The pieces in Hubbard Street Dance Chicago's latest bill of new works are consistent in strengths and weakness--they're all bold and imaginative in imagery while somewhat short on structure and conceptual scenario.
Throughout this "danc(e)volve: New Works Festival," through June 16 at the Museum of Contemporary Art, the moves are oddly gestural and surprising. Ana Lopez, in Terence Marling's "ditto," suddenly drops partner Brandon Lee Alley like so much baggage. Jesse Bechard and Johnny McMillan, in Penny Saunders' "Adalea," engage in a roughhouse encounter, like youngsters wrestling -- and not so playfully -- in a gym. Elsewhere, in what begins as friendly, one dancer puffs air at another, initiating a fall.
The six works by five choreographers, who are all affiliated with Hubbard or Hubbard Street 2, go against the grain of so much ballet insinuation into contemporary dance in recent years. These are modern pieces, torsos fully in play, the floor a fine place to roll, and partnerships that are defiant and even a little cold.
And yet the most successful is the happiest and shortest, a mere six minutes, a slapstick mini-play of abstraction. Marling's "stop...stop...stop" features Lissa Smith and Richard Walters and a strange third figure (Quinn B. Wharton), introduced in a bouncy solo of festive pop dance. The humor is almost entirely -- and admirably -- visual, minus any narrative or psychology, other than this is man, woman and counselor. Additionally buoyed by audio voiceover, employed for laughs linked to the dancers' timing, it's a wondrous miniature in which Wharton physically manipulates the couple into risible sculpture--a piece with a madcap logic all its own.
There are keen flashes of humor in Saunders' "Adalea," too, including a very modern wriggle employed to illustrate arpeggio chorales in the Vivaldi portion of the score. And while it's individual segments don't always seem to go together, the arc is intriguing and fraught with the unexpected.
Robyn Mineko Williams' stark, dark "Grey Horses," the last in a mostly stark, dark program, boasts fine dancing, including the highly-charged partnership of sensual Alice Klock and smooth, dashing Garrett Patrick Anderson.
The "Beyond Africa" documentary of the troupe's recent State Department trip abroad is engaging, including designer Matt Miller's valedictory poem.
When: Various times through June 16, though all but June 16 performances sold out
Where: Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E. Chicago Ave.
Price: $28 (MCA members) and $35 (non-members); 312-397-4010 or mcachicago.org