core of the dance, framed by more complex passages with, at times, activity seemingly across the stage. The staging was especially striking — the shirtless male dancers in pants that looked like gold brocade (I covet a pair, although I sure wouldn’t look like those guys did), the female dancers in assymetrical black dresses, the subtle and dramatic changes to the white lighting.

An extended passage with candles on the front of the stage (could those even be seen from the back of the arena?) leant a sacral quality to the work.

After an intermission, five members of the company — three male, two female — performed William Forsythe’s Quintett, a particularly challenging and ambitious piece. The work had a disjointed quality — an intentional one — that was both hypnotic and, after a while, a little tedious. The repetition of Gavin Bryars’ music at times overwhelmed the delicate movements and sudden variations in movement and emotion, as dancers interacted intensely with each other before splitting into other combinations or leaving the stage entirely. There was a spotlight literally on the stage, across from a convex mirror; at one point, a filter in that spotlight showed a vision of the sky. But both the spotlight and the mirror seemed underused in the piece.

Regrettably, some audience members left the arena after that second number: they missed the final and strongest third of the program.

After the second intermission, three male dancers performed solo to old Dean Martin songs in Alejandro Cerrudo’s PACOPEPEPLUTO. A few thoughts:

  • The lighting hit the dancer’s bodies in ways that highlighted their muscularity without feeling like an operating room.
  • The men wore only dance belts (basically g-strings), so they were all but nude.
  • I remember Dean Martin as the faux (?) drunk on game shows, but the guy could sing — and sounded really young in these recordings.
  • The choreography grew increasingly fun and clever.
  • Overall effect: The piece was immensely entertaining, really hot, and way too short.

That work segued right into Falling Angels, choreographed by Jiří Kylián with percussive music by Steve Reich. The eight female dancers frequently moved in unison to the driving, somewhat repetitive beat. There was a fittingly robotic quality to certain passages — a quality that made the more fluid, complex parts of the piece even better.

The program as a whole was so varied that it was a little hard to find one’s footing — there certainly wasn’t any overriding theme to the selections. I’d be curious to see Hubbard Street on their home turf in Chicago, performing for audiences that already know the richness of the repertoire. The Spoleto program felt a little bit like a sampler platter — but one that you’d order again in a heartbeat.

All in all, beautiful work.