Dance With Architecture

Chicago's Hubbard Street company takes its eclectic, contemporary styles on the road

In 2000, after 22 years of dancing and choreographing in Europe, New Jersey native Jim Vincent returned to America.

He landed in Chicago, that most American of cities, to head up Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. Created in 1977 by Lou Conte, Hubbard Street had long drawn its movement from the city's famous jazz rhythms and from Broadway musical idioms. These all-American dance forms were worlds apart from the contemporary movement of Europe's cutting-edge companies, innovators like the Nederlands Dans Theater in Holland and the Compañia Nacional de Danza in Spain.

"They wanted somebody to push the company in a new direction," Vincent said by phone last week from Seattle, where Hubbard Street danced Friday night. "The company already had a tradition of taking risks, and trying on new clothes." In the 1990s, for instance, Hubbard Street undertook The Tharp Project, commissioning six new Twyla Tharp modern-dance pieces.

In Vincent's hands, the troupe moved even more toward an eclectic contemporary style, with "something of the line and shape of ballet," and a reliance on fresh choreography from outside artists. The transition was difficult for some people, he acknowledged, but by and large, "we have a great thing going now in Chicago. People are committed to what we're doing."

Tucsonans can try out what the Chicagoans have grown to love when all 22 Hubbard Street dancers come to town for a single performance Tuesday night at the UA's Centennial Hall. Part of the UApresents dance series, the varied program of four works hints at Hubbard Street's new international focus.

"Uniformity," a full-company dance by Vincent himself, is a new work, and so is "Gnawa," a dance for 16 by Spanish choreographer Nacho Duato, with whom Vincent worked at both Nederlands and the Compañia Nacional. Julian Bennett, a young New York choreographer with roots in break dance, presents the duet "Float," and the Czech choreographer Jirí Kylián sees his work "Petite Mort" get a revival.

"I'm maintaining the tradition of guest choreographers," Vincent said. "It keeps the dancers nourished."

For 24 years, Kylián was artistic director of the Nederlands Dans Theater, where he overlapped with Vincent. (The troupe's second-tier company, Nederlands Dans Theater II, gave a concert in Tucson in April 2003).

Kylián's "Petite Mort" is danced to music by Mozart, which the Chicago Symphony Orchestra will play live on stage at a December concert back home. Tucson won't get live Mozart, but it will get 12 dancers, paired up as six couples, in a work that's a "proper introduction to the company," Vincent said. "It has a quality like a caress."

Vincent likes to rotate works in and out of repertory. Kylián's modern ballet, whose title means "little death," had been retired for 2 1/2 years before its revival last week in Seattle.

"I equate us to an art gallery," Vincent said. "We put up temporary exhibits. What's in the active repertory now, six to eight months from now won't be. It keeps the work fresh for the dancers and the audience."

Up next after the Kylián is the Bennett duet, "Float," whose work Vincent admired at a recent showcase.

"His style has some foundation in break dance, but not the shape of it. It has break dance's impulse and dynamic, translated to contemporary dance. Its percussive soundscape is a complete contrast to the Mozart."

After the break, Vincent's new "Uniformity" provides a three-part riff on conformity, danced by all 22 company members. The first section, with the performers dressed in business suits and ties, is set to an "unconventional and controversial" recording of a Vivaldi piece. Fabio Biondi and the Europa Galante play the work in stops and starts, and "I occupy the silences," Vincent explained. When the music stops, the dance starts, and when the dance stops, the music starts.

For part two, the dancers don school uniforms, and dance-stop-dance to "Cheating, Lying, Stealing" by David Lang. In the third and final passage, they wear military camouflage and move to a '70s aural soundscape, which samples a speech by President Nixon, bantering by Sonny and Cher, dialogue from Rowan and Martin's Laugh-In and the music of Jimi Hendrix's "Crosstown Traffic."

"I'm sensing certain parallels" between the '70s and today, Vincent said. If the work doesn't precisely make a political critique, it asks the meaning of contemporary conformity. "What do these styles of dress--these ties, these pleated skirts--what do they represent?"

The finale is by Duato, a Spaniard with international dance roots. He trained with Maurice Béjart in Brussels and Alvin Ailey in New York, danced with Cullberg Ballet in Stockholm, worked as resident choreographer with Nederlands and in 1990 came home to head Spain's Compañia Nacional.

For his new dance, "Gnawa," he reaches out to still another continent. The jubilant group work for 16 is set to North African music.

"The spiritual healers of Morocco use traditional Arab instruments," Vincent said. "The music is trance-like, dervish-like. It's intoxicating."

A video clip of the dance on Hubbard Street's Web site shows a circle of dancers linked arm in arm, contracting and expanding to the mesmerizing music. One dancer emerges from the circle and bends his body almost in two, curving his back to the earth and then reaching upward toward the sky.

"There's a bit of architecture in the dance," Vincent said. "It's so well-constructed. In one section, the dancers carry lanterns. It's beautiful, lush, warm and sensual."

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