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Dance Review Print

Be Here Now with Hubbard Street Dance at ADF

Todd Rosenberg

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago

Todd Rosenberg

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago

Todd Rosenberg

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago

Event  Information

Durham -- ( Fri., Jul. 8, 2016 - Sat., Jul. 9, 2016 )

American Dance Festival (ADF): Hubbard Street Dance Chicago
$62.25-$10 -- Durham Performing Arts Center , INFORMATION:  (919) 684-6402; TICKETS: (919) 680-ARTS (2787) , http://www.americandancefestival.org/

July 8, 2016 - Durham, NC:

The American Dance Festival includes Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in its season every 3-5 years, and those are good years for viewers who want to watch superb dancers engaged in brilliant choreography with the abandon that comes only with Olympian prowess. This year's HSDC program is all Forsythe – William Forsythe, who won the Scripps Award in 2012, on which occasion HSDC performed Forsythe's Quintett along with works by other choreographers. This year's program, which includes Quintett, is the one they should have done for Forsythe, but the company did not yet have the other two works on this year's program in its repertoire.

Forsythe makes what I call "industrial-strength ballet." It will strip the pretty off your picture of ballet right quick. But it is beautiful. Not only is Forsythe among the most inventive choreographers (his picture could be in the dictionary next to the word), his work is honest. Every thing in it rings with truth, and the dances are unburdened with the over twisted conceptual preciousness of so much dance theatre. There's no room for neurosis in a Forsythe action sequence.

These are not story ballets – yet they do tell human tales, showing us human experiences disguised as abstract dance. The dancers do not represent characters; they represent us, segments of humanity. Only they can do things with their bodies most of us can only dream about. Forsythe's choreography uses lots of expansive, even explosive, movements that take classical ballet's language to the far edges of contortion and control. The turn-out of the legs necessary to generate the line and the springing and turning power of ballet morphs into extraordinary open pelvis/wide-legged leaping into gorgeous arabesques and stunning développés at unusual angles. Arms in lovely port-de-bras flop over and swat the next dancer on the head. Rigidity gives way to eel-like wriggling. Classic lifts have the romance removed and the danger left intact. And so on. Even if you know the work, there's a surprise every second.

But the greatest value in this choreography is what is says about connection, about what happens when we touch and interact. There's all the physical stuff – the physics of motion: how force transfers, how it reverses; the relationship of the body to the ground plane and to gravity; the role of counterpoise and counterbalance in keeping a single body upright and multiple bodies in the air. But the way Forsythe puts all the pieces together releases a torrent of emotion in the viewer. The dancers express an ever-shifting emotionality, from which humor is rarely absent for long, and which comes from human interaction. These dancers are fully present, not mere ciphers moved around like game pieces by a collaborative committee in consensus.

The humor in this program is most notable in the evening's first piece, N.N.N.N. (2002), which seems to be about how thoughts, feelings and neural synapses work in a person's mind. Everything pushes to dominate; banished thoughts sneak back; decisions are made and re-made, and sometimes it all turns into slapstick. There's no stasis, no calm, but instead the self-sustaining balance of the whirl. Some of the gestures just make you laugh out loud.

Quintett (1993) is darker, emotionally. A tour de force of permutations, it also reaches into the heart and lifts to light some of the provocative feelings that propel us in our interactions. You can't really stop to analyze them then, because the Hubbard Street dancers adroitly short circuit your ability to stand outside the moment. To me, this is the greatest achievement of great dance: it can unify mind and body, forcing the viewer to "be here now."

The evening's final piece, One Flat Thing, reproduced (2000) comes in with a roar and leaves as it came. Fourteen dancers rush onstage, pushing 20 steel tables before them. Before they drag them off, they use them like mazes, airplane runways, tables in a biergarten, tumbling mats, drawbridges and even plain kitchen tables. It is fantastic to have a planar surface in mid-air, so the bodies can be below and above and really be elevated when they jump. It is a very cool way to affect our perception of the stage space.

The horde of dancers moves at speed among the hard surfaces and unforgiving corners and sharp angled table legs. The awareness this brings to the viewer of the softness of even a dancer's body is almost unbearable – except that the dancers, employing many of the same gestures that made N.N.N.N. so funny, seem to be having the time of their lives. Maybe they are dancing for their lives: repeatedly throughout they string out in two lines and charge, recalling Jerome Robbins' choreography for A Westside Story. The music is hardly Bernstein, though, but an escalating cacophony of scratching, clacking, clicking and popping by Thom Willems that eventually reveals its own inventiveness, worthy of Forsythe's, and forms a kind of buoyant flotation device for the dancing.

This program repeats tonight in the DPAC and is most highly recommended. See our sidebar for details. 

For past reviews on Hubbard Street's performances at ADF visit 2004, 2007, and 2012 which describes Quintett in more detail.