Hubbard Street Dance Chicago is gracing the stage of Powell Hall largely because Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra Music Director David Robertson gets it. The contemporary dance company is performing there because Hubbard Street Artistic Director Jim Vincent gets it as well, to the degree that he has made "it" a regular operating procedure for his company.
Both artistic leaders grasp the special magic of concert dance performed to the live accompaniment of musical artists. It's what led to their first discussions about collaborating a few years ago when they first worked together with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. It's what led to this engagement being the largest collection of works Hubbard Street will have presented to date for a performance series with an orchestra.
"We are honored by Maestro Robertson's invitation to Powell Hall and delighted to see this partnership of the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra and Hubbard Street being realized," says Vincent. "It has taken careful planning and much discussion. Maestro Robertson's enthusiasm is contagious; we look forward to sharing this collaboration with St. Louisans."
Since Vincent took over as the artistic director of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in 2000, the company has thrived by forming unique partnerships with musical artists and organizations. Coming from a tradition of performing to live music with Nederlands Dans Theater (where he danced and performed for 12 years), Vincent set musical collaboration as a company goal from the moment he became artistic director. He debuted his first symphonic collaboration in January 2004. That pairing, with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for an engagement conducted by Pinchas Zukerman, has resulted in annual performances with the CSO. The success in Chicago has sparked far-flung opportunities and some closer to home, such as this SLSO engagement. Vincent has also begun working on projects involving live music spanning a broad spectrum of musical styles and genres, such as contemporary chamber music and jazz.
In demand domestically and abroad, Hubbard Street celebrated its 30-year anniversary in 2007 as one of our nation's most original forces in contemporary dance. It stands as one of the few dance companies here to maintain a year-round performance schedule. The company's appeal is two-fold. First, there's the repertoire. Key adjectives are "athletic," "exuberant," and "innovative." Then, there are the dancers. They are credited as being unparalleled in both versatility and virtuosity. What's most appealing is that the company consistently lives up to its accolades.
The current Hubbard Street choreographers: arguably a sampling of the most important people creating contemporary dance today: include Jir‹ Kylišn, Nacho Duato, Ohad Naharin, William Forsythe, Susan Marshall, Christopher Bruce, and Daniel Ezralow. Other acclaimed dancemakers: including Twyla Tharp, Jorma Elo, Lar Lubovitch, Toru Shimazaki, and Marguerite Donlon: have created works especially for the company. If the lauded choreographers' names sound like an international dancemakers' who's who, it's because that's exactly what it is. Hubbard Street has traditionally sought out the most compelling artists from around the globe, and Vincent holds tight to the practice. During Hubbard Street's 2008-09 Chicago performance season alone, the company will showcase works by some of the world's most esteemed choreographers hailing from Spain, Japan, Sweden, Finland, Israel, and Chicago.
Hubbard Street founder and Chicago dance hero Lou Conte and the other Hubbard Street decision-makers knew what they were doing when they selected Vincent to take over. Conte, who retired in 2000, was credited with raising Chicago's international cultural profile and creating a climate for dance to thrive in Chicago. During his 23 years of leadership, Conte constantly reached outward to bring in new choreographic talent. This created a climate where rigid audience expectations for content were virtually a non-issue. By helping select Vincent: a man who had historically worked closely with many of the choreographers Conte had commissioned through the years: Conte ensured that the new leader's creative choices would resonate with company devotees.
Vincent has kept busy making his own choreographic contributions to the Hubbard Street repertoire, five to date. In the March programs, St. Louisans will have a chance to see a Vincent concert premiere (untitled and still being shaped as of this publication) to music by Benjamin Britten. Another one of Vincent's well-received pieces, counter/part, will be performed during this spring engagement.
During the Friday night performance, 10 dancers will perform Vincent's counter/part, a visual representation of Bach's Brandenburg Concertos. The common thread for each performance is a closing orchestral performance of the sensual sounds of Ravel's Bolero.
"Music is, more often than not, the key inspiration to create movement and therefore the foundation of many works of choreography," says Vincent. "Hubbard Street began its experience with live music by sharing the stage with orchestras. I believe this equal visual representation for the audience: and physical interdependence for the artists: creates an environment for true collaboration. It enriches the experience for everyone involved." Find out more about Hubbard Street Dance Chicago online at hubbardstreetdance.com.
Hubbard Street Dance Chicago performs with the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra in Powell Hall at 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday, March 6 and 7, and for a Family Concert at 3 p.m., Sunday, March 8.
For tickets and information, visit Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra.
Deborah Cottin is a freelance writer living in St. Louis.