Under the guidance of Linda-Denise Fisher-Harrell, the new artistic director of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, this 44th season is appropriately titled RE/CHARGE, just as we have emerged from the fog of Covid. And by the looks of what we saw this past Friday night, September 29, 2023 at the Ahmanson Theater, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago has hit the ground running by opening with “Busk,” the genius work of Canadian choreographer Aszure Barton.
“Busk” refers to the Spanish word buscar, which means “to seek.”
The curtain opens to reveal the stage, effectively immersed in gloomy, yet specific lighting by designer Nicole Pearce. Sitting upstage a lone dancer begins to move with flawless control, as he slips in and out of overt efforts to please the audience, before returning to self-contemplation. This theme remains throughout, as the full company works its way through the masterful choreography and into our psyche. Barton has an eye for staging, an abundance of steps at her finger tips and the dancers who can handle whatever is thrown their way. Ranging from classical jazz to hip hop and ballet techniques, the piece runs the gamut including lifts and acrobatics. Enhancing the movement is the loose dark garb with elongated hoods, by designer Michelle Jank. There is humor in Barton’s work but dark undertones continuously percolate to the surface. When the dancers anxiously huddle together on the floor, we might be looking at stranded refugees yearning for safe passage. Effective down to the last tilt of the chin, this is a not to be missed work that has put Barton at the top of her field.
The haunting music for “Busk” an amalgam of styles, tempos and instrumentation, is brilliantly pieced together by, Azure Barton, and Jonathan E. Alsberry, from the original by, V. de Moraes, August Soderman, Ljova, Moondog, Daniel Belanger, Camille Saint-Saens and David Wikander.
Dancers: The Company
After a short intermission we enter the energetic yet sublime world of John Coltrane’s take on “Favorite Things” by composers Rogers and Hammerstein. A full backdrop of Jackson Pollock’s, “Autumn Rhythm,” dominates the stage and dictates the gray, gold and white dance clothes. Choreographer Lar Lubovitch’s, clean jazz moves, perfectly embody the feel of larking about, on a breezy fall day, as he keeps the stage in constant motion and moves the dancers through “ribbons of dance.”
This version of “Favorite Things,” ventures into the constant under beat of Bebop and improvisation or “sheets of sound.” To address this, Lubovitch, has chosen to move over and through the lines of music rather than attempt to hit every accent and while this is a necessary compromise, there are moments in which the piece can occasionally lose its pizazz and the dancers can seem slightly behind the beat. However, this did not prevent the overall piece from being a pleasure to enjoy.
This work is relaxing and fun for the audience and a marathon for the performers who almost never stop moving and who eventually bring the house down with the sheer joy of dancing to the cool, cool, jazz of John Coltrane
The delightful top-notch company dancers were; Morgan Clune, Matt Wenckowski, Jaqueline Burnett, Aaron Choate, Elliot Hammans, Abdiel Figueroa Reyes, Jack Henderson and in particular the terrifically adorable duo of, Alexandria Best and Shota Miyoshi.
Closing out the night was “Dear Frankie, an homage to the city of Chicago, and to the Godfather of House Music, DJ Frankie Knuckles,” choreographed by Philadelphia, street dance legend, Rennie Harris. Harris uses an amalgam of hip hop styles in creating this tribute to the beginnings and to the development of street dance. Wearing simple street clothes by designer, Imani Sade, the dancers gather in the club like atmosphere. Lighting Design by, James Clotfelter, and the constant yet comfortable rhythm of the musical compilation by, Darrin Ross and Rennie Harris, invites you into the “house.” This feels like a safe place to groove, experiment and let your body do the talking. Though the choreography gives the feel of being improvised on the spot, it is not, as Harris gives form to every section and adeptly brings the dancers on and off the stage while giving individuals a moment to shine, including a “Voguing” Aaron Choate. Though not street dancers, these proficient performers copped the style and made it their own and everyone was having fun, including the audience. Nostalgically of its time and place this was the perfect close to a great night of dance.
Hubbard Street Dance Chicago is up to its old tricks of bringing some of the best dancing and choreography to the wider world and we are all the better for it.
Additional Company dancers not mentioned above were: Michele Dooley, Alysia Johnson, David Schultz, Simone Stevens and Cyrie Topete.
To learn more about Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, please visit their website.
To learn more about the 2023/2024 season at The Ahmanson Theatre, please visit their website.
Written by Tam Warner for LA Dance Chronicle.
Featured image: Hubbard Street Dancer Alexandria Best in COLTRANE’S FAVORITE THINGS by Lar Lubovitch – Photo by Michelle Reid