Hubbard Street’s season 41 closer takes second look at four mind/body landscapes

Dance is so in-the-moment that it’s often gone before we can register what we’ve seen. Hubbard Street’s summer series, closing season 41, gives us a welcome second look at four stellar works from company repertoire: two duets, “A Picture of You Falling,” and “The Other You” (2010) by Crystal Pite, Alejandro Cerrudo’s “Out of Your Mind,” (2018), and a reworking of Brian Brooks’s “Terrain” (2016). Performances take place at the Harris Theater June 6, 8 and 9.  

All four pieces have an introspective tone, navigating mind/body landscapes as they impact our sense of self, relationship to another, the role of the individual in community and the community in relationship to our environment. Seeing these works grouped together for the first time in one evening gives audiences an opportunity to engage on a deeper level with each piece and to appreciate the impact of the works on each other.

Both Pite’s and Cerrudo’s works employ spoken text. Kate Strong’s voice-over narration in “A Picture of You Falling” addresses the audience directly as “You,” urging us to identify emotionally with the dancers on stage. Alan Watts’s more detached, philosophical narrative in Cerrudo’s “Out of Your Mind” invites the audience to suspend disbelief and embark on a journey of “what if” as a means to envision a reality outside the conventional boundaries of the mind.

Cerrudo and Brooks both use domino-like sequences of large- group chain reactions to create a sense of time repeating itself. Organization and chaos play governing roles in all four pieces, and each of the three choreographers employs a distinctly impulse-driven movement vocabulary that draws from the depths of the body’s emotional storehouse.

The program moves from the individual to the community to the environment, beginning with Pite’s two duets, excerpted from her larger work, “The You Show.” The first, “A Picture of You Falling,” tears open the heart of a relationship and its loss. “What’s so great about Crystal’s work,” says Jacqueline Burnett on the Hubbard Street blog, “is (that) the emotional and narrative content (are) so integrated into the physical actions; when you tap into one, you inherently tap into the other.”  Burnett performs the duet with Elliot Hammons on June 8th.

“The Other You” begins with a soundscape of barking dogs, car horns, street traffic and sounds of the forest, then switches to Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” in a cathartic sense of purity and relief, according to Hubbard Street dancer Andrew Murdoch on the Hubbard Street blog. Typical of Pite’s uncanny ability to traverse extreme emotional states in short succession, he says, “Some of it is comedic, some is tragic.” He and Michael Gross perform the duet all three days. Gross, who leaves Hubbard Street following the summer series, sees “The Other You” as “the balance or in-balance of two sides of one person, whether it be the animalistic instinctual side versus the calculated, educational side or anger versus happiness, and how those interactions happen.”

Alejandro Cerrudo’s “Out of Your Mind” received its premiere performance last spring at the Auditorium Theatre

“Out Of Your Mind,” begins with Alan Watts delivering a voice-over text asking penetrating questions about what you think is real.  Fifteen unison dancers in light blue, long-sleeve turtlenecks and dark blue tights snatch individual words out of the space around them with imitative gestures: “God is the self, and you are that, only you’re pretending you are not,” says Watts. A collective breath energizes the ensemble periodically dispersing into a series of mixed gender and same gender duets.  The monolog continues. A kind of movement Sanskrit creates their common body language as they link arms in a human double helix of sequencing molecules, undulating, twisting, in domino cascades. “You are the universe,” the voice intones, suddenly making sense as the dancers mouth his words: “and you are creating it at every moment.”  The visual spectacle of 15 bodies conjoined in ingenious formations is breathtaking.

Brian Brooks’s “Terrain” was the first commissioned work in fulfillment of his three-year Jay Franke and David Herro Harris Choreographer-In-Residence Fellowship. During the residency, Brooks created “Terrain” for Hubbard Street, two works for the Chicago Academy for the Arts Dance Ensemble, a piece for his own New York-based company, Brian Brooks Dance, and “One Line Drawn” for Miami City Ballet, co-produced with the Harris. 

“It’s debatable if this is an entirely new piece or not,” Brooks said during a rehearsal break at the Lou Conte Studios last month. While the re-working of “Terrain” is not technically part of the fellowship, Brooks sees his process with this piece as book-ending his residency. “It’s about loss of place,” he said of the work, which premiered the same week as the 2016 presidential election. Returning to the piece with a newly-commissioned score by long-time collaborator Jerome Begin allowed him to “bend and evolve ideas about the environment and space and the loss of it. The piece demonstrates effort and the urgency of some kind of loss.” 

Like a time-lapse video, there is constant construction and dissolving of group formations, “structuring, eroding and reconstructing out of the remnants of decomposed structure,” says Brooks.  Begin’s score parallels that construct, with string quartet, electronic keyboard and drum machine. Both movement and music move from simple touching to the sounds of ticks and a soft, rapid drum pulse to increasingly energetic layers of sound and movement that periodically unwind and wind back to a tight bond. 

“Revisiting the work gave me a chance to examine my process,” Brooks said, reflecting on the three-year Harris residency. “My process is a direct mirror of the content of the work.” His main take-away from the residency has been to clearly identify, for the first time in his career, “how I work as a choreographer.” He has become aware of more of his skills, and of his keen interest in “order and chaos within structures.” 

When Hubbard Street premiered “Terrain,” I wrote of the piece, “In Brooks’ curvy iteration of the domino effect, a new and different geometry of the human body creates a moving design across space in fluid recombinations, dancers wrapping around each other and spiraling on to the next.” The dominos and spirals are still there, but Begin’s score, and Brooks’ intensification of focus promise to bring “Terrain” to a new level for Brooks and for us.


Hubbard Street Dance Chicago's summer series funs June 6, 8 and 9 at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph Dr. Tickets are $25-$110, available by clicking the event page below.