by Hedy Weiss
HUBBARD STREET AND LUNA NEGRA: THE DANCERS AND THE DANCE
Here is a question worth asking when considering the creation of a new dance piece: What has the choreographer brought into the rehearsal studio for the dancers to learn, and just how much movement has he or she had the dancers help generate as part of the creative process?
Consider the case of two companies -- Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and Luna Negra Dance Theater -- both of which will be performing new works in their upcoming engagements at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance.
The Hubbard Street engagement, March 14-17, promises to be an intriguing experiment on many levels, as the Chicago company of 18 dancers has joined forces with Alonzo King's LINES Ballet, an ensemble of 12 dancers from the San Francisco Bay Area.
Together they will perform "Azimuth," King's new work, created with the participation of both companies. Also on the program will be the LINES dancers performing King's "Rasa," set to the highly complex rhythms of Indian tabla music, and the Hubbard Street dancers reprising "Little mortal jump," the enchanting dance theater piece by resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo that captures the mystery, humor, terror and true romance of intimate relationships (set to a mix of music from the American band, Beirut, to Andrew Bird and Philip Glass.)
During the past few seasons, the Hubbard Street dancers made King's 2000 piece, "Following the Subtle Current Upstream," a gorgeous blend of the cosmic and natural worlds, very much its own. But artistic director Glenn Edgerton wanted King to create something from scratch that would use both troupes and enable them to feed off each other.
"Azimuth," whose title refers to a measurement that makes it possible for an astronomer to record the location of a heavenly body, is set to everything from Gregorian chants and Jewish sacred music to folk music and southern gospel -- all linked together and expanded upon by composer Ben Juodvalkis.
"The piece is really about the journeys we can take as human beings," said Kellie Epperheimer, a Hubbard Street
Asked what she learned by working with King and the LINES dancers, Epperheimer said: "Alonzo's dancers are quite fantastic, with legs that stretch forever. But what unites us is that both companies have a great sense of community within themselves, and both are intensely interested in exploring self-expression. Alonzo is very clear that he wants you to assign your own voice to whatever movement he gives you."
"One thing Alonzo does is give you images to work with," said Epperheimer, who found the companies' joint residency at the University of California, Irvine a wonderful experience. "For my solo he used the words power, Mother Nature, ancestry, the stepping stones of time. And although I'm small he encouraged me to reach far outside myself."
Veteran LINES dancer Meredith Webster, who performs a different solo in "Azimuth," says King's guiding words to her included "fervor and heat, tenderness and quiet. Often he will give us those words, we will respond with movement, and then he will sculpt what we have started to shape. He knows what he wants when he sees it, but he likes to give us space to make things our own. And the important thing about Alonzo is that he sees the bigger picture of the universe at every moment."
"LINES and Hubbard Street are in alignment about many things," said Webster. "But one difference is that all the choreography we do is by Alonzo, while Hubbard Street works with many different choreographers, so their bodies are used to making quick stylistic changes all the time. What we share is that our primary interest is the quality of the movement, even if we all are sticklers for technique."
For its March 9 (one night only) program at the Harris, Luna Negra Dance Theater is presenting three works under the title "Made in Spain." Two are by Fernando Hernando Magadan, the Spanish-born choreographer associated with the Nederlands Dans Theater since 2004: The world premiere of "Royal Road" (the title is by way of Sigmund Freud who said "music is the royal road to the soul"), to compositions by David Balakrishnan, a violinist with the Grammy Award-winning Turtle Island Quartet, whose musicians will play live and interact with the dancers; and a revival of the "Naked Ape," a wonderfully quirky dance about verbal, physical and emotional communication in our world of technological overload.
In addition, Monica Cervantes, the company's stunning, Spanish-bred lead dancer, has created "Presente," a world premiere work set to Max Richter's "recomposed" version of Vivaldi's "The Four Seasons."
Eduardo Zuniga, another outstanding Luna Negra dancer, describes working with Magadan this way: "He is very interested in connecting the music to the dancing and plays with the idea of the actual notated musical score and Labanotion, a technique for notating choreography. He gave us sequences of steps and then we deconstructed the material to make it our own -- sometimes re-ordering or reversing or adding things. Then he'd edit the results, always explaining why if he made changes."
"With Monica, it was a little different, because we all know each other so well," said Zuniga. "She choreographed everything very quickly -- in about a week and a half -- but then she had us improvise certain moments to the music and took some of the things we did. In one section we see a person in the womb, then a baby discovering its hands, and becoming a kid, and a young adult and an old person. It's the whole journey, with very sophisticated choreography that can be both raw and surprising."
The Harris Theatre is at 205 E. Randolph. For tickets to Hubbard Street ($25-$94) and Luna Negra ($25-$65) call (312) 334-7777 or visit www.harristheaterchicago.org.