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Flash Review 1, 4-17:
"Home Made" Dances from Hubbard St.
By Selene Carter
Copyright 2000 Selene Carter
CHICAGO--A Broadway dancer
assembles jazz- and ballet-trained dancers and starts a modern dance
company? Yes.... And it's a huge success here in Chicago. Entertainment
is in the mission statement of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, and
it's crystal clear in the rep. concerts the company has assembled
this season. When I watched the program on Saturday at the Shubert
Theater it was hard to remember that modern dance had ever happened.
Many of the dancers bios. state that prior to joining the company
they were in 'industrials.' For the blockbuster, mainstream, successful
dance company of the city, this seems applicable. In many ways,
Hubbard St. IS just like Chicago: Hard-working, by the book, aim
to please, no deviance, no risks. The good part is that it is archiving
and premiering important works by international choreographers,
like the Twyla Tharp rep. it has and often recycles.
In the concert I saw,
"Petite Mort" and "Sechs Tanze," two works by Jiri Kylian, were
highlights. In "Petite Mort," the men appear in flesh-toned, corset-like
underwear, with fencing swords, banked upstage by a row of women
in black John Singer-Sargent-esque, strapless ball gowns. Set to
Mozart, the piece has the men twist and writhe, using their swords
to their full advantage, bending and quivering in nude, metallic
unison. As the music swells, the statue-like women come to life
and seem to be ascending downstage. Suddenly, a huge black parachute
billows forward like the ink of a giant octopus, briefly masking
the stage. The women appear in skimpy corsets, outside of their
dresses, that remain as dark and empty tableau. Then the piece loses
momentum. Kylian is aiming for something about desire un-leashed,
and what could have been sharp, erotic duets were cold and technical.
I missed the sexual frisson that I expected from the images Kylian
had set forth. As I watched these highly, traditionally trained
dancers, I was only aware of their self-consciousness and imagined
I heard their narrative, "Do I look fat in this costume...? Gee,
I hope I make this ponche."
The other Kylian piece,
"Sechs Tanze," was more in their league, a sequel to "Petite Mort,"
only this time the men were in bloomers and powdered wigs that when
whacked gave a delightful poof of powder-smoke up into the space.
The black ballgown sculptural set-costumes reappear in several tongue-in-cheek
scenarios, men in the dresses, women in the dresses in weird ways,
men standing on men's shoulders in the dresses (didn't Pilobolus
do this in the '70s?). Satisfying and absurd, this was a snappy
little ballet! I saw Kylian playing with the mores of the times
when ballet was invented. The dancers were more comfortable with
the mad-cap zaniness this piece called for, and whenever someone
parodies ballet, it's best to be good at it. (You can't make fun
of something you don't understand, right?) And these dancers can
deliver the ballet! As many industrials as some of them have done,
their bios. read ballet, ballet, ballet. Ron de Jesus, a veteran
company member, was especially plucky, and one of the only dancers
with the sophistication and maturity to reveal his internal world.
Frankly, most of the other dancers in this company have the performance
sensibility that they are in an anti-perspirant commercial. "We
are fresh and clean!" they seem to say with their glinting grins
and sparkly eyes. They smiled at each other, they smiled at us and
did what they were told to do.
The other works in the
program were "Rassemblement," by Nacho Duato; "Let's Call the Whole
Thing Off," by local Harrison McEldowny; and "Quartet for IV" (and
sometimes one, two or three...) by Kevin O'Day. Of the three, O'Day's
quartet held my attention. As I watched, I mused fondly on videos
I've seen of the original Tharp company doing "Sue's Leg" or "Baker's
Dozen." That unmistakable, sorta' slouchy, slow backwards run that
collides into a relaxed social dance. It's clean, with nothing extra,
so weighted and pedestrian, Hey, that's post-modern dance! Ahh,
remember Paxton, Rainer, Brown, they really existed and are still
around. Oh yeah, where am I... and I'm jarred back to this millenium
and this city as another toothpaste smile glints past me. Amidst
the backwards Tharpian runs, though, is an impressive jewel of clarity
and cool virtuosity that shows these dancers doing what they do
best, flashy technique, clean lines, flirty and sexy, yet demure
and wholesome. Kendra Moore did remind me of Tharp's Shelley Washington;
she had a saucy, easy quality, but was quick and fierce when she
needed to be.
The Duato piece, full
of angst and deep plies in second position, was almost musical interpretation.
When the drums rolled, the fingers strummed the air. When a woman's
voice sang in French, a woman did a solo. Lots of fists to the sky,
chests wracked with sobs; there was a vague narrative about prisoners
of the state and a people yearning for freedom, replete with an
appearance of fascist police, and a steamy love duet that ends in
imprisonment or death. Again, de Jesus delivers a performance with
a depth that I noticed in contrast to the other vapid performances
by the good, good dancers. McEldowny's piece was a fluffy crowd-pleaser,
working over the old relationship cliche. Boy and girl, girl mad
at boy, girl dances, boy dances, they make up and dance together.
Darren Cherry and Charlaine Katsuyoshi are both splendid young dancers.
As lovers they had no chemistry and were wooden when delivering
text. (That was masked over by the music anyway.)
Maybe I'm confused though?
Does founder and artistic director Lou Conte (retiring after this
season) call this modern dance? Do the dancers know that they are
doing modern dance? What does the audience call this? What exactly
is this and where does it come from? I can't trace the lineage.
It has no trajectory, no traceable roots. Hubbard St. Dance is a
formulaic factory for sellable, marketable, entertaining dance.
It's like a suburban home in a sub-division, made to look like an
old barn. It's like when you order apple pie in a restaurant, and
it's listed in the menu as "home made." Hunh? Oh, I get it. It doesn't
matter where it all comes from, or what's really happening in the
world of art and ideas. They don't even need their dancers to understand
where the work comes from or why. It just needs to be entertaining.
Smile, smile now.
(Editor's Note: Selene
Carter is a Chicago-based writer and dancer.)
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