Hubbard Street Dance Chicago looks to the future this week and next with original choreography by troupe members in programs dubbed "danc(e)volve: New Works Festival," on view Thursday through June 16 at the Museum of Contemporary Art.
But there are backward glances, too, some of them bittersweet. Nine-year veteran Penny Saunders, a silky, poetic dancer who's choreographing one of the new pieces, is leaving at season's end with her husband, Pablo Piantino, another retiring veteran whose polished strength and impish humor will also be sorely missed. Saunders' piece, "Adalea," is titled for a name the couple considered giving their new child if a girl--instead they recently had a boy. They're off to Seattle to start a new life.
Another dancer, Andrew Wright, is finishing up his stint with Hubbard Street 2 and will join Les Grands Ballets Canadien de Montreal next season, yanked from our midst before we hardly knew him. His piece, "Agape," is named for the Greek term meaning selfless love -- not a bad epithet for the art of dance itself.
The "danc(e)volve" festival showcases homegrown works, partly inspired by the troupe's more informal "Inside/Out" workshops held each summer. Short ideas there are then anointed for further development. The whiff of promise and unpredictability appeal to Hubbard fans -- tickets are selling so briskly the troupe has added the June 16 performance.
"I guess it becomes suddenly apparent when you're watching new work if the idea behind it is pure, if it has been delivered," Terence Marling, director of Hubbard Street 2 and choreographer of two of the six works, said of the selection process, run by Hubbard artistic director Glenn Edgerton. "Does it produce visually, does it carry your attention and do you want to see more? If I wake up the next morning and some of the images are still stuck in my brain, then it's worth it."
Marling's "stop...stop...stop" features a couple interrupted by a third dancer, set to Cuban bandleader and mambo champ Damaso Perez Prado, while his second work is set to the third movement of Gustav Mahler's fourth symphony. Former dancer Robyn Mineko Williams, who has been commissioned to create a new work for Hubbard next season, here offers "Grey Horses," to an original score by Chicago composer Robert F. Haynes. Jonathan Fredrickson provides "For the Wandered," which he cryptically describes as a piece "for people who feel they've lost their way."
A special feature of this year's presentation is not a new dance at all, but a multimedia exploration of some of the troupe's recent visit to Morocco, Algeria and Spain, part of a cultural ambassador program sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
Meredith Dincolo, one of those dancers, is helping to coordinate the segment.
"The entire project was more outreach-based than performance," Dincolo said. "We did five performances, but conducted maybe 40 workshops. Each city was different, from one day to the next. Sometimes the participants had no dance experience, sometimes they had a lot. We worked with children, adults, the hearing impaired and in one class with people with Down syndrome. And we taught in all kinds of situations, on a stage, at a high school, on the stone floor of a rotunda in a park.
"It was new for us, this goal of creating a community between us and other countries as dancers, using that common language, but we found the students incredibly open to it," Dincolo continued. "It's a testament to how universal dance or even just movement can be."
The presentation includes the dancers' own photos and videos of the trip. "An arty travelogue is a good way to say it," Dincolo added. "It's not just a picture book, but more of a personal reflection from all of us."
For tickets to Hubbard at the MCA, 220 E. Chicago Ave.: 312-397-4010 or mcachicago.org.
Aerial Dance's 'Gravity'
"Gravity," that inexorable bane of the dancer's plight, is the umbrella title for Aerial Dance Chicago's engagement June 15-July 14 at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn St.
Aerial, which employs such acrobatic rigging as swings, ropes and bungee cords in its artistry, will show off works by a variety of choreographers, including company artistic director Chloe Jensen. For tickets: 773-463-4402 or aerialdancechicago.org.
Sid Smith is a Tribune special contributor.