It could be Memphis…
It could be Detroit…
But to its locals, the backdrop of A TALE OF TWO is immediately recognizable as not just any old hyper-segregated American City. In a flash locals know its Chicago, now also known worldwide for its gun violence and Black-White divide. Chicago is also the home to Hubbard Street Dance Chicago that commissioned this work by its former ensemble member and native, Rena Butler.
We get to meet Butler in the streamed performance prequel, where she explains that growing up in Chicago meant never knowing if you were hearing fireworks or gun shots. We learn from Butler that reconciling that experience with the glamour of the city’s Magnificent Mile is what propelled A Tale of Two into life.
The gentle-to-jarring and back again spiral of Butler’s choreography is first launched by the silky voice of silken-thread clad local songstress Alencia Norris. We see the Hubbard Street Dance Chicago ensemble assembled at her feet—distanced as the time requires—as she sings of a Beautiful Black Butterfly. You too may agree that this is a voice you want to hear again, and again. Later, sing-song nursery rhymes pepper what follows (Ring Around the Rosey, Baa Baa Black Sheep, Humpty Dumpty, etc.) perhaps similarly as a reminder of gentle childhood innocence lost, or never known.
Any spell of calm and soothing recedes quickly as the chapters, so to speak, of A Tale of Two unfold. PANDEMONIUM!—the dancers contort and jerk in fast pace. Electronic chords jar and then dissolve into a police siren. Vibrating dancers remind of the junkies on a street corner. Chain-link fences are scaled but never surmounted. Distanced duos reach to be a duet, staying apart. PARANOIA! DON’T SHOOT! REVOLUTION! Though often set in summery green park spots, the movement language conveys the spectrum of being at odds with surrounds, ramping up to being ablaze in a raging fire.
We are so immersed in the visual storytelling that we stray from noticing the athleticism and grace of the Hubbard Street dancers—who astound on gravel, grass and asphalt just as much as they do in concert halls, in this writer’s view.
Kudos especially needs to go to director Talia Koylass, who very selectively and effectively spices the performance with effects like kaleidoscope views. Koylass seems to never lose sight of how the cinematography should show the dance, instead of trying to takeover as the show — a skill that one hopes others trying to keep dance alive during the pandemic will study.
Hubbard Street Dance Chicago Opener of 43rd Season
A movement tone poem of our times, A TALE OF TWO will likely especially appeal to those of us who hunger for live dance performance during the pandemic. This hits that spot—as much as any filmed dance could do. Bravo to Hubbard Street Dance Chicago for starting their 43rd Season off with this production. You got us! We’re hooked and waiting for the next performance…
Rena Butler, Choreography
Talia Koylass, Videography
Darryl J. Hoffman, Music
Shawnee Dez, Vocals
Alencia Norris, Vocals
Dancers: Alyssa Allen, Jonathan Emanuell Alsberry, Craig D. Black Jr., Jacqueline Burnett, Rena Butler, Kellie Epperheimer, Elliot Hammans, Alysia Johnson, Adam McGaw, Andrew Murdock, Abdiel Figueroa Reyes, David Schultz, Kevin J. Shannon, Connie Shiau, Jessica Tong.
Original composition by Darryl J. Hoffman. Black Butterfly by Alencia Norris. Sticky Beez by Shawnee Dez. Paranoia by Chance the Rapper, featuring Lili K and Nosaj Thing from Acid Rap with permission granted by the artist. Don’t Shoot Guns Down by Sault. Mother Goose Rhymes: Baa, Baa, Black Sheep, Humpty Dumpty Sat on a Wall, Three Blind Mice.
This performance is now streaming for FREE on the Hubbard Street Dance Chicago HUB.
Images courtesy of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago
About the Author:
Amy Munice is Editor-in-Chief and Co-Publisher of Picture This Post. She covers books, dance, film, theater, music, museums and travel. Prior to founding Picture This Post, Amy was a freelance writer and global PR specialist for decades—writing and ghostwriting thousands of articles and promotional communications on a wide range of technical and not-so-technical topics.
Amy hopes the magazine’s click-a-picture-to-read-a-vivid-account format will nourish those ever hunting for under-discovered cultural treasures. She especially loves writing articles about travel finds, showcasing works by cultural warriors of a progressive bent, and shining a light on bold, creative strokes by fledgling artists in all genres.