Isaac Spencer in Nacho Duato’s Gnawa
Photo by Todd Rosenberg, courtesy Hubbard Street Dance Chicago

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago
Joyce Theater, New York, NY
August 8–20, 2005
Reviewed By Karyn D. Collins

 

It’s not easy being a chameleon. For a top repertory company, three components are essential: a repertoire that fits the abilities and look of the company, careful attention to the integrity of each work, and dancers who are willing and able to adapt themselves to any style.

Hubbard Street Dance is that rarity, a company that does all three to the highest degree. Since its founding in 1977, it has consistently defied description. It’s a jazz company. No, it’s a modern company. No, it’s a contemporary company. But titles don’t matter. The fact is, Hubbard Street doesn’t fit into one category. It’s a little bit of this, a little bit of that. More important, the little bits of this and that are all done to perfection.

In two programs chock-a-block with premieres, the company brought several works made especially for it. And it was interesting to see what different choreographers brought out in these dancers.

The world premiere, artistic director Jim Vincent’s Uniformity, was as much a wry statement on interpersonal dynamics as it was about the versatility of the company. To some degree there was a story to the outfits: corporate suits in the first section, parochial school uniforms for the second, and retro ’70s casual for the third. But this was really about relationships—the briefcase boys fighting for a seat of power that ultimately belongs to a woman; the schoolyard skirmishes, from mind-games to kick-butt battles; and the party crowd, kissing and dissing, showing that it is indeed possible to be lonely even in a crowd.

Movement-wise, Vincent employs a propulsive fusion of moves—hip hop pops, jazz moves pushed backward and off the axis, and hardscrabble twists and turns in keeping with the urban battle-zone scenarios he creates.

A New York premiere, Gnawa, Nacho Duato’s first work for the company, explored a different side of Hubbard Street. Gnawa takes us into the midst of tribal rituals, centered around a couple who celebrate and revel in the elements of water, earth, and fire. The community around this couple moves through a series of formations, the repetitions building with an intensity to match the swirl of music around them. At times they seem propelled by the music; at others they are the music. It is a hypnotic whirl that draws us into his almost religious experience of movement and music. See www.hubbardstreetdance.com.

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Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.

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Dance Magazine Chairman's Award Honoree: Linda Shelton

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What brought you to The Joyce?

That was many years ago, but it's still the same today: It's a belief in and passion for the mission of the theater, which is to support dance in all of its forms and varieties—every kind of dance that you could imagine.

Diversity is so important in dance leadership today. How do you approach this at The Joyce?

Darren Walker said something interesting at a Dance/NYC Symposium, which was that The Joyce is a disruptor. It was nice to hear in that context, because we don't think of it as something new. We didn't have to change our mission statement to be more diverse. We've been doing this since day one.

Is drawing in new audiences and maintaining longtime supporters ever in conflict?

Of course. I call it the blessing and the curse of our mission. We do present more experimental companies that may attract a younger audience. But it's very tricky. You're not going to tell your long-term audience, "Don't come and see this because you're not going to like the music." We've had people walk out of the theater before, but it's a response. It's important to spark those conversations.

What experimenting have you done?

We've tried a "pay what you decide" ticket the past couple of seasons with some of our more adventurous programming. You would reserve your seat for a dollar and after seeing the show pay what you decide is right for you.

Do you have advice for other dance presenters?

Find opportunities to sit with colleagues from around the country. At Dance/USA there's a presenters' council where we come together and talk about what we're putting in our seasons and what we're passionate about. Maybe there are enough presenters to collaborate and make it possible to bring a company to New York or to do a tour around the country.

Also, remember what it's all about: making that connection between what's onstage and the audience. If we can do that, despite every visa issue and missed flight and injury and changed program and whatever else comes our way, then we should feel good about the job we're doing.

To purchase tickets to the Dance Magazine Awards or become a sponsor, visit dancemediafoundation.org.

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