As last-minute replacements go, you could do worse than Hubbard Street Dance Chicago.
The company—which made a special trip to Portland to fill the White Bird
slot abruptly vacated by Lyon Opera Ballet after its North American tour was canceled—has an admirable repertory, skillfully performed.
On Tuesday, Hubbard Street brought work by two dancemakers familiar to White Bird audiences: Jorma Elo
and Ohad Naharin
. Dressed in cool, shimmery blues, Hubbard performed Elo's Bitter Suite with a serene ebb and flow, punctuated by quirky gestures.
Set to Monteverdi and operatic arias, it opens with an ensemble being manipulated by a kind of puppet master, then breaks into twos and threes. A certain geometry anchors the movement—triangles, arcs and parallel lines, which the dancers etch with crystalline clarity.
Naharin has proven adept with group dynamics, and his Tabula Rasa
is no exception. Small relationships develop and dissolve as the ensemble movement washes past to a somber Arvo Part score. Naharin is also good at making simple steps—such as a walk diverted by a deep, first-position plié—seem new and interesting.
One passage in particular shows the intersection of his skills, as dancers enter the upstage perimeter one by one. They form a line of bodies, swaying slowly right and left in unison, until one stops swaying, causing a traffic jam and creating a small separate group that leaves the line and does its own thing.
The night ended happily with Walking Mad, a string of loopy comic vignettes by Johan Inger
, the former artistic director of Sweden's Cullberg Ballet. It opens with a dancer crawling out of the orchestra pit and unfolds to Ravel's stately Boléro
, which heightens the comedy. Dancers make surprising entrances, exits and climbing expeditions over the top of a movable (and collapsible) wall with hidden doors. People in silly red party hats play hide and seek, fling their clothes mid-air and enjoy a groovy dance party with lots of pelvic thrusting. If viewers missed Lyon, you wouldn't know it from the standing ovation that followed.
Photos courtesy of White Bird.