Hubbard Street Dance Chicago blasted into Northrop auditorium Saturday evening with an ambitious program highlighting the company's 40-year history.

The program moved backward in time, with newer pieces performed at the beginning. First came William Forsythe's "One Flat Thing, Reproduced," a riveting piece involving a stage filled with metal tables.

The dancers dragged the tables forward onto the stage, creating an ambiguous world. Were they in a kitchen? A hospital? Whatever the case, Forsythe took a kinesthetic approach with his choreography, with one interaction between dancers spurring a whole system of reactions. Sleek and unyielding, the work had a vivacious thrust.

Next came "A Picture of You Falling," Crystal Pite's duet about a failed romantic relationship, performed by the elastic Jacqueline Burnett and Elliot Hammans.

A narrator's recorded voice described memories of the relationship in a detached manner, as if flipping through a photo album. Rather than invoking feeling for the characters, Pite seemed to ask audiences to consider the narrative from a distance. In solo moments, each dancer demonstrated physical agility and intensity. When they first connected, though, it was as if they were floating in water.

After intermission came two pieces by Spanish choreographer Nacho Duato. The first, "Violoncello (Duet from Multiplicity. Forms of Silence and Emptiness)," featured Florian Lochner dressed up like J.S. Bach as he played a cello, with the instrument portrayed by dancer Alicia Delgadillo. If anyone watching had qualms about the transformation of a woman's body into an object, they had only to endure it a little while, because the piece was short.

Next the company performed Duato's "Jardi Tancat," with choreography that incorporated farm labor. The dancers toiled away at the soil, sowing seeds and looking longingly to the horizon, presumably in hopes of rain. With sweeping lines and gorgeous shapes, Duato's specificity evoked melancholy and apprehension — especially with the way dancers moved the cores of their bodies.

Last came two pieces by HSDC's first artistic director, Lou Conte: "Georgia," a duet set to Willie Nelson's version of "Georgia On My Mind," and the crowd-pleasing "The 40s." The latter work's brilliance comes from its constant changing motion, unearthing an abundant vocabulary of goofy antics, fantastic tableaus, incredible rhythm and lots of fun. Seeing this piece made it clear why Lou Conte put this company on the map 40 years ago.

Sheila Regan is a Minneapolis arts writer.