A woman picks up her arm by the wrist, and lets it fall by her side, examining the weight, letting the movement simply be a reaction to gravity. She’s interested, so we are too. Three men join her and together they swoop, slice, and ricochet through complex connections and independent limb actions. Their voices illustrate the movement with sound effects: “zip,” “ahhhh,” “shoop,” sometimes to comedic effect. They play, or perhaps fight, with bursts of puzzle-like sequences, followed most often by a suspension or abrupt pause. They whip around, hydraulically descend to the floor, rise and fall with breath, and wiggle like a digestive bodily function gone awry. They lift, let go, throw, pull, push, and manipulate one another with such clarity it’s genius. This is William Forsythe’s N.N.N.N., which opened a five work program from Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, performed at Meany Hall last weekend. Spanning the vastly different works was Hubbard Street’s never-let-down elastic physicality, actualizing five particular visions with a consistency in artistry that is hard to beat.
Cloudline by Robyn Mineko Williams is next, setting a lavender-grey romantic landscape. A large piece of grey fabric drapes across the background as male/female duets intermingle across stage. A female soloist punctuates the space with muscular but graceful gestures, observing the other couples but for the most part standing on her own. Later, the fabric transforms, parachuting up and floating down again, evoking the idea of a bed sheet over one couple. Extraneous dancers trail it across the stage, and the duet gets lost in the sea of grey. Finding each other in the end, they disappear along with the fabric. The soloist makes one final appearance in a circle of light, watching them leave with a posture of yearning, perhaps for whatever it is they have.
Three male/female couples illustrate hardship on barren Cantalonion land in Nacho Duato’s Jardi Tancat (meaning “closed garden” in Catalan). Wooden posts create a field on the stage, but the dancers’ movements are just as large inside the constraints of space. A former Hubbard Street dancer, Duato’s movement appears to be classically influenced, with wide staccato stomping characterizing the men’s sections, and swooping circles for the women’s. We see the farm workers’ strife through athletic trios, tender duets, and settling unison moments. Their agonizing pleads for rain in their movement against traditional Cantalonion music by María del Mar Bonet tells a clear story of hardship.
Alejandro Cerrudo, resident dancer and choreographer for the company, shocks with a series of male soloists wearing nothing but a dance belt in Pacopepepepluto. Performed to music by Dean Martin, and their (almost) nudity accentuates the humor in their jolly prancing and robust gestures facing upstage. With masculine rigor to songs such as “That’s Amore,” one charges across stage with turning jetes, his muscles contoured by contrasting lighting. Playfully casting the eye to stage left, he plays a chasing game around the wings with another soloist, never breaking the rule of only one man on stage. Pacopepepluto provides a delightful breath of air before the closing work.
Closing the evening is Crystal Pite’s Solo Echo. The rise and fall of music by Brahms provides all the story one needs to watch this piece. Its emotionally wrenching sound comes to the foreground as an eerily soft wall of snow falls upstage, the dancers immersed between the two elements. Clad in industrial black pants and tops, the men and women repeatedly knock each other down, and then in the next instant, revive each other. One dancer pushes the others’ heads to the side, as if wading through a cornfield, unperturbed by their existence. Beasts come out within, showcasing as grotesque, monstrous facial expressions. The piece ends grimly, as they fall to the ground and slink off stage, the last dancer being left to lay still in the falling snow. Lines for Winter, a poem by Mark Strand featured in the program notes, provides insight. “And if it happens that you cannot / go on or turn back / and you find yourself / where you will be at the end, / tell yourself / in that final flowing of cold through your limbs / that you love what you are.” In whatever kind of winter we may confront, Pite invites us to let the resolving act be love.
Hubbard Street Dance Chicago performed at Meany Center for the Performing Arts April 19-21, 2018.