Playhouse Square Center – Ohio Theater
November 6, 2010
Reviewed by Steve Sucato
Stage fog began rolling over the audience at Playhouse Square Center’s Ohio Theater as the curtain rose on “Blanco” (2010), the first of two dance works on Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s program by their resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo.
On the otherwise darkened stage, four women stood in individual spotlights horizontally across the front of the stage and surrounded in fog. Dancing to piano music by Felix Mendelssohn and Charles Valentin Alkan, the quartet of women launched into small, tight bursts of self-contained and individually distinctive contemporary ballet movement that had them twisting their bodies off axis and tilting downward or popping up into delicately crisp arabesques. The dancers struck a bevy of angular poses and at times used stiffened arm and hand movements to frame their heads. The overall effect of the music and dancing was one of introspection.
Where “Blanco’s” motif was one of compacted movement, Cerrudo’s “Deep Down Dos” (2010) that followed was far more expansive by comparison. Set to music from Chicago Symphony composer-in-residence Mason Bates’ Underground Spaces, the ballet featured two spotlights on tall rolling stands one stage right and the other at the rear of the stage that moved remotely along tracks suggesting the look of oncoming mining rail cars.
The ballet for nine dancers (5 men, 4 women) featured more of Cerrudo’s interplay with the dancer’s arm movements. Arms sliced one under the other and moved in circular and wave-like patterns around the dancer’s bodies. Bodies undulated, heads bobbed and shook, and Cerrudo’s choreography along with Bates’ music gave the piece a sort of James Bond spy movie feel with dancers darting about the stage as if on the run, sliding into partnered lifts and dropping to the floor.
Although both of Cerrudo’s ballets showed he is a promising young choreographer, they also revealed he is a choreographer still in search of his own voice.
In contrast, the program’s remaining two works came from choreographer’s whose own artistic voices were never in doubt.
The co-artistic director of Montreal-based Rubberbandance, choreographer Victor Quijada demolished the so-called “fourth wall” – an invisible barrier between audience and performer – with his unconventional dance-theater work “Physikal Linguistiks” (2010) that had Hubbard Street’s dancers performing in the audience and talking directly to them.
Set to music by Jasper Gahunia, the work began with three male dancers initiating the movement of a fourth by pushing into and moving one of his limbs which triggered in him a chain reaction of responsive movement.
Quijada’s choreography melded elements of hip hop, ballet and contemporary dance with a movement quality not unlike the energy of a taught rubber band being released.
Delivered in a series of vignettes, “Physikal Linguistiks” took on a sort of West Side Story “Sharks” and “Jets” meets The Matrix vibe in a section where a group of male dancers faced off against a group of female dancers in slow-motion scuffles that saw dancers dodging kicks and being bowled over in time with accents in Gahunia’s music that impacted them like punches.
Most interesting perhaps were Quijada’s transitions between vignettes in which it felt as if the dancers suddenly stopped performing and the piece led the audience in a completely different direction such as a humorous bit where after a group of dancers danced their way off the front of the stage into the audience and through an exit, a dancer disguised as an usher near the exit tried to dodge a spotlight trained on them.
The work reached its climax in a vignette where dancer Jason Hortin halts the performance to ask the show’s production manager to recue his music so that he can start his dance over and then talks through each of his steps as if the audience is now privy to a rehearsal of the work.
“Physikal Linguistiks” proved a breath of fresh air from the sameness in structure and movement vocabulary found in many contemporary works nowadays. Its humor, quirkiness and the dancer’s deft performance of it was memorable.
The program closed with Nacho Duato’s masterful “Arcangelo” (2000).
Said to be a “dance reflection of heaven and hell” according to the program notes, the work utilized Duato’s signature movement language; a mix of contemporary and grounded folkloric dance styles. Set to composer Arcangelo Corelli’s Concerti Grossi No. 6 along with an aria by composer Alessandro Scarlatti, the work took a measured approach in the use of religious imagery, evoking more of a sense of ease and beauty than extreme biblical images of heaven and hell. Elegantly performed by Hubbard Street’s dancers, the work was an angelic end to a diverse and solidly entertaining program.
Copyright Steve Sucato