By Rachel Straus
Western Europe and the Midwest now have more in common, thanks to Jim Vincent, the new artistic director of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, which performed Saturday at Purchase College's Performing Arts Center.
Since taking the helm of the 25-year-old company in 2000, American-born Vincent - who speaks four languages, got his dancing stripes with choreographer Jiri Kylian of Nederlands Dans Theater, and was recently on the creative team of Disneyland Paris - has decidedly changed the flavor of this jazz-dance, repertory company.
The program began with Nacho Duato's Jacardi Tancat, whose images of Spanish peasants gardening matched perfectly with Artistic Director Jim Vincent's mission to bring foreign-bred choreography to the company.
And although the old Hubbard Street revealed itself in Bob Fosse's Percussion 4, Margo Sappington's Step Out of Love and Harrison McEldowney's Let's Call the Whole Thing Off - all dance entertainments with streaks of vaudeville and Flash Dance - the most distinctive, and well-received piece, Minus 16, hailed straight from the European avant-garde.
Ohad Naharin's Minus 16 has changed Hubbard Street's image. The 30-minute piece actually began during intermission.
While most of the audience was off at the café, a lone dancer in a loose-fitting black suit and white shirt appeared at the edge of center stage. He performed an awkward shuffle that looked like a combination of mime, popping and puppetry, or that his spine was short-circuiting. The effect was comic, gruesome, fascinating.
When 19 other black-suited, manic shufflers (who in the four previous dances revealed they are the technical crème de la crème of the dance world)jumped on the stage with this Chaplinesque figure, the wayward audience figured out it was time for the lights to go down and the dancing to begin.
But in Naharin's world, the house lights remained on and the stage performers acknowledged - in their abrupt transitions between pedestrian and virtuoso movement - their complicity in creating an illusionary world.
They expressed aspects of their private lives in voiceovers and limb-flailing solos, brought selected audiences members to the stage as dance partners, and danced a form of Russian roulette.The standard concert stage rules, where one is either an active performer or a passive witness, dissolved in Minus 16.
When audience members improvised the tango and the twist with Hubbard Street dancers on stage, it felt like a happening.
When one remaining audience member, dressed in a flaming red cardigan sweater, tenderly slow-danced with her professional partner (while the company tore around the stage) she looked like a floating poppy in a sea of black, thorny roses.
Choreographer Naharin's aesthetics are beautiful as well as rebellious. And despite Minus 16's fractured, absurdist structure, which included firing-squad deaths, a recipe for guacamole, and a final image of the company in the shape of a pyramid, Naharin's choreography of inclusion beats with a human pulse.
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