Open to Interpretation

Hubbard Street celebrates 30 years with a mix of works including a classic and two brand-new dances

Jim Vincent, artistic director of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, is speeding in a cab toward O'Hare International Airport on a frozen day.

He's going from Chicago to Tampa, Midwest to the South, on the kind of quick-paced American journey he's been making ever since Hubbard Street hired him in 2000.

"I have about 20 minutes to talk," he says politely, raising his voice to be heard above the traffic noise. Despite the circumstances, when he talks, he speaks in long, flowing sentences, filled with literary metaphors and architectural allusions.

He describes Alejandro Cerrudo, a gifted young dancer and choreographer in his company, whose new work "Extremely Close" will alight on the Centennial Hall stage on Tuesday: "He's capable of not just stringing together a series of words. He goes beyond the paragraph and into short stories. For someone in his mid-20s, it's an unusual gift."

And when he talks about his own "Palladio," he explains how he was inspired by the Renaissance architect. "The three basic Palladian principles were applicable to our work: dramatic exterior motif, economical materials and internal harmony and balance."

This sophisticated fellow brings the same kind of broad perspective to his acclaimed troupe, which routinely wins raves for its intelligent choreography and honed dancers. Vincent himself danced and choreographed in Europe for 22 years, and ever since he came to Hubbard Street, the American troupe has looked to Europe for cutting-edge inspiration.

Vincent had worked with such innovators as Nederlands Dans Theater and the Compañia Nacional de Danza of Spain. Plopped in urban America, Vincent helped the Chicago troupe make the switch from jazz and showbiz movement to contemporary.

Exhilarating European choreography was on the program when the troupe last stopped in Tucson, in November 2005, and performed one of the best dance concerts in recent memory.

This time, the Tucson program will be home-grown. Three out of the four numbers are choreographed by Hubbard Streeters, including Vincent himself. The fourth is a revival of a Twyla Tharp dance the company regularly performed back in the '90s.

"It's our 30th anniversary," Vincent says, by way of explanation for the inward turn.

Tharp's "Baker's Dozen" was an "integral part of the company image for eight or 10 years before I arrived. We wanted to revive one work. It's a good, strong work, and it contrasts with everything we're doing today."

The piece by Tharp dates to 1979, when the great American innovator was still dancing. She performed as one of its 12 dancers; dressed in cocktail dresses and tails, the six couples slide in and out of romantic partnerings. A jazz ballet, it's danced to Willie "The Lion" Smith's piano music, sashaying from ragtime to tango. Hubbard alumnus Ron De Jesus, who danced in Tharp's Movin' Out, came back to restage the work on the company.

"It's a timeless piece," Vincent says. "It's classy and musical."

Two works on the program will not officially premiere until the company's late March concerts in hometown Chicago; until then, they're considered previews. But that designation is mostly to satisfy the sponsors who commissioned them: Both are already "completely fleshed out" for the tour, Vincent says.

One of them, "The Set," was choreographed by associate artistic director Lucas Crandall to a piece by Bach. He began with an idea about an Edwardian divan and a love triangle that entangles a woman and two men. But as Crandall delved into it, the dance changed.

"It started to become less about which guy would woo the woman, and more about role playing. Who was confusing whom? It's a narrative open to interpretation, but there is a plot."

The eight-minute piece is "very gestural. The movements exaggerate themselves. There's an interesting awkwardness at times."

The young Cerrudo, he of the excellent paragraphs and short stories, created the other new piece. He's in his third season in the company, and already on his second work of choreography. (His first, "Lickety-Split," is in the repertory.) The title of this one, "Extremely Close," is literal.

Three rolling walls, 10 feet tall and at least as wide, move around on stage, creating what Vincent calls a "constantly shifting architecture." The four women and four men in the piece are on constant alert, dancing hither and yon to avoid the converging walls.

"The environment is set up to be a little precarious. You can't see where the dancers' feet meet the floor. It's on edge." Still, he adds, the 20-minute work has a "very human, sensual feel."

Vincent excuses himself briefly.

"I have to pay this gentleman," he says. A car door slams as he steps out of his cab. But he barely misses a beat in his dance monologue.

His "Palladio" premiered last season after he'd been in northern Italy, home to many of Palladio's Renaissance villas, he says. He created an interesting architectural space of his own by using a system of pulleys and ropes to pull up the "soft goods of the stage"--the wings and curtains and backdrop.

The work, of necessity, is adapted to each theater, and dancers get "pulled into the environment." Divided into three sections, the big work concentrates on "exterior studies" in the first and last movements, and on "interior studies" in the middle. The three parts correspond to the movements in the accompanying music, Karl Jenkins' Palladio for string orchestra.

Danced by all 20 Hubbard troupers, "Palladio" is the concert's grand finale, Vincent says. He finishes up his concert description just in time. A female voice can be heard over his cell.

"Your ticket, sir," it says.

"I have to board the plane," Vincent apologizes, and away he goes.

Local troupe Ballet Tucson demystifies choreography in its second annual Ballet Tucson ROCS! (Roots of Choreography Showcase) Monday night at Stevie Eller. Dancers become choreographers for the evening, trying their hand at composing new dances, and directing their fellow dancers. Billed as a low-tech affair, it's meant to offer an informal look at the high-flying world of ballet.

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