Tap bookends ballet and Hubbard Street in 2019 Spring to Dance finale

ST. LOUIS, MO — On National Tap Dance Day, tappers opened and closed the final evening of Spring to Dance, capping three full days of performances at the Touhill Performing Arts Center. The night began with MoSTLy TAP, a local company started in 2017, and ended with Chicago Human Rhythm Project (CHRP), which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. And the two could not be more different. MoSTLy TAP gave a smile-inducing performance to a live band playing Stevie Wonder — the complete opposite of CHRP’s Echos, by Dani Borak. CHRP has performed this material at various stages of development since 2017, when the Swiss choreographer began a three-year artistic residency with Chicago’s longest running tap organization. And while Borak has been supported in experimenting with a refreshingly wide range of approaches to tap choreography, this particular one has never quite worked. A haphazard combination of disingenuous hip-hop and modern dance moves distract from what is an otherwise rhythmically fascinating exploration of music by Johann Johannsson and Bugge Wessltoft, among others. Having seen this piece more times than I’d wish to, I’m choosing to remember the extraordinary footwork above all else, most evident in a truly awesome solo by Tristan Bruns, and Echos‘s razor sharp unison phrases by some of Chicago’s best hoofers.

A solo, duet, and quartet rounded out the early show in the Lee Theater, with an athletic duet by Project 44 director Gierre Godley — who, by the way, is as delightful a performer as his dancers Alex Cottone and Ross Honaker — and VADCO’s Sum of its Parts, a piece loosely (very loosely) based on the physical and psychological impacts of war. Helen Simoneau’s captivating Caribou (solo) is the most intriguing of the lot. It addresses her identity as a Quebecoise making her life in the U.S., opening with Simoneau seated in a ridiculous fur coat, plaid shift and combat boots. French lyrics backed by a dirge of low brass and harmonica in Bernard Adamus’s cover of La Foule — Simoneau’s look maybe gleaned from Adamus’s cover art — play as she tumbles about the floor, standing fully for the first time at the end of this song, which is (roughly) about being lost in a crowd. She removes her boots and fur, then repeats a series of dancing that is, at once, gruff and ethereal.

It’s hard to mind seeing something so beautiful again and again, which is perhaps a good transition to talk about IGNORE, danced by Hubbard Street Dance Chicago as the entr’acte to the second half of the main stage performance in the Anheuser-Busch Performance Hall. Ohad Naharin’s exhibit A of how effective an additive phrase can be is encapsulated in this simple, yet provocative gem. Ignore is part of Naharin’s 2006 George and Zalman, and for Hubbard Street, is from an evening of Naharin’s greatest hits titled Decadance/Chicago (reviewed by my colleague Chris Jones in 2018). Provocative because it’s simple, not because of the giggles evoked when Bobbi Jean Smith’s voiceover offers explicit directives as a guidebook to the American Dream.

The rest of the evening was all about ballet, with encore performances of the Joffrey Ballet’s dewy and delicate After the Rain pas de deux (an early work by Christopher Wheeldon, this time performed by Christine Rocas and Rory Hohenstein), and Owen/Cox Dance Group’s homage to Bach called Partita No. 3; plus a dazzling performance of the Le Corsaire Grand Pas de Trois by Cuban dancers Adiarys Almedia, Taras Domitro and Jorge Barani; and St. Louis Ballet in George Balanchine’s Rubies.

A final note about the last in that list: The addition of an increasing number of well-known works to the rep of St. Louis Ballet is a smart choice, even if they aren’t quite prepared for Balanchine. The opportunity to perform iconic works like Rubies, and an upcoming October bill which includes Concerto Barocco, is a much-needed challenge for these dancers. They’re pushing themselves, and I’m rooting for them.

Header image: Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s presentation of “Decadance” by Ohad Naharin © Todd Rosenberg Photography, Courtesy of Dance St. Louis.

Author: Lauren Warnecke

Lauren Warnecke is a reporter for NPR affiliate station WGLT and freelance arts and culture critic, primarily reviewing dance for the Chicago Tribune. Lauren enjoys cooking, cycling and attempting to grow things in her backyard. She lives in central Illinois.