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Hubbard Street Freestyle and Street Cred

Written by Christin Call
Hubbard Street Dance in Too BeaucoupPhoto by by Todd Rosenberg
Hubbard Street is one of those rare established modern dance companies with a continuously expanding repertoire of diverse works from prominent choreographers world-wide and dancers with the athleticism, technical capacity, and dramatic panache to represent these works with aplomb. As a bonus, the cast of this Chicago-based touring company is mostly American, allowing its audience to enjoy the results of homegrown talent under the rigors of our own schools and training grounds here in the U.S.
At the Paramount Theater on Saturday, February 9,2013, Hubbard Street presented a split bill at the Paramount Theater of Israeli choreographers—Ohad Naharin, current Artistic Director of Batsheva Dance Company, and collaborating duo Sharon Eyal, formerly with Batsheva, and Gaï Behar. The program reflects a massive outpouring of creative energy from this part of the world that has significantly influenced Seattle’s own dance community, starting with Zoe Scofield and Juniper Shuey and most recently seen in the work of Danielle Agami’s company Ate9.
Three to Max, by Naharin, began the evening in a tone of subdued neutrality with the structure of Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” juxtaposed against a male solo with clear, but somehow awkward, gestures and audibly heavy chugs en attitude. At one moment mechanical in his execution, he would suddenly unfold his massive physicality in a long, lateral rond de jambe. A duet followed with the same tinge of absurdity as a man and woman took turns manipulating each other in surprising and humorous ways—the woman twisting the man’s head in her hands to make him barrel turn, the man swinging the woman back and forth as she stiltedly did the grapevine.
In a longer all-women’s section, the dancers moved as one mind, a particular population with its particular traditions of folk-like chest beating, sultry hip walks, and flocking into clock imitation. Bach having been replaced by a digital soundscape, the women, with deadpan delivery, continued that hint of the absurd by clucking their tongues and converting their arms into stiff hour and minute hands.
The piece’s interest in construction reached full measure to the sound of a stolid, vibrating male voice made into a metallic chorus counted from one through ten, starting with “one” and starting over, with each repetition adding another number to the count. With this pattern created, the choreography made an exercise of mimicking it, and in the process revealed the structural framework of the movement’s way of proceeding through a quick succession of diverse yet distinct body positions. Any kind of dance vocabulary could be referenced from one position to the next—gesture, ballet, modern, folk dance, commercial, inanimate objects.
Once revealed, this principal was then maximized in the final section, in which the dancers formed three groups resembling a kind of Soul Train line. There appeared to be two rules: 1) the dancer following had to mimic the previous dancer’s motion, or 2) break this rule and frenetically freestyle. What resulted was an onslaught of impresario bravura, including Russian kicks up to one-armed handstands, b-boy freezes, and contortionist leg extensions. At its center Three to Maxwas a formal work, without narrative, a means to show the body at play in a free-range of stylistic choices. Nothing was off limits.
On the other hand, Too Beaucoup, by Eyal and Behar, was a tightly honed, imagistic phantom reality. Like an incredibly epic Daft Punk music video, the highly stylized costumes of the dancers with all white wigs, bodysuits, and even contact lenses served to diminish gender and individuality and exaggerate collective patterns and robotic uniformity. The drone of the techno music created an even base for solos, small groups, and massive groups to alternately strut, shuffle, turn heads mechanically, and break out in ironically corny dance moves and jazzy battements. Performed with immaculate precision, the prolonged group sections of each dancer occupying his or her part of the dance floor created a prismatic effect. What the piece lacked in depth of content it seemed to make up for in raging amounts of mojo—the dancers’ movements were representations of well-oiled machines that moved knowingly, overtly relishing the shapes and curves of their bodies.
This program was commissioned and presented as a pair in 2011. Despite the shared nationality of the choreographers, these two pieces seem to have little in common in terms of their cultural identities. What they share more is their sense of stylistic play, filling a gap between pop cultural obsessions and the stage, the need to experience the new, and recognition of repurposing as a mode on this route. There is little concern, ultimately, for the meaning derived from these recombinations. The form is the meaning (and the pleasure). The form is the process of defining meaning as multi-faceted and showing that movement, like language, is an ever ebbing and flowing mass of open-ended definitions.