Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s newest film heightens our senses and sense of mystery

From the first moment of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago (HSDC) dancer Jacqueline Burnett staring blankly at us from the driver’s seat of a retro van, I was invested. She breathed, going through the motions of backing out of a parking spot. Why the flash of worry across her face? Or was it a pang of sadness? Feeling lost? She turned to check the back window and the scene flashed to Burnett and another dancer in the back of the van at night, swaying together in an intimate moment. As we came back to Burnett in the driver’s seat, overcast daylight streaming into the van, the question grew in my mind of whether or not she was driving alone, and what brought her to this moment.

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s newest dance film, “Half of Us,” premiered May 20 in a visually stunning Vimeo livestream that activated my senses from the couch. Choreographed and co-directed by Hubbard Street Dance Chicago (HSDC) alum Robyn Mineko Williams, the film highlighted the growth of the company’s approach to media in dance over the past year by using collaboration to create genuine intimacy on a screen.

The music duo Sima Cunningham and Macie Stewart of Ohmme composed the music for the 16-minute film—as well as appeared alongside HSDC dancers Elliot Hammans and Burnett in the work. The score began with soft hums and drawn out guitar notes, growing into harmonious vocals and strumming that reverberated through the space around me. Ohmme appeared sporadically throughout the film, acting as still bodies in the space or sitting in the van doorway, watching the duet. Or lounging inside the van, tucked away from the action, faces close together as they mouthed the repeating lyrics to their music: “My mirror won’t fit inside this room.”

The simplicity of these two duets in a sparse setting created an environment for the details of the work to shine. C.J. Arellano edited and co-directed “Half Of Us,” using multiple camera techniques to record the performers. The first time we see Burnett and Hammans dancing outside of the van, the two are captured in an expansive warehouse parking lot by a steady wide shot. The lot is surrounded by brown brick buildings and is empty except for the bright teal 1967 Dodge van. In a satisfying use of space (particularly given this past year of cramped performance-making), the two dancers ran in opposing circles that spanned the entire perimeter of the parking lot, shot from above by drone. Additionally, Arellano used a close up camera that moved with the dancers to highlight the push and pull, sharp hits and gooey releases of the body in Minko William’s choreography.

It’s been almost a year since Mineko William’s premiered her livestreamed Undercover Episodes with the HSDC company, filmed in the more accessible format of dancers in their respective homes rehearsing and filming themselves over Zoom. “Half Of Us” shows clear growth from last summer’s performance, using media not only as a method of streaming performance but as a choreographic tool to enhance movement. In the Q & A following the film, Mineko Williams shared that initially the van wasn’t a part of the work. She choreographed the movement by itself in space, much like she would for stage, but then her and Arellano realized that the visuals of the film needed the texture of a scene element to anchor the story.

The van became integral to each scene of the film, adding a visual element that kept my eyes glued to the screen, gave the performers something site-specific to experiment with and provided another way for the audience to access the story behind the choreography. I felt as though I was watching an indie movie with layers of character development to uncover. I could have watched sixteen more minutes of “Half Of Us,” and I think that’s specific to viewing this dance in film format with the added stylistic layers and opportunities to get close to the performers: to be in the van with them, to experience their memories with them, to watch from the same room as they held each other softly. 

The only element missing from this work was the raw sound of the movement itself. In such a textured space, I wanted to hear the shoes scuffing on gravel and heavy breathing as the dancers rolled and slid over each other on the ground. I missed the moment before the performance where they explained that two of the bodies in the film were Cunningham and Stewart of Ohmme. As the film shifted back to Burnett in the driver’s seat, a sense of closure came over me as the film winded to an end. I waited in hopeful anticipation that the film would continue and that Cunningham and Stewart would have a turn to dance. I’ll be checking back in hope that Mineko Williams creates part two.   


“Half Of Us” screens Saturday, May 22 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, May 23 at 2:00 p.m. before being released onto HSDC’s website. RSVP for the free screenings via or click the event link below.