New Works Festival 2018 Review- Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in a program exploring the boundaries of the self

Hubbard Street Dancer Adrienne Lipson in "Fold Me" by Alice Klock; photo by Cheryl Mann
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On December 6th, 8th, and 9th, 2018, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago (HSDC) presented its Season 41 danc(evolve): New Works Festival at the Harris Theatre for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph Street, Chicago. Choreographed by HSDC members Alice Klock, Florian Lochner and Rena Butler, it was an exhilarating evening length program made up of 4 world premieres centered on the themes of self-awareness and  social transformation. The dances were a credit both to choreographic talent and to virtuoso performance; the HSDC main company principals were augmented with performers from Hubbard Street Professional Program (HS Pro) students and apprentices.

Hubbard Street Dancers Adrienne Lipson and Michael Gross in “Das Feld” by Florian Lochner


– Das Feld by Florian Lochner, 2018

Hubbard Street main company dancer/2019 choreographic fellow Lochner derived the inspiration for Das Feld from his HSDC colleagues, whose taped voices form the soundscape for the piece; their words, intoned and iconographic, likewise shaped their movements on stage. Off-tape questions probe their thoughts about what and who is most important to them, about how they would like to be remembered. The engrossing work opens with the omnipresent word “Death” seemingly reverberating everywhere; then the dancers come to life and demonstrate in movement the combinations of friendship, family, and personal characteristics that make up involved life.

The stage is lit in a half circle with footlights at the rear; rows of high-tech track lights are suspended, raised and lowered to and from mid-ceiling. HSDC main company dancers, in comfortable everyday wear, explore the limits of their corporeal selves, and look about as though examining the nature of their being. They are involved in “an intense struggle for legacy”, as the lights descend and recede, and their own recorded voices candidly divulge their connections. The sound is both totally natural and an incantation of earnestness, they run until they define the “infinite number of relationships happening”.

Hubbard Street Dancer Andrew Murdock in “Fold Me” by Alice Klock

– Fold Me by Alice Klock, 2018

Klock, named one of Dance Magazine’s “25 to Watch for 2018”, ingeniously explores the concept of déjà vu, the otherwordly sense of “having been there before”. What if we are all made up of myriad selves, generally hidden from our own consciousness? The HSDC dancers, clad in eye-catching monochromatic orange to red hooded enveloping garments, seem to meet, discover, try to hide, cover up, and finally embrace these “sealed-off” selves. As the spatially significant and disturbing music propels the dancers to spin off, split off, duet with seemingly unknown fellows, they awaken into a knowingness that has reduced the separation of dimensional time and space.

HSDC main company dancers Michael Gross, Myles Lavallee, Adrienne Lipson, Andrew Murdock and Connie Shiau employ a strong and meaningful movement vocabulary as they emerge from the depths of their personae, goading the audience to ask: “Who are they? What are they seeing?” The music is compelling, eerie, repetitive, the sound of drenching rain- or is it static?- returns again and again. The dancers form chrysalis duets; one dancer is blinded in her hood; they are in flux, in agony, in birth; they are seizing life, stretching beyond the limits of their bodies.

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in “III. Third” by Rena Butler

Common Thread, by Florian Lochner and Rena Butler, 2018

Created by HSDC main company dancers/co-2019 choreographic fellows Lochner and Butler, the dance, presented by the HS Pro dancers, was a joyous celebration of togetherness and mutual effort. Unlike the rest of the program, so cerebrally challenging, this well-aligned light-hearted romp was, as Butler confided it was intended to be, a “palate cleanser”. In street clothes, to throbbing music, the HS Pro students, for whom the piece was created, appear to rise and fall together as they traverse the stage to throbbing, pulsing upbeat music. The dancers performed as a cohesive group, a unified entity.

Hubbard Street Dancers Connie Shiau and David Schultz in “III. Third” by Rena Butler

III.Third, by Rena Butler, 2018

The final segment of HSDC main company dancer/2019 choreographic fellow Butler’s 3-part series exploring “her own culture and identity”, this was a sensational ultra-hip exploration of ethnicity, cultural disparity and the universal struggle for acceptance and inclusion. Beginning with 2 ethnically identified dancers emerging from the audience left and right, describing in 2 different accented languages the nature of their cultural initiation to America, the piece takes off to the wildly compelling music of Lil Wayne.

They descend to the beat of this important rap music, in street dancing moves, impeccably smooth, ultra-coordinated; it’s impossible NOT to move to this music. In a floor that’s cordoned off like the sections of a segregated city, like ghetto spaces, the dancers become the music. When the rap sequence is over, original music by Darryl J. Hoffman begins; sound and dancers flow together, rhythmically entwined. They meet, reject each other, posture, grind; the tuneful vibe is brilliant, breathtaking, obsessive. A sole dancer, Connie Shiau, works physical magic,  balancing on the edge of her identity as the music becomes mechanized; the dance is very new, very fresh.

The dancers end up bathed in spotlight like charmed robots; they are the universal street gang, the ostracized in each of us, the resented and resentful. They fall back on one another, have each other’s backs, are taken aback as Hofffman’s music grabs you and doesn’t let you go. Ultimately, the driving beat segues into a torch song by H.E.R. as the dancers execute an urban ballet of togetherness and the lyrics inquire, “Can you focus on me?”

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in “III. Third” by Rena Butler

I had the opportunity to interview pianist/composer Darryl J. Hoffman about working with Rena Butler and the music he wrote for III.Third. “It all came about very naturally”, he said. “We came to an understanding of where we wanted to go with it. She approached me and explained she wanted the dance to address cultural and social issues in the world. I started working on ideas that night. When we met up several days later and she heard what I had composed, her eyes lit up! I knew then it would be a great collaboration”. In describing the immediate impact of his work within the finished piece, Hoffman explained, “The music was formulated as a song; choreographers usually want to ‘space it out’ more, but Rena was open to my conceptions and gave me the freedom I needed to create”.


Program Credits: music by various artists, sound design by Alice Klock, lighting design by Kaili Story, costume design by Jenni Schwaner Ladd.

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All photos by Cheryl Mann




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