Review: Hubbard Street Dance’s danc(e)volve fosters talent within the company

Hubbard Street Dancers Michael Gross and Adrienne Lipson in Das Feld by Florian Lochner. Photo by Cheryl Mann.

Since its 34th season in 2012, Chicago’s foremost contemporary dance company, Hubbard Street Dance, has presented danc(e)volve, an evening of world premieres choreographed by the company’s own dancers.  

The mission of both danc(e)volve and Hubbard Street’s annual Inside/Out Choreographic Workshop has been to foster talent within the company and, according to directors Glenn Edgerton and David McDermott, they “have become catalysts to the future careers of dancers by giving them time and resources to make new work.”

This year’s danc(e)volve, which ran from December 6 – 8 at Chicago’s Harris Theater for Music and Dance, featured work by Hubbard Steet’s Choreographer Fellows Rena Butler and Florian Lochner, as well as former fellow, company dancer and emerging choreographer Alice Klock.

German-born Florian Lochner’s piece Das Feld opens an evening of three short works. The piece is built around a soundscape of dancers answering questions about family, relationships and death.  The recordings are candid. Some responses are more insightful than others, and often they have little to do with the respondents’ profession.  

Hubbard Street Dancers Michael Gross and Adrienne Lipson in Das Feld by Florian Lochner. Photo by Cheryl Mann.
Hubbard Street Dancers Michael Gross and Adrienne Lipson in Das Feld by Florian Lochner. Photo by Cheryl Mann.

In many ways, Das Feld is the safest – or least inventive – of the evening’s works.  It hovers within what many would consider the conventional parameters of contemporary dance.  The soundtrack has little to do with the action on stage, and the music is more background noise than an integral part of the piece.  There are always a lot of dancers milling around the stage, moving slowly or posing, while seemingly unrelated, abstract duets or solos are performed center stage.

Sadly, in a piece rife with forgettable imagery, the one striking element is how Lochner builds human chains that crisscross the stage.  The dancers link to one another by stopping in different positions, but always touching the dancer next to them. They freeze, all interconnected and a few perform small repetitive motions that are almost imperceptible unless you’ve fixed your stare on that one particular performer.

Lochner played it safe with this choreography, and safe often translates to unmemorable. To begin to develop a unique choreographic voice, he will have to challenge himself by stepping out of his clearly established comfort zone.

Hubbard Street Dancer Adrienne Lipson in Fold Me by Alice Klock. Photo by Cheryl Mann.
Hubbard Street Dancer Adrienne Lipson in Fold Me by Alice Klock. Photo by Cheryl Mann.

Alice Klock, on the other hand, is a young choreographer who has already established a clear personal style.  Her piece Fold Me, the second and the strongest of the evening, was as complete and thoughtful as that of any long-established choreographer.  Each technical aspect, from staging, to lighting to musical score to costumes was perfectly integrated into a captivatingly frenetic and surreal piece.      

Klock explains that when she was younger, she had terrible migraines that caused vision loss, which she thought could mean she was seeing into another dimension.  Exploring the idea of moving across dimensions, Klock’s dancers slip in and out of each other’s costumes, with bands of stretched clothing pulling them into and away from one another.  Although the subject matter may not be fully evident until one reads the program, it’s still clear that the characters are inextricably linked and that they are moving and interacting in an otherworldly space.    

The final work was Rena Butler’s III. Third, the last piece in a three-work series addressing identity through the themes of gender, sexuality, race and culture.  The piece begins with two dancers, one from Taiwan and the other from Puerto Rico, walking down the isles and talking about their experiences living in the U.S. Maybe when all three pieces are unified, this transition makes sense, but as an opener to III. Third, it was lackluster and stilted, not conveying any urgency or importance to the piece.  

When the dance begins, we’re treated to a predominantly hip hop choreography, a welcomed reminder that many of today’s professional dancers arrive at contemporary dance through urban dance and that contemporary dancers and choreographers are becoming more and more interested in including urban dance in their movement lexicon.

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in III. Third by Rena Butler. Photo by Cheryl Mann.
Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in III. Third by Rena Butler. Photo by Cheryl Mann.

III. Third is fun to watch, especially as it is set to a soundtrack featuring Frank Ocean, Andre 3000 and Lil Wayne.  However, the theme of identity seems to be lost in the shuffle. It’s only at the very end that the audience is nearly bludgeoned by the theme of sexual identity and equality, as one male dancer simulates fellatio on another male dancer.  

As smooth and sensual R&B flows from the speakers in cliché fashion, as several dance partners simulate moments of sexual intimacy, while the rest of the company performs tai chi in unison.

The use of tai chi is compelling and beautiful, like a slow wave sweeping across the stage, but the central visual of the different couples is heavy-handed and bordering on vulgar.  As the final visual, the piece ends on a slightly sour note.

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