ASCENDance Credit: Vin Reed

Gazing at ripped bodies is the raison d’etre of dance. Or is it? DanzAbierta—a 25-year-old Cuban troupe making its Chicago debut thanks to Hedwig Dances—relies on buff performers and suggestive moves to explode tacky stereotypes of Cuban dance and “personality” in Showroom, Susana Pous’s onstage/backstage drama. This hour-long U.S. premiere, the opening volley in a planned cultural exchange with Hedwig, employs a movable stage curtain and dancers in various states of undress to heighten the contrasts between performance personas and actual humans. Wide-ranging music and movement, from homogenized traditional to Afro-Cuban and contemporary, help set the scenes. Showroom walks a fine line between titillation and satire, but the riveting final section—which includes some fine acting and impressive trompe l’oeil effects—definitely pulls us into the dancers’ consciousness.

Though Hedwig will eventually collaborate with DanzAbierta on a joint work, the two companies divvy up this program; the other half is the premiere of ASCENDance, by Hedwig artistic director Jan Bartoszek. More abstract than Showroom, this 50-minute multimedia piece investigates the struggle by all life forms, not just human, to achieve transformation. At times the six dancers are immersed in a surreal set created by sculptor Barbara Cooper, video designer Petra Bachmaier, and lighting expert Ken Bowen, accompanied by Matthew Ferraro’s music. The Hedwig performers—pliant yet precise in detailed, highly kinetic moves—supply the human factor.