Sunday, November 03, 2013

The Graceful Art of Hubbard

I had first been introduced to Hubbard Street when I was working as a teacher in Chicago in early 2000. One of the teachers I worked with had season tickets and she wasn’t going to be able to go, so she asked me if I wanted to the tickets. I said sure, found a friend to go with me, and went to watch a show that was composed of four different sequences called La Petite Morte, which of course worked for me on a number of levels. The final piece of that set was five dances set to the songs of Frank Sinatra, and was absolutely one of the most astounding things I had ever seen. I laughed, I cried, I left that theater and swore to myself when I had finally “made it” I was going to buy season tickets to the Hubbard Street Ballet.

Then I moved to Asia for twelve years.

Having moved back, I decided it was imperative that I get season tickets, so I looked them up, assured myself that Hubbard Street was still active, and picked up two season tickets, Not the most expensive, but I didn’t need the most expensive, I just wanted to have nice tickets and I wanted to have at least two of them because I didn’t want to go to the dance alone.

After my experience trying to gate a date for Mark Lanegan, one would think I would give it up, but I found it much easier to have a date for the ballet than for Mark Lanegan, in that one long-ago-Shimer person was free that night and expressed a desire to go with me. That worked out just fine, and so I invited her along as my date. We talked off and on up until the event and eventually decided we would meet at the venue, as her commute wouldn’t allow her to get to Chicago sooner to catch me for dinner. The evening started with my waving goodbye to the Bard and the Electrician, who were finally managing to escape the city for a long-awaited honeymoon. I waited for the Electrician because I was wearing my favoriterecently acquired in Koreaextra-tiny dress.

“It’s a tiny dress!” I said, spinning outside of the car door as the Bard tossed her bags in the back.

“I can see that.” The Electrician laughed and smiled. I smiled back and took my quickly chilling tiny-skirted bottom for a walk into the city to find dinner.

Had I been a thinking woman, I would have realized that I should not assume I could walk into any restaurant in Chicago on a Friday night at six o’clock and hope to get a table; at least, not in any reasonably decent restaurant. I ended up at the Tavern at the Park, where they had exactly one bar stool, and I had a couple of glasses of wine and an appetizer for dinner before walking over to the theater.

A text was sent to my date to meet me on the second floor in what looked like a warehouse. I sat on a metal bench that looked like it was re-purposed from warehouse siding and began to anticipate.

It had been nearly thirteen years since I had been to see the Hubbard Street Ballet. At some point over that last thirteen years they had dropped the ballet in favor of just dance, which is a better description, because it was not the ballet, really; it was a dance. It was all about the dance, and it was the most beautiful kind of dance. I didn’t know until I had seen Hubbard Street the first time that I loved the ballet. (Or, perhaps I had forgotten how much I loved the ballet.) I had seen Swan Lake on PBS when I was young, and I loved watching the perennial favorite The Nutcracker every holiday season as a child. One of my first girlhood crushes (after Debbie Harry, who was quite literally the first person I ever had a crush on at the tender age of 7) was Baryshnikov; how I did love to watch that man spin and throw women around.

I perhaps knew somewhere deep down that I loved the ballet, but it came to life watching Hubbard Street. I had that warm, growing-excited feeling that had nothing to do with the wine I was drinking and everything to do with the fact that I was about to make the dance real. My date caught up with me on my floor and we walked down to the ground level, where one of the docents had pointed me in the right direction after looking at my tickets.

“I spent hours trying to figure out what to wear; I had no idea.”

“I wore a tiny dress.”

“It’s not that tiny.”

“I feel absolutely scandalous.”

We laughed and got a bit more wine, taking in the sights and trying to find a program for the evening.

Then, feeling all rather together, we gathered our things and headed toward the seats. I had not been to the Harris Theater before, but it was a hell of a venue. I didn't think there was a bad seat in that place. It sloped back beautifully from the stage, with the balcony and upper deck overhanging it just so. We were positioned about five rows back from the man stage and on the left. Perfect seats.

“At this point I think we could get hit with sweat coming off the dancers,” I laughed.

“I have no idea what to expect,” said my date.

“It’s really hard to explain. You are just going to have to experience it.”

We looked through the program and saw we were going to see about five different pieces. All of the pieces were an examination of how people were connected. The first, "Fluency," incorporated elements of technocratic connection, where it was followed by "Cloudless," which captured more of the endless dreaming of almost, but not quite, being able to connect somehow. This was followed by a beautiful love story-type duet between two women who were trying to come together in some real way. The second act would include another duet, between a man and a women this time, which incorporated more classical music, including Greensleeves (which amused me) and the final piece was taken up by the complications of domestic life.

(That was a mouthful.)

However, this description of five dances does not do justice to what happened when we were sitting in the theater, so close to the stage as the dancers first emerged. So close to the stage I could hear their feet drop on the floor. So close to the stage I could see the their well-formed muscles flex and bend clearly, watching with fascination the athletic pitch these performers had worked their body to. This was not traditional ballet, the women on stage were not the scrawny, small, take-flight dancers. These women were built, they were the kind of women you imagine running around a forest like great powerful Amazons. Their muscles supremely controlled, their body perfectly pitched, and finally formed.

The men, too, did not have the overly thick stumpy muscular legs customary among male ballet dancers, but instead were perfectly toned with a sinewy grace that belied the power with which they could toss a bodymale or femaleand catch it, allowing it to slide down their body with such ease that their partners could have been nothing more than a light sheet being tossed out and then folded.

There was such grace that it became overwhelming and you, the audience, could only sit there on the edge of tears, joy, anger, fear, and madness, so wrapped into the story would you become. The story was not read, nor explained, but merely existed and you saw it imprinted on your synapses and you felt it with ever fiber of yourself.

With "Fluency" you felt that jarring fleeting connection, in the frantic motion of the dancers as they moved from graceful turn one moment and staggering, staccato shaking the next. That shaking, that sudden and abruptalmost uglyjarring revelation was such a perfect description of being both near and far. I felt it. I understood it. I gripped my lovely date's hand and we both allowed ourselves to get swept away in the moment.

During the intermission she tried to describe it. “Something just happened to me. I don’t even know what, but it’s like, I can feel it.”

“Yes, it’s like that.”

“This is amazing.”

I got caught between a set and had to stand in the back for the piece constructed around Greensleeves. This was not bad, as I got to see the stage from a different vantage, which made me appreciate the quality of my seats all the more; however, even from the back of the theater it was still breathtakingly beautiful.

When I got back to my seat she turned to me, “Okay, I think I have it,” she started.

“I caught it from the back but they wouldn’t let me sit down.”

“Oh, thank goodness, because I was working really hard to figure out how to try to put that into words and I think I mostly had it, but I don’t think it’s possible to describe it. It’s just…”

The last piece began more literally than all the other dances. At first it seemed clear that this is going to be about the banality of domesticity; however, it evolved until it moved from boredom, to pain, to triumph and the silliness of pairing until finally you were left at the end of it wondering if it was ever possible to make a connection in a relationship, or if it was impossible to escape the utter isolation of what it meant to be essentially human. It was perfect.

I walked my date up to her ride and allowed myself to get swept into the madness that is the city late at night on a Friday evening in perfect, late-summer weather. The sparkling lights and electric thrum of Chicago was all I really connected with; the rest of it rolled off me, until finally I found my couch, my glass of wine, my dreams full of flight and grace, and a deeper questing for something more.

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