Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s Big Ideas Almost Work

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago opened their Modlin Center program on Monday night with Twyla Tharp’s “Baker’s Dozen” (1979), a delicious éclair of a dance in which Tharp braided clean and effortless classicism with the quirks of real life: light romance shot through with flirtation, fickleness, brief passion, comedy, jealousy. The twelve dancers, with their perfect lines, deft partnering, and gorgeous technique served up “Baker’s Dozen” with aplomb.

In a shift from light to dark, Robyn Mineko Williams and Alejandro Cerrudo performed Ohad Naharin’s “Passomezzo,” a duet exploring the confusion, conflict, and occasional transcendence that characterize an intimate relationship. Spinning on their knees, intertwining, alternately dominating and supporting one another, the two struggled with themselves and each other throughout the work, leaving us to feel that intimacy may always come at some cost to each individual.

A program note explained that Brian Enos’ “B-Sides (12″ Mix)” was inspired in part by “the culture surrounding underground dance music.” This leads one to imagine dim warehouse spaces spiked with colored light, a throbbing beat, and heaving crowds dancing with raw sensuality. The performance of “B-Sides” delivered colored light (designed by Nic Phillips), the occasional throbbing beat (from music by Hybrid, another inspiration for the work), but was devoid of rawness, sensuality, or any dynamic range. Five dancers performing perfect pirouettes or promenades en attitude, striding morosely towards each other, or writhing together in fleeting, artistically arranged groups on the floor made any connection to club or underground dancing seem absurd.

The evening closed with Gnawa, a large group work choreographed in 2005 by Nacho Duato, and wide-ranging in its references to Asian and African cultural themes. Though dripping with technical ability the dancers’ overall performances for the evening flattened when considered as a whole — excellence was there; individual passion was lacking. This may explain how work by four quite distinct choreographers blended together by the concert’s end; the company seems to commission interesting dances that engage but do not challenge dancers expressively or audiences emotionally.

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago performs Tuesday, Oct. 23 at 7:30 p.m. at the Modlin Center. Call 289-8980.


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