Chicago Dance Review: FOUR WORKS BY JIŘÍ KYLIÁN (Hubbard Street Dance Chicago Spring Series)

by Lawrence Bommer on March 14, 2014

in Theater-Chicago


Erupting only through Sunday, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago has devoted its spring series to four eclectic-to-dynamic works from 1989 to 2001 by Czech choreographer Jiří Kylián. Two are company premieres. (It’s the Street’s first mixed repertory devoted to a single dance designer in the spring series.) The Harris Theater is the viable venue for Kylián’s probing pieces, dance that’s definitely drama and sometimes as subtle as a scream.

Hubbard Street Dancer Kevin J. Shannon in 27′52" by Jiří Kylián.Kylián, former director of Nederland Dans Theater in The Hague, has said: “Our bodies are 275 hinges or joints, so the combination of what you can do with them is endless.” In these four pieces not a hinge or joint goes unused. It’s restless legs syndrome raised to an art.

The most recent offering is a return engagement–the precisely named 27’52”, supposedly the exact length in minutes of this convulsive romp to music by Dirk Haubrich. It begins with the dancers warming up before the house lights come down. Then, reacting to a spoken text from several languages that implies that there is no artist, just art (and draws from Baudelaire and Bruce Lee), the six well-defined dancers (muscularly but not thematically) meld themselves to Haubrich’s resoundingly percussive musical backdrop, wrapping themselves around a canvas tarp as others fall from above.

Hubbard Street Dancers Jesse Bechard, left, and Meredith Dincolo in PETITE MORT by Jiří Kylián. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

Forming duos that experiment in jolting movements of pushing and pulling and very physical body chemistry, the seemingly triple-jointed performers stretch, soar and spring with aplomb. (Gravity means much less to these folks than it does for other mortals.) Lurching or shifting from actual to abstract, the near half-hour plays with the paradox of how very specific bodies in motion can create their own surreal combinations. Flesh forfeits nothing to become form. It’s not touching but it can still be true.

Hubbard Street Dancers Ana Lopez, left, and Garrett Patrick Anderson in PETITE MORT by Jiří Kylián. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

Kylián’s signature piece, the equally popular 17-minute Petite Morte (what the French slyly call “sex”) from 1991 (Salzburg Festival) is not as morbid as it sounds. Performed t0 Mozart’s exquisite music, this wryly subversive 1991 work begins with the athletic men playing with swords, while the women, freeing themselves from artificiality and constraint, step out of rolling hoop-skirt frames to indulge in elegant mating dances full of yearning and sublimated sex.

Hubbard Street Dancer Johnny McMillan in SARABANDE by Jiří Kylián, with Jason Hortin, left, and Jonathan Fredrickson. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.Twinned works, company premieres that complete the program, Sarabande and Falling Angels (1990 and 1989) offer the men and women respective opportunities to emote as much as move. In the former the male dancers freak out as 18th century ball gowns hover above them, possibly threatening their sexuality. As my dance companion put it, it exposes how “the confines of an aristocratic society turned the men into monkeys in the jungle, bellowing at the predators nearby (namely women).”

Hubbard Street Dancer David Schultz in SARABANDE by Jiří Kylián. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.Anyway, what follows for the next 20 minutes employs screeching, shrieking, and ear-splitting sound effects to depict their unmanly panic, after which Bach’s second partita for solo violin delivers a tonic for their jungle gyrations. (This work explains perfectly why dancers should be seen and not heard.)

Immediately following, the eight women in the comparatively calmer companion piece engage in 15 minutes of forthright and elaborate group movement. Their well-shaped communal celebration ranges from aerobics to a trance-like procession, intricately performed to the richly wrought, highly complex drumming by four young members of Third Coast Percussion (and based on Steve Reich’s pulsating sounds).

Hubbard Street Dancers Kellie Epperheimer, Bryna Pascoe and Jacqueline Burnett in FALLING ANGELS by Jiří Kylián. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

It’s an exhausting, sometimes thrilling, ending to an evening of dedicated dance, movement that’s not exactly moving. But, well, spring is for showing off what’s young and new (and loud).

Hubbard Street Dancers Alice Klock, Jessica Tong, Bryna Pascoe, Ana Lopez, Jacqueline Burnett and Meredith Dincolo in FALLING ANGELS by Jiří Kylián. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

photos by Todd Rosenberg

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago
Spring Series: Four Works by Jiří Kylián
Petite Mort (Mozart)
Falling Angels (Reich)
Sarabande (Bach / Heuff)
27’52” (Haubrich)
Harris Theater, 205 E Randolph St in Millennium Park
scheduled to end on March 16, 2014
for tickets, call 312-850-9744 or visit

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