To understate the situation, I’m no expert in the art of dance. Words are my artistic medium. I find a regular flight of stairs a terrific challenge to fine motor skills, and besides a beginner’s tap class I took last year, personal study ended in first grade with an underwhelming ballet recital. But oh how I love movement and envy the practitioners who devote their lives to the craft. Using one’s body to tell a story is a powerful thing.
And powerful is a fitting adjective for “Hubbard Street’s Season 38 Winter Series,” enjoying an all-too brief run at Chicago’s Harris Theater for Music and Dance. Since 1977, one of the city’s finest dance institutions has been serving up provocative, gorgeous contemplations that have achieved worldwide recognition. Media force “The New York Times” famously observed of the company’s talent, “The list of choreographers who have worked with this immaculately technical group reads like an international who’s who of contemporary dance.”
Genius is on full display in the “Winter Series,” featuring the work of choreographers Yin Yue, Robyn Mineko Williams, Penny Saunders and Crystal Pite. The quartet of female voices calls forth a stunning four-part program with much to say. At the same time, the production overwhelmingly succeeds in leaving enough space for audience members to project individual experiences onto the stage. The series is both universal and singular. It’s a remarkable achievement.
All four routines — “A Glimpse inside a Shared Story” (Yue), “Waxing Moon,” (Williams), “Out of Keeping” (Saunders) and “Solo Echo” (Pite) — are sparsely contextualized in the production program. The most copy is devoted to “Waxing Moon,” described as a contemplation on “the process of becoming; its protagonist considers possibilities for his future through engagement with two forces we see as figures.” The choice to leave interpretation open-ended, as I have already suggested, is a win.
To continue the “Moon” example, the two figures moving onstage around the central character represent darkness and light. I saw the protagonist wrestle with the dusk, subsequently too exhausted to fully engage with the healthier light, and my own struggles with insomnia came to mind. The shorter days of winter can exacerbate the pain of long, sleepless nights. Beautifully danced by Andrew Murdock, Jaqueline Burnett and Jason Hortin, the compelling piece is still with me today.
The final offering of the production, “Solo Echo” features one of few overt wintertide images — a glittering display of falling snow. Lighting design from Tom Visser serves as an enchanting backdrop for a meditation on interconnectedness. Like the drifting flakes, blown about in communities, fortunes united by the whims of Mother Nature, the cast of seven dancers moves in intricate unison. My companion for the evening and I both suffer from motion sickness, and mutually reported that the troupe’s fluid meld was almost too effective for our respective equilibriums. Nausea be damned. I couldn’t look away from the stage.
This review’s focus on the second and fourth segments of “Hubbard Street’s Season 38 Winter Series” should in no way suggest a superiority to Yue and Saunders’ work. All four specimens are revelatory experiences. I’m still pondering the explosion of color, usage of sound and surface that is “Out of Keeping.” Is it a rumination on life’s tendency to be lived in shades of gray? I can’t be sure, but I revel in wonder. I’d love to see the performance again.
In fact I’d like to see them all encored — many times. As I collected my press passes for the evening, I questioned the choice to include two intermissions in a production that runs less than 120 minutes. In retrospect I’m grateful. The audience needs time to catch its breath and process the visceral reactions likely to stem from each fascinating, exquisitely danced piece.
This critic’s first Hubbard Street Dance Chicago experience won’t be the last. If there’s anything to bemoan, it’s that the “Winter Series” won’t survive until spring. Lovers of art, regardless of channel, are in for a thought-provoking treat this weekend.
“Hubbard Street’s Season 38 Winter Series” runs through Dec. 13 at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E Randolph Street, Chicago, IL. For information or tickets, call 312-850-9744 or visit the Hubbard Street Dance Chicago website.