Hubbard and Tharp: impressive pair

August 21, 1996|By J.L. Conklin | J.L. Conklin,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

It's been an interesting evolution for the Hubbard Street Dance Company.

Founded in Chicago almost 20 years ago, under the artistic direction of choreographer Lou Conte, Hubbard Street was primarily known for its attractive dancers whose high energy level and above-average technical ability could pump life into the most mundane jazz choreography. Over the years, the company picked up fans and Conte made the company available to several notable choreographers, including Margo Sappington, John McFall and Daniel Ezralow.

In 1990, Twyla Tharp adopted Hubbard Street as the repository of her dances. The company featured two Tharp dances Monday night when it opened a two-day stay at Wolf Trap.

The evening began with one of Tharp's signature dances, "Baker's Dozen." Impeccably danced by six couples dressed in flour-white costumes, "Baker's Dozen" is an ensemble work in which brief duets come to the foreground, then recede back into the dance. Tharp generously recycles her movements, and a gesture is often performed by one or two dancers, only to surface moments later on in quartet or a trio. This circular quality is the heart of the dance.

"Baker's Dozen" is wonderfully attuned to the piano music of Willie "The Lion" Smith. The dancers' movements, while lively, have all the sharp edges sanded away, which gives the dance a genteel, modulated look when, in fact, the dancers are working hard. This illusion is why Tharp's choreography is so attractive and Hubbard Street performed the dance as if they had been poured into it.

Sharply contrasting the smooth flow of the first dance was "Perpetuum Mobile," choreographed by Argentine-born Canadian Maurico Wainrot and set to the evocative music by the Penguin Cafe Orchestra. This abstract dance in five distinct sections is filled with angles and wonderful surprises. Seen next to the loopy drawl of Tharp's choreography, the dance was the perfect foil.

From the first section -- in which dancers Shan Bai, Jamy Meek, Patrick Mullaney, Mary Nesvadba, Joseph Pantaleon, John Ross and Krista Swenson crouch in formation, flinging their arms backward as if to take flight -- through the remarkable duet for two men where they balance one another's bodies, to the witty revolving partner-play between the men and women to the final quirky arm and pigeon-like head movements, there was a fine intelligence that guided this work.

The program closed with Tharp's newest and lengthy dance for the company, "I Remember Clifford," that featured Ron DeJesus as the pivotal character transformed from a bar nerd to a bon vivant. What transforms him isn't exactly clear, although it could be the wonderful serious jazz music that surrounds this work. That the dance doesn't make sense seems a moot point as this dance is thoroughly enjoyable, with the dancers easily moving in and out of time signatures.

It's DeJesus' ability as both comedian and dancer that glues the dance together. He's the ultimate wannabe of the bar scene, uncool and unloved. When the rest of the company keeps a cool beat, DeJesus can't keep up. When he pantomimes a slick bass player, his coolness bubbles over into a fountain of movement highly reminiscent of Jerry Lewis. By the time the dance concludes, he has not only won the heart of his dream girl, he has won our hearts as well.

Hubbard Street has some of the best dancers in the country, and the coupling with Tharp's indomitable choreography makes an unbeatable combination.

Pub Date: 8/21/96

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