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Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, founded by ex-Broadway dancer Lou Conte, started life some twenty years back as a jazzy ensemble with a sideline of tap dancing. As Conte grew more sophisticated, so did the company. In addition to Conte's theatrically effective works, Hubbard Street acquired pieces by Twyla Tharp, Daniel Ezralow, Margot Sappington, and several others; once it began touring and its popularity in Europe was established, the company was able to enhance its repertoire with works by Jiri Kylian and Nacho Duato.

Conte retired last year; the new artistic director is Jim Vincent, an American who worked for two decades in Europe in the companies of Kylian and Duato (and briefly with the Parisian Disney outfit). Although Vincent has made no drastic changes in Hubbard Street, this season's programs had more than a hint of European-style contemporary dance. New works included Without Walls, choreographed by Ron De Jesus, Flatline by Harrison McEldowney (both world premieres), and Passomezzo by Ohad Naharin. The company also danced old favorites such as Sappington's Cobras in the Moonlight and Ezralow's Read My Hips. All of these were overshadowed by Naharin's Minus 16, a smash hit from the fall season.

Naharin, an Israeli, created Minus 16 for the Nederlands Dans Theater, and it has had spectacular success throughout Europe, where Naharin has combined excerpts of the ballet with new sections for several companies. The piece received a similarly enthusiastic response in Chicago.

Naharin isn't easy to analyze. This thirty-minute piece consists of several seemingly unrelated sections, beginning with a man on the bare stage performing a solo. He twitches compulsively to percussive music for a long quarter of an hour. Gradually, me entire company joins him for unison, high-energy acrobatic movements. The piece then proceeds preposterously. The dancers, seated in a semi-circle, join lustily each time the last phrase is repeated. At the end of each verse, they divest themselves of an article of clothing. First the hats are hurled center stage, then the ties, the coats, the shirts, the shoes, the trousers. At the end of the song the dancers are in undershirts and shorts.

In another section of the work, the fully clothed dancers walk a straight line across the stage. One dancer drops out; as a voiceover relates an autobiographical anecdote, he performs an energetic solo. There are crossings and re-crossings as each dancer drops out for a solo and autobiographical notes.

The most rambunctious section of this rambunctious ballet is the last. It calls for audience participation, which often spells disaster, but this choreography succeeds. On cue, the dancers descend from the stage and, from the audience, choose partners whom they usher politely onstage. The men typically choose women wearing bright colors (or so repeated viewings would suggest); the women dancers drag portly men. The music swings and the professionals perform elaborately energetic movements. Some of the recruits respond well and some stand dumb-founded. Whatever the reactions, this audience found it all amusing. The music turns formal and the dancers lead their partners in a graceful ballroom routine that the choreographer has set. This unison passage was wildly applauded. Before it ends, the Hubbard Streeters led their partners to the middle of the stage and deserted them. Soon the participants were milling around while the professional dancers raced around them with a whoop and holler. The audience loved this and joined in the noise. At last the recruits were ushered back to their seats, the audience cheered, the local critics wrote ecstatic reviews, and everyone in Chicago went to see the Hubbard Street hit.

New for the spring season was Naharin's Passomezzo, a clever duet in moods that changed from loving to belligerent. The program noted "Music by Unknown." The "Unknown" included strains of that lovely old ballad, "Greensleeves." The costumes for Passomezzo were designed by Naharin's assistant, Mari Kajiwara.

Ron De Jesus, a longtime leading dancer with Hubbard Street, has turned to choreography before. This time he contributed Without Walls, set to original music by Jerome Begin. The most interesting element of the piece was the lighting by Alexander Vladimir Nichols that created dark spaces from which dancers emerged and into which they disappeared. It's noteworthy that De Jesus has been influenced by the European style of contemporary dance that pervades Hubbard Street's current repertoire.

Harrison McEldowney's new work, Flatline, also showed the influence of the European contemporary dance style. Instead of McEldowney's usual broad theatrical dance vocabulary, there were intricate, energetic movements. And instead of his usual choices of clever lyrics and melodic phrases from Cole Porter and the Gershwins, Beethoven and Fritz Kreisler, there was the thump of percussive sounds credited to "Various." Todd Clark designed scenery and lighting for Flatline. The whole was in a dark mood, unlike the lighthearted atmosphere of McEldowney's previous works that majored in wit.
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Title Annotation:Review
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Dance Review
Date:Sep 1, 2001

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