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Hubbard Street Dance offers  trio of gems

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago performance Ohad Naharin's 'THREE TO THE MAX.' | © Todd Rosenberg Photography

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago performance of Ohad Naharin's "THREE TO THE MAX." | © Todd Rosenberg Photography

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• Through Sunday

• Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph

• Tickets, $25-$94

• (312) 850-9744;

Updated: July 6, 2012 9:38AM

Every important choreographer creates a language of his or her own, and these languages have surprisingly little to do with actual steps. As “Exhibit A” you might consider the three works in Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s Summer Series — the fascinating, fiercely danced program that opened Thursday night at the Harris Theatre for Music and Dance.

In the case of “Malditos” (“The Cursed”), by Hubbard Street’s resident choreographer, the Spanish-bred Alejandro Cerrudo, the language is mysterious, sensual, alluring. In the case of “Quintett,” by the American-bred, German-based choreographer William Forsythe, it is often difficult to parse, at once repetitive and improvisational, and full of strangely twisted grammar. And in the case of “THREE TO MAX”, by Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin — the most ingenious linguist of them all — the language, for which he even has a name (“gaga”), is simultaneously ritualistic, playful, teasing and sexual, as well as wonderfully accessible.

The program opens with “Malditos,” created for both Hubbard Street and Nederlands Dans Theater II, which showcases Cerrudo’s marvelous gift for exploring how men and women in love communicate with, and break apart from each other. As a program note aptly describes it, he suggests the mixture of “panic and passion” that are part of such relationships, with exquisite signs of intimacy shifting to gestures of withdrawal in the blink of an eye. The piece’s final ravishing duet captures this beautifully, with the slender, evocative (and bare-breasted) Ana Lopez dancing sequentially with Garrett Anderson, Pablo Piantino and Jesse Bechard. Penny Saunders, Jacqueline Burnett and Kevin Shannon have stunning sequences as well. And Tom Visser’s lighting design is masterful.

Forsythe’s “Quintett” ­— created for Ballet Frankfurt in 1993 as an homage to his wife, a dancer who died of cancer at a tragically young age — suggests above all that the choreographer is fueled by a strong obsessive-compulsive streak. The work is marked by a rigor, and a self-consciously cerebral approach to movement that can be felt even in moments that are meant to have the appearance of improvisation.

There is a stark poetry in “Quintett,” but also a monotony. And the work’s obsessive quality is only underscored by the use of a continually looped soundtrack devised by British composer Gavin Bryars in which a muffled phrase about “love everlasting” is entoned again and again and again. That said, the five dancers — Meredith Dincolo, Penny Saunders, Jonathan Fredrickson, Jesse Bechard and Kevin Shannon — could not have been more eloquent. (The company will perform the piece again on June 30 at the prestigious American Dance Festival in Durham, N.C., where Forsythe is being presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award.)

Finally, there is Naharin’s brilliant THREE TO MAX, an original work crafted for the full Hubbard Street company in 2011 — a dance that might be thought of as his own highly distinctive and decidedly zany twist on “The Rite of Spring.” The work is riveting from start to finish: From the opening sequence, in which the company, dressed in colorful jerseys, stands facing the audience in silence; to a gorgeously expressive male solo set to a section of Bach’s “Goldberg Variations”; to intriguing solo turns for two women — superbly danced by Jessica Tong, and by Robyn Mineko Williams (who will be leaving the company after a 12-year tenure, and who has never danced better); to an ensemble sequence for wild men; to a long and phenomenally sexy ensemble sequence for the women, and much more.

The truth is, the Hubbard Street dancers perform Naharin’s work far better than his own company, Batsheva. But they are sublime in everything they do, and their flair for picking up the most challenging “dance languages” is nothing short of remarkable.

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