Reviewed by Steve Sucato
Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s hotly anticipated performance at the second annual ADF in CLE summer dance festival in Cleveland was a family affair of sorts. All five of the works on the program, Saturday, July 28, at Playhouse Square’s Connor Palace Theatre, were by choreographers from within the Hubbard Street family including three by former company dancer and current resident choreographer, Alejandro Cerrudo.
The program, presented by DANCECleveland in collaboration with the American Dance Festival, led off with Cerrudo’s latest work and perhaps his best to date, “Out of Your Mind” (2018). Created for the company’s 40th anniversary season, the “sock” work was inspired by and titled after, a lecture by 20th century British philosopher Alan Watts. A recording of Watts reading excerpts from his thought-provoking lecture about the nature of the self, was incorporated into the work’s soundtrack that also included music by Canadian DJ duo Blond:ish, American composer Keith Kenniff (a.k.a Goldmund), and English composer Greg Haines. It is the first time Cerrudo has used text in one of his creations.
While the work’s title can imply a loss of one’s sanity, Cerrudo says he sees the title as meaning “thinking outside of your mind.” It was apparent from watching it that his thought process was without restraint and truly inspired.
Abstract and darkly atmospheric, the contemporary dance work for fifteen dancers began with group unison dancing in a series of ever-changing body positions with shifting hand and arm movements; some having the dancers’ arms swarm about their heads. Watching the precision dancing was spellbinding and Hubbard Street’s adroit dancers were exquisite in it.
As the piece progressed, group dancing gave way to various smaller dancer configurations. A duet between dancers Rena Butler and David Schultz fascinated as did a male trio in which two dancers held up and rotated in place a third in a headstand; the upside down dancer frozen in a pose looking as if he were trying to flee. The work’s many dazzling movement phrases came at you as if looking into a kaleidoscope.
The work’s final section then returned the full cast onstage, this time with the dancers entwined arm-in-arm in a line executing cascading and wave-like movements along that line that sometimes resembled a centipede in motion.
Sure to take its place as a signature work of Cerrudo’s, “Out of Your Mind” was far and away the best piece on a program filled with worthy runners-up.
Next, the curtain opened on a brief but visually startling ballooning of a large piece of parachute-like fabric that was quickly yanked into a stage wing revealing a dancer pair with a female dancer lifted over her male partner’s head and positioned in front of another large swath of similar fabric hung as a backdrop. The opening theatrics were part of former Hubbard Street dancer Robyn Mineko Williams’ 2017 dance work for the company, “Cloudline”.
Set to a varied soundscape by Sufjan Stevens, Olafur Arnalds and others, the work, after its dramatic opening, slipped into a dreamlike haze conjuring up the hypnotic and surreal mood of the David Lynch TV series Twin Peaks.
Delivered in a series of delicious moving tableaux that drifted across the stage like a line of clouds, each tableau hinted at the joys and heartache associated with being in a romantic relationship or at the longing felt by one who is not. In one such tableau, a male dancer stood still staring into the wings at a back corner of the stage while dancers Alice Klock and Schultz engaged in sweeping and enveloping movement at its center, and a male/female couple sat pressed together at the front left of the stage watching them.
Over the course of “Cloudline” the fabric backdrop slowly sank to the floor like a setting sun and the dancers then used it to make it appear as if a few of them were dancing among the clouds. The piece then ended as dramatically as it began with a male/female couple in an embrace and tented by the billowing fabric, this time magically disappearing in the whoosh of fabric bring yanked off stage and replaced by a forlorn Jacqueline Burnett standing staring after them.
After a brief intermission, the other two Cerrudo’s works were shown beginning with his often performed, “Lickety-Split” (2006). Danced to the folksy music of Venezuelan American singer-songwriter Devendra Banhart, “Lickety-Split” had a small town, back roads breeziness to it. In it, you could see the early craft of a choreographic mind that would twelve years later be ready to birth a gem like “Out of Your Mind”.
Sprinkled with carefree play and a touch of humor, the work’s bendy, elongated contemporary dance movement proved as delightfully quirky as the music it was danced to. In one section to Banhart’s tune “This Beard is for Siobhan” a dancer is seen banging their nose on another’s butt cheek while we hear Banhart sing “Because my teeth don’t bite I can take them out dancing and show them a real good time.”
A last minute replacement for choreographer Crystal Pite’s “Grace Engine” due to lighting requirements that couldn’t be met, Cerrudo’s “PACOPEPEPLUTO” (2011) was another piece of choreographic kitsch wrapped in some serious solo male dancing by Schultz and dancers Kevin J. Shannon and Michael Gross. Set to classic songs by Dean Martin including “Memories Are Made of This” and “That’s Amore,” the work, usually performed wearing nothing but a “dance belt” (jockstrap), had the performers here opting for a more full coverage bottoms. In those, keisters wiggled, hips gyrated and the men leaped and bounded about the stage to the approving shouts of audience members.
Hubbard’s program concluded with a signature work from its repertory Stone Age prior to the company becoming the global contemporary dance juggernaut audiences have come to know and love. Choreographed by company founder Lou Conte in 1978, “The 40s” was nonetheless a beauty of a jazz dance piece performed to big band music by Sy Oliver. Fast, light-footed and full of Broadway “cool cat” spunk, the work unfolded like a grand Gene Kelly movie production number. It was a joyous end to a monster evening of dance capped by a rousing standing ovation from the audience.
Steve Sucato is a former dancer turned arts writer/critic. He is Chairman Emeritus of the Dance Critics Association and Associate Editor of ExploreDance.com.
The ADF in CLE summer dance festival concludes with Caleb Teicher & Company (Tap), 8 p.m., Saturday, August 4 at Cain Park’s Evans Amphitheater. For information and tickets visit ADFinCLE.org