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Flash Review 1, 4-17: Smile, Now!
"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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