Review: Hubbard Street Dance Chicagoquadruple bill, featuring works by choreographers Brian Brooks, Alejandro Cerrudo and Crystal Pite

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. Brian Brooks' Loss of Place© Todd Rosenberg Photography 2019

On June 6, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago premiered its 2019 Summer Series at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance in the company’s hometown. The quadruple bill, featuring works by choreographers Brian Brooks, Alejandro Cerrudo and Crystal Pite, was described as a “greatest hits program” by Artistic Director Glenn Edgerton, who explained that since the debut of each of the choreographies, “we have heard repeatedly that audiences would love to see these works more often.”

The Loss of Place by Brian Brooks, Choreographer in Residence at the Harris Theater, opened the show. The ensemble piece featured 16 dancers in a work that clearly focused on the theme of order versus chaos. It’s not a particularly novel idea for a dance work, and although a seemingly simple concept, it is not one that translates easily to the stage. 

The last thing any audience wants to see is true chaos. It is jarring, unpleasant and possibly even unsafe for those involved, so choreographers have the challenging charge of reproducing the concept of chaos without actually creating it.  

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. Brian Brooks' Loss of Place© Todd Rosenberg Photography 2019
Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. Brian Brooks’ Loss of Place© Todd Rosenberg Photography 2019

Brooks begins the piece with that most orderly of forms, the line. There is nothing new or exciting about seeing dancers in a line, falling out of line then quickly pulling back in, the line rolling and undulating but always snapping back to its rigid straightness. Until the moment comes when it balls in on itself and shatters. Here comes the chaos; chaos that should in an oxymoronic twist still look relatively polished. The problem is that this “free-form” dissonance lacks luster. What should have been an enthralling exercise in ebullient movement was messy and lacking focus. At no point was this clearer than when a male dancer mistakenly careened into a fellow female dancer.

According to the program notes, Brooks was hoping to represent something along the lines of “watching a flock of birds – something of one mind, of one focus, with a cohesiveness balancing order and chaos.” Unfortunately, this was not the image The Loss of Place evoked, as watching a flock of birds would have inspired far more awe and investment.

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in The Loss of Place by Brian Brooks. Photo by Todd Rosenberg
Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in The Loss of Place by Brian Brooks. Photo by Todd Rosenberg

As Brooks’ work made obvious, choreographing for a large body of dancers is challenging and requires striking a delicate balance, but Alejandro Cerrudo’s piece Out of your Mind proves it can be done very successfully.

Cerrudo is Hubbard Street’s Resident Choreographer, and Out of your Mind is the 16th piece he has created for the company. The work marks the first time Cerrudo has used text, employing recordings of philosopher Alan Watts contemplating our understanding of our individual role in creating the universe. It’s a beautiful, almost spiritual text, that sublimely introduces Cerrudo’s onstage universe, in which each dancer portrays a cog in a stunning and smoothly operating machine. Again, we a presented with the imagery of a line, but this one curves and folds and pulls apart with elegance and with full awareness of each piece that comprises it.

There is a graceful lyricism to the interconnectivity that Cerrudo is representing, and it is heightened in the duets and trios. There is a soft quietness in the movement between dance partners, whose ginger clasping of hands, entwining of arms and fluid lifts, highlight the wonderment created when two bodies move in balanced tandem.

Hubbard Street Dancers Craig D. Black Jr. and Kevin J. Shannon in Out of Your Mind by Alejandro Cerrudo. Photo by Cheryl Mann.
Hubbard Street Dancers Craig D. Black Jr. and Kevin J. Shannon in Out of Your Mind by Alejandro Cerrudo. Photo by Cheryl Mann.

Two duets by Crystal Pyte contributed strongly to making this series a potent evening of dance.  The first, A Picture of You Falling, is yet another text-based treat featuring the narration of Kate Strong, who recounts banal moments of everyday life as though one was looking at old photographs.  It is through these snapshots that we discover that in these quiet, everyday moments a relationship between two people falls apart. Lighting by Alan Brodie creates tenebrous boxes that move across the stage, as though remembering sepia photographs but also creating a cell-like, lonely atmosphere.  Through a series of vignettes, dancers Ana Lopez and Craig D. Black Jr., seem almost like puppets of fate, wielding sharp, almost acrobatic movements to their detriment and that of their partner.

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. Crystal Pite's "A Picture of you falling."© Todd Rosenberg Photography 2017
Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. Crystal Pite’s “A Picture of you falling.”© Todd Rosenberg Photography 2017

The second duet, The Other You, takes the image of puppetry even further, opening on a man moving his articulated joints as though he is his own marionette. It’s not long before the man is met by his mirror image, who quickly takes charge, manipulating his counterpart’s every move and expression, but not without sometimes hindering his own. The piece, performed fantastically by Michael Gross and Andrew Murdock, is meant to depict internal conflict, and it does so with a vigorous whimsy.

Reviewed on 6th of June 6 at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance

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