10/16/2013 08:12 am ET Updated Dec 16, 2013

Emotions in Motion: Hubbard Street Dance Chicago -- Fall Series

Powerful and poignant -- two simple words that provide a quick snapshot of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago's Fall Series at the Harris Theater Thursday evening. Each of the four pieces displayed strong choreography and palpable emotion while managing to be fresh and interesting rather than showy and overdone.


Hubbard Street Dancer Emilie Leriche and ensemble in Fluence by Robyn Mineko Williams. Photo by Quinn B Wharton.

Fluence was the first piece of the evening, a Chicago premiere by choreographer (and former Hubbard Street dancer) Robyn Mineko Williams. It begins with mechanical, twitchy movements that evolve and alternate with primitive, low-to-the-ground choreography. It's as if one is watching futuristic robots that have feelings -- like characters from the 1982 movie Blade Runner -- but better.

Costumes by Hogan McLaughlin seem to support the idea of an almost "sewn together" look --bodies (prototypes?) in different phases of evolution. The dancers really seemed to embrace and understand the mannequin-like motions that are juxtaposed with visceral, human movements. Even with the lighthearted bubbles that cascade down at the end of the piece, the overall feel is one of melancholy.


Hubbard Street Dancers Ana Lopez, left, and Jacqueline Burnett in Cloudless by Resident Choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

Next up was Cloudless, a duet for two women by resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo. This world premiere was tender and intimate without being soft and sweet. Cerrudo relegates the audience to voyeur status as the women look deep into each others eyes, touch and slow dance, proving yet again that he is a master of creating strong intimacy through movement.

Cerrudo knows how to choreograph a duet that doesn't look like it was made for a man and a woman and Jacqueline Burnett and Ana Lopez were able to convey the power of their bond without losing a shred of their femininity.


Hubbard Street Dancers Kellie Epperheimer, left, and Johnny McMillan in Passomezzo by Ohad Naharin. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

While Cloudless explores a more progressive approach, Ohad Naharin's Passomezzo instead tips the hat to times gone by. Dancers Kellie Epperheimer and Johnny McMillan move with passion to a variety of selections from The Beggar's Opera.

It soon becomes apparent why knee pads are part of McMillan's simple costume -- the choreography is not for the timid. From behind he repeatedly grasps and pulls her back hard on top of him while they sit on the ground -- as if she is a boat that he is rowing frantically toward some crucial destination. She stands -- balancing on his chest again and again. They drop to the floor and take turns running on their knees. They polka. They pace. And while the choreography may seem a bit of a whirlwind, it somehow works all jumbled up together -- mirroring the emotional roller coaster that colors many a long-term relationship.


Hubbard Street Dancers Ana Lopez, left, and Alejandro Cerrudo in Casi-Casa by Mats Ek. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

After the myriad of passionate feelings that are explored in Passomezzo, the start to Casi-Casa offers a bit of welcome comic relief before exploring any deeper. With a smart set design by Peder Freiij that consists of a door, a stove and a chair, this Mats Ek creation was danced with far more authority than the last time the company performed it on the same stage. Exquisite music by Fleshquartet adds a heartbreaking depth to the duets, and it rings out like an anthem as five women defiantly step dance their way through household chores with a canister vacuum in tow.

Hubbard Street's Fall Series continues at the Harris Theater through Sunday, October 13th.

This post first appeared on 4dancers

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