Under the stewardship of choreographer and former ballet dancer Jim Vincent, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago has made a full transition from its jazz dance roots to modern and contemporary ballet. Yet it shows it's modernity and flexibility by keeping its jazz dance inflections. And Vincent so well matches his dancers to each other in movement quality and technique, that no one of the 16 stands out too strongly in ensemble, yet they are given star turns.
On opening night of their Dance Celebration run at Philadelphia's Annenberg Center in late October, 13-year veteran Jamy Meek came flying out of the wings bare-chested, his black jacket flapping beneath his outspread arms. A force to be reckoned with, his seven companions in Alejandro Cerrudo's Extremely Close
stood up to him staunchly. Cerrudo joined the company in 2005 and showed his new piece for the company in preview, but to me it was the most polished and intriguing piece on the program.
Feathery white confetti floated down to the stage all but obscuring the dancer's feet. I learned only later from another audience member that I hadn't noticed they wore flesh-toned socks. So that was what made them glide and slide like ice skaters! Also gliding, hiding or propelling dancers on or off stage were a series of large white screens that would work well if Cerrudo plans video projections as part of the finished piece. I would love to see leafless black trees swaying on them. Tanja Rühl's lighting enhanced the black and white chiaroscuro effect of the set and the dancers, who all wore black.
Piano solos by Philip Glass and Dustin O'Halloran set the brisk pace of the choreography and had the dancers swirling softly or alternatively hurtling themselves into lifts and leaps as swiftly and lightly as the falling paper.
At the final duet, Meek turns his back to the audience, lifts up the marley (the dance flooring), pulls it up over his shoulders and walks upstage obscuring his female partner and the piles of snowy paper as if night fell over a wintry scene.
Except for some choreographic commissioning leaves, Brian Enos has been with the company since 2002. I wish I found his B-Sides
more interesting because it had one of my favorite dancers among the five in its cast — Philip Colucci, who lately defected from the Pennsylvania Ballet to join Hubbard. He and Prince Credell, another dancer with a Philly connection – his cousin danced with Philadanco – were the two men anchoring and supporting the three female dancers, Shannon Alvis, Kellie Epperheimer and Penny Saunders. But the music, by Hybrid, bored me and I did not see how it moved the dancers. The men's costumes were annoying – tight, horizontally striped shorts that stopped mid-thigh like 1920's bathing costumes – very unattractive. Colucci danced with his usual élan, but sometimes seemed to not know where he belonged amid the dance's geomatrized patterns, which were it strongest point. Credell, a god of a dancer, seemed constrained in another way, as if he wanted break loose into some house dancing.
The company also performed a revival of Twyla Tharp's 1979 Baker's Dozen,
though I don't know why such dated bagatelles need reviving, except to throw bones of lighter fare to undemanding audiences. Dick Hyman's bland recordings of Willie "The Lion" Smith's tunes didn't get the dancers' feet or heart much off the ground.
Vincent programmed Palladio
, his big piece in three movements, last. The stage set inelegantly used the fly drapes held aloft by thick roping, a paean to the Italian architect Andrea Palladio's use of economical materials?
Karl Jenkins' contemporary yet Baroque sounding music is familiar to anyone who's seen those diamond commercials that drive men to adorn their women with the baubles. But it was great for revving up the ensemble into a very grand finale and fueling Sarah Cullen Fuller's flying leap into Terence Marling's arms. The Federal Aviation Authority ought to make this group register its flight plans before each show.
A FEW DAYS LATER at Annenberg, Beijing LDTX gave its Philadelphia debut under Dance Celebration as part of Philly Dance Asia, a promotion of Dance Advance, the dance funding arm of PEW Charitable Trusts. Hong Kong's Willy Tsao is artistic director and the Yunnan Province's Li Han-zhong is deputy artistic director of LDTX, formed in 2005.
Tsao helped found and directed Guangdong Modern Dance Company, not seen here since 1999. Li danced with Guangdong and served as Deputy Artistic Director of Beijing Modern Dance Company from 1999 until leaving to set up LDTX.
They brought a work titled Cold Dagger
, choreographed by Li and Ma Bo a dancer and founding member of the company. They danced to David Darling's exquisite Dark Wood and Cello
, inexplicably leaving vast empty spaces of silence between sections to draw it out to 75 minutes long. I presume there was some story being told, or overtold, against the conceit of using a board game. The 14 black or white clad dancers were game pieces moving about on a floor of martial arts mats in the design of the game board. I guess I am game bored, because while the dance may have been based on the game Go, all I wanted them to do was stop.
They set up some very beautiful scenes with skirts spread about on the floor like lotus flowers into which they stepped, donned, and danced in with skill, grace and precision. Too much precision. They seemed at times more drill team than dance company, executing their steps to perfection but without emotion or expressiveness. Cold Dagger
pierced neither my emotion nor my intellect. It was a no go that just left me lukewarm.
No further performances.
Beijing LDTX Modern Dance Co. dances Cold Dagger
Photo © & courtesy of Guo Jian She
Beijing LDTX Modern Dance Co.
Photo © & courtesy of Guo Jian She
Hubbard Street Dance Chicago dances Tharp's Baker's Dozen
Photo © & courtesy of Todd Rosenberg