Chicago Dance Review: HUBBARD STREET DANCE CHICAGO (Season 38 Fall Series at the Harris Theater)

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by Lawrence Bommer on October 16, 2015

in Theater-Chicago


An Evening of Work by William Forsythe is a dull title for a frenetic program. This is kinetic dance, its percussive paces almost too fast for feeling. Three years in the making, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s action appraisal of Forsythe, a prolific educator, choreographer, former Joffrey Ballet dancer and director of the Frankfurt Ballet, is non-negotiable power-dancing at escape velocity. Much here is just too fast to follow.


Happily, the evening also provides a context to put Forsythe’s electric/eclectic style in a cumulative perspective. Three works testify to a restless, galvanic energy that becomes content as much as fuel. Here nothing slows down long enough to tell a story: Any attempts at lyricism are defeated, either by the relative silence of the score or the driven dynamism of Forsythe’s perpetual motion. Hubbard Street pulls no punches–it simply plunges into Forsythe’s highly cinematic choreography–and devil take the hindmost.


Setting the table for a night of seeming spontaneity, “N.N.N.N.” is, for all its disciplined memorization of movement and intricate structure, starkly frantic. The exhausting offering, performed to hints of music from Dutch composer Thom Willems, is mostly mute. Set entirely on “fast forward,” four interchangeable dancers erupt in a cavalcade of manic moves. Their limbs seem as disjointed as the action but no more alienated from their bodies than the performers are yoked asunder. Their bodies create convulsive conversations, the imaginary transcripts for which would be dauntingly enigmatic.

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago

At times maddeningly arbitrary, Forsythe’s seemingly improvised breakout leaps, gestures, twists, flings, turns, jumps, and slumps are entangled in rapid reversals. It’s as if entire relationships are accelerated to warp speed. This A.D.D.-addicted piece appears highly convoluted, a discord of distractions. So little here appears shaped that very little seems to be at stake. But substance, even storytelling, doesn’t matter to Forsythe: Style–here, deliberate dazzle–reigns supreme. Happily, Hubbard Street’s young dancers have the stamina, reflexes, coordination and body-brain synchronicity to pull it off. Depending on your tolerance for artistic anarchy, it’s either T.M.F. (too much feeling) or T.L.S. (too little story). Somehow with “N.N.N.N.” either excess will do.


Repeating a favorite from 2012, Hubbard Street’s return to Forsythe’s 1993 “Quintett” unleashes another whiplash dance of discovery. A kind of posthumous love letter directed to the choreographer’s late wife, it’s fueled by that worst of regrets, what might have been. Detonating more of Forsythe’s frenzy for fragmentation, five dancers engage in endless repetitions and variations on a music phrase by Gavin Bryars (“Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet”). Feuding, linking up, then breaking up, viscerally connected until they’re brutally separated, the quintet engage (or indulge) in truncated permutations on a theme of longing and loss. The eyes hurt just following this pell-mell pandemonium, a monument to Terpsichorean multitasking.


Finally, and most explosive, Hubbard Street’s premiere of “One Flat Thing, reproduced” creates a Forsythe force field. The locale consists of 20 identical lunch tables, an obstacle course of “jagged rafts of ice” (as the publicity astutely puts it along with a “ferocious flight of dancers”). The analogy is apt: The piece is inspired by the doomed Antarctic explorations of Sir Robert Scott. These barriers (to what?) apparently drive the 14 dancers bonkers. Never has furniture been so rampagingly resisted.


Performed to Willems’ suitably industrial score, it’s a perfect storm of bodies in free-form collision and combinations, a riot of reflexive chaos. Except that we know–though we may not grasp–that the whole thing is designed from the first breath to the last leap. If a stampede could ever turn artistic, it would be this very misnamed “One Flat Thing.” You can’t imagine it till you see it and then you can’t forget it.


photos by Todd Rosenberg


Hubbard Street Dance Chicago
Season 38 Fall Series – An Evening of Work by William Forsythe
Harris Theater for Music and Dance
Millennium Park, 205 East Randolph St
ends on October 18, 2015
for tickets, call 312-850-9744 or visit

for info on Chicago Theater, visit

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