The steps look deceptively simple. They should. They’re William Forsythe’s. Thomas McManus gets up from his chair and demonstrates: The 49-year-old guest staging director stands in a long balletic pose. He makes a subtle gesture with his hand, then, unexpectedly, curves his frame to one side. A few dancers mimic from behind.
“Arms right, lean left, then switch,” McManus says. “Break that first position you’re in. Just break it with your hand.”
On a sunny day in early May, in the warm Hubbard Street Dance Chicago studios, company members carefully observe McManus as he illustrates the world-renowned choreographer’s brainteaser manipulations. At one point, rehearsal director Terence Marling interjects with a question: “So it has the quality of a jump without actually jumping?”
These aren’t typical dance prompts. While the technique is steeped in ballet principles—long lines, strong core, a one-dimensional illusion of the body—the Forsythe style is faster, sporadic and unpredictable. Against certain instincts, the dancers oblige. Arms bend. Legs invert. Torsos shift. An intensely meticulous work, Quintett investigates relationships, space and emotion. This is the first time an American company will perform the piece in its almost 20-year existence. Which begs the questions: Why now, and why Hubbard Street?
“Maybe it’s just the time to bring Quintett onto an American company,” says McManus, who also happens to be one of the original cast members. Since retiring in 1999 from Frankfurt Ballet, under the artistic direction of Forsythe, McManus has staged Quintett for other dance companies throughout the world, as authorized by the choreographer. “The people in this company have a lot of maturity and experience,” he continues. “They’re ready, and I think that’s why the decision was made to allow [HSDC] to perform the work.
“We gave them so much information,” McManus says of the dancers, “yet they weren’t daunted, they weren’t overwhelmed. They were all just hungry and said, ‘Yeah, let’s try this, let’s try that.’ It’s not always that way. For some people it can be too much. The choreography can kind of throw you for a loop because it’s not the everyday normal.”
Hubbard Street has been a trailblazer of the contemporary dance scene. Two years ago, it premiered exclusive work from Israeli choreographers Ohad Naharin and Sharon Eyal, and this past fall, a world premiere from Twyla Tharp. In addition to Quintett, Hubbard Street’s Summer Series, running May 31 through June 3 at the Harris Theater, presents Naharin’s THREE TO MAX as well as the masterful Malditos by HSDC resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo, who will also perform in Quintett.
Set to Gavin Bryars’s evocative score, Quintett features solos, duets and trios—a multilayered portrait of separation and continuity as the dancers converge and dissipate. Like a puzzle, individual pieces progressively work their way to form a whole. “Through this piece,” HSDC artistic director Glenn Edgerton says, “our dancers will be solidified in a special way.”
When asked where he sees Hubbard Street and its ever-expanding repertoire five years from now, Edgerton responds without hesitation: “I want us to be forging dance further and beyond, to where we’re ahead of the game and people are looking to us to say, ‘What’s happening in dance? Let’s go find out—let’s go follow Hubbard Street.’ ”
Hubbard Street Dance Chicago performs its Summer Series May 31 through June 3 at the Harris Theater.