Penny Saunder and Jesse Bechard of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago perform Nacho Duato's "Arcangelo". Both photos by Todd Rosenberg.
Presented by Cal Performances at Zellerbach Hall, Berkeley, CA
October 29, 2010
As in most fields, dance criticism, dance performance and dance theory are riddled with debates. While some controversies are fascinating and others futile, one of the most pervasive is the notion of the 'heir apparent'. This concept can relate to many different aspects of dance: style, genre, companies and dancers themselves, though its most interesting application (to me, at least) is in terms of choreographic talent. Who are the up and comers? Of those who have been choreographing for some time, whose work sets itself apart? Who is beyond categorization? Who will be crowned the next genius dancemaker? In fifty years, when the dance literature chronicles our current decade, which choreographers will grace its pages?
Hubbard Street Dance Chicago's performance at Zellerbach Hall featured three artists who are changing the face of choreographic history: Nacho Duato, Alejandro Cerrudo and Jiří Kylián. Duato's astonishing "Arcangelo" opened the program. An ode to the idea of expansiveness, the key theme in this ballet was 'more'. As the dancers hit and maintained strong dynamic positions, one believed that they had reached their ending point. But, the body continued on - the flexed feet sensually melded into points; a slow methodical articulation of every metatarsal. This idea of continuous movement was also reflected in the music that accompanied Duato's work. Both Arcangelo Corelli and Alessandro Scarlatti were composing in the era of polyphonic texture. This compositional form and style also has few resting points, only reaching a cadence when each internal movement is itself complete. Within the music, the various symphonic lines overlap, converge, separate and interweave, creating sound that is constantly in motion. Duato has brilliantly mirrored this polyphony to the point that you can see the music on the stage. I still have not fully internalized the final instant of "Arcangelo" where two dancers climbed up and were suspended by a large piece of fabric. The entire audience was breathless and speechless as the curtain fell.
Two pieces by company member and resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo followed in Act II: "Blanco" and "Deep Down Dos". "Blanco", a work for four women, focused and explored the idea of individual self-expression. Each dancer was lit from above with their own spotlight and as they danced within that circular glowing pool, their personalities and individuality shone as brightly as the light did. The women celebrated their personal freedom through movement (which ranged from an amazingly slow headstand to a perfectly aligned penchée en face), but as the dance progressed, it was also apparent that they were somewhat trapped by their light. When they ventured outside of the designated space, a sense of fear and anxiety replaced the self-determination that they had experienced in their comfort zone. The energizing frenetic "Deep Down Dos" struck me as a sexy updated version of the gym scene in "West Side Story". The piece was very Robbins-esque (distinct technique coupled with a general narrative) with the occasional Grahamism (the airplane turn) thrown in for color. The joyful fellowship of the dancers spoke to the camaraderie of youth and society; it was only too bad that the dance did not end this way. Cerrudo opted instead to conclude the piece with a pas de deux. The duet was absolutely beautiful, but I think "Deep Down Dos" would have been even stronger if it culminated in the return to and recapitulation of the group vitality.
The evening ended with Kylián's "27'52"", a composition that tends toward dance theater, but at the same time, is not really dance theater. Rather, in this piece, Kylián combines contemporary movement with some theatrical elements commonly seen in the work of Pina Bausch and William Forsythe. With the house lights still up, "27'52"" commenced - the dancers engaged in a warming up/practicing/rehearsing scene. This provided a glimpse into the process of performance, something that the audience rarely gets a chance to witness. As the 'formal' portion of the piece began, motifs of violence and control came to the forefront. In the first duet, the woman was treated like a puppet, her limbs being moved around and manipulated amidst a strange electronic soundscore. The second set of dancers also exhibited anger and annoyance with their fist-fight choreography. The third couple looked as though they were being shot; parts of their bodies would be 'hit' and would subsequently flail backwards in space. These rough forceful sequences had a dual effect of shocking and anesthetizing the senses. When the movements began, they were upsetting and difficult to look at but as they continued on, the repetition took away their power. I do think that this particular dance was not the best fit for this company. Their performance was incredibly accurate, but they need more movement. This Kylián work is a little light on the choreography and heavier on the theatricality. Maybe another of his compositions would be a better choice for Hubbard Street's repertoire.
Every dance fan has their favorite choreographers - those whose work they defend and follow, whether good or bad. My personal list of favorites is constantly changing, evolving and expanding. Jiří Kylián has been a part of it since the mid-nineties. After Hubbard Street Dance Chicago's performance, my group now includes both Nacho Duato and Alejandro Cerrudo.