and beauty: Cheryl Mann and Jamy Meek of Hubbard Street
Mae G. Banner
Street Dance Chicago
Pillow, Becket, Mass., Aug. 23
Eager dancers—that’s the word for Hubbard Street Dance Chicago.
They don’t have the enameled look of ballet dancers, nor the
combative attitude you see on MTV. Nope, these 20 limber people
just take a deep breath, step out and tear up the stage.
They commit their flexible bodies to a range of choreographic
styles from Kevin O’Day’s sunny son-of-Twyla Tharp grooves
in Quartet for IV (and sometimes one, two or three . .
.) to the Moorish look of Nacho Duato’s Cor Perdut
(Lost Heart). Always, they throw their whole soul into
the work until their daily selves disappear into the shape
of the dance.
Over the past 25 years, Hubbard Street has changed from a
pop dance group to the bearers of an international modern
dance repertory by worthy choreographers, including Duato
(Spain), Ohad Naharin (Israel) and Jiri Kylian (the Netherlands),
all of whose works they danced in the final week of the Jacob’s
We had such a good time at the Saturday matinee, we stayed
to see the evening show.
Founded in 1977, by Lou Conte, who is a self-declared hoofer,
Hubbard Street began to get serious critical notice in 1990,
when Twyla Tharp gave them half a dozen definitive dances
from her repertory. After Conte retired in 2000, Jim Vincent
became artistic director. Vincent has danced and served as
ballet master in the companies of Duato and Kylian, and he
is bringing their dances to the Chicago-based troupe.
Vincent is also a witty choreographer in his own right, as
we saw in counter/part (2002), which opened the matinee
program. A dance for four women and six men set to excerpts
from Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos and sandwiched with
passages for Baroque lute, counter/part is a rollicking
tug of war between base and noble impulses.
Five courtly men in black, blue or brown velvet tunics look
like a crew of Prince Valiants as they cut angular figures
in duets with three bodiced women. Peasant heartiness smashes
through soon enough in thrusts of the hip, thrown-back heads,
and a pronounced twinkle in the eyes. Before we know it, couples
are on the floor and rolling in tight clumps.
To the music of the lute, we see the wiry, bare-chested body
of Massimo Pacilli. His swaying hips are draped in a brief
red velvet skirt. He could be the spirit of a deserted island
in some Renaissance fantasy. He discovers the women as they
enter one by one and dances amorous duets with each in turn.
Then, red-haired Lauri Stallings arrives, dressed all in green,
to dance with Pacilli in a duet of broken lines and broken
Now, the Prince Vals return, and each has his way with Stallings.
One strips off her skirt; another undoes her hair. This does
not dismay her. Rather, it readies her for a second warm duet
with Pacilli, the animal spirit who finally propels the whole
ensemble into a free-for-all of swingy, loopy turns.
The last vestiges of artifice are stripped away, and the courtiers
salute Pacilli, lifting him high and tossing him in a final
Pacilli, who looks more like a comedian than a dancer, became
an Arabian prince in Duato’s Cor Perdut, a 1989 duet
which Vincent staged for Hubbard Street this year. Yael Levitin
Saban, an impossibly long-legged, intense dancer, was his
Scheherazade, turning under his arm to the music of the Tunisian
oud, flute and tabla.
Duato has an affinity for Catalan music and song, here sung
(on tape) by the contralto Maria del Mar Bonet. Desert winds
blew through this sinuous dance of spiraling turns, wide-legged
sits, and bends. I could taste roast lamb and lemon, cumin
Kylian’s No More Play (made in 1988 and staged for
Hubbard Street in 2003) showed the dancers in a hard-edged
style. They snapped an arm or a leg up, down or around to
single notes of Anton Webern’s agitated violin music. The
sense of fragmented bodies was reinforced by the backdrop,
a black cloth with horizontal rectangles cut out. As dancers
passed behind the drop, we saw only parts of their bodies.
Kylian often makes work in which the dancers seem to be laboring
or frolicking in a communal village. There were no villagers
here. Instead, the five dancers became abstract forms, creating
constructions with cantilevered limbs, doing yoga poses, such
as shoulder stands that instantly morphed into new shapes.
Increasing the risk, two dancers came forward to sit on the
edge of the stage, moving almost into our laps, but focusing
inward. Finally, all five sat there with their backs to us,
leaned back and let their heads hang off the edge. It was
a quietly provocative moment.
Naharin’s duet, Passomezzo, to unusual variations on
“Greensleeves,” spiced the evening program with skewed, nutty
moves. Cheryl Mann, elegant in a white tunic, and Jamy Meek,
Chaplinesque in a black jacket, knee pads, and shoes (bare
chest, bare legs) alternated vigorous striding and silly squat-walking
as they danced with and away from each other in this “love-me,
Kevin O’Day, a former Twyla Tharp dancer, made Quartet
for IV in 1994 for the White Oak Dance Project. Hubbard
Street premiered it the following year. Two couples, one boppy
and the other silky, slide and slouch through Tharpian figures
that look spontaneous, but in which every move is planned
to the millimeter.
It’s that casual effect we strive for hours to achieve. O’Day
and the dancers do it beautifully, flexibly, with breath-filled
open chests, noodling feet, and knowing smiles. The music
they’re fooling around to is “White Man Sleeps,” by Kevin
Volans, performed by the Kronos Quartet.
Both the matinee and evening show ended with Naharin’s Minus
16, which Hubbard Street also did at Proctor’s in March.
This dance, which celebrates life in the face of imminent
destruction, is a complete knockout. It brings the dancers,
the audience, and maybe all of humanity together in unquenchable