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Hubbard Street Masterful in National Dance Day Performance at ADF in CLE



(Archive Photo) Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in “The 40s” by Lou Conte. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

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.

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(Archive Photo) Hubbard Street Dancers Michael Gross and Connie Shiau in “Out of Your Mind” by Alejandro Cerrudo. Photo by Cheryl Mann.

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(Archive Photo) Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in “Out of Your Mind” by Alejandro Cerrudo. Photo by Cheryl Mann.

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”.

Cloudline Run

(Archive Photo) Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in “Cloudline” by Robyn Mineko Williams. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

Cloudline Run

(Archive Photo) Hubbard Street Dancers Jessica Tong and Jason Hortin in “Cloudline” by Robyn Mineko Williams. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

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”.

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(Archive Photo) Hubbard Street Dancers Alicia Delgadillo and Elliot Hammans in Alejandro Cerrudo’s Lickety-Split. Photo by Cheryl Mann.

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.

The 40's

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in “The 40s” by Lou Conte. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

The 40's

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago (Florian Lochner, above) in “The 40s” by Lou Conte. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

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



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Filed under Dance Reviews 2018, DANCECleveland

GroundWorks’ Program Proves Intriguing and Entertaining

Photo by Dale Dong.

Photo by Dale Dong.

Cain Park – Alma Theater
Cleveland Heights, Ohio
August 18, 2013

By Steve Sucato

For the 11th straight summer GroundWorks DanceTheater presented a program of repertory works at Cleveland Heights, Ohio’s Cain Park. The 5-member troupe, which for the past 15-years has been the Cleveland-Akron area’s most consistent in quality continued that trend with a trio of works performed in the Park’s intimate Alma Theater.

The program opened with artistic director David Shimotakahara’s 2003 work “Before With After”.

Set to 11 keyboard compositions by J.S. Bach, the work mixed ballet and modern dance styles. Shimotakahara’s light and airy choreography early on resembled a court dance, with the work’s quintet of dancers stepping in to greet one another then pausing to exchange sheepish grins or pensive looks.

The work’s two male dancers, Damien Highfield and Gary Lenington saw plenty of action alternately lifting its three female dancers up and around their shoulders or onto their backs.

Various temporary interpersonal relationships formed between dancers. One involved Highfield and dancer Annika Sheaff, who when not casting looks of disappointment at Highfield, darted her eyes about. At one point they landed on her outstretched arm and traced a path down to her hand, palm flat, as she began paddling the air, drawing her body to follow in the direction of momentum created from her arm’s movement. The statuesque former Pilobolus dancer’s performance in the work was an appealing blend of delicacy and strength.

GroundWorks DanceTheater dancers Damien Highfield and Noelle Cotler. Photo by Dale Dong.

GroundWorks DanceTheater dancers Damien Highfield and Noelle Cotler. Photo by Dale Dong.

Also captivating, was GroundWorks’ newest dancer, the spunky Noelle Cotler. In a playful duet with Lenington she shot him come hither eyes and a mischievous smile as the pair came together to maneuver in tight, intertwining circles.

Sheaff and Cotler then joined forces for a friendly and somewhat zany competition in which the two skipped with, stomped at and teased one another.

While the work’s many vignettes contained solid dancing and entertaining moments, a few felt like filler and the piece seemed to go on a bit long. 

“Delightfully peculiar” best described the program’s next work; former GroundWorks star Amy Miller’s latest commission for the company “Way Leads to Way” (2013).  Set to a cinematic collage of music including selections from Texas ambient music composer Jeff McIlwain (a.k.a. Lucine ICL) and Mexican electronica artist Fernando Corona (a.k.a. Murcof),  “Way Leads to Way” was the program’s most intriguing offering. 

The work for the full complement of GroundWorks’ dancers, took snippets of unrelated scenes such as snaking dance club moves, sprinters in blocks before the start of a race and slow-motion movement, and combined them with an ambient soundtrack infused with buzzes, static noise, humming and whines, to produce an avant-garde contemporary dance work that was eminently compelling in its disjointed quirkiness.

Sheaff once again showed her range as a performer pulling attention from her fellow dancers with a series of bizarre facial expressions that were at odds with the beauty of her outstretched body positions that spoke of buoyancy and grace.

The tone of the work switched gears mid-way with its soundtrack now reflecting a thunderstorm sounds, the effect bolstered by Dennis Duggan’s dark, atmospheric lighting for the piece.  The dancing also appeared more improvisational with the dancers taking on child-like attitudes and executing movements reminiscent of a game of hopscotch.  Solidly danced by GroundWorks’ ensemble, “Way Leads to Way” made the unusual, memorable.

New York-based choreographer Doug Elkins’ “My Hummingbird At The High Line” (2012) added the final textural layer to GroundWorks diverse program.

Danced to an interesting mix of classic crooner tunes from “Rat Pack” members Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra along with a Handel aria and other selections, the work tinged with humor, sexual overtones and dancer comradery had the feel of an episode of TV’s Friends.

GroundWorks DanceTheater dancers Felise Bagley and Damien Highfield. Photo by Dale Dong.

GroundWorks DanceTheater dancers Felise Bagley and Damien Highfield. Photo by Dale Dong.

From the outset, Elkins’ choreography had an ease about it blending jazz, hip hop and modern dance styles, while seeming to not take itself too seriously. A comedic confrontation between Highfield and Lenington led things off, the two casting capoeira-style high kicks in each other’s direction.  That lighthearted attitude continued in a duet between Sheaff and Lenington. The duet was full of guffaws in their partnering of each other causing them to stop and retry lifts and movements. The two vocalized instructions to one another along with various grunts and noises that come from physical exertion.

Frivolity then gave way to a more serious tone in the latter part of the work with a provocative duet between Cotler and longtime company member Felise Bagley. Set to rock music by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, the pair moved in and out of brief entanglements suggesting a mutual attraction that was later cemented by a stolen kiss by Cotler.

An overall success, GroundWorks’ program proved entertaining with marvelous performances by its ensemble. GroundWorks’ current dancer lineup perhaps the most balanced and cohesive the company has fielded in years.  

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Filed under Dance Reviews 2013