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Art and/or entertainment: Hubbard Street Dance Chicago.

Kiss While You’re Dancing
By Mae G. Banner

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago

The Egg, March 5

Smooth, sexy, treading the shifting line between erotic and X-rated, Love Stories is definitely a date ballet. It’s studded with provocative moves that say, “Do try this at home.”

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago put all their sleek energy into their preview of this new dance made for them by Lar Lubovitch and set to the beyond-hip vocals of Kurt Elling. Love Stories was the peak of an evening of relationship dances last Friday at the Egg. One way or another, everything the 21-member company danced explored aspects of love.

Lubovitch is known for his flawless craftsmanship—he has called himself a carpenter—and for matching his choreography, sometimes too closely, to the music. Love Stories was a prime example of Lubovitch in the narrative mode. It rose above the mundane, floating on Elling’s singular phrasing, his vocal range that runs from tenor to soprano sax, and his easy segues in and out of advanced scat singing.

Three couples embodied different stages of love, moving closely to the words and music of “The More I Have You” (danced by Robyn Williams and Yarden Ronen), “Prelude to a Kiss” (Hope Muir and Robin Del Cuore) and “Every Time We Say Goodbye” (Erin Derstine and Martin Lindinger). The duets were framed by Jamy Meek’s otherworldly solo turn as “Nature Boy” and his lonely summing up in “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.”

The couples wear street clothes in shades of gray or black, making them a different breed from the elfin Meek who appears as an alien in his white leotard and tights. His elongated body writhes; his arms describe oddly curving patterns. He has a mordant lesson for these lovers, if they can take it in.

Williams and Ronen are mostly having fun, swinging as if wired on black coffee, doing big back-kicks while the jazz piano rips. They’re deep in the mood. Muir and Del Cuore, in black, are balletic from the first slow-motion lift. He sets her down on her back and his arms circle her body, in a gesture of adoration and possession. He lifts her and dives her back to the ground as if she were an amusement park ride. She stands with her back to us as, in a final near-pornographic gesture, he pulls her blouse down around her shoulders.

The third couple, Derstine and Lindinger, are past all that. Their close dance, a last fling before parting, ends in a gesture of rejection when she extends her hand and he flips it away and walks off.

This is the signal for Meek’s return. He leads the ensemble, dancing with each woman in turn. He’s half hoofer, half ballet dancer, and all magic. He winds up solo, in that same position, open-legged, on his knees, fist to chest in a gesture of loneliness.

Hubbard Street, under their new artistic director Jim Vincent, is building an ever-growing repertoire of works by European and North American choreographers, including dances by company members. Their concert opened with two short, aggressive dances, both made in 2004.

Diphthong by company dancer Brian Enos is a piece for three couples set to the Afro-European mouth music of Zap Mama. These couples are not partners. They are six tough customers in their muscle costumes of see-through tops and bikini briefs. Their moves are springy and articulate, with lots of African-inspired isolations. The dance escalates, growing in energy and speed, veering very close to what you’d see on MTV, and, like the music, rousing and in your face.

Gimme by artistic associate Lucas Crandell also ends up in your face, literally. It’s a duet for Shannon Alvis and Scott Kepley, who appear as a couple of kids in heavy Dr. Martens high-tops. Jigging and thigh- slapping to the wonderful old-time plucked strings sound of traditional Norwegian music, they lunge and lurch, playing a vigorous game that’s a kids’ equivalent of sexual experimentation.

The evening finished with an entertaining satire of glam-rock days in London. Rooster (2004) by British choreographer Christopher Bruce is an ensemble dance to such Rolling Stones faves as “Ruby Tuesday,” “Lady Jane,” and “Sympathy for the Devil.” The men, in royal blue or wine- colored velvet jackets straight from Carnaby Street, posture and strut, more for each other than for the women, who mostly disdain them. Rooster moves and oh-so-courtly faux Baroque flourishes are repeated to different songs, acquiring new layers of meaning in different contexts.

The program at the Egg was fun, but a bit too one-note. Hubbard Street started out in 1977 as a high-kicking, Broadway-style troupe, but soon aspired more toward high art than entertainment. If Hubbard Street had mixed it up and included some of their European-made masterpieces, they’d have proved beyond a doubt that art and entertainment are two sides of one coin.

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