Mystery, humor and volatility colored Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s December home season with three distinct choreographic voices, highlighted by “Casi-Casa,” Mats Ek’s power punch of a finale presented for the first time by an American company.
Ek’s movement teeters on the outer limits of emotion, barely contained and threatening to explode at the drop of a match, and there are numerous metaphoric lit matches in this piece. The tension of contrasting physical states, one moment of lyrical breathiness giving way to angular bursts and jagged gesture, conveys the drama of domestic life against a backdrop of mundane objects—a stove, a chaise longue, a door, a hat and vacuum cleaners. The simplicity of the set and props brings the complexity of human interaction into stark relief, especially unsettling in the dark male-female duet performed by Alejandro Cerrudo and Ana Lopez with gripping emotional rawness. But it’s not a stylistic overlay of emotionalism on the part of the dancers that creates this effect. On the contrary, it is rather the substance of the movement itself that draws multi-dimensional portraits of two individuals and their relationship with such startling specificity, in a movement language that seems to summon its shape from the inner turmoil of the human experience. No stereotypes in sight on Ek’s canvas, his choreographic pallet is distinctively different enough to make the audience sit up and pay attention to what’s happening on stage in a way they are not used to doing. He skillfully camouflages the technical bulwarks of conventional ballet and modern dance forms to launch his unique vision in “Casi-Casa,” infusing his dance landscape with his characters’ behavioral quirks. Rhythmic deviations from the steady pace of Fleshquartet’s haunting musical score reflect awkward jolts of emotion through the use of impulsive gestures and sudden changes of focus.
The shocking culmination of the dark duet stands in contrast to the first, lighter domestic wake-up ritual portrayed with whimsy by Quinn Wharton and Meredith Dincolo. A third scene with three men sets up sexual competition through a series of breathtaking lifts, two reaching for the heartbeat of the third. The comic relief of vacuum cleaners operated by a quartet of militant housekeepers makes eerie fun of the monotony of domestic chores in a Scottish sword dance. Intruding on these scenes is a creeping ensemble, a looming neighborhood ready to eavesdrop on the intimacies of their fellows and condemn them to their own worst ends. Set pieces tilt to surreal angles and the ensemble wraps the “Casa” in a tangle of crime-scene tape. An uncomfortably long interlude of dissonant music played to an empty stage leaves the audience languishing and wondering what it all means, until the tapes disappear and our dark couple returns to live out yet one more episode of cat and mouse, this time with the upstage door.
The Hubbard Street dancers have done an admirable job taking this new and very different movement into their bodies, a challenging and intriguing addition to company repertoire for both dancers and audience. Whether this cut-and-spliced piece, compiled from two separate works, The Appartement (2005) and Fluke (2002), forms an integral whole of its own is a question that begs a second viewing. For now, it is enough to welcome HSDC’s acquisition of Ek’s work and look forward to watching the company grow into its depth.
Rounding out the program, two small choreographic jewels by resident company choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo wedged between Aszure Barton’s enigmatic and beautifully-danced Untouched (2010) and Ek’s closer.