Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 6, 2018

REVIEW: Jacob’s Pillow, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago

Jacob’s Pillow, Becket, MA
through August 5, 2018
by Josephine Sarnelli

It seemed fitting that to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago that its founder Lou Conte would be in the audience and that his 1978 choreography “The 40s” would be the finale. This piece alone would have been worth the price of admission. The 16 men and women were all identically dressed in white shirts, bow ties, vests, suit pants, and white dance sneakers.

The music, a medley of Big Band hits, generated the energy for the period dances … jazz, jitterbug, lindy, and jive. But the level of this performance demonstrated the true skill of these highly trained dancers. Conte’s signature choreography exemplified what has made Hubbard Street the legend that it is and established the standard that audiences have come to expect.

Hubbard Street is a repertory company that represents many choreographers and dance styles. Its dancers must be cross-trained in multiple genres of dance to respond to the variety of choreographers; hence, the ensemble attracts some of the most talented. In the true fashion of a repertory company, the program at Jacob’s Pillow highlighted three other choreographers, in addition to Conte. Therefore, perhaps this program is best viewed as a study of the choreographers.

Photo by Hayim Heron
“Lickety Split” showcased the work of Alejandro Cerrudo, Hubbard Street’s first resident choreographer. There is a light heartedness and touch of humor to how three couples addressed the unpredictable nature love. The aerial lifts were effortless and their timing perfect. The joyful running of the dancers was reminiscent of Paul Taylor’s iconic “Esplanade.”

The ensemble performed “Grace Engine” by Canadian choreographer Crystal Pite, set in the darkness of the subway to the sounds of moving trains stopping at stations to let passengers on and off. The visual effects from occasional bright lights and screen curtains clearly placed the audience underground. There was an eerie, abstract quality to how the dancers fought off demons, perhaps either external or internal. There was a monotony to the sound, the darkness, and the movements that was at first hypnotic to the audience. However, the piece was too long and had the effect of dulling the viewer’s senses to the anguish being portrayed.

The first half of the program was excerpts from Ohad Naharin’s Decadance/Chicago. In the debate as to whether dance is art or entertainment, this was neither. Its dark humor could be best described as vulgar, as signs posted at the entrances warned. Coupled with its repetitiveness and underutilization of skilled dancers, this routine was not in keeping with what has brought fans to Hubbard Street Dance Chicago for four decades.