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Hubbard Street Dance Chicago

'counter/part,' 'Cor Perdut,' 'No More Play,' and 'Minus 16'

by S. E. Arnold

August 20-24, 2003 -- Ted Shawn Theatre at Jacob's Pillow, MA

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago closed the ten-week season at Jacob’s Pillow with a celebration of dance that verified the art form’s thoughtful as well as its kinetic power.

Although divided into programs ‘A’ and ‘B,’ the Saturday matinee by force of injury blended program ‘A’ with ‘B.’ That mixed concert featured four works: "counter/part," choreographed by Jim Vincent, the Hubbard Street artistic director, to music by J. S. Bach; "Cor Perdut," choreographed by Nacho Duato to music by Maria del Mar Bonet; "No More Play," choreographed by Jiri Kylian to music by Anton Webern; and "Minus 16," choreographed by Ohad Naharin to a variety of music that included cha-cha, bossa nova, mambo, "Hava Nagila: 'Ehad Mi Yodea'," traditional music arranged and played by the Tractor’s Revenge, and popular show tunes including “Somewhere Over The Rainbow,” which ended the piece and the concert.

Driven by its continuous interplay of structure and spontaneity, "Minus 16’s" ever switching perspective on the relationship of the personal to the political challenges the passivity implied in the idea of one’s being ‘socially constructed.’ Moreover, in the pre-curtain talk before the Saturday matinee performance, Hubbard Street scholar-in-residence, Maura Keefe, noted the balletic pas de deux structure of the lexically modern "Cor Perdut" (Lost Heart).

This observation prompted one’s notion that form, structure, and other features of construction are tools rather than blueprints. For example, if structure demanded a certain outcome, then the instance of the pas form in "Cor Perdut," danced by Yael Levitin Saban and Massimo Pacilli, might have delivered the growing promise of commitment such as found in the grand pas of "Sleeping Beauty." Instead, rapturous and dream-like qualities such as found in "Spectra de La Rose" or Tatiana’s dream pas with Onegin airily followed upon "Cor Perdut." Such differences in outcome celebrate, even if they cannot directly argue for, the idea that form, structure, or construction alone guarantee no particular effect.

The clear structure and compositional references that inform Kylian’s "No More Play," however, suggest a rival view. Set to “Five pieces for string quartet,” Op 5, by Anton Webern, the piece is inspired by a Giacometti sculpture that reminded Kylian of a board game.  The choreography resonated with Giacometti’s ‘ravaged spaces,’ Webern’s dynamic silences (Webern scored rests with dynamic markings, thus a player was to crescendo and diminuendo on a rest), and his highly polished rule guided moments. Set on two women and three men, the dancers combine and recombine membership in constant three or two person groups. Like the music, the movement was clear, angular, and while sharp looking, dynamically soft.

And, perhaps the long held angular and weighted poses serve as a visual analogue to Webern’s dynamic silences. And as if it were a board game, the dancers move within the bounds of ever dissolving blocks of light. Given its formal or rule guided look and references, "No More Play" suggests that humans and human relationships are indeed a by-product of construction. Moreover, its ending offers a vision that suggests that life is a game, and then you die. For example, released from the bounds of space and prior rules, the dancers now in line abreast and in unison approach stage front. They sit with their backs to the audience and gently fall back into darkness. Game Over.

In contrast to the stark architecture of "No More Play," "counter/part," the work that began the concert, and "Minus 16," the work that closed the concert, explore the untidy décor that furnishes the dark and not-so-dark places of the inside. Set on three female and seven male dancers, one understands ‘counter’ as the public world of courts and measurements indicated by the row of thrones, the Capulet-looking costumes, the reference to courtly dances, dances in unison, and the use of Bach’s music scored for larger ensembles (i.e. selected movements from the Brandenburg Concertos) to accompany the larger dance ensembles. Similarly, one understands ‘part’ to be the hidden site of unruly passions indicated by the topless male dancer costumed in a skirt of bright red panels, his more aerial movement, his less than tender encounter with one of the female characters, and the use of Bach’s more intimate music (i.e. works written for solo instruments or otherwise described as little, such as "Eight Little Preludes" and "Fugues") for solo and duet scenes.

As the music informs the choreography of "counter/part," so the choreography informs the public world of counter, as well as the private world of part, and thus by double example illustrates the public furnishing of private spaces idea. The sense one makes of the female character’s encounter with the male in red depends in some measure, then, on the value one puts on the idea of self- creating activity or agency. If the female character, for example, is publicly furnished (provided tools) rather than constructed (blueprinted), "counter/part" retells "Errand into the Maze." If she is publicly constructed rather than furnished, "counter/part" retells "The Rite of Spring."

Perhaps a la Douglas Adams, Naharin’s title, "Minus 16" refers to the mega computer Deep Thought’s revised answer to, “What is the meaning of life, the universe, and you know, everything?” In contrast to the finality of Deep Thought’s original answer of 42, "Minus 16" happily marks an imaginary moment on the way toward incompleteness. If true, this is a good thing because it promotes agency and prohibits, in a poetic sort of way, the passivity (implied by 42 and) demanded by the Vogon Social Constructor Fleets.

As a dance work that celebrates agency, "Minus 16" plays the shape-shifting personal against the shape-casting political.   Political here refers to the work’s public aspects, such as its well-made structures, its use of popular dance music, and the black Magritte looking business suits worn by all the dancers.  The contrast is seen in the dream episode of its pre-beginning, its dancers shedding their public identities (their costumes), its broadcast of the dancer’s personal stories, its spontaneous eruptions of improvisational moments, and by the grand surprise of its apotheosis. To the song Judy Garland minted into common currency, the twenty-one members of the cast invite twenty-one members of the audience (literally plucking them from their seats) to join them in the dance. As a triumph of self-creating activity, "Minus 16" offered those invited onto the stage an opportunity to exercise that activity as an impromptu member of Hubbard Street Dance. Dreams can come true, “Somewhere over the Pillow.”

Edited by Lori Ibay

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