The Saturday evening performance by Alonzo King's LINES Ballet and Chicago's own Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, a much anticipated collaboration, invites audiences to marvel and appreciate the technical aptitude of both companies and what happens when they combine forces.
The show ushers in with "Rasa", a work by Alonzo King, set to an original sound score of traditional Indian drumming and vocal percussion by Zakir Hussain. With simplistic costuming, the energy is all that is needed to propel a pinball-like dash from one limb to another, from one dancer to the next, in a continuous flow of legs, arms, and beautifully articulated feet, convalescing up, down, and around, through group sections, duets and trios. Just as the continous flow of like-paced energy begins to wear on the viewer, King whisks in a well-placed sound cue or sweeps away half of the cast, revealing just one to take the spotlight. If you find yourself yawning, though, it is surely not from boredom, but rather from lack of oxygen to the brain as one might forget breath as they watch incredibly balanced extensions stopping on a dime, and dancers turning topsy turvey without blinking an eye, as is classic with King's army of specially groomed Amazonian-esque contemporary machines.
The crowd is a pleasingly well informed group, consisting of a "mixed family" of Hubbard Street die-hards, King confidants, and perhaps a few Ailey advocates who have wandered in from down the street. As Alejandro Cerrudo's "Little mortal jump" introduces our dear Hubbard Street Dance Chicago to the stage, one boisterous fan startles the thus far tight-lipped crowd by yelling, "WORK", to be joined later by a few, "GET IT"s and an, "OH YOU KNOW IT!", producing a slight air of home-turf pride but implementing a decidedly "un-concert dance" atmosphere, opening the audience members to each other and the different places from which they come (though let's save the "mixed family" audience discussion for FLYSPACE, also in the neighborhood in a few weeks).
A Hubbard Street staple, "Little mortal jump" with its quirky humor is welcomed by the crowd, familiar and excited about the closeness they feel to the company, the piece, and Alejandro Cerrudo, a recently iconic voice for Hubbard Street repertoire. The piece winds down with a rather emotionally exhausting duet until the incredible theatrical effects highlight the stark athleticism of the dancers, pushing boxes twice their size in seemingly effortless circles, while the dancing duet slowly fades to the back in an unnessecarilly epic climax of music, effects, oversized props, and dramatic lighting.
Upon curtain after a second intermission, "AZIMUTH", "the big thing" of the night is finally revealed as an integrated ensemble comprised of the entirety of both companies. If the simple sight of 28 of the world's most incredible dancers standing on stage at once isn't enough to leave you breathless for the remainder of the 40 minute spectacle, the effortless melding of the two companies' styles will be. Freedom for artistic nuance in King's signature style allows for dancers to use discretion within individual movements to highlight each body while the congestion of the mass anchors the bodies together. As a reminder of just what these dancers can do, they show off staggering lines with as much prowess in perfect physics so as to make the audience wonder how the dancer is able to instruct something so disagreeable as the body to agree with every single, rippling muscle, every single leap into the air, and every single breath through space.
A moment of absolute, blatant patriarchy is, perhaps the one disappointment as the piece drags on. Hubbard Street's Kellie Epperheimer emerges as a soloist to encounter Jonathan Frederickson, Garrett Anderson, Jesse Bechard, and David Schultz in a purely masculine showdown as the four men emerge from behind a scrim. Upon leaving the whimsical, majestic air of the smoky haze behind the scrim, the four male figures become stark and confrontational, closing in on Epperheimer. The four men juggling Epperheimer suggest that she does not so much as touch a toe to the ground without the permission of her male counterparts. She walks on their backs, lurches towards them, and climbs up their bodies, always to be turned upside down, and paraded around in a circle, legs open in a "v" shape by the four men. This injustice to the piece catapults it into a very literal and physical rendering of a male-gaze-theory-conversation (call me a raging feminist if you must but I'm surprised this section made it happily past so many eyes without raising so much as a tiny feminist finger). Epperheimer seems the object of not just one male, and not just any man sitting cozily in his seat behind the fourth wall, but the object of four men's gazing. And later, what becomes four men that are not behind the fourth wall, but physically near her, able to touch her, refuse her, and control her.
After the gracefully manipulated take down of tiny Kellie Epperheimer by the muscle-y quartet, the piece winds down without much more excitement until an ending image of LINES dancers Meredith Webster and David Harvey convalescing in a seemingly love-making style while masculine figures shadow the upstage quarter (though wouldn't it have been so much more symbolic of"AZIMUTH" as a LINES/Hubbard Street lovechild if these two "love-makers" had been a dancer from the respective companies each? Perhaps I'm romanticizing the union too much).