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By Hedy Weiss
The Hubbard Street dancer has a sensual, dramatic movement style.
Photo by Todd Rosenberg, Courtesy Hubbard Street.
From the very start it was the intriguing blend of confidence, natural drama, and easy, unforced sensuality that made Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s Jacqueline Burnett a standout in a company full of standouts.
Dark-haired and dark-eyed, and just a little rounder than most of the leaner-than-lean members of the ensemble, Burnett possesses the sort of artistic maturity that often takes years to develop—an ability to bring full volume to every move she makes, to completely fill her space onstage, to dance with an inner authority. There is a ripeness and intelligence about her, and not surprisingly, in recent seasons she has attracted the eye of such choreographers as Twyla Tharp, Sharon Eyal, Aszure Barton, and Hubbard Street’s resident dancemaker, Alejandro Cerrudo, all of whom have featured her in original works for the company.
Burnett, 25, grew up in Pocatello, Idaho. She followed in the footsteps of two older sisters who studied dance. Then, early on, she studied with a Romanian ballet master by the name of Marius Zirra who came to town and started a school.
“He had trained in Vaganova technique at the Mariinsky, had a European career, and later worked with San Diego Ballet,” says Burnett. “He was older by the time he came to Pocatello, and became a little less strict as the years went by. He died when I was a senior in high school and it really threw me for a loop. But I was incredibly lucky to have had him as a teacher.”
When it was time to apply to colleges, Burnett, who began taking additional classes in modern and jazz in her mid-teens, opted for the dance program operated jointly by The Ailey School and Fordham University in New York. “I spent the next several years running back and forth between both places,” Burnett says. “I had a dual major in dance performance with wonderful modern dance training from Ailey’s Denise Jefferson, who had such a passion for the Graham technique, and also from Milton Myers, a master of the Horton technique. And at Fordham, I studied philosophy.”
By the end of her junior year Burnett had completed most of her academics, and in January 2008, at the age of 20, she moved to Chicago as a Hubbard Street apprentice, concurrently completing her BFA and graduating magna cum laude with departmental honors.
“I first became aware of Hubbard Street in high school when I saw a Dance Magazine photo of Cheryl Mann wearing Doc Martens boots and dancing Lucas Crandall’s piece Gimme,” says Burnett. “That stuck in the back of my mind. And when I attended the summer program in 2007 at the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance after my sophomore year, one of my teachers was Glenn Edgerton, who was about to begin working as Hubbard Street’s artistic associate director.” By the time Burnett returned to school, she knew she wanted to be dancing professionally. That October, she flew to Chicago and auditioned for Hubbard Street’s then-artistic director Jim Vincent. “I waited for the call,” she says. “It didn’t come until January.”
Though officially an apprentice, Burnett was used as needed by both the main company and Hubbard Street 2, whose director, Taryn Kaschock Russell, she credits as “a great coach.” So by the time she was invited into the main company in 2009, she was already familiar with much of the repertoire. “There is no pretension in the company, and from the beginning I was given space,” says Burnett, a 2011–12 Princess Grace Honorarium recipient.
“Jacqueline has such a commitment to the work, such an incessant will to get to its essence,” says Edgerton. “She has beautiful proportions and a natural sense of movement and physicality, and she brings a wonderful spirit into the studio. The dances in our rep have no named roles, like Juliet or Odette, but you always see her going deeper.”
Burnett feels Hubbard Street is a good fit because its rep has such variety. She has worked with Tharp (“very demanding and inspiring, even if I don’t function in her way”), and Batsheva’s Ohad Naharin (“whose work is so sensation-based and free, and also full of words and ideas”), as well as Cerrudo (“who has developed such an ease and speed and cinematic style”).
An enthusiastic cook, avid reader, and wide-ranging music fan (“bluegrass is my recent favorite”), Burnett shares an apartment in Chicago with her middle sister, a Montessori teacher, and enjoys playing around on drums with her fiancé, Hubbard Street dancer David Schultz.
“For now,” she says, “Hubbard Street is where I want to be.”
Hedy Weiss is the dance critic for The Chicago Sun-Times.