Hubbard Street Dance Chicago used to warm up on stage with the curtain up before shows. It was their real warmup, not a performance. And there was something magnificent about the simplicity of watching dancers work, because if you only saw what happens on stage with the house lights down, you could be lulled into thinking they might simply be another species, evolved for flight, and not the product of a lifetime of incessant labor.
Lucky Plush Productions artistic director Julia Rhoads’ “Cadence,” created for Hubbard Street’s “danc(e)volve New Works Festival,” begins with a nod to this tradition, dancers in sweatpants stretching and chatting. Of course, because it’s Hubbard Street, it’s as silly as it is quotidian, because the bodies onstage cannot disguise their elasticity and precision, their attunement to all the angles in the room. It’s an artifice, a gesture, a tightly plotted insouciance that is anything but. The real thing on the stage is Adrienne Lipson in a knee brace, prominently excluded from the main activity, which includes elements Rhoads has mastered the orchestration of: harmonious a cappella singing in coordination with harmonious orderly form that emerges apparently effortlessly from the chaos of existence, like watching a crystal or a mycelial root system grow rapidly in a time-lapse film. David Schultz accompanies on accordion, a rather exhibitionistic instrument, the perfect touch of absurdity. But injury is reality—et in Arcadia ego—and Lipson’s body is the telltale sign. She makes her way to Schultz’s chair and to his accordion, where she opens and closes the bellows without engaging the pallet mechanism, and you hear nothing but aspiration, forlorn.
The other three pieces on the program, by current and former HSDC dancers Penny Saunders, Alice Klock and Robyn Mineko Williams, share little in music, steps, tone, or any other aspect of the tangible universe. Yet there is something similar in the familiarity these choreographers have with their colleagues that manifests in extreme explorations of technical facility. Saunders’ duet “Berceuse,” danced by the radiant Jacqueline Burnett and Schultz, is an achingly beautiful comment on classicism, pure, fleet and intricate. Klock’s “Clan(device)” presents four men (Andrew Murdock, Michael Gross, Elliot Hammans and Schultz) and one woman (Emilie Leriche) dancing in a futuristic dystopia—heroically executing feats that surely must be at the limits of human ability, leaping and hanging, again and again, as if to burn through every ounce of energy and life in a single instant, now. (It must be mentioned that Leriche is so absorbing that one looks at her even when she is still, seated, and facing away from the audience). Williams’ “Cloudline” uses a lavender silk the size of the stage as bedsheet, tent, membrane, fog, curl of ocean, dream—lovely. (Irene Hsiao)
At the MCA Stage, 220 East Chicago, (312)850-9744. May 10-14. $65. Tickets at hubbardstreetdancechicago.org.