Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in One Thousand Pieces

The world premiere of One Thousand Pieces on Thursday marked a series of firsts: it was the first time Hubbard Street Dance Company had ever devoted an entire evening to one work (in performance at the Harris now through Sunday, October 21); it was the first hour-plus commission of resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo’s career; and it was the first time that any dance company (that I know of) had chosen as inspiration Marc Chagall’s America Windows, the Chicago cultural icons that snagged a cool cameo in the movie Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and now reside in the back of the Art Institute near where the school buses park. (Both Hubbard Street and the Chagall windows are celebrating 35th anniversaries, which was the reason for the pairing.)

Any time a Chicago dance company decides to swim in risky waters, I admire it. For Hubbard Street to provide one of its own with marquee billing, and give him the license to experiment not only with movement, but with such staging elements as set design (he hired an outside designer), aerial flight (the piece opens with the fabulous Jonathan Fredrickson, who appeared on this magazine’s October cover, suspended in a harness), and special effects (spoiler alert: in the second of the three acts, the stage is covered with a clear jelly meant to mimic water; it’s an awesome and unusual touch)—all of these are signs of an organization that isn’t afraid to push audiences where they want them to go.

Cerrudo has mastered the fine strokes: His movements are fluid and playful; he constructs interesting duets and trios, particularly for the male dancers, who really get to shine; and the company clearly owns and feels comfortable slipping and sliding through the material (one of the benefits of having a resident choreographer who knows what works on their bodies). But I left wanting a broader stroke—some sort of story or pacing element that pulled it all together or at least gave me a glimpse into Cerrudo’s corner of the world. I’ll be the first to say that most of the famous ballets are based on stories so weak that you practically don’t need them (a Nutcracker come to life! An imprisoned swan princess!), but even if the framework doesn’t do much heavy lifting, it helps a work feel whole, and it helps us, as the audience, know where we can start looking for ourselves in it.

But to be fair, the whole shebang was inspired by a series of stained glass windows, which, by definition, are opaque and not something you are meant to see through. And the evening is called One Thousand Pieces, which implies fragments and not something whole. Maybe I’m just used to Hubbard Street commissioning works that let us in on the joke (Ohad Naharin’s Minus 16, Jiri Kylian’s Petite Mort), and I just didn’t get it this time. That’s OK. Sometimes it’s still fun to just go along for the ride.


Video: Courtesy of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago