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DANCE REVIEW

Company soars to new heights in its 25th year

BECKET -- For a modern dance company to reach the quarter-century mark is a remarkable feat. For Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, the milestone is even more impressive given the fact that its artistic profile is based on a wide range of repertoire rather than a unique choreographic voice.

That's not to say that the company lacks artistic vision. For the first 23 years, it flourished under the guidance of founder Lou Conte, who complemented his own works with those of a variety of world-

renowned choreographers. Now under the direction of Jim Vincent -- who, though born in New Jersey, spent 12 formative years with the Nederlands Dans Theater -- the company continues its tradition of creating internationally flavored programs that balance adventure and accessibility. All the while, Hubbard showcases a talented corps of 21 dancers who are as stylistically versatile as they are technically assured.

The company celebrates its 25th anniversary at Jacob's Pillow this week with two different programs, and Wednesday night's gala benefit was a crowd-pleaser from start to finish. The program opened with Spanish choreographer Nacho Duato's earthy "Jardi Tancat," which loosely portrays a day in the life of three couples who are, according to the program, "occupied with the sowing, planting and threshing of the barren Catalonian land." Grounded in the weighted quality of Spanish folk dance, the work has an exuberant sweep that evokes the passion of a people whose lives are committed to daily tasks. Stylized gestures of tilling and gathering are interspersed with circular dances of breathtaking sweep and flow. Though the work was given a more virtuosic and poignant interpretation by Boston Ballet last season, Hubbard Street's six dancers caught the work's uncontrived intensity.

Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin's "Passomezzo" was as quirkily mannered as "Jardi Tancat" was organic.

Danced with a razor-like precision by Cheryl Mann and Jamy Meek, the mercurial duet suggests the tempestuous shifts of balance in a relationship between a man and a woman. In a blizzard of high-energy sequences, they push and pull, bouncing off each other. She throws herself into his arms, then blithely walks away.

Naharin's "Minus 16" is even more offbeat. Cobbled together from four different works, this full-company piece changes tone and style so often, an audience member could get whiplash. But it's provocative and entertaining dance theater.

The work actually starts during intermission, with the riveting Massimo Pacilli dancing a demented, self-absorbed little solo at the edge of the stage, which prompted some to wonder if he was a slightly drunken audience member who got carried away. But eventually he is joined by 19 others, all wearing black suits and engaged in similarly wacky dances. With arms and legs spiralling madly, they look a little like Martin Short on speed.

Another section finds the group wearing black fedoras and sitting in chairs. In repetitive, sometimes sequential, phrases, they throw themselves backward, crash to the floor, stand up and sing, then slump disconsolately. As clothes are gradually shed, the piece takes on a powerful sense of inevitable doom.

But then gears shift abruptly. While we hear a series of taped personal "confessions," dancers present dazzling, high-energy solos that are off-balance and strikingly original.

They ultimately pull audience members onstage for a riotous (and self-indulgent) cha-cha, but no one seems to mind. They have the crowd eating out of their hands.

The program also included Kevin O'Day's light-hearted Tharpian charmer "Quartet for IV (and sometimes one, two or three. . .)."

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