It's hard to imagine a more seamless marriage than the one between The Second City and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in The Art of Falling. The new collaboration, which was announced last February and comprises Hubbard Street's fall series at the Harris Theater, improves upon The Second City Guide to the Opera, Second City's 2013 joint venture with the Lyric Opera; the interplay between sketch comedy and contemporary dance here sees both forms feeding off of and enhancing the other, never feeling like a forced arrangement.
The production, directed by Second City vet Billy Bungeroth and featuring choreography by Alejandro Cerrudo, Terence Marling, Robyn Mineko Williams, Jonathan Frederickson and Lucas Crandall, interprets "falling" in a number of ways. There are the risks taken by both dancers and comedians—falling on your ass and falling on your face, respectively—but there's also falling in love, for instance. Combining a cast of top-notch Second City actors with the Hubbard Street and Hubbard Street 2 ensembles, The Art of Falling artfully takes on the theme of letting down our guards and making human connections.
While about half of the material here is newly devised for this collaboration, at least one previously seen dance piece by Cerrudo is included, and some sketches and songs are pulled from the recent Second City mainstage and e.t.c. catalogs, and newly modified for this new treasure trove of performers. An early sketch about a new temp, played by Carisa Barreca, being shown around the office is taken from the Second City's 2010 revue Spoiler Alert: Everybody Dies. But the chief conceit of actors portraying office equipment and furniture is expanded here for the size and talents of Hubbard Street's ensemble; this is physical comedy rendered with dancerly precision.
There are three recurring storylines: Barreca's temp, and her pursuit of a handsome coworker; a pair of airline passengers, played by head writer Tim Mason and Rashawn Scott, who get confessional while a fuselage-full of fellow passengers behind them dance out a range of repressed emotion; and the adorable but endangered romance between a professional dancer (Travis Turner) and a commitment-shy worrywart (Joey Bland) who says at their first meeting, "I can't date a dancer. I eat."
A Second City–style piece of improvised audience interaction, artfully administered by Tawny Newsome, informs movement improvised by Hubbard Street 2 dancers to music improvised by former Second City music director Julie B. Nichols. Elsewhere, Falling seems to show the influence of the MCA's "David Bowie Is" exhibit, with "Fame," "Boys Keep Swinging," "Oh! You Pretty Things" and other Bowie tunes getting prominent placement amid the pop-heavy soundtrack.
All in all, the evening finds a remarkable common ground between the aesthetics of two half-century old Chicago institutions. It's so easy to fall for The Art of Falling, it's a shame it's only playing through Sunday the 19th. Here's hoping the two companies find a way to work it into their mutual repertory.