The most engaging bunch of dancers you can imagine is here on an all too infrequent visit. Hubbard Street Dance Chicago is a 22-member crew of personable, versatile performers, accomplished in a mix of ballet, modern, and jazz modes, who are out to please without begging. They’re strong, swift, supple—and as feisty as they come, with energy that seems limitless. Their elevation is sky-high and buoyant. Their arms are eloquent. Their feet seem to caress the floor. They give you texture; they give you phrasing. But here’s the best thing: Accomplished though they are, they have no attitude. They just dance. They don’t show off. They don’t emote. They don’t try to sell you anything—not the choreography, not themselves. Call this company style, if you like (it’s certainly pervasive); I call it wonderful.
You’ll have your favorites—perhaps Tobin Del Cuore, contemporary dance’s incarnation of the god Apollo, or the sexy powerhouse Cheryl Mann. Maybe you’ll single out the tiny, mercurial Erin Derstine or the irresistible Charlaine Katsuyoshi, who dances with the lushness of a woman and the innocence of a child. The real marvel, though, remains the group as a whole.
The repertory of these extraordinary performers leaves much to be desired—and not just because several of the seven pieces they brought us had guys (and sometimes gals) bopping around in business suits. The overall problem is that Hubbard Street specializes in work that’s so busy being eye-catching, it ignores compositional complexity and emotional resonance. Capable, colorful works from Christopher Bruce, Nacho Duato, Daniel Ezralow, Lar Lubovitch, and Ohad Naharin pretty much reiterated what we know about these second-tier choreographers, and only Duato’s ritualistic Gnawa showed its maker in top form. Two homegrown works rounded out the rep: artistic associate Lucas Crandall’s Gimme, a clever duet-with-a-gimmick about a spunky pair’s foreplay, and artistic director Jim Vincent’s more ambitious but unwieldy Uniformity, which visits the boardroom, the bedroom, and the disco floor.
The piece I found most compelling was Naharin’s Tabula Rasa, created in 1986 to a searing score by Arvo P First ferocious, then contemplative, it conjures up a community so ravaged by violence and grief that the survivors turn on each other, only to realize that, having endured the unspeakable, they must take up their lives again because there simply isn’t anything else to do. The piece is undeniably affecting, yet not so inventive or well made as to rank as a classic. Hubbard Street, some of us remember, for a time served as an able custodian of works by Twyla Tharp. It should still be doing Tharp—to say nothing of Paul Taylor and Mark Morris. The dancers deserve nothing less.