Malpaso collaboration a cohesive cultural exchange, and a happy medium among Hubbard Street's recent pursuits

Two women swayed, holding each other, as a voice broke across the theater from a man standing at the back of the stage. With softness escaping in the cracks of his voice, he sang a Spanish love song. Phrases such as “sabes que te quiero, que eres esperanza” (“you know I love you, that you are hope”) framed the women as their smooth partnering became disjointed. A supporting lift where one dancer slid on to the other’s crouched back, limbs extended gracefully into the air, became a headlock on the floor, which led the couple to separate and dance alone. Eventually, the women found their way to each other once again, hugging and tenderly swaying off stage, all the while the man’s voice filled the space with raw emotion.

It's a moment that could only be cultivated from a Chicago choreographer collaborating with a Cuban dance company.

March 2 and 3, contemporary dance superpowers Hubbard Street Dance Chicago (HSDC) and Malpaso Dance Company from Cuba brought a visceral and cross-cultural movement experience to the Chicago stage after a year-long collaboration.

As a part of the “Made in Chicago” 312 Dance Series, HSDC and Malpaso presented four works by Malpaso artistic director Osnel Delgado and Chicago choreographer and former HSDC dancer Robyn Mineko Williams at the Auditorium Theatre.

Featured in the first act were Delgado’s “Ocaso,” performed by himself and Alicia Delgadillo from HSDC, and Williams’ “Cloudline,” staged on HSDC and a strong opener for the series. The second half of the performance featured the two world premieres and the majority of the cross-cultural collaboration.

Delgado’s new creation on HSDC, “The Windless Hold,” closed the performance. He artfully used numbers to create a rush of energy and chaos on stage, as the ensemble, dressed in red velour jumpsuits, repeatedly jumped and spun in large circles and formations, weaving in and out of each other. Delgado builds this storm-like tension in the piece, so that when suddenly the sound drops out and the movement stops, the image created from the full cast on stage emanates through the theater.

In this literal windless hold, where the audience seemed to be holding its breath with the silence, I saw the connection between Delgado’s and Williams’s work. There was detailed attention to both the individual movements and to the rise and fall of the structure of the works. The HSDC dancers executed this dramatic shift between large, tumbling movement and an abrupt hold in movement effortlessly (or appearing so) because they had just performed similar dynamic shifts in Williams’s work.

In Williams’s “Elemental,” the work she choreographed on Malpaso during a choreographic residency in Cuba, she used the spatial relationship of the dancers as well as large group work opposing solo work to create specific characters and paint a story of the elemental nature of human emotion. A protagonist in an orange suit jacket often moved against a group of dancers dressed in neutral.

And in the duet described above with dancer Manuel Durán singing on stage, Williams also relied on quiet and stillness to strengthen the tone of a moment and give movement starker meaning.

In watching these two companies perform on the same program, each dancing the movement of a foreign choreographer, it struck me that they could easily dance together as one. A year of cultural exchange infused each work with dual influences which I believe brought the pieces closer together.

Especially after watching the rapport between the two casts during the on-stage dance party following bows, I wish visa issues would not have prevented the creation of a collaborative work by both choreographers on both companies as a mixed cast.

I am a young artist who is equally as intrigued by HSDC’s ability to bring the work of world-renowned choreographers to Chicago, such as Crystal Pite and William Forsythe, as I am by some of the recent efforts to feature a more unconventional side of contemporary concert dance (such as Peter Chu’s “Space, In Perspective,” which brought audiences through the halls and back rooms of the Harris Theater). The Hubbard/Malpaso performance struck me as a strong balance between the two.

It was at once a research experiment in how travel, cultural exposure and a new cast of dancers affects choreography and performance, and at once an opportunity to present Chicago with an international, contemporary dance powerhouse.

This collaboration between Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and Malpaso Dance Company provided a unique opportunity for Chicago to experience a blend of artistic backgrounds in a concert dance setting and to experience the magic of when two dynamic contemporary dance companies build a performance together.

I looked forward to three things upon leaving the theater last Sunday: Malpaso’s next stay Chicago, the next Chicago cultural dance exchange and HSDC’s next creative venture.