Anyone who has ever seen Hubbard Street Dance Chicago perform would have high and perhaps unfair expectations for the troupe's second company of younger dancers. But Hubbard Street 2 did not disappoint on January 26 in Stewart Theatre at NCSU. The six-member company, along with another associate dancer, showed they have as much energy – and nearly as much verve and skill – as their older mentors.
The oldest of the six works performed was made in 1997, and most were made by young choreographers through HS2's national choreographic competition or other programs supporting emerging artists. The evening opened with Brasileirinho by Steve Rooks, set to music by Mariano Guarnieri, Villa-Lobos, and Azevedo, performed by Yo-Yo Ma (all music in the program was recorded). There was nothing blasé in this dance. The dancers are so young that the steps of seduction are still fresh and thrilling – no acting is necessary. Their bodies are lovely, with some puppy-softness remaining, not yet worked down to gristle and corded muscle over the bone. This very softness was the only flaw, as they looked too innocent for some of the more sultry bits of the business. But in the more playful sections, they were absolutely delightful, with the two young men, William Cannon and Luis Oscar Ramos, especially fabulous in the turns.
Next up was a piece only the Grinch could dislike: I Wantchu Kool, Cuz U Blow My Mind by Kristofer Storey, with costumes by Yo-Yo Ma (!). Can anyone not smile when Bobby McFerrin sings Lennon/McCartney tunes? The dance comprises two energetic duets, the first to "With Love From Me to You," the second to "I Want You (I Want You So Bad)." Both flawlessly combined steps from pop/social/ballet and modern styles with an infectious joy.
In the Dark was more substance, less froth. Set by Robert Battle to music by Sheila Chandra, Guem, and Mickey Hart, it was like a quick tour through the multiple cultures of the African Diaspora, with a little side trip to India. While the first two dances had been heavy on the percussive elements, In the Dark is almost purely percussive – ecstatically so. Battle's choreography is complex and intelligent, with some wonderful images, but it was the tightness of the ensemble dancing that made it an outstanding work.
The only piece on the program that failed was the very strange and ultimately boring 3349281 by Ayman Aaron Harper. There was music by several bands, but most of it sounded like walruses snorting in the waves. The better dance parts flowed and receded like those sounds, but most of the movement was jerky and jagged, always interrupting itself. The music was neither melodic nor percussive, and the choreography was just as mushy.
Call the Whole Thing Off was sweet and swingin', kind of a souped up version of I Wantchu Kool, with choreography by Harrison McEldowney and music by the Gershwins, Mose Allison, and Sammy Cahn. It was gorgeously danced with sass by Kellie Epperheimer and William Cannon and was a happy relief after the lugubrious walruses.
The evening ended with another ambitious ensemble work, Dirti Rok by Millicent Johnnie (recently the touring choreographer with the Urban Bush Women). Athletic and graceful, the piece is full of wonderful long-armed, open-chested postures. It explores reggae and dance hall music and motion, adding Latin-Caribbean beats to the African. It would have been very interesting to see this immediately following In the Dark, but not even these energized dancers could have done those two back to back. As it was, they gave us a very pleasurable object lesson in the benefits of cultural inclusiveness – apparently the natural worldview for these young choreographers and dancers.