‘Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’ at The Kennedy Center by Derek Mong

You’ve never seen dance quite like this.

The company of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago blew audiences away at opening night of their 3-day run at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts’ Eisenhower Theatre. Under the artistic direction of Glenn Edgerton, the company performed four distinct pieces—related by the intense focus on the exactitude of human movement, the mellifluous fluidity by which each member of the company seamlessly moved, and their refreshing, jolting take on contemporary dance.

Billed as a contemporary dance company “acclaimed for its original and innovative repertoire created by an eclectic group of the world’s leading choreographers as well as its wonderfully versatile dancers,” Hubbard Street Dance Chicago lives up to the hype as “one of the most original forces in contemporary dance.” As it celebrates 36 years of world-class dance, it’s no surprise that the dance company is back at The Kennedy Center after a sold-out performance in 2010. It’s also no surprise that The Washington Post calls them “a gamble worth pursuing,” while The New York Times praises their talent: “When it comes to trendy, glamorous repertory, it’s hard to think of an American company as well stocked as Hubbard Street.”

Hubbard Street Dancer Emilie Leriche and ensemble in 'Fluence' by Robyn Mineko Williams. Photo by Quinn B Wharton.
Hubbard Street Dancer Emilie Leriche and ensemble in ‘Fluence’ by Robyn Mineko Williams. Photo by Quinn B Wharton.

The evening began dramatically with Little mortal jump by Choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo. If contemporary dance ever had a strong opening, this was it. The seamless integration of flowing, upbeat music, lighting design (Michael Korsch), set design (Alejandro Cerrudo), and costume design (Branimira Ivanova) transported audiences into a dream-like fantasy where the light and darkness themselves become characters in a choreographed daydream of romance and intimacy. With four giant black squares that the dancers would spin to selectively reveal and hide the dancers, the piece was captivating and mysterious from the very beginning, and the perfect integration of stagecraft and dance. The opening sequence, when a single dancer leaped from the stage and, after a flash of light, disappeared into the orchestra pit, is the perfect example of this—which left audience members dumbfounded in a collective, audible gasp.

The evening continued with Fluence choreographed by former company member Robyn Mineko Williams. Full of staccato movements and twitchy movements, set to futuristic, almost cacophonous music that could be the soundtrack of any sci-fi movie (music by Robert F. Haynes), the piece was intentionally unnerving—as if the performers had become abducted by aliens or were possessed by some outside force. The combination of swift, karate-like movements and composed puppetry made the performance unforgettable and illuminated the leading edge of contemporary dance. Billed as a piece with “quick double-takes and stuttering movements [that] suggest that the entire piece itself is fighting internal glitches, disintegration, or a faulty internet connection,” the five men and four women who performed this piece certainly did it justice, seeming strangely human and foreign all at once.

A shorter piece in the evening came with Cerrudo’s next piece PACOPEPEPLUTO, a comic piece in which three male dancers—clad only in dance belts, dance sensually to Dean Martin hits. The piece, contrasted against the visual intensity of the previous pieces, was certainly refreshing as it balanced “aesthetic austerity” and the choreographer’s “sharp wit.”

Hubbard Street Dancers Ana Lopez, left, and Alejandro Cerrudo in 'Casi-Casa' by Mats Ek. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.
Hubbard Street Dancers Ana Lopez, left, and Alejandro Cerrudo in ‘Casi-Casa’ by Mats Ek. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

The finale piece of the evening was leading Swedish choreographer Mats Ek’s 2009 work Casi-Casa. The piece—which had only a minimalistic set design (Peder Freiij) made used of simplistic, everyday objects—highlighted how even everyday encounters can hold a sense of wonder and richness. As Choreographer Mats Ek puts it: “What’s important to me most is reading the newspaper, watching my children, watching animals move in the park, watching the traffic—things that are not meant to be seen.” The piece ultimately shows the relatability of contemporary dance, dispelling a common misnomer of contemporary dance as foreign and grounding the sensory experience in a very real, common sense of reality.

Running Time: 2 hours and  9 minutes–Piece 1 (25 min); Intermission (20 min); Piece 2 (20 min); Pause (3 min); Piece 3 (7 min); Intermission (15 min); Piece 4 (39 min).

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago has once more performance tonight at 8 PM at The Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater – 2700 F St NW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 467-4600, or purchase them online.

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Derek Mong
Derek is a DC-native and a graduate of Duke University (B.A Political Science). During his junior/senior year at Duke, Derek served as a Marketing and Public Relations intern at the Nederlander-operated Durham Performing Arts Center. At his internship, Derek developed marketing campaigns and assisted press in coverage of the four major Broadway engagements that season: Memphis, The Addams Family, Bring It On, and Wicked. Upon graduating from Duke in 2012, Derek joined a tech and management consulting firm in Arlington, VA, where he currently works. Derek enjoys frequenting the DC-NYC theatre scene; when not in the theatre, Derek can probably be found running outdoors, blogging, playing the piano, traveling the country, and, of course, tweeting (@derekmong). Derek is currently obsessed with Disney's 'Newsies' on Broadway.


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