On Tuesday, May 3, 2011, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Hubbard Street Dance Studio teamed up for their last performance in a week-long series of collaborations between the firmly established Chicago Symphony Orchestra (CSO) and the young and inventive Hubbard Street.
The program seemed like it was going to be a rather normal night. Scheduled were two sets by Vivaldi, a lovely and technically impressive oboe concerto composed by Marcello and a concerto grosso by Corelli, a popular Italian composer from the 17th century, all conducted by the endlessly entertaining and flamboyant Nicholas McGegan who is perhaps the most well known baroque conductor in the world.
I, however, was looking forward to Hubbard Street’s portion of the evening devoted to modern dance. The movement of the body holds a special sway over my sensibilities ever since the first time I saw a Pina Bausch performance. After a quick intermission and change of stage, four dancers appeared with a lone pianist, Amy Briggs. She began with a prelude from Mendelssohn that quickly got dark with a transition before the corresponding fugue to the haunting “Prelude in A-flat Minor, Op. 31, No. 8” from the 19th Century French composer Charles-Valentin Alkan. Alejandro Cerrudo, who hails from Madrid and is the current Choreographer in Residence at Hubbard Street, had my attention and that of the graying audience. The piece ended with a lone dancer continuing to dance, as if stuck in a recurring memory like the music had transferred from the orchestra to your mind, lingering maddeningly.
Next, a pared down version of the full symphony rejoined the stage along with thirteen dancers. Bohuslav Martinů’s [sic] “Toccata e Due Canzoni” began with a glorious musical sunrise and proceeded through sharp rises and falls, befitting the modernity into which Martinů was born.
Cerrudo displayed his wit and humor as a choreographer. Known for his ability to elicit performances that fall between both the beats of the music and the expectations of the audience he incorporated elements of magic and theatrical performance to the concert stage. At one point, a man in cape and stove-pipe hat laid his cape over a body on the floor to great fanfare and commanded it to rise with his fingertips, only to rip off the cape before the trick could be completed, illuminating the deception and letting the audience in on the gag. A hearty laugh was had. The emotions were building in the audience; they had given themselves to the performance.
Then, two male dancers came to center stage and dropped to all fours, circling each other like Greco-Roman wrestlers, about to grapple. They lunged towards each other. They kissed.
A hushed and reserved whisper of disapproval flitted over the formerly rapt hall.
Yes. That was the reaction of a “high culture” audience in Chicago. I suppose for some it was sadly not unexpected, but it was enough to destroy the enchantment of Cerrudo’s breathtaking choreographic style.
Homophobia seems to be not-so-subtly seeping out again in the United States as it still reels from the culture wars of the ‘80s and ‘90s, exemplified by the recent Wojnarowicz Affair. In a more general context, Facebook recently removed a picture of two men kissing and then later apologized for their “error” in its removal. I bring up this seemingly innocuous “error,” to illustrate a trend that is acutely prescient in terms of the social networking giant’s possible dealings with China and the unease with the role Facebook played in the Arab Spring.
Corporations have little apparent interest in the rights of minority groups or respecting civil liberties that don’t align with profitability. This is not a new contradiction of our society and one that has been mediated through hard-fought civil rights struggles. Yet as our own government slackens oversight due to the well-publicized economic crisis and cedes control of social and civil policies to wealthy lobbyists that gain electoral representation (thanks to the Citizen’s United ruling) from morally conservative politicians, the frenzied populace of over 47 million Americans living in poverty can no longer afford to fall prey to a game in which we all lose the ability to openly be ourselves.
The performance this night served as cold reminder of the long road to acceptance that remains. Thankfully, the performance at this venue reminds us of an oft-overlooked aspect of art in contemporary times: its ability to transform ourselves into better people.