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Dance, Modern Dance
by Joel Kuennen

Bodies pull, collide and fall into unison. People hold hands watching as she takes her time, dancing for them all. A couple stares at each other, their eyes inches away, as an operatic crescendo climbs from the speakers above the stage. For some reason modern dance fell into the cliché for many people. But every time I see it, I watch with amazement as bodies contort to rhythms that seem unremarkable, and I am sucked in by it. The visceral character of dance, the impact of highly trained bodies upon one another in coordinated molecular vibrations is captivating and emotional.

As many  know, and as some have forgotten, Chicago has one of the strongest dance scenes in the country, headlined by two renowned and respected troupes: The Joffrey Ballet and Hubbard Street Dance.  This coming weekend (January 26-29, 2012), Hubbard Street Dance co-presents “danc(e)volve: New Works Festival” at the Museum of Contemporary Art. The festival is comprised of a series of relatively short choreographies, between seven- to sixteen-minutes long, and is performed by the dancers of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and Hubbard Street 2. There are two sets of performances scheduled for alternating nights, sets A and B. I was lucky enough to get a glimpse of set A last week as they performed for Hubbard Street subscribers. Though I haven’t seen set B, judging from what I saw last week, anyone—novice, enthusiast, and expert alike—will enjoy these dances.

The first, Path and Observations, choreographed by HS2 dancer Johnny McMillan, is an atavistic romp of sorts, staged like something out of A Midsummer’s Night Dream. Autumn leaves are strewn across the floor and cling to the dancer’s rough-hewn costumes. Bouts of daggering punctuate the dance and crescendos of leaves fall from elongated kicks and rolls. Inspired by “a little nomad girl in a beautiful parka,” McMillan wanted to “demonstrate the necessity of simplifying and accepting one’s emotions.” This kind of urbane response to the urban is very real for many and though the product in this case tended to over extend itself into a metaphorical realm well traveled by modernist anthropologists, the dancing made me almost forget the escapism inherent in this work.

The dance that followed, Recall choreographed by Robyn Mineko Williams, could not have been more heterogeneous. Beginning with a strong bass beat, the lights go up on six dancers walking briskly around the stage, making sharp 90˚ turns.  Remixed music from The Chromatics drives the dancers into beautiful collisions with one another. It recalls the bumps and brushes one has moving through the city, rubbing elbows with others, taking turns, and walking briskly along the concrete blocks.

Never was by Alejandro Cerrudo. Hubbard Street 2 Dancer Johnny McMillan. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.


Never was, choreographed by Resident Choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo is a simple, seven-minute duet. A man and a woman dance together to sounds of both sides of a Baroque coin: Handel and Purcell. The latter will be recognized by many from the synthesized adaptation of his Music for the Funeral of Queen Mary that exists as the theme of Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of A Clockwork Orange. The long, held chords of the music start the dancers in motion and it continues until the dancers stop and stare at each other, as a long operatic assent transitions the music and the dance to Handel. Cerrudo’s choreography is transcendental, pulling from his dancers their limit. Hubbard Street’s start of the Spring Series will showcase Cerrudo at the Harris Theater in mid-March.

The fourth piece, Untitled Landscape, felt like an uneasy meditation on the metaphysical through religious allusion. A large, sometimes rotating stained glass projection acted as the spotlight in which one dancer performed for their colleagues who stood on the edge of the circle, holding hands and moving back and forth to a symphony by Henryk Gorecki. A strong sense of community combined with the importance of individual achievement painted a picture of Midwestern America; slow and somber. 

The final dance, choreographed by Penny Saunders, winner of the 2011 National Choreographic Competition was a light-hearted, fast and upbeat inclusion of vaudeville into the program. Alicia Delgadillo shined brightly in this piece, as her exaggerated facial expressions brought that element of vaudeville comedy to an overall cheeky and fun dance.


-Joel Kuennen, ArtSlant Staff Writer


(Top image: Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, dancer Jessica Tong and Jason Hortin. Photo: Todd Rosenberg)


Posted by Joel Kuennen on 1/24/12 | tags: dance performance

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