Saturday night we had second row seats for a performance by Hubbard Street Dance Chicago at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance in Millennium Park in Chicago. It was the second year that we have been able to get seats that close, actually the exact same seats, which some people might think is too close, but which I enjoyed because we could really see the dancers motions and expressions well.
The first of three dances we saw was Gnawa, a world premiere choreographed for Hubbard Street by Nacho Duato of Spain. The dance was set to music of Spain and Northern Africa and involved sixteen dancers, half of which were men. Hubbard Street fields many more strong male dancers than any other dance company that I have ever seen and features them as much as the women. Gnawa is an athletic modern dance that involved much synchronization and seems to tell a story about relationships and community. The dance, like many dances, is somewhat abstract, but it is very pleasant to watch, for it is playful and imaginative.
During the first intermission, I said that the intermissions gave the dancers a chance to change costumes and rest, and I went on to say that there were never props and scenery to be set up at modern dance events. I also thought to myself about how each person in the audience was seeing the performance differently because of distance and angle to the stage. Ironically, when the curtain was raised, a wooden wall curved across the middle of the stage, blocking one area of the stage from my view, and one of the dancers was pushing a boxy spotlight into one corner of the mostly darkened stage. As the dance Enemy in the Figure progressed, set to pulsing electronic sounds, I realized there were dancers that I could not see because of the wall, but I could see a dancer in the wings that people in the back of the theater could not. Perhaps the intent of the dance with its strange staging and shadows was to challenge viewer expectations.
Hubbard Street finished the night by dancing to the music of the Rolling Stones. Rooster is a much acclaimed dance set to eight early recordings by the Stones, including their rendition of “Little Red Rooster” by blues artist Willie Dixon, to which the men in the company strut while stretching their neckties. I enjoyed how the dancers portrayed children on a playground in “As Tears Go By.” My companions voiced kudos for “Paint It Black” and “Play with Fire,” which were flirtatious, humorous, and sensual.
A look at the historical repertoire at Hubbard Street’s web site reveals that the company has performed many memorable dances since 1978. I wish there were a way to revisit them, such as Hubbard Street DVDs. The dances would never be as exciting on DVD as live, but they would still be enjoyed by dance fans.