Hubbard Street Dance Review - A look back at the Winter Series and a look forward to Spring

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago grew out of the Lou Conte Dance Studio, when in 1977 several young dancers approached Conte to teach tap in the studio, then located at LaSalle and Hubbard. Conte served as director for 23 years, during which he developed relationships with a number of choreographers, such as Twyla Tharp, who helped shape Hubbard Street’s repertoire. Since 2000, when Jim Vincent became artistic director, followed by Glenn Edgerton in 2009, various initiatives were introduced which have become staples of programming, such as the Choreographic Fellowship, the “inside-Out” Choreography Workshop, and the annual National Choreographic Competition, now known as the International Commissioning Project, hosted by Hubbard Street 2, created in 1997.  Today, the main company consists of 18 dancers and operates year-round,  and Hubbard Street 2 ‘s 6 members do the same. The company has formed numerous Education and Community programs and partnerships, and it’s Lou Conte Dance Studio offers a multitude of weekly classes at all levels, maintaining a scholarship program for advanced dancers. This renowned and very unique group has always been a repertory company, representing numerous choreographers and styles, commissioning and presenting almost 200 new and acquired dance works. The Company now also offers a Summer Intensive, with concentrated training, lectures and varied educational presentations.

Hubbard Street Dancer Andrew Murdock in Waxing Moon by Robyn Mineko Williams

This year, Hubbard Street’s Winter Series, presented from December 10th through December 13th at The Harris Theatre for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph, was a triumph of unified parts and spellbinding physicality.  The program consisted of four pieces that flowed seamlessly one into the next. At times, the dancers possessed an almost otherworldly fluidity.


“A Glimpse Inside a Shared Story” was created  by  choreographer Yin Yue, one of two artists selected through  Hubbard Street’s 16th annual International Commissioning Project. This world premiere was danced by a quintet of almost extravagantly graceful performers from Hubbard Street 2.Yue, winner of many coveted awards and known as a versatile performer and choreographer was born and raised in Shanghai, China where she studied classical ballet technique as well as the highly technically demanding Chinese classical and folk dance before receiving an M.F.A. in contemporary dance from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. She went on to found the Yin Yue Dance Company and create the technique known as FoCo (Folk Contemporary), which we can see reflected in “A Glimpse”: “a grounded, circular fluid and dynamic performance that is rhythmic and powerful, yet fluid and graceful”. The dancers seemed to emerge from the misty light and to comprise interlocking pieces of boneless energy, urged on by the bold techno music.

Hubbard Street Dancers Jaqueline Burnett, foreground, and Andrew Murdoch in Waxing Moon by Robyn Mineko Williams

Second on the program was “Waxing Moon”, choreographed by  award winning Robyn Mineko Williams and danced by three principal performers from Hubbard Street Dance main company.  Williams began to create her own work in 2001 and has crafted numerous premieres for Hubbard Street and other companies.  This piece premiered last year and was brought back and performed with staggeringly intense concentration. Williams, herself a Hubbard Street dancer for twelve years, has been described as “a choreographer of great sophistication and power, (with a) gift for suggesting relationships and giving the dancers something more substantial to work with than abstract movement.” Here she crafted an almost frightening beginning to the piece. One man appears onstage alone and in obvious anguish upon a chair: his existential angst is keenly expressed and ultimately emerges from light that appears as lozenges from the dawn of time. The eerie music becomes lyrical and then percussive as a man and woman join him on stage and seem to weld themselves together to confront and save him.

Hubbard Street Dancers in Solo Echo by Crystal Pite: Florian Lochner, center, with , clockwise from below left:Emilie Leriche, Kellie Epperheimer, Michael Gross, Jaqueline Burnett, Andrew Murdock, far right, and Jesse Bechard

“Out of Keeping”, also a world premiere, was choreographed by Hubbard Street Company member Penny Saunders for four couples.  Sauders, a 1995 graduate of the Harid Conservatory, danced with several companies before joining Hubbard Street in 2004 and pursuing both performance and choreographic interests. In this new work, the eight figures  dressed in coordinating single-hued costumes execute their complex and precise moves on an all-white set. The dancers gleam like jewels, performing as solo artists and in duets between two screens, accompanied by a wide range of diverse music. As they stretch their talents to the limit, their shadows writ large upon the backdrop, they exude energy and balance and the whole piece proceeds quickly to a breathless climax.

Hubbard Street dancer Jessica Tong in Out of Keeping by Penny Saunders

Finally, the much-decorated Canadian choreographer Crystal Pite’s piece, “Solo Echo”, rounds out the set. Pite, called “one of the most sought-after artists working today”, began her career at Ballet British Columbia, and in 1996 joined Ballet Frankfurt under the tutelage of William Forsyte. In 2002 she created "Kidd Pivot",  taking it to Frankfort in 2010. Pite is now associate choreographer at Sadler Wells and received the 2015 Olivier Award for Outstanding Achievement in Dance. “Solo Echo”, created for Nederlands Dans Theatre in 2012, also begins with a man on stage alone, in this case against a surreal background of falling snow.  Seven more dancers soon appear, powerfully representing a melancholic mood. All garbed in dark green, they combine in myriad forms, their torsos, arms and legs appearing to be an interconnected mass of humanity alternatively writhing and then freezing/posing to the music of Johannes Brahms. The entire performance seemed a tone poem, an ode to the season.

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in Solo Echo by Crystal Pite

The development of new work is key to the mission of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, which is pleased to announce its calls for proposals for it’s 2016 International Commissioning Project residency. Applications will be accepted through January 9, 2016.

Season 38 Spring series will bring Hubbard Street back to the Harris Theatre March 17-20.  The program, as always, will comprise innovative choreography and repertory favorites, including “The Impossible”, by resident cjhoreographer Alejandro Cerrudo, “I am Mister B”, a work in homage to George Balanchine, by Gustavo Ramirez Samsano, and a world premiere by Lucas Crandall.

To help kick off the spring series opening will be the 13th annual “Bold Moves for Bold Women” event, celebrating female leadership in business and the arts. The party will be held at 5:30 PM on March 17th at the Baker and McKenzie Law Firm, 300 East Randolph Street, and will include cocktails, hors d’oerves and the chance to network before the performance at 7:30 that evening. For more information, or to purchase tickets for the above, go to The Hubbard Street website or the Bold Women's Website

All images courtesy of Todd Rosenberg


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