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Originally published February 11, 2013 at 9:30 AM | Page modified February 11, 2013 at 1:45 PM

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Hubbard Street Dance Chicago: great dancers, mixed double bill

The dancers were dazzling in Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s one-night stop at the Paramount on Feb. 9, 2013 — but the choreography was split between richly inventive (“THREE TO MAX”) and aimlessly dull (“Too Beaucoup”).

Seattle Times arts writer

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The flavor of Israel’s Batsheva Dance Company came to Seattle on Saturday night, courtesy of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s one-night appearance at the Paramount Theatre. There, the Chicago-based dance troupe performed two works created for it by Batsheva-connected choreographers.

The company certainly impressed with the quality of its dancers. But on the choreographic front, it batted only one out of two.

First up was “THREE TO MAX” by Batsheva’s artistic director Ohad Naharin. Passage by passage the piece was a continually seductive and inventive marvel, superbly performed. If the whole didn’t quite equal the sum of its parts, it may be because Naharin fashioned it in 2011 out of two earlier pieces he set on Batsheva: “Three” (2005) and “Max” (2007).

Starting with the opening solo by Jason Hortin (who happens to be from Olympia), you could sense you were in for something special. With intricate detail and clean precision, Hortin became both a shape-shifting sculpture unto himself and a subtle carver of invisible shapes in the space around him. His detailed hand language, limb extensions and improbable balances gave way to agile leaps and fierce stomps before he reverted to his more self-contained space explorations.

“THREE TO MAX” continued in a semiabstract vein, its sections divided according to the musical score. Brian Eno’s spookily spacey “Neroli” provided an especially effective sonic backdrop for six women engaged in enigmatic tasks and exercises. With clipped and varied rhythmic movement, Jacqueline Burnett, Kellie Epperheimer, Alice Klock, Ana Lopez, Laura O’Malley and Jessica Tong (a stunner in all her solo turns) created crystalline contrasts to the gossamer-soft measures of the Eno score. Sometimes their actions seemed entirely ascetic and inwardly focused. At other times, odd bits of bump-and-grind and slow-motion shimmies came across as frostily sultry, if enigmatic, invitations.

Two duets brought out Naharin’s warmer side and his humor. Epperheimer and Jesse Bechard turned soft, loopy athleticism into a comic tale of two lovers who, engaging in everything from arm-sniffing to geometric tangles, couldn’t quite connect. Alejandro Cerrudo and Kevin J. Shannon struck a different tone in an ecstatic and gymnastic pas-de-deux that kept shading into roughhousing.

A grand finale of brief competitive dance moves — some of them pretty jaw-dropping — wrapped things up. The connecting thread between the dance’s passages may have been difficult to discern, but each chapter was a rich and surprising pleasure in itself.

The same can’t be said for Sharon Eyal’s and Gaï Behar’s “Too Beaucoup” (2011). The piece, performed to an insistent techno beat, purports to weigh how “cold and mechanical movements collide with wildly expressive, personal ones.” The trouble is the “wildly expressive” movement failed to register significantly or intensify over the length of this singularly aimless dance.

The dancers were clad in silvery unitards, capped in frosted blonde wigs and made a little more soulless by wearing white contact lenses. Most of the movement was choral, with ripples going through it as individual dancers briefly followed their own impulses within the overall unison action.

That action consisted of listless boogieing, mechanical-doll movements, hip swivels, Scottish folk dance and the occasional goose-step. Solos by Jacqueline Burnett and Kevin J. Shannon, at the piece’s beginning, seemed to be laying the groundwork for some kind of dramatic arc. But it just didn’t happen.

“Too Beaucoup” was greeted with cheers. I can’t help thinking they were more for the dancers than the dance.

Michael Upchurch: mupchurch@seattletimes.com

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