Pitting two choreographers against each other in back-to-back acts may not be a plea for competition, but that's how the audience will interpret it.
That might be why so many were quick to pick a favorite after Hubbard Street Dance Chicago's one-night appearance in Portland. The show, presented by White Bird, featured two contemporary dance pieces: one by Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin (who heads the Batsheva Dance Company), and another by his protégée Sharon Eyal. In most cases, the teacher prevailed over his student (critics have largely agreed on this point since the pieces debuted side-by-side two years ago).
As contemporary dance goes, each piece is markedly different. Naharin, himself a student of Martha Graham, created Three to Max from two already completed Batsheva pieces. In his work, performers are clad in street clothes and behave like sexually frustrated amoebas. They stomp and flit about the stage as if motivated only by animal instincts. Occasionally a couple pairs off, only to remain disconnected. These duos tumble around each other like leaves in the wind, close in proximity yet emotionally distant. The only exception is a touchingly human interaction between two male dancers. The ending sequence splits the dancers into three lines. One by one, they step to the front of their queue to perform a mini-solo. All of the action is difficult to watch at once, but three women stand out: They moon the audience.
Eyal's Too Beaucoup lives up to its name: too much. The piece features the performers as white alien-like creatures attempting a sort of parade formation. The soundtrack mimics a DJ set (Depeche Mode, Leonard Cohen, Gang of Four), whose base rattled the Schnitz's speakers. Above all, the dancers' skin-tight, white leotards just beg for a game of Who Has The Best Ass? While visually stimulating, the piece rarely comes up for air. All 18 dancers are almost always on stage in a cluttered formation that makes mistakes easy to spot.
Both pieces are compelling, but while the chaos Naharin created looked intentional, Eyal's chaos often looked messy. The audience didn't seem to mind, though, judging from the cheers and standing-O. But that could have been for all the ass in the show.