Hubbard Street Dance Chicago announced new leadership Thursday, hiring Linda-Denise Fisher-Harrell as artistic director, effective March 1.
Fisher-Harrell is only the fourth person to lead Hubbard Street. Lou Conte founded the contemporary company in 1977, serving as artistic director for 23 years. Jim Vincent preceded Glenn Edgerton, who resigned last season after 11 years in the role.
Fisher-Harrell is no stranger to Hubbard Street. She saw them perform as a teenager and auditioned on a whim, leaving Juilliard to join the company at age 19. She left after three seasons for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, where she spent 13 years.
Following her career on stage, Fisher-Harrell returned to her native Baltimore in 2005, where she taught at Towson University and Baltimore School for the Arts, in addition to directing Ailey Camp Baltimore. Her husband, three children and dog will join her in Chicago next month.
This shift in leadership comes at a time of much change for Hubbard Street. Like most dance companies, 2020 put strain on the organization, which necessarily pivoted to an entirely free digital season. The pandemic halved the company's annual budget, forced staff layoffs and catalyzed the Lou Conte Dance Studio's closure. Prior to the pandemic, Hubbard Street disbanded its second company and launched HS Pro, a trainee program that has since been placed on hold. It recently sold its longtime West Loop home and relocated to C5, an out-of-the-way, temporary, shared studio space, while the staff works from home.
Not only will Fisher-Harrell triage the damage, she is tasked with culling an artistic identity that gradually moved Hubbard Street away from its audience base as the company increasingly delved into experimental works.
With an eye toward accessibility, audiences are at the heart of Fisher-Harrell's artistic vision. "When I danced with this company, we felt like we had an intimate connection with the audience," she says. "I'm glad the company has evolved through a spectrum of contemporary dance, but what I want to do is connect us back with the audience."
How that will pan out in terms of programming is yet to be determined. Upon her arrival, Fisher-Harrell will be working with a blank slate for the upcoming 44th season. She plans to lean on works the company already owns, complemented by new acquisitions and commissions aimed at broadening representation in the types of stories told. It is part of an ongoing effort to increase diversity and work toward equity, not just in the works performed but at every level of the organization.
"This is an incredibly exciting moment for dance in Chicago," says executive director David McDermott. "Yes, it is scary. We've all had lots of trauma over the past year. Linda-Denise has talked about bringing joy back to the stage. She's the right person at the right time for this job."