Hubbard Street Dance Chicago at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, on January 10, 2019 was its usual high quality and inventive self in its continuing reach for creative discovery.  Glenn Edgerton, its beloved Artistic Director invited the Grammy Award “Third Coast Percussion” to join them in this exploration.  “Perfectly Voiceless” was the initial gift to the evening.  A piece originally composed by Devonté Hynes and extended, arranged and played by Third Coast.  It has been a desire of Edgerton and Third Coast to create a piece together, which finally came to fruition on Thursday evening.

The first piece of the evening was an introduction to the sounds of diverse percussion instruments from vibes to mallets.   The work was strictly instrumental and moved from simple to complex rhythms and melodies played by four musicians, Sean Connors, Robert Dillon, Peter Martin and David Skidmore, each agilely trading places on the darkened stage with spotlights highlighting each change.   Their music then spilled over into the second and third pieces in the first act.

“For All Its Fury” choreographed by Emma Portner, had elements of the raw, chaos of an ancient culture reflected in the hanging banners, with slashes of black, brown and grey washes designed by David Kim, which acted as a type of forest for the dancers to appear and disappear.   The dancers:  Craig D. Black, Jr, Alicia Delgadillo, Kellie Epperheimer, Elliot Hammans, Adrienne Lipson, Florian Lochner, Andrew Murdock, in their brown tunics and earth tones, designed by Hogan McLaughlin were committed and beautiful as they embellished the work of the powerful Rena Butler, and her lioness essence as a leader of this “kingdom”.   The next piece was choreographed by Teddy Forance bridging the two pieces together.  Both appeared to echo each other but, the mission was not clear enough to have a resounding message, so in that case it was tepid and seemed to wander without purpose nor resolution.

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(From left) Hubbard Street Dancers Kellie Epperheimer, Jacqueline Burnett, Adrienne Lipson, Alicia Delgadillo, and Rena Butler in Ignore from Decadance/Chicago by Ohad Naharin on January 10, 2019, at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts; PHOTO CREDIT: Kevin Parry

The second act, on the other hand, began with a piece by Ohad Nahrin, the unique Isreali choreographer trained with Batsheva Dance Company, eventually becoming their Artistic Director and known worldwide.   His piece, “Ignore”, was an excerpt from “Decadence”, inspired by the poetry of Charles Bukowski’s “Making It”.  It was a “progressive” piece, taking one phrase and adding it to the whole, eventually revealing the entire poem both physically, vocally (Bobby Jene Smith) and musically (Arvo Pärt).  It introduces the company of female dancers Rene Butler, Jacqueline Burnett, Alicia Delgadillo, Kellie Epperheimer, and Adrienne Lipson.   Nahrin’s work is like a meditation choreographically which is inclusive of solos, trios and quintets.  Jacqueline Burnett’s languorous solo stood out as a highlight, with her stunning technical expertise, control and bravura.  While being only seconds in length, it was memorable.

“Pacopepepluto,” next in the second part of the evening was choreographed by the ever-exciting work of Alejandro Cerrudo.  It delights the audience and breaks the serious, by challenging Craig D. Black, Jr. Florian Lochner and Michael Gross to dance with the abandon one only feels “when there’s no one watching.” (Edgerton) The costuming, or lack of it, was designed by Rebecca M. Shouse.  The dancer’s individual movement was effortless, technically brilliant, and lifted the spirit with wit and élan.  It brought a collective curiosity and fun to the evening, something Hubbard Street is noted for.  This they did to Dean Martin’s “In the Chapel in the Moonlight,” “Memories Are Made of This” and Joe Scalissi’s “That’s Amore.” In a kind of remembrance of a simpler uncomplicated life, the audience was able to enjoy, with abandon, this joyous surprising piece.

The brilliant Crystal Pite’s “Solo Echo”, the last piece in the series of six, based on the Poem “Lines for Winter” by Mark Strand, was by far the most impressive.  It was beautifully designed amidst falling snow and the sense of waning life and connection.  The exquisite Brahms music was a perfect match for Pite’s creative soulful work.  The humanity, design, and message was so impeccably delivered by the dazzling dancers and made one clearly feel something.  Each combination of movements surprised and tricked the audience without any theatrics.  She so astutely combined classic, modern, jazz and contact movement with her intelligence, personal and physical understanding and remarkable musicality.  This gift makes her one of the very best of dance today.

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, remembered for its innovative and joyous work, this night, promised to be exciting, beginning with the fascinating musical elements.  However, as it progressed through the first half, there was a tendency to get lost in the hope of the artist saying something, yet undefined. The anticipated excitement and message never really found itself in the first half of the program.   Then in a second there was true recovery, ending with Pite’s ingenious and penetrating piece.  There is always a kind of asymmetrical growth in this company, which makes it fascinating to watch and well worth the wait.

For more information on Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, click here.

Featured image: (From left) Hubbard Street Dancers Adrienne Lipson, Elliot Hammans, and Kellie Epperheimer in Solo Echo by Crystal Pite on January 10, 2019, at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts; PHOTO CREDIT: Kevin Parry