Dancing to live classical music isn’t exactly a novel idea, but somehow the combination of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s second company and the Wheaton College Orchestra last Saturday evening felt like uncharted waters. After a Korsakovian intro from the orchestra, conductor Daniel Sommerville gave a brief speech applauding the diligence, dedication, and hard work demanded by a career in dance, and how impressed they have been by the talent and bendiness of the dancers of Hubbard Street 2 over the two day collaboration. Good point, Maestro, and indeed, the seven dancers of HS2 managed to make a lot happen on two narrow strips of marley in front of a full 75-ish piece orchestra that included a grand piano, two harps, and robust brass section.
It’s been awhile since I attended any Hubbard Street concert, and honestly I can’t remember the last time I saw the second company. It’s also been awhile since I saw dance in a venue the size of a football field, which at some times left me feeling disconnected, and at other times on the edge of my seat.
The mixed bill was one of primarily familiar classical music. Never Was, a duet featuring dancers Emilie Leriche and Brandon Lee Alley, is mostly composed of driving movement passages and intricate partnering set to dirgey, funeral procession-like drum patterns from Henry Purcell… that is, until soprano Carolyn Hart joins the party singing a glorious Handel aria (and, I must say, doing a much better job of it than Mary Bennet in Pride and Prejudice).
The other two dances shown were for the full company of dancers, which is perhaps the only thing they shared in common. Fractures, a new piece choreographed by HS2’s Artistic Director Taryn Kaschock Russell was created specifically for this occasion, and Elusive Portraits (pictured above) by Edgar Zendejas came on loan from the main company. Together, they demonstrate both the subtlety and virtuosity of the dancers. The gestural and abstract Fractures is markedly different from the quirky characters that show up in Elusive Portraits.
In an evening that brought out Wheaton’s socialites by the hundreds, I fully expected the pretty lines and feet, the tightly hair-sprayed French twists, and the well-rehearsed, beautifully composed dances I saw. What I didn’t anticipate were the astute abstractions and clever idiosyncrasies veiled behind a careful façade of classically trained dancers and black-tied orchestral musicians. While the combination of beautiful music and beautiful dancers in a big, beautiful, baby blue auditorium had traditional written all over it, there were moments that flirted with the truly weird. I relished in those moments and found the corner of my mouth upturned more than I would have expected for a night out in Wheaton… and Wheaton, by the way, couldn’t get enough or it. This concert brought audience members to their feet, and introduced Modern Dance (capital M) to a whole host of people who wouldn’t otherwise care. Well played, HS2, well played.