The first program of the first season of Hubbard Street’s Edgerton Administration opened last night. Its dancers, currently numbering seventeen, have settled into one another nicely — a lot of faces came and went at the company over the past few years but during the evening I realized the revolving door had slowed enough for me to see both individuals and nuanced group dynamics. And as for the work? Surprises all around.
Of Resident Choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo’s dances, “Lickety-Split” — his first for HSDC — has moved me the least. It gives a suite of Devendra Banhart songs more depth and complexity than I would ever hear on a plain listen — even more than I think they have, in fact — but it has always been a piece I find myself counting, learning step-by-step while I watch it, as opposed to being swept away by the phrases and spatial arrangements themselves. Perhaps the now-three-year-old dance has simply had time to set, or Cerrudo has taken this latest remount as an opportunity to exert new direction on his work, but “Lickety-Split” has never looked more whole or been more satisfying than it is now. Some elements — the design of its opening in particular — were as genius as ever but what had been, for me, its Achilles’ heel — the closing section — has become the celestial ascent it seems Cerrudo had intended all along. One stunning performance took it from harbinger of greater things to a manual of style.
Lucas Crandall’s brief “The Set” looks just as great in its own skin. Cerrudo got as many laughs in the drag role as did its originator, Jamy Meek (now, along with Shannon Alvis and Jim Vincent, with Nederlands Dans Theater) but by a totally different approach. Meek, apart from a beautiful dancer, is an extraordinary clown, while Cerrudo is a comic ninja — the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it swiftness of his visual punchlines sat neatly in the masterful subtlety of Crandall’s choreography. Meredith Dincolo and Jason Hortin were as spectacular as they’ve been before, reprising roles.
I was told that one of Vincent’s last acts as Artistic Director was to remount, with Taryn Kaschock Russell, Nacho Duato’s “Jardí Tancat,” a 26-year-old sextet that’s become, by both ubiquity and praise, beyond reproach. Not that I would — the first time I saw the piece, at sixteen, was nearly a religious experience. But I know it probably too well, and was shocked at the gulf between Vincent’s last staging (meticulous and confined in a way that perfectly suited the thankless and simple imagined biographies of its characters) and this one (muted, wistful, indulgent and beige). It’s astoundingly dense — I’m always glad when it’s bookended by intermissions — but whereas the last performance I saw committed itself to the near-impossible task of showing every single bit of information, last night multiple images were sacrificed to the lingering trail of whatever preceded them. It was danced well, mind you, but it was also directorially abridged and musically tardy — I wanted to tell everyone in the house seeing it for the first time they were missing half. Having learned two of its three male roles I can attest to the abusiveness of Duato’s musicality in “Jardí” but, whether or not I could execute it to his satisfaction (judging from the fact I never performed it, guess not), I’d gladly defend each count. Kellie Epperheimer and Kevin Shannon did fine work with the second duet but, watching the opening movement (which is danced in silence) I kept thinking, what’s the damn rush?
Closing out was Jorma Elo’s “Bitter Suite,” which title had me worried going in. Elo’s part of a powerhouse duo that unfortunately works alone: his movement vocabulary is unique, brave, detailed, fresh and funny but without an editorial and compositional advisor the diarrheal aspects of his work undercut its creativity. Set to the second and third movements of Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto and “Pur Ti Miro” from Monteverdi’s opera L’Incoronazione di Poppea, this sprawling world premiere opened with a silent scene casting Robyn Mineko Williams odd-out among an ensemble of eight; introductory suggestions of ignored handshake offers gradually drifted up her arm and into her torso while the other dancers jerked to the right with one arm high, creating a rose bush’s time-lapsed bloom via Ailey’s “I’ve Been ‘Buked.” In a rather beautiful duet, Ana Lopez is dragged a few inches at a time across the floor in a position that’s Sphinx on the bottom and one of Matthew Bourne’s male swans on top. However, “Bitter Suite” feels too long; there’s enough movement in it for one great work of equal length and two mediocre bonus numbers. Much of it is gorgeous, I’ll say, like the opposing tick-tocks of a standing weight shift with the legs of a dancer lying supine downstage, or subtly-rhythmic jumps as Super Mario as they are Parsons’ “Caught,” but undifferentiated visual stimuli always becomes a wash and, if someone (me) who loves contemporary dance, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Mendelssohn and dramatic lighting (by James F. Ingalls) finds it hard to stay engaged, I wonder what hope the rest of the public has. What do I know, though — the audience seemed to like it enough.
Continues through Sunday at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance; visit hubbardstreetdance.com for more information.