Marc Chagall created his stained glass America Windows for the Chicago Art Institute to commemorate the American bicentennial. The piece was installed in 1977, the same year Hubbard Street Dance Chicago was founded, and the two organizations have had a thriving relationship ever since. When Hubbard Street returns to Power Center September 27-28, the troupe will perform a new dance, One Thousand Pieces, that takes its inspiration from America Windows and features the music of Philip Glass.
The windows are made up of three sets of twelve panels, each set eight feet in height and more than thirty feet in width. To match this grand scale, choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo has chosen to use not only the dancers of the main company but also the dancers of Hubbard Street 2, a training ground for young dancers with a particular emphasis on nurturing young choreographers.
Chagall’s stained glass windows are a fitting inspiration for dance. The windows depict cityscapes, musical instruments, animals, plants, and human figures all floating in a sea of dark and light blue swirls punctuated by bright reds, yellows, and greens. There is a feeling that each time you look at them you will see something new.
Just as Chagall’s style is surreal and abstract, so is Cerrudo’s choreography. The Chicago Tribune calls One Thousand Pieces “fast-moving” and “silky.” From what I’ve seen, Cerrudo continues the tradition of athletic, technically spectacular dancing that typifies Hubbard Street’s performances.
The choreographer does not tell a story or mimic the images in the windows, but draws inspiration from the shapes, emotions, the play of light, and the mystery of the windows. Movements tend to be precise, geometric, and designed with smooth transitions. The dancers often skim the floor like insects on a fast-moving river. Arms and legs draw intricate pathways through space, while dancers group and regroup in surprising combinations. Innovative partnering is combined with a sense of gravity that keeps everyone grounded, as if contained within the boundaries of Chagall’s windows.