In a pre-performance talk about her 10th anniversary retrospective, Makeda Thomas declared her mission to tell “Caribbean stories, women’s stories, political stories, rebellious stories.” For this season, she set out four samples from repertory along with a snippet of a multi-media work-in-development with poet/performance artist Queen GodIs. Of these, Los Colores (2009), a lengthy ensemble piece set to the audio of a beautiful TED talk by Nigeria-born novelist Chimamanda Adichie, peaked my interest due to its unusual setup.
Dancers position themselves along one or more narrow, rectangular swaths of light that span the space, suggesting the rollout of words across a page and the procession of characters across the flow of a well-told narrative. Like Adichie, Thomas, who has performed with Ronald K. Brown and Urban Bush Women, seeks to open our eyes to a complex world and our ears to stories that we seldom hear. Her dancers—Catherine Dénécy, Catherine Foster, Orlando Z. Hunter, Jr., Imani Johnson, Daniel Soto, and Candace Thompson—serve her urgent, extroverted approach, their sculpted movements propelled under high pressure as if there’s nothing more important to do than to dance and be witnessed. A couple of onlookers sitting in front of me that evening could not help but move, too, as if mainlining the dancers’ vibes.
This direct, intuitive connection of dancer to viewer seemed typical of nearly every moment of this program. On the other hand, the choreography looked interchangeable, stretched to fit any context. One can get a little lost in this territory. At the end of Los Colores, suddenly presented with something quite literal and dramatic—the apparent rending of a relationship, with amplified sounds of a heartbeat and panting as a man and woman pull away from each other—I wondered if I’d missed a crucial turn along the way.
Todd Rosenberg, Courtesy Hubbard Street Dance Chicago
Alexandra Wells can always tell when a dancer hasn't read her summer intensive information packet. Sometimes, says Hubbard Street Dance Chicago's director of artist training, there's a quick fix for the lack of preparation. "You can go and buy a long-sleeve shirt after you burn your shoulder really badly in that first floorwork class," she says. But not bringing enough of your special-order pointe shoes? "That's really dire."
Between reading the fine print, shopping for necessities and ramping up physically, getting ready for a summer intensive takes more than just dancing a lot. We broke down a step-by-step timeline: