Last year, they wowed Santa Barbara with three seminal contemporary dances by European greats Jiří Kylián and Johan Inger. Last week, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago returned with a decisively different, equally stunning program. The decision to bring back this contemporary dance company in consecutive seasons marks a first for UCSB Arts & Lectures director Celesta Billeci, and she needn’t defend her choice; this company has a way of making every work look as if it’s arising in the moment, fresh from their exquisitely expressive bodies.
It doesn’t hurt to have world-class choreography. Last week’s program opened with “Untouched,” an elegant ensemble work from Aszure Barton, the “it” girl of the New York contemporary dance world. “Untouched” opened with shafts of light cutting through smoky air; a stage curtain was pulled partway open, revealing a cast of 12 dancers in velvet gowns and dress shirts who moved with Barton’s distinctive blend of wild hunger and stunning precision. One woman dropped from a suspended arabesque into a gaping second position; another clutched her stomach, thrust her pelvis forward, and then clapped her hands and straightened up as if to shake off such animalistic impulses.
Company member and resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo had two works on this program: the tightly minimal female quartet “Blanco,” and “PACOPEPEPLUTO,” a series of three male solos set to the music of Dean Martin and danced with full-out abandon by men wearing next-to-nothing. Past the surprise of so much exposed skin, it was a romp through innocent, irrepressible joy.
And then, in a coup of repertory arrangement, came Mats Ek’s “Casi-Casa,” a dense, 40-minute fugue for dancers in street clothes, set to the eclectic electronic arrangements of Fleshquartet and featuring a cast of domestic objects: a television, a chair, a door leading nowhere. This Swedish choreographer and Kylián contemporary creates onstage worlds like no one else: in this case, a darkly comic world where women do the Highland fling with vacuum cleaners, a rubbery couch potato morphs into a raving lunatic, and a woman ends a domestic dispute by reaching inside a smoking oven and drawing out a baby.
At one point, all the human antics dropped away, strips of caution tape were drawn taut across the stage, and for a full minute, there was no action to distract from shrill, amplified screeching. “Don’t get too comfortable,” Eks seemed to warn before bringing the curtain down on a stage full of bodies pinging about like electrons.
On a lesser company, such a varied program might risk dissociation, but Hubbard Street’s dancers embody every one of these works, bringing the whole a delicious, unexpected unity.