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Hubbard Street Dance Chicago

'Petite Mort,' 'Kiss,' 'Diphthong,' 'Cor Perdut,' 'Full Grown Man'

by Mary Ellen Hunt

October 11, 2003 -- Stanford Lively Arts, Stanford University , Palo Alto , CA

Nothing says “dance for grown-ups” more than a work by Jiri Kylian. I often find myself waiting impatiently for Kylian’s companies, Nederlands Dans Theater (I, II, or III; take your pick) to make one of their all too rare appearances stateside just for the pleasure of seeing his work. Fortunately though, several American companies now have his work, as well as that of NDT alum Nacho Duato, in their repertoire, no one has more of these ballets at their fingertips than Hubbard Street Dance Chicago.

At their recent appearance at Stanford Lively Arts, Hubbard Street brought one of Kylian's classics, "Petite Mort," on a program that was pleasantly diverse.  Clearly the standouts on this mixed bill though, were the Kylian and Duato works. 

Hubbard Street worried me early on in the show. Kylian's "Petite Mort," set to two movements out of Mozart piano concertos,  requires the utmost clarity in execution from the dancers to convey that delightful sense of serendipity.  The elaborate shapes that each dancer creates with a partner, or with the fencing foils bend, tipped or swung have to be picture perfect to really be effective. Once or twice though, a dancer lost control over the foils, making me wonder if they were going to be able to pull the complex work off.

Kylian arranges his six couples in images that are as chilling as they are abstract. With the dancers clad at first in stylized corset-like costumes, the arms and legs become a visual focus even as the movement originates from the core. Introduce some rolling black gowns, complete with panniers and a humor mingles with a strangely unsettling feeling. Some of the subtext is almost too plainly read: the corseted dancers step away from the artificially rigid shells to move freely and gracefully like pale white souls briefly unfettered from their cocoons. And, on its own, Kylian’s uncanny sense of spacing of the bodies adds tremendous effect to the imagery.

As the piece settled into a series of duets, however, the Hubbard Street dancers slowly came into their own, revealing the kind of daring movement quality for which they are justly known.

It was when Yael Levitin Saban and Massimo Pacilli took space for their duet, however, that piece really took flight.  Kylian's work has a way of demanding the utmost strength in the midst of  the utmost grace.  Saban and Pacilli, each independently strong, extended this notion into the creation of a singular performance.

Saban and Pacilli returned in Nacho Duato's fluid duet "Cor Perdut," one of Duato's earliest works.  Duato's works often seem to start with a rush and the way that the two dancers meet in such a rush in the middle of the music makes the heart stop. Set to a Turkish song arranged by an Armenian composer (M.J. Berberian) and sung in Catalan by a Majorcan (Maris del Mar Bonet), it's safe to say that the piece has a Mediterranean warmth. "The only memory of my love is a bunch of jasmine," is a rough translation of the original song, and like a puff of memory, Pacilli sweeps Saban literally --and the audience figuratively -- off of her feet proving that once again that Duato can make the spirit soar with only music, dance and bodies in space.

Conversely, and less successfully, Susan Marshall attempted to push the idea of flight and suspension in "Kiss" with actual equipment.  Cheryl Mann and Tobin Del Cuore swung and drifted, intertwining skillfully.  But with ungainly harnesses strapped over their clothes and resolutley earthbound choreography,  "Kiss" never really took off.  For a moment when the couple orbited around each other, there was a spark, but overall the piece had the effect of a not particularly interesting, tethered water ballet.

Dancer Brian Enos's "Dipthong," a co-commission from Stanford Lively Arts, also received its West Coast Premiere on this program.  Set to the music of Zap Mama,  "Dipthong" had an intriguing hip clubby feel, but the jazzy techno look and the fishnet tights never seemed to gel into a cohesive whole.  Charlayne Katsuyoshi, however, was eyecatching from the moment she stepped onstage strutting a sexy walk that would put the Alvin Ailey women to shame. As the work of a nascent choreographer, "Dipthong" does demonstrate Enos' sense of structure and movement styles.  Hopefully he'll produce more work for the home team.

The program closed with Trey McIntyre's genial "Full Grown Man." As perky, up beat closers go,  the ballet set to songs by Beck was perfectly acceptable, although like "Kiss" and "Dipthong," it suffers by comparison with "Petite Mort" and "Cor Perdut."  Still, McIntyre's Paul Taylor-like ease and flow was easy to watch and made for a good showcase for the talent and energy of the Hubbard Street troupe.

Edited by Jeff.

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