Hubbard Street Dance's Fall Engagement @ Harris Theater

4 out of 4 stars

Hubbard Street Dance’s Fall Engagement marks the companies fifth decade as one of the country’s leading contemporary dance companies and celebrated with a phenomenal collaboration on September 27, 29, & 30, 2018 at Harris Theater. This World Premiere features a live performance by Grammy-award-winning Chicago music sensation Third Coast Percussion with music composition by pop music icon Devonté Hynes (aka Blood Orange) and choreography by three cutting-edge emerging choreographers, Emma Portner, Lil Buck and Jon Boogz.

In the first section of the evening Lil Buck and Jon Boogz, cofounders of Movement Art Is (MAI), integrate spoken word poetry that begins with describing heat, oxygen and energy all working together to form a rippling piece depicting the evolution of man. The music features a subtle techno style beat on the xylophone which paired with the fluid movement and rigid angled movements signifying the passage of time, one quickly is almost reminded of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001:Space Odyssey. This is not surprising since upon reading more about this choreographer duo, their focus is on celebrating arts. Since art informs art, we are left with a beautiful piece depicting the evolution of man told through a dancers raw movements being paired down upon the passing on time into more structured and angular motion. Craig D. Black Jr. dances beautifully and powerfully. Black’s prowess is evident in this time based work. Themes of individualism and community are played upon one another and is expressed through a beautifully well done costuming choice of a more business formal wear for sophisticated and self interested mankind and the t-shirt like clothing the origin dancers are clad in and the demonstrators.  Read more about the behind the scenes of this piece on Hubbard Street's latest blog post here.

The musical interlude performed by Third Coast Percussion is a beautiful segment filled with just as much movement in its own right as the dancers of Hubbard Street in the bookend choreographed pieces. The musicians move around the stage from multiple spots, sometimes teaming up on large pieces of percussion instruments, as well as roll some center stage. The work feels dynamic not only in it’s stunning arrangement by Devonté Hynes, the visual dynamics of the movement and lighting makes a robust yet delicate transition. Hynes wonderfully added to the evenings multitudinous themes of sustainability, the principles of Paul Stamets’ book “Mycelium Running,” and the ways in which the environment is affected by the social issues facing our world today. Incredibly talented musicians that really shone in the best light with a collaboration such as this. 

Finally the evening ended with a piece choreographed by Emma Portner, who possesses a style described by The New York Times as both “eclectic in approach” and “disciplined in practice.” Portner has also recently been commissioned to create new work for New York City Ballet and Anne Plamondon for Fall for Dance North. Closing the evening, Portner uses dark sequences including plastic, violence and confrontational low movements to juxtapose the haunting reality, growth and a rebirth on the timeless nature vs. society/ nature vs. self.  Renee Butler features as soloist for Portner’s For All Its Fury. Butler’s a tour de force with a fluid mastery which features against what appears to be representatives evil of times, society and mankind. The sequences move swiftly between confrontational low contorted movements stemming into a beautiful auspicious warm tingly sequence led by Butler. Following these is a haunting bottle sequence that is a clever use of prop and music combined. While dancer discover and interact with the bottle and it’s invisible contents, musicians play the simple glassware as a percussion instrument with the low hooting becoming the main audio source. The visuals only get more dramatic by the costuming changing to a tied together sequence of anxiety and pain - a beautiful agony. An incredibly impressive piece that challenges the dynamic between dancers, musicians and shared space in addition to a wonderful symbolized choreography. 

The engagement featured lighting by Jim French and costumes by Hogan McLaughlin. French’s control over the lighting design for each work complimented perfectly each minor story to compliment the overall themes of the evening. McLaughlin’s design for Portner’s All Its Fury twists and connects dancers by various bands of sheer fabric the same as the full body leotards. Hubbard continues to impress with it’s collaborative and innovative programming. Artistic Director Glenn Edgerton explains how he has been “following Lil Buck and Jon Boogz for awhile now, Emma Portner is just now on the brink of her explosion into the dance world” and the collaboration with Third Coast has been a goal for years. A wonderful start to the season for Hubbard, as they continue to excel in being a leader in contemporary dance. 

For more information on Hubbard Street Dance and their upcoming Winter series this December, please visit

Third Coast Percussion -

Movement Art Is -

Mary Crylen is a photographer and writer based in Chicago. She is an alum of Southern Illinois University of Carbondale with dual degrees in English and Photography. She possesses a sincere passion for the arts and believes zeal shows through work. Follow her on Twitter!