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Dance Review

Hubbard unafraid of the dark at Jacob’s Pillow festival

Jacqueline Burnett of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago rehearses Alejandro Cerrudo’s “Deep Down Dos.’’ Jacqueline Burnett of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago rehearses Alejandro Cerrudo’s “Deep Down Dos.’’ (Todd Rosenberg Photography)
By Janine Parker
Globe Correspondent / August 28, 2010

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BECKET — Hubbard Street Dance Chicago has developed a reputation for “up’’ performances driven by its energetic, charismatic dancers. Choosing this contemporary company to close this year’s Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival seems like a slam-dunk, a surefire way to send the audiences out skipping. Instead — interestingly —the company is presenting a rather moody concert, sending us perhaps more contemplatively into the moonlit sky.

In addition to an overall somberness of tone, the stage, though evocatively lit, is often murky throughout the dances, and excepting Aszure Barton’s “Untouched,’’ the dancers are costumed in drab hues or funereal black. To my mind, a little (or a lot of) dark is almost always a welcome presence in art; theatrical dance in particular is, well, illuminated by it. In this program, however, the content and even some of the movement — though the four dances are by three different choreographers — are uncomfortably similar; the pieces blend and blur in the mind.

Still, if as a whole the pieces are stifled, taken apart there is much to savor. Ohad Naharin’s 2001 “Tabula Rasa’’ is as eerily wrought as the Arvo Part composition that, stretched and broken up, accompanies it. Dancers contract and expand: a torso hunched into a shell unfurls, shooting a leg out into an expansive arabesque; a man curves under a woman to catch her as she arches sighingly back, before he rises and pushes her softly into another’s waiting embrace. Midway through the dance, dancers lean and shuffle sideways from a stage-left wing, one by one until all 10 dancers are back onstage; this chorus line of sorts — mesmerizing or monotonous, your choice — has a metronomic quality, but a palpably human yearning throughout “Tabula’’ renders the pulse more heartbeat than timepiece.

The two world premieres by company member and resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo begin ominously — “Blanco’’ with plumes of black “smoke’’ pouring down acidly from the flies, and “Deep Down Dos’’ with a blinding light that, rigged on a rolling platform, races around upstage, following the dancers’ movements like a searchlight — but devolve innocuously. The four women of “Blanco’’ pose starkly in pools of light, their muscles shadowy and taut like Amazonian sculptures; frequently they dance or wait with their backs to the audience, oblivious to our voyeurism. It’s a short and compellingly strange dance. Though “Deep Down Dos’’ has some of the hallmarks of a less experienced choreographer — obvious, inorganic entrances, exits, and set-ups for lifts — it’s also peppered with intriguing partnering in which a dancer seems manipulated by his or her partner’s energy, rather than their hands.

Heavy, burgundy drapes parted with a gold rope, and elegant, flowing costumes set a rich tone for Barton’s “Untouched,’’ choreographed earlier this year, the dancers’ aloof, even chilly demeanors suggesting a high-society ball. The movement is a seamless composite of ballet spiked with snippets of tongue-in-cheek disco, awkward salsa, and neurotic jogging; rather than forlorn outcasts, however, these characters seem content to dance to their own drummers. The striking duet that ends the piece is exquisitely charged, Cerrudo’s hand now covering Ana Lopez’s eyes, now holding her throat as she leans forward, her torso and leg dipping into a lush penchee. Like a Victorian novel awash in frustrated passion, “Untouched’’ is restless, its undefinability ultimately satisfying.

Janine Parker can be reached at parkerzab@hotmail.com.

HUBBARD STREET DANCE CHICAGO

At: Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, Wednesday (through tomorrow). Tickets: $58.50-$69.50. 413-243-0745, www.jacobs pillow.org.