A Street Called Hubbard: Chicago’s Legendary Dance Company Stops in Houston

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Hubbard Street Dance Chicago
Photo by Todd Rosenberg

New York may not be the center of the dance universe after all. Lou Conte, a pioneering figure in dance, thought Chicago would do just fine for his center. Conte started Hubbard Street Dance Chicago (HSDC), a company and studio, in 1977. When someone asked him the name of his organization, he looked out the window and saw the “Hubbard” street sign. Now, when you mention the word “Hubbard” people think dance. Today the studio is a major training facility and the company that has grown to be one of the most successful repertory performing companies in the U. S. Their repertory contains the work of the giants of contemporary dance as well as emerging choreographers.

Conte started the company to showcase his own work, but quickly outgrew that single choreographer model. In the 1980s, Conte commissioned several works by up-and-coming choreographers Lynne Taylor-Corbett, Margo Sappington, and Daniel Ezralow. In 1990 he formed a ground-breaking partnership with American dance legend Twyla Tharp. In the years following he brought some of the world most renown choreographers to work with his group, including Ohad Naharin, William Forsythe, Nacho Duato, Lar Lubovitch, Christopher Bruce, and Jirí Kylián.

Conte retired in 2000 and handed the reins to choreographer Jim Vincent. Conte still directs the school but has give Vincent ample space to carve his own path. These were some mighty dance shoes to fill but so far Vincent is pleased with how the transition is going. “I like to say he took his shoes with him,” says Vincent. “Lou gave me space figure out my own path at Hubbard.”
Vincent brings an impressive resume with him, including a 12-year tenure with Jirí Kylián’s Nederlands Dans Theater, a guest appearance with Lar Lubovitch, and two years with Nacho Duato’s Compañía Nacional de Danza in Spain. As a dancer, he worked with many of the choreographers that now grace the HSDC repertory including Kylián, Duato, Lubovitch, William Forsythe, Mats Ek, Hans van Manen, Christopher Bruce and Ohad Naharin. Vincent’s works, counter/part and Uniformity, are also on the HSDC rep.

In speaking with Vincent one gets the feeling of just how fluidly this company is run. Seven pieces are currently in rehearsal for the fall season, so multiple combinations are possible. Confident that the right combination will make itself known for each engagement, Vincent likes to wait until the final plan reveals itself before announcing the program. The company is completely ready to perform any arrangement of the seven works. Vincent explains, “My job is to bring the best ingredients together and put them in the same space.”

HSDC performs two Chicago seasons tours nationally and internationally. Thus far, the company has appeared in 44 states and 17 countries including the A-list of dance festivals such as the American Dance Festival, DanceAspen, the Holland Dance Festival, Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, The Joyce Theater, the Kennedy Center, Spoleto Festival of Two Worlds (Italy), and Spoleto Festival U.S.A.

Performing with live music is key to HSDC’a mission—live music as in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra conducted by Pinchas Zukerman. HSDC has adapted several works for the Orchestra stage. The idea is to actually share the space with the musicians and adapt each piece to make it work. So far the results have been sell outs.

HSDC boasts 21 of the most versatile and virtuosic dancers on the American stage. “We try not to homogenize,” says Vincent. “I want people that work together and able to put themselves aside and be part of the collective ego, but can also stand up and be an individual.”

The repertory is challenging and at times grueling. Tobin Del Cuore has been dancing with HSDC for five years. It’s not unusual for him to be dancing in every single work in the program. “We do so many different kinds of movement,” says Del Cuore. It’s been an amazing opportunity, but the pace is hectic at times.”

The menu for Houston, although still in motion at press time, is likely to include Brian Enos’ Diphthong, a work set to Zap Mamma that was originally part of HSDC choreographic workshop process. Enos, a company member, is well known to Houston audiences. Three of his works have been performed by Houston Ballet and Enos danced with the company for a brief time. Enos researched movements that complement or contrast the syncopated voices of Zap Mamma’s vibrant music. Vincent encourages company members to develop their artistic voices. “We got hooked on Brian’s piece pretty quickly, it’s literally a visualization and quite demanding technically,” says Vincent about the young choreographer. “I feel like Brian dances better when he is working on his own choreography.”

Another work by company member Alejandro Cerrudo is likely to make the final cut. Cerrudo, formerly of Netherlands Dance Theater 2, harks from Spain and is working on a piece inspired by the songs of the highly idiosyncratic indie folkie Devendra Banhart. Cerrudo found a match in Banharts wavering tenor voice. A sneak peek of a new work by American Modern legend, Lar Lubovitch is a strong possibility. Set to music by Meredith Monk, Lubovitch continues his exploration of organic group formations. Also under consideration is a new work by Japanese choreographer Toru Shimazaki with music by the eclectic duo Dead Can Dance. Kobe-based Shimazaki brings in his rich cultural heritage and a flavor of the martial arts.

Letting this company evolve minute-by-minute keeps the process fresh and close to the bone. As for being in Chicago and not New York, Vincent seems clear the center is what you make of it. “Chicago is such a great place,” says Vincent. “It has everything that New York has much less stress and dirt. Houston is as important to us too and we will give you a great performance.”

Society for the Performing Arts presents Hubbard Street Dance Chicago on October 14th at 8:00 PM at Jones Hall. 713-227-4SPA or http://www.spahouston.org/

Reprinted from Artshouston.

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