Dance Response: Hubbard Street 2

On Saturday, April 14 I attended the performance by Hubbard Street 2 in the Olmsted Theater. I’ve seen some YouTube videos of the Hubbard Street main company, but this show wasn’t actually exactly as I expected it to be. And it was both impressive and depressing, for me personally.

The first piece in the program, never did run smooth, choreographed by Gabrielle Lamb, was my least favorite. Not that it was bad by any means, I just thought parts of the choreography were a little “cute” for my taste. It simply wasn’t very exciting or moving—musically, in terms of stage elements, or choreographically. But luckily, things started to pick up pace in the next dance. Never was, by Alejandro Cerrudo, set to two very different Baroque-era musical pieces by Handel and Purcell, had more of the things I want to see at a dance performance. The piece began dramatically, but not overly so; two dancers, Emilie Leriche and Johnny McMillan, were lit by a circle of strong white light from above. Their costumes were simple almost to the point of being severe; the drum processional music by Purcell added to this severity. And, most importantly, the movement was strong and intense, with an air of being warriors. The two dancers were very sharp and precise in their movements.

My favorite piece was the third. HS2 dancer Johnny McMillan choreographed this piece with the Sami people, nomadic reindeer herders native to Norway, in mind. He used folkloric music by Sami musicians such as Pekka Lehti and Mari Boine—and this was perhaps one of my favorite elements of the piece. McMillan listened to all the intricacies of the singer’s voice and the movement corresponded to the sounds. Each movement seemed to me to be an emotional response to the singer’s raw voice, so the movement and sound were one. The use of fake fall-colored leaves onstage wasn’t totally necessary, but they were beautiful when they got swirled around by the wind from the dancer’s movement. At times, the movement was uncomfortable—raw and explicit, eliciting discomfort in the form of snorts of laughs or whispers from some audience members. That’s also one of the things I liked about it. I think it’s good to have awkward or unusual moments in choreography. If all you want to see is pretty stuff, go see a ballet. If you want to broaden your mind and feel something (other than contentedness and “wasn’t that nice, dear”), have a visceral response to what you’re seeing, then this is what you’re looking for. The choreography was fast, intense, primitive, and also beautiful. It was the type of dancing that is so impressive, I thought, “I’m not sure I could ever do that.”

The fourth piece, sad monsters, choreographed by Maurya Kerr, was not for me. It was a little too Sidra Bell. I didn’t like the “fierce” intensity and I absolutely hated the costumes (black turtlenecks and booty shorts). The last duet was pretty great, but in general I didn’t click with this piece.

PACOPEPEPLUTO, choreographed by Alejandro Cerrudo to music by Dean Martin, probably gave a bunch of Long Island old ladies very good dreams. It was a series of three male solos, again in white light, and the kicker is that all they wore was a dance belt (“costume design, Rebecca Shouse,” struck me as funny). Each of the solos was beautiful, but I did rather wish there were fewer times their backs faced downstage. Each dancer had his own very distinct movement quality, but they were all beautiful in their own respect. I was impressed mostly by their control—they way they could catch their balance and how they could move out of turns. The program talks about their being “enshrouded in dim lighting and fog,” but we didn’t get any fog. It must not have worked out in our theater. Anyway, Andrew Wright’s butt was my favorite.

The last piece, Bonobo, was more like what I expected from a Hubbard Street performance. The choreography, in this case by Penny Saunders, was most like what I thought it would be, based on what I’d seen online. This is also one instance where the description in the program matched what I thought of it. It was “inspired by the history of Vaudeville-type traveling tent shows from the 1920s and 1930s,” and “[featuring] an eclectic score ranging from hilarity to poignancy.” This one was the most theatrical of them all. It was a good one to end with.

One of the things that impressed me most was the dancers’ partnering skills. I’m always impressed by good partnering, because I know how hard it is. I wonder how many times they have to practice each lift to make them look like that. It made me wish that instead of working on choreography for our workshop piece in partnering class, we would spend more time practicing lifts until they are smooth and easy.

The other thing that impressed me also depressed me. All of the HS2 dancers are very young. In fact, two of them are my age, and still in college! It hit me kind of hard and made me feel very behind where I should be in my career. I’m nowhere near as good as these other college Seniors.

I thoroughly enjoyed the show and seeing how ballet technique can transform into so many other things, and how performing classical ballet isn’t the only possible end goal of practicing ballet technique. I hope that this impression was also made on Adelphi Dance’s newest members whose minds have yet to be opened to the possibilities.