Tag Archives: Hubbard Street Dance Chicago

Talkin’ Hubbard Street: Mr. Scatter speaks

On Tuesday evening Mr. Scatter stood before a friendly audience (including Scatter friends Jenny Wren and David Brown) in the lower-level lounge of the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall and talked for 20 minutes about Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, the admirable company that was about to perform upstairs. Mr. Scatter discovered that (a) microphones are our friends, and (b) speeches are better with simple sentence structures and a lack of ten-dollar words. Mr. Scatter thanks White Bird for the invitation. If there’s a next time, he promises to do better on the simplicity bit. Here is the manuscript of his talk, in black and white:

Hubbard Street Fance Chicago in Johan Inger's "Walking Mad." Photo: Tom Rosenberg

Some of you know I do a lot of my writing these days for a Web site called artscatter.com, so bear with me while I scatter a bit.

At Art Scatter we practice something I like to call the Scatter Method of Indirect Analysis, which basically tries to bring some order to the chaotic collision of free association, intuition and logic that keeps batting around inside most of our brains.

The process goes something like this.

You find a topic, and you stick it in the back of your mind, and you sort of forget about it, like it’s a slow-cooking soup.

Except not really, because from that point on, everything you see and hear becomes part of your back-burner thinking process on that particular topic. And eventually it hits the front burner.

You’ve opened your receptors. Even when you don’t actively realize it you’re looking for connections, for clues, for ways to relate your everyday world to this thing you’ve decided to concentrate on. It’s all extremely conjectural. But sometimes intriguing clues drop in from very surprising places.

I happen to think that’s a good way to approach experiencing any sort of art, from reading a book to watching a dance. You, as the audience or consumer, are the finishing point of the art. Without you, it’s incomplete.

And because each of us brings something different to the party, any work of art has a million possibilities for completion. Or I guess that’s 7 billion and counting. The artist creates, but the implications and the impact are really up to us. We want to make it the best experience we can, so we keep our tentacles attuned. See what we pick up.

So. The subject is Hubbard Street Dance Chicago.

Let’s dive in.

One of the first things that struck me when I started investigating the company’s history was that in the mid 1970s, when it began, it grew out of a studio devoted to teaching tap dance. As in Bojangles¬Ě Robinson and Brenda Bufalino and Gregory Hines.

Tap has a lot of international relatives, from the hornpipe to flamenco to Irish clogging, but it’s an American art form, with roots in slavery and the West African rhythms that became transformed on our own soil. And here’s something Count Basie had to say: “If you play a tune and the person don’t tap their feet, don’t play the tune.”

Bing. That stuck on the Velcro at the end of my tentacles. Didn’t know why, quite, but there it was. Something American. Something that pays attention to the audience.

Continue reading Talkin’ Hubbard Street: Mr. Scatter speaks

Mr. Scatter speaks. In front of a crowd.

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Johan Inger's "Walking Mad." Photo: Tom Rosenberg

Today Mr. Scatter is putting the finishing touches on a little talk he’ll be giving Tuesday evening before Hubbard Street Dance Chicago‘s performance at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.

His charge from White Bird, the dance presenting folks, is simple. Speak for 20 minutes, try to say something interesting about the performance coming up, don’t put the audience to sleep.

Mr. Scatter will do his best. Yes, scattering will be involved. Mr. Scatter suspects it might even be sort of fun. For the audience, too. On the program Tuesday night: Jorma Elo‘s Bitter Suite, Ohad Naharin‘s Tabula Rasa, Johan Inger‘s Walking Mad.

The talk, part of the White Bird Words series, will be downstairs at the Schnitz. It starts at 6:45, giving everyone ample time to settle into their seats upstairs before the 7:30 curtain. The talk is free, but you need a ticket to the performance to get in. After all, much as Mr. Scatter might suffer from occasional delusions of grandeur, the performance is the main attraction.

PICTURED: Johan Inger’s “Walking Mad.” Photo: Tom Rosenberg

Grupo de Rua: The best soccer team in town

Grupo de Rua/Courtesy White Bird Dance

“These guys would be the best soccer team in town,” our friend Barry, a noted aficionado of both international football and contemporary dance, whispered. “They’d beat the Timbers!”

He’s probably right. I was thinking more along the lines of Romeo and Juliet — not the soppy love scenes, but those great, adrenalin-rushing street fights when the heat and idleness of summer in the city get too much and Tybalt and Mercutio and Romeo get into their fatal smackdown.

“Oh, yes!” our friend Catherine said afterwards. “That hip hop choreographer from Philadelphia actually did that. What’s his name? Reggie …”

“Watts,” Barry replied.

In fact, it was Rennie Harris; see the comment below. But never mind the memory lapse.

Wednesday’s opening night performance of Bruno Beltrao‘s Brazilian dance troupe Grupo de Rua inspired a lot of extreme mental-calisthenic stretches, although none could match the athleticism of the nine men on stage at the Bison Building in close-in industrial Northeast Portland. The latest offering in White Bird‘s Uncaged season, Grupo de Rua’s residency runs through Sunday, and all performances are sold out, although you could take a chance on nabbing a standby ticket.

Beltrao’s movement is based on street dance, and freely incorporates hip hop and capoeira and other styles that tend to be intensely personal, macho, competitive. But as Isabelle Poulin writes in her program essay, Beltrao “felt the desire to exploit otherness, the territory of the brother who is not the enemy.” So these brothers test each other, take each other’s measures, but not necessarily with the aim to determine victor and victim. Maybe Beltrao’s not the right guy to choreograph that street brawl in Verona, after all.

The opening scene in this company’s 50-minute dance H3 is performed in silence (that is, without music: the squeak of sneakers on floorboards creates its own insistent heartbeat) and from a position of stillness — a stillness so pronounced that I confess to getting itchy for something to happen.

Well, it did. The sporting aspect of this movement is undeniable: This is the aesthetics of top-flight athleticism. Spins, bumps, headstands, flips, the extreme magnetic control of hands and feet that seems to cry out for a ball to enter the performing stage — it’s thrilling, yes, and the thrills often come, as in a soccer or baseball game, in sudden blinding bursts of action that explode from a moment of repose.

There’s an amusing stretch when the playing field gives way to the barnyard for a simulated chicken strut, too, but for me the most astonishing thing was watching these aesthetic athletes run full-speed backwards, in pattern. It brought up the basic, forehead-slapping question you want every performance to pose: How’d they do that?


Next up at White Bird is a return downtown to the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall for a mainstage performance February 23 by Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. This adventurous troupe will perform dances by Ohad Naharin (Batsheva), Jorma Elo (Boston Ballet) and Johan Inger (former artistic director of Sweden’s Cullberg Ballet). I’ll be giving a pre-show talk at 6:45 p.m. in the Schnitz’s lower lobby. Don’t know what I’ll say yet, but I’m working on it. Inger’s piece Walking Mad is set to Ravel’s Bolero. Stop me before I start babbling about Bo Derek.