Monday, January 28, 2008

Hubbard Street at IIT

Yesterday I took my dear friend Mrs. H to see a dance performance as my birthday gift to her. Dance is a medium we both appreciate but neither of us go to see very often so it was a special treat. Unfortunately, January tends to be a fairly dead month for dance in this town. I guess it's like that for all the performing arts. The Christmas hoo-ha is over and no one has any money to spend anymore. Mrs. H decided she wanted to see a modern dance performance and we located an unusual piece being done by the acclaimed Hubbard Street Dance Company as a collaboration with the Illinois Institute of Technology Architecture program.

Here is the press release.

This is obviously the first time they've done this and I think this type of collaboration has the potential to be very interesting and successful. (Architecture + Dance) But it didn't really work out this time.

First off, the performance was introduced by a member of the Mies van der Rohe's Society, who commissioned or had something to do with the piece. She stated that the point of the work was to show off the function and versatility of the building it was in, Crown Hall on the IIT campus. The students had actually built a performance space within the building, which I guess showed you have the ability to do that but from the way the woman described the building it seemed like they could have been more creative with the use of the space. Perhaps instead of building one huge structure, using more parts of the building and have the audience walk around from performance space to performance space. Of course, I don't know what their limitations were. (The building is obviously a class/work space most of the time)

There were two main issues I had. One is that the structure was obviously built from a conceptual point of view with little to no thought of the audience (or even the dancers really) and the second was that it didn't seem that the architecture students and the dance company had done a good job of communicating needs to each other. The structure didn't seem to support the dance and I got the feeling the dance pieces could have been performed anywhere, not that they were linked in anyway to the space that was created for them.

The performance space consisted of a huge raised plywood platform with various dramatic rakes. The audience was distributed cushions to sit on and this is where we sat to watch the first piece. It was fairly uncomfortable, although we deduced (correctly as it turned out) that we would be asked to sit on the dance floor for one of the pieces and that the dancers would be performing on the platform. There was also some sheer fabric that was draped across the ceiling that would be used to change the space for the other pieces. I did really enjoy the first dance which was pretty much what you think of when you think "modern dance". Set to Philip Glass stark lighting. Fabulous use of some moving panels and shadow. And the dancers were wonderful of course!

The audience was asked to leave while they reset the stage for the second piece. We all trooped in and sat on the dance floor. Several of the sheers had been loosed in front of the platform. This was the most successful of the three I thought. It was much more comfortable as an audience member to sit on the floor. The dancers were raised so you could see everything. The fabric gave you the feeling that you were peeking in on a scene that was taking place. And the dance piece was a humorous one wherein a two ladies (one actually a man in drag) fought for the attention of a male dancer in victorian-esque outfits and classical music. My only quibble was that I didn't feel the piece was aided by the crazy stage. I think it would have been just as enjoyable on a flat stage. As this was the only piece performed on the platform this kind of meant were on that uncomfortable thing for no reason.

The third one was the one that pissed me off. We trooped out again while they reset the stage and were dismayed to see we were sitting back on the platform again. They had redraped the sheers so they were angled to the floor and twisted on the stage. A significant portion of the third piece had the dancers doing floor work. As the audience was on a raised platform the only people that could see what they were doing were sitting in the front row. So not only are uncomfortable but we also can't see! It seemed like they could have easily solved this issue by moving the dancers back in the space. Although maybe the fabric caused some issues. I don't know. But this was the third performance so we were sort of dumbfounded that they hadn't done anything to correct the issue by then.

Of course sometimes seeing something that is not quite successful makes you think more than if it had been 100% perfect. As I mentioned at the beginning I think the idea has a lot of potential so i hope they do it again learning whatever lessons they needed to learn from this time.


Lakeview Coffee Joe said...

Sounds interesting at least, especially for a dance performance. That's a shame about the third "act" being so poorly staged though, especially since that seemed to be a major point of emphasis of the show.

alexis said...

I have a lot of issues with contemporary arts not trying to engage the audience in a meaningful way. Mainly because most artists don't seem to get that we really are very simply, uneducated folks these days. They try to force a high concept which the audience has no language to understand.

Though in this case seems you were spared the exercise since you couldn't see most of the show at all.