4 out of 4 stars
Hubbard Street Dance Chicago is no stranger to taking risks and exemplifies their bold courage in their Fall Series event entitled Space, In Perspective. The immersive and interactive journey takes audience members out of the seats and on their feet through Harris Theater. Viewers are encouraged to choose a dancer and be guided through the building. Everywhere you turn, dance is happening.
Upon arriving at the theater I will admit I was entirely apprehensive on how the evening would progress. I kept rereading the instructions on the leaflet in the program, as well as on the displayed screen in the lobby . As a reviewer, I wanted to make sure I was doing all I could to write about how this performance is meant to be experienced, but honestly there is no wrong way to experience this work. Whether you follow a single dancer or end up switching to another dancer or perhaps multiple dancers, the intention of this piece allows that freedom to be placed upon the viewer. Performed in untraditional performance spaces, the hour long program transports a maximum audience of 400, broken into several smaller groups, to spaces including lobbies, backstage, and theater loading docks, culminating with all dancers and audience members convening on stage.
My journey led me across the second floor where black matted spaces laid against staircases as clearly dance areas. Choreographer and creative director Peter Chu, who’s credits include FOX TV’s So You Think You Can Dance and the Artistic Director of chuthis, notes the piece is reimagining the performance area and is “sophisticated yet playful”. The organized chaos is enchanting as the dancers move through the crowds navigating up stairs, down stairwells, across balcony walkways and various other sections. These dancers deserve so much credit as they showcase a truly a remarkable dedication to focus and mental awareness. Not only are they doing set choreography, but improvising by also moving in an unpredictable active space of the crowds. Alicia Delgadillo, a talented main company member since 2014, fluidly transitions throughout the work from one moment to the next with her long extensions and arched movements. Particularly for this piece, Delgadillo not only performs well, but provides a confidence in the moments of personal interaction that allow audience members to forget about needing to see what happens next and just enjoying the unknown unfolding in front of them. The mental stimulation and stain to be completely present and quick thinking in one’s surroundings is commendable. Additionally, the piece highlights the fact that dancers are similar to actors. They act with their body to convey a story and adding eye contact in such an intimate space creates a non-verbal dialogue between dancer and viewer unattainable before unless boldly staring out into the traditional audience space. A sequence on the balcony walkway with four dancers separating the viewers and the stairwell was exquisite. Kate Epperheimer's eye contact and relaxed control blended with the other dancers as the physical lines of the walkway mimicked the lines made by the dancers in their extensions. The ebb and flow of energy climaxes and each dancer disperses in a different direction leaving viewers left to choose who to follow. “With this piece, the audience can observe our dancers greed from the confines of the proscenium theater setting, from various angles and in a more intimate environment allowing them to interact more personally with the company, seeing them as they have never seen them before,” says HSDC Artistic Director Glenn Edgerton.
Chu’s creative direction along with Edgerton, as well as dancer-generated choreography, leads all audience members into the same space for a mesmerizing second half reconvening the 16 company members and the 16 dancers in the Hubbard Street Professional Program (HSPro) in a more structured three quarter black box space with floor seating and chairs available, while the rest remained standing. Sven Ortel, a tony nominee for his work on Broadway’s Newsies and a vast number of other credits, uses the projections a dancer underwater and abstracted smoke or water on a black scrim in this tall space to add height and depth. The scale of the space shifts and transforms with the thirty-two dancers filling it. Each corner is utilized as an entrance and exit as dancers move behind those standing to their next cue spot. It is now with the full compilation of dancers, the costumes are distinguished and highlighted in mass. The design by Hogan McLaughlin, american fashion designer, artist, dancer and a talented illustrator, gives refinement to minimalism. The division between the dancers in the professional program and the company seemed to become more distinct as most the HSPro dancers were in black styled tops with long brown pants, while the most of the company is clad in low collared jumpsuits. The company women’s version includes a revealed almond back, which paired with Marcus Doshi’s lighting design accentuated curves of the spine complimenting the movements of the fabric and dance movements. Chicago native Rena Butler gives a dynamic and powerful performance along the dreamlike sequence narrated by the music by DJeff Houle and live xylophone by company member, David Schultz. These additive media art installations combining with dance gives us a moment of traditional performance experience while happily shifting between an interactive and passive experience.
I will fully admit my worry and skepticism as how this would work within such as space, but I am happily proved wrong as to no hiccups witnessed nor negative faults. A live action version of a choose your own adventure book mixed with installation dance art and media art. Those who are reserved by nature to the exploration this piece encourages will still find the intimate connection and enjoyment out of this brilliant piece. Hubbard’s dedication to new creative endeavors definitely breeds smart innovative and memorable performances.
Space, In Perspective is performing now at Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph, through September 24th. For tickets visit www.harristheaterchicago.org
To learn more about Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and this season, please visit www.hubbardstreetdance.com
Mary Crylen is a photographer and writer based in Chicago. She is an alum of Southern Illinois University of Carbondale with a B.A. in English and a B.A. in Photography. She possesses a sincere passion for the arts and believes zeal shows through work. Follow her on Twitter!