Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and Alonzo King LINES Ballet performed Azimuth at Cal Performances, Feb. 1-2. Photo: Margo Moritz
Hubbard Street Dance Chicago stormed onto the stage of Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall on Friday night and thundered its way through two beefy works of consequence and a collaborative world premiere with Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet.

Compelling dances result from simple, rare ingredients: fantastic dancers with bone-deep training baring their souls, and choreographers with dangerous love in every pattern, pairing, and pirouette. Add earthshakingly beautiful lighting, audacious or adorable sound scores, and costumes springing organically from the choreographer’s greatest aspirations — and, well, you might have a masterpiece.

Two of the works on HSDC’s docket rose close to attaining such majesty: Alejandro Cerrudo’s stunning Little Mortal Jump and King’s ambitious Azimuth.

Little Mortal Jump
Hubbard Street Dance Chicago performed Little Mortal Jump at Cal Performances Feb. 1-2. Photo: Todd Rosenberg

Cerrudo is HSDC’s resident choreographer. He joined the company as a dancer in 2005. Little Mortal Jump is the tenth work he has made for the company. The connections were everything: having stretched, sweated and likely, sworn, with his contemporaries, his movements fit the dancers tighter than tights.

Branimira Ivanova’s grey-toned costuming didn’t drain Kevin Shannon’s articulations of their color—if anything, it amplified them—as he raced through the theater, leapt onstage, tossed off a remarkable physical proclamation, and high-dived into the orchestra pit. Kicking up a cloud of dust from behind Cerrudo’s shrewdly-used big-block set design, Jessica Tong’s spidery machinations added to the opening brilliance. And this is only two minutes into the ballet! Cerrudo seemed to promise.

Soon the rolling, black wooden structures became not only obstacles and opportunities, they became dancers. And the more they remained solidly stolid, the more it seemed, the (human) dancers unravelled. Using every element with economy, Cerrudo was a master of editing as much as dance-making.

After watching contemporary dance for 30 years, it’s blissful to be surprised: to recognize new possibilities for how a head can bear weight, to giggle with delight at a perch or position, to understand and see, as if for the first time, the negative space between a torso and an arm.

In the ballet’s most expansive, climactic moments, Jesse Bechard and Ana Lopez, rolling into each other’s most intimate crevasses while elasticizing towards an amber light, vanished in a madcap of spinning boxes.

Cerrudo left behind an empty spotlight, but Little Mortal Jump’s afterglow was unforgettably sweet and infinitely memorable.

Kellie Epperheimer of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago performs Azimuth at Cal Performances’ Zellerbach Hall Feb. 1-2. Photo: Margo Moritz
at Cal Performances’ Zellerbach Hall Feb. 1-2. Photo: Margo Moritz

Azimuth began with Courtney Henry (impossibly long, mesmerizing legs never detracting from her regal, expressive torso) framed by the combined forces of HSDC and King’s spiritual, full-tilt dance artists.

Collaboration was everywhere; from dancers costumed like sand bodies by constructionists Joan Raymond and Rebecca Shouse to Ben Juodvalkis’s original music. King’s customary, eclectic picks (including a gorgeous harp, Hebrew vocals, and more) combined to form an atmospheric soundscape.

The nine-section ballet brought to mind a physical pilgrimage; anthropological in its suggestion of heavenly bodies and an evolutionary culture. An actual azimuth defines an angle in a sphere, but this Azimuth described rituals, icons, and a community where the “co-dependent” label was complimentary.

King, a choreographer at the top of his game, was given credit for finding the two company’s commonalities by HSDC Artistic Director Glenn Edgerton in a brief, pre-show interview.

Praise be for that — and for his seeing beyond surface separations. Underpinning all, were deftly delivered all-male sections, where ragged formations belligerently co-existed with bullet-piercing solos. And all-female counterparts where formal lines and symmetry reigned, until one woman dared “break rank,” causing all the other women to flee.

Kellie Epperheimer became an inverted chalice in the hands of four male partners; then mounted their curving backs, turning them in to human boulders. It’s a riff from Balanchine, but a novelty in the agile hands of King.

Alice Klock and Kevin Shannon thrashed in a victory of spiraling lifts and Johnny McMillan was gigantic in the depth and height of his dancing. Keelan Whitmore’s brief solo managed wisdom and wildness in mere seconds.

By the time Meredith Webster stated and allowed to dissolve every physical possibility of her incredible human body, we were hooked, if not embedded.

In Too Beaucoup, choreographers Sharon Eyal and Gaï Behar took their contemporary Israeli dance heritage and attempted to build a mountain. There’s craft in the dancers not touching each other until the final moments, when four couples lock and sway in a 1970s-type slow dance. Unfortunately, the dance never crested its own peak, despite exhaustingly long drives.

If Too Beaucoup’s impact was further lessened by following the power and profundity of it’s predecessors, it was through no fault of the dancers. Clad as if dipped in white chocolate, their dehumanizing unitards and rigid, meme-like movements marched in lockstep. As in the preceding ballets, they expressed their collective genius; this time in funky struts, Frankensteinian same-arm-as-leg strides and undulating solos that retrograded and degraded before imploding in bursting flames of moving limbs.

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