It goes almost without saying that Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s 35th Anniversary Season Spotlight Ball was a glamorous affair, with some 700 of Chicago’s movers and shakers mingling with lithe dancers. Some attendees occupied both categories — i.e., Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who as a youth turned down a scholarship to the Joffrey Ballet to attend college. In remarks to those assembled, Emanuel noted that his early training in ballet provided him with the “fast footwork” needed in public life and politics.
The May 30 event began with a performance at the Harris Theater, featuring excerpts of choreography by Mats Ek, Alonzo King and Alejandro Cerruda and rocked on at the Fairmont Chicago Millennium Park, netting more that $1.1 million for the educational and community programs that extend HSDC’s artistic reach far beyond the stage. But the evening did more than raise money and the profile of Chicago’s premier contemporary dance company — it reunited dancers from throughout HSDC’s history.
Founded by Lou Conte in 1977, HSDC sprouted from modest beginnings, with Conte choreographing most of the early repertoire. “Hubbard Street’s first gigs brought in $105 each,” noted artistic director Glenn Edgerton. “Twenty dollars went to each of the four dancers, and 25 bought some basic costumes and gas for the car. Hubbard Street’s first annual budget was $7,000.”
Today Hubbard Street has grown to include Hubbard Street 2, a performance arm and incubator for dancers and choreographers early in their careers; comprehensive youth, education and community programming; and the Lou Conte Dance Studio, which offers classes and workshops at all levels in a variety of dance styles. Hubbard Street’s choreography has taken on a global slant, with signature works by Nacho Duato, Jiří Kylián and Twyla Tharp.
The Spotlight Ball brought together dancers from throughout HSDC’s 35-year history. “It was like a giant family reunion, with Lou as the proud papa,” said former HSCD dancer Julie Burman Kaplan, referring to founder Conte.
Kaplan joined the troupe a year after earning a degree in dance and arts administration from the University of Colorado in 1979. She was working at the Illinois Arts Council and taking classes with Conte, “when he asked me to quit my job and cut my hair [in the early days dancers weren’t allowed to tie back their tresses] to join the company.” It took Kaplan “one second” to accept Conte’s invitation.
After dancing with Hubbard Street for six years, Kaplan left to open River North Dance Studio, later becoming one of four founding directors of River North Dance Company. Today Kaplan teaches jazz dance at Ruth Page Center for the Arts and other venues. [Full disclosure: I study with Kaplan, and she is one of the most inspiring teachers I have ever known, infecting her students with the joy of dance.]
Kaplan noted how Hubbard Street’s choreography has evolved over the years. In the Conte days, “the company walked the line between dance and entertainment, an outgrowth of Lou’s background in musical theater. Lou stressed that as performers we could be individuals,” said Kaplan, noting that Conte’s approach made contemporary dance accessible to new audiences. “Today’s dancers exhibit more physicality and technical proficiency, performing the works of outside choreographers as an ensemble,” said Kaplan. HSDC’s audiences have grown with the company, becoming schooled in the world of contemporary dance.
At the Spotlight Ball the dancers and benefactors reveled in the company’s history, engaging in a Hubbard Street trivia contest. Said Kaplan, “Everyone’s cheeks hurt from smiling.”
Photos: Robert F. Carl