Chicago Dance & Theater Review: THE ART OF FALLING (Hubbard Street & The Second City)

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by Lawrence Bommer on October 17, 2014

in Theater-Chicago

LEAPS AND LAUGHS: A STRANGE AMALGAM

It’s a worthy experiment, even if the eclectic results seem maddeningly inconclusive. For three more performances, two very different Chicago arts troupes share the same Harris Theater stage in a curious merger of movement and comedy. Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and The Second City, bastions of contemporary dance and stand-up/improv/sketch comedy, are yoked in a brief shotgun wedding called, appropriately enough, The Art of Falling.

Hubbard Street + The Second City in The Art of Falling. Carisa Barreca, center, with, from left: Jesse Bechard, Alice Klock, Michael Gross, Emilie Leriche and Jonathan Fredrickson. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

Whether planned or accidental, falling (as in failing) can fit several agendas. What’s a controlled fall in dance (a leap that lands) is in comedy a very different phenom: a pratfall; a slip on a banana peel; a tumble from grace. As few since, great silent comics like Charlie Chaplin, Harold Lloyd, and Buster Keaton managed to combine elegance and embarrassment. Falling is a useful metaphor for the twists and reversals that catch us by surprise and make us giggle, cackle, chortle, chuckle, guffaw, or just laugh.

Hubbard Street + The Second City in The Art of Falling. Foreground from left: Carisa Barreca, Tim Mason and Rashawn Scott. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

But falling becomes problematic when it becomes self-aware, as in this ambitious but forced fusion of fun and form. Inevitably, the vast cast basically split up into their respective realms, with the dancers mostly illustrating the verbal humor that takes center stage. Seldom is it the other way around, with the dance bits trying to be funny in their own right. They should have studied the silent movies.

Hubbard Street + The Second City in The Art of Falling, from left: Tim Mason, Jessica Tong and Carisa Barreca. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

The truest moments here are when these artists revert to form. One delicious selection opens the second act with pure movement: An excerpt from Ballet Arizona’s Second to Last is a series of sensuous duets that’s not at all amusing. Earlier, Leroy Anderson’s Typewriter is cleverly mimed like the clockwork cygnets in Swan Lake. Otherwise, the busy Hubbard folks mostly use their supple bodies to depict carnival rides, airplane passengers losing their balance, a tornado, bicycle riders, a funky funeral, a neurotic el train, and inadvertent sky divers. It’s often clever but never comic.

Hubbard Street Dancers in The Art of Falling, from left: Kellie Epperheimer, Alicia Delgadillo, Kevin J. Shannon, Jane Rehm, Jacqueline Burnett and Ana Lopez. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

The sketch humor consists of too-familiar running plots about unlikely liaisons. We meet a bi-racial gay couple coping with family friction and an ability to commit. There’s also another bi-racial couple who meet on a turbulent flight—a self-described corporate clown, and an elderly black lady who manages to be lonely and clinging without overplaying her quirky irritability. There’s a third story about an office temp named Kate but it exists mostly to allow the dancers to become human props or spin across the stage on rolling desk chairs as they spoof Swan Lake.

Joey Bland and Hubbard Street Dancer Alicia Delgadillo in Hubbard Street + The Second City’s The Art of Falling. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

The most original stuff involves the actors lying flat on stage while, high above them, a closed-circuit camera makes them suddenly vertical, with actors crawling by to depict clouds and such.

Hubbard Street + The Second City in The Art of Falling. Joey Bland, left, and Travis Turner with, from left, Hubbard Street Dancers Kellie Epperheimer, Ana Lopez and Jesse Bechard. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

The strongest scenes happen when these disparate forces come together in song and dance, as in the first-act finale “Don’t Be Afraid (of Love),” where choreographer Robyn Mineko Williams has the huge ensemble gyrating and then plunging off the apron into an unseen mattress (or so I hope).

Hubbard Street + The Second City in The Art of Falling. Center, from left: Tim Mason, Jesse Bechard, Carisa Barreca and Joey Bland. Below, from left: Travis Turner, Jessica Tong and Rashawn Scott. Far right: Tawny Newsome. Hubbard Street Dancers, clockwise from top: Alice Klock, Jason Hortin, Emilie Leriche, Andrew Murdock, Jane Rehm and Michael Gross. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

Inventively shaped by director Bill Bungeroth with a fun score by musical director Julie B. Nicholas, this Hubbard Street/Second City collaboration attempts a graft between verbal and physical humor that never quite takes. One skill inevitably steals focus from the other. Jokes require a set-up to trigger a punch line; dance is its own context. Plus the vast Harris stage is much friendlier territory to the Terpsichorean stuff than to the intimate stand-up material.

But, no question, the audience ate it up, happy to get a two-for-one evening of entertainment. That gets the last laugh.

Tim Mason, left, Rashawn Scott and Ensemble in Hubbard Street + The Second City’s The Art of Falling. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.photos by Todd Rosenberg

The Art of Falling
Hubbard Street Dance Chicago
& The Second City
Harris Theater for Music and Dance
205 E. Randolph St, Millennium Park
scheduled to end on October 19, 2014
for tickets, call 312-850-9744
or visit www.hubbardstreetdance.com

for more info on Chicago Theater,
visit www.TheatreinChicago.com

{ 1 comment }

Vonette S. Zupko October 19, 2014 at 4:22 pm

The Art of Falling failed to elicit the best of either group. Instead, it became a laborious collaboration with neither group representing themselves at their best. As an almost fanatic fan of both groups, it was a huge disappointment. Came off more like bad musical comedy. The sound system was inadequate, sometimes rendering speech indecipherable. We were so exhausted trying to “get it’, that we couldn’t stay for Act II.

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