Posted by: trailerpilot | 06:13::2009

Variations on a theme.

Terence Marling and Shannon Alvis in Extremely Close. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

Terence Marling and Shannon Alvis in Extremely Close. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

In the better moments of Jim Vincent’s tenure as AD of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, the company performed bills that were about as mixed as contemporary dance gets. Additions to the repertoire like Doug Varone’s The Constant Shift of Pulse, Lucas Crandall’s Atelier and Julian Barnett’s Float suggested a path ahead that both aligned with Hubbard Street’s firmly-established identity and allowed it to expand beyond five-years-delayed representative of the European dance scene. Some premieres and acquisitions disappeared so quickly it was difficult to guess whether there was a program on which they might make sense, while other dances were revived so frequently it was hard to tell one season from another. Kicking off his imminent departure from Chicago, Vincent assembled a summer series that leaves the company more or less as he found it, new relationships with the Art Institute, CSO and IIT notwithstanding.

Nacho Duato’s Gnawa, which will reappear August 20 at the Chicago Dancing Festival, is a précis of the Spanish choreographer’s imitable style and compositional habits. As in his Por Vos Muero of 1996, there’s a weakness for props and procession; that work’s incense burners are here replaced by broad votive holders. No dancemaker as reliant upon canons, however, utilizes them as well, and solos that fly across the stage in a heartbeat come precisely at the moment one begins to tire of the ensemble’s kaleidoscopic patterning. Pablo Piantino, who I haven’t seen much since he joined in 2005, brought honey and heft to a solo formerly danced by Isaac Spencer, and Penny Saunders and Terence Marling turned their odd roles as a faux-nude Adam and Eve into an ethereal relationship cruising ten thousand feet above the candlelit stage. I was reminded of the hermetic glass orb in which Hugh Jackman floats through space in Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain, light-years away from yet still tethered to his Conquistador doppelgänger on Earth.

Alejandro Cerrudo’s Extremely Close, while affecting and gorgeous when I first saw it at the Joyce, definitely needs the Harris’ cavernous stage; it also helps that there are no box seat sightlines to spoil its mysterious mechanics. I expect it will be his signature work for some time, although his new position as Resident Choreographer — Hubbard Street’s first — ensures multiple opportunities to supplant it in the near future. As before, I was a bit hung up on how the ensemble disappears; Close‘s fast-moving and busy opening scene is fabulously well-crafted and satisfying, and a soft womens’ trio, reminiscent of Ohad Naharin’s “metronome” dance, is an almost painfully-tender eddy in the rush, but then they’re all suddenly just gone. Benjamin Wardell, in a silent solo, takes the carbon-darkness of the piece’s mood and compresses it into a diamond of a moment. The meat of this dance is still its second half, notably devoid of any of the first’s trickery with wheeled panels. We see a couple [Shannon Alvis (departing with Vincent to NDT I in the fall) and Marling] as though through a loupe, examining themselves as parts of a whole. In each others’ space and butting limbs in slow motion, it seems like the pair is watching the sliver of light passing between their torsos close forever, sealing them in the dark of permanent commitment. Alvis has never been as much an untouchable queen as she was here; the chiaroscuro of her implied power was a giant pair of claws left retracted, her every touch holding the threat of Marling’s swift and bloody dismissal. Here was the complexity of intimacy that the Joffrey’s last program avoided entirely.

Shannon Alvis and Alejandro Cerrudo in Slipstream. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

Shannon Alvis and Alejandro Cerrudo in Slipstream. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

I used to dance a piece to Benjamin Britten’s Variations on a Theme by Frank Bridge, Lynne Taylor-Corbett’s 1996 The Quilt. Whereas in that work Taylor-Corbett lets the cheer of the early variations foreshadow its later seriousness and weight (they’re framed as the flashbacks of a woman dying of AIDS), Vincent takes the opposite approach for his Slipstream, diving into the light with a series of quick and playful scenes that leaves us ill-prepared for the other shoe’s drop. The vocabulary employed is a surprising departure from his usual formality; more concerned with a clarity of attitude and sense of spontaneity, Slipstream refreshingly lacks the overworked quality of pieces like counter/part and Palladio, aided by Birgit Rattenborg’s asymmetrical chartreuse jammies and Nicholas Phillips deceptively-simple lighting design. The choreographic motifs are fewer in number and thus more recognizable upon their returns, and its five couples delivered some of the evening’s best dancing, especially Meredith Dincolo and Alejandro Piris-Niño and Jamy Meek, who is also, sadly, leaving Chicago to join NDT I.

It was announced earlier this week that Vincent’s associate Glenn Edgerton will be taking the helm at Hubbard Street in August, although there’s been no word of changes to the already-planned 2009-2010 season. The company’s perenially-outstanding choreographic workshop Inside/Out is scheduled to occur on-site at the Hubbard Street Dance Center in the West Loop on June 27; stay tuned for more on that here at trailerpilot.



  1. […] dance realm — bookended the evening (I didn’t see him, but hope to God someone invited Alejandro Cerrudo). The breadth of both feeling and concept during his performance of each amazed and brought me back […]

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