Latin bar mitzvah party: Hubbard Street Dance Chicago.
Mae G. Banner
Street Dance Chicago
Theatre, March 7
A last-minute injury to Cheryl Mann caused Hubbard Street
Dance Chicago to cut two dances from its program last Friday
at Proctor’s Theatre, but the dynamic troupe more than made
up for the omission with the wildly energetic finale, Minus
The sometimes manic Minus 16 was a pastiche of Latin
and Hebraic works originally choreographed for the Nederlands
Dans Theater by Israeli dancemaker Ohad Naharin. Hubbard Street
dancers first performed it in 2000, and it fits them like
a bespoke overcoat, showing off the troupe’s precision, stamina
and sense of humor.
The 30-minute suite was all over the map. It began during
intermission, with the curtain closed and the house lights
on. Massimo Pacilli, a wiry dancer with ballroom training,
came out in a tuxedo, but with his shirt collar open, and
set off a string of idiosyncratic riffs on the mambo. He moved
like a ballroom-dancing doll in comic herky-jerky pantomime,
every phrase offering a new delight.
One by one, the rest of the tuxedo-clad dancers entered and
found their spots. Suddenly, the whole androgynously dressed
lot coalesced into a whang-dang unison Latin groove with the
exuberance of a bar mitzvah party in Boca Raton. The stage
Blackout. The sound of big, raucous horns playing a slam-bang
Hava Nagilah. Lights up. The dancers, now topping their tuxes
with black fedoras, set up a wide arc of folding black metal
chairs and launched into the Hebrew counting song, “Echod
Mi Yodea,” which is sung traditionally by tipsy celebrants
at the end of the Passover Seder.
As the wild dancing began, a voiceover cautioned us: “There
is a fine line that divides beauty from madness. There is
panic behind the laughter.” So it was. The 17 dancers caromed
around their chairs, repeating the frantic but tightly organized
accumulation of dance phrases as the string of verses lengthened.
Dancers leapt like rams, sprang like lambs. One man jumped
straight up at the prescribed moment to land with both feet
on the seat of his chair; another fell to the ground as if
stricken at the end of a verse, but rose again to repeat the
disaster at the end of each succeeding verse.
Also, to end each verse, the seated ensemble did something
like “the wave,” but with their backs deeply arched and their
arms flung back as if they’d been shot.
This was chilling. Yet, at the same time, while dancing vigorously
and singing at the tops of their lungs, the dancers whipped
off articles of clothing—jackets, shoes, shirts, trousers—with
every verse, until they were down to their white cotton underwear.
Burlesque, but with an undertone of Auschwitz.
From this scene, Minus 16 metamorphosed once more;
this time into a series of confessional monologues as each
dancer moved front and center with whiplash attack while their
recorded voices told of childhood traumas or favorite recipes.
Now that we in the audience knew Massimo, Yael and Christopher
as regular folks like us, the dancers flipped the card and
made us into performers. They sashayed out into the audience,
and each returned to the stage with a partner.
Audience members from age 12 to 60-something, in sequins or
denim, looked marvelous under the stage lights. With their
tuxedoed partners, they danced the cha-cha and the rumba and
made it work beautifully. How exhilarating, how glorious to
know that everyone is a dancer.
The program opened with another Nederlands Dans Theater work,
Jardi Tancat (Enclosed Garden), made by Nacho
Duato and first danced by Hubbard Street in 1998. Set to raw
and hauntingly beautiful flamenco singing and guitars, Jardi’s
three duets ring alluring variations on a square-shaped bodily
motif and a fierce propulsion. The dancing is gay or yearning,
but the leaps and lifts are always beaten back. There’s a
striving quality, but the movement is confined within the
curving perimeter of a set of wooden fenceposts.
The couples—Shannon Alvis and Christopher Tierney, Taryn Kaschock
and Pacilli, and Yael Levitin Saban and Patrick Simoniello—sometimes
looked like peasants with bodies bent at the waist until they
were parallel to the ground, feet flexed, and arms performing
abstract gestures derived from planting or hoeing. At other
times, the dancers became the plants, springing up from the
ground or drooping in a dry season.
Between the Limon-like, communal Jardi Tancat and the
celebratory Minus 16, the troupe showed its Broadway
side in Harrison McEldowney’s Let’s Call the Whole Thing
Off, a brash duet between Tierney and Lisa Keskitalo;
and a tough-guy solo, Percussion 4, choreographed by
Bob Fosse and danced by Joseph Pantaleon with Fosse’s signature
isolations, acrobatics and floor-burning knee slides.