January 22, 2019
by Janice Berman
Hubbard Street Dance Chicago last Saturday night at Zellerbach Hall offered a stunning show, capped with live music by Chicago band Third Coast Percussion. In the second of two weekend programs, the troupe — presented by Cal Performances — served up a banquet.
When your reviewer last clapped eyes on Hubbard Street, at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival in 1990 or so, it was to see a meticulously rendered Eight Jelly Rolls, by Twyla Tharp to the music of Jelly Roll Morton. Different era, different everything. Hubbard Street, once described as a jazz-dance company, is solidly modern, which means it can do anything it wants — that’s how the lines of demarcation have vanished. Vive la no difference. We grow and change, as Artistic Director Glenn Edgerton told me that night at intermission. Boy, don’t we ever. Edgerton, a star of the Joffrey Ballet when it still was New York-based (it’s in Chicago now), moved on to direct the Netherlands Dance Theater and in 2008 to Hubbard Street, founded in 1977 by Broadway veteran Lou Conte.
Not too surprisingly, Hubbard Street still displays a wonderfully eclectic appetite. Conte infused it with Broadway and then with more international adventures, into works by Nacho Duato, Ohad Naharin, and Jiri Kylian, founder of Nederlands Dance Theater. See how everything’s related? Edgerton, mentored by Joffrey Ballet cofounder Robert Joffrey, was long accustomed to historic explorations, great reaches into the past — the Joffrey repertory stretched back to Nijinsky and beyond — as well as contemporary creations by the likes of Joffrey co-founder Gerald Arpino. But onward: Change and grow, and now in 2019, glow.
Interestingly, the first piece on the program was a Third Coast instrumental, Perfectly Voiceless, by Devonté Hynes — aka Blood Orange — who also composed the music for the first two dances.
Grammy-winning Third Coast’s four musicians (Sean Connors, Robert Dillon, Peter Martin, and David Skidmore) play xylophones, marimbas, gongs, cymbals, claves, kettle drums, a screechy washboard-looking thing, and the melodica, of late popularized by Jon Batiste on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert.
As good as Third Coast are, they’re even better because sometimes they look awestruck, their eyes following the sounds as they rise from the instruments. And who can blame them?
If the times change, so do creative outlets. The credits of choreographers Emma Portner and Teddy Forance include music videos, commercials and Dancing With the Stars. At Zellerbach, excerpts from Portner’s For All Its Fury, and Forance’s Everything Must Go were both set to music by Hynes, inspired by Sylvia Plath’s poem “Mushrooms.”