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Hubbard Street Dance furthers its L.A. reach

The Chicago troupe performs next weekend at Ahmanson Theatre, and it also conducts an intensive, three-week summer dance workshop at the Colburn School.

April 04, 2010|By Debra Levine
  • "Walking Mad," choreographed by Johan Inger, is a prop-driven comic (though angst-tinged) piece set to Ravel's "Bolero."
"Walking Mad," choreographed by Johan Inger, is a prop-driven… (Todd Rosenberg Photography )

In Chicago they build things right -- and that goes for dance companies. In January, Joffrey Ballet of Chicago displayed its artistic vitality in Los Angeles with its splendid staging of Frederick Ashton's postwar masterpiece " Cinderella" at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion.

And now Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, the next offering of Glorya Kaufman Presents Dance at the Music Center, also augurs well. From humble beginnings in 1977 as a jazz-dance ensemble, the troupe of 17 virtuoso dancers has surged to international prominence on its high-quality delivery of eclectic, sophisticated European choreography.

A modern-dance empire -- comprising senior and junior companies (both of which tour), community outreach and education components -- now rules the shores of Lake Michigan.

And because empires must expand, Hubbard Street spills further into Los Angeles, where it annually conducts an intensive three-week summer dance workshop at the Colburn School. The troupe has launched key conversations to ramp up its L.A. presence, mirroring the Joffrey's bicoastal model when it was the Music Center's resident ballet company in the 1980s. All this on a modest annual budget of about $7 million comprising an impressive array of grants and corporate and individual patronage reflecting years of steady fundraising.

Is it something in the Great Lakes water, or just Midwestern know-how? Chatting over lunch at a Music Center brasserie while in Los Angeles in February to oversee a Pasadena performance by his junior troupe, Glenn Edgerton, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago's artistic director since 2008, takes careful aim at the question.

"What we've done right is to create a reputation that Hubbard Street is part of Chicago," he says evenly. "It comes out of Chicago, it speaks to the energy of Chicago, and it's tailored to what Chicago audiences want in innovation, entertainment and art. Lou Conte [the company's Broadway-dancer founder] was a master at implementing that reputation. He delivered an accessible art form to the public, so people would exit the theater whistling a tune or talking about what they saw."

Edgerton carries the torch now. Once a 14-year-old protégé whom Robert Joffrey discovered at a Houston ballet school, Edgerton at 50 brandishes an impeccable international dance pedigree.

His professional career kicked in unexpectedly when a New York summer workshop morphed into a contract with Joffrey II. After a decade dancing for Joffrey in New York and Los Angeles, Edgerton smartly hopped the pond in 1989, just as the American dance boom was beginning to wane. From the superlative vantage point of Nederlands Dans Theater in The Hague, he encountered the European scene in blast-off mode. Five years later, he was running the adventurous contemporary ballet troupe, which in the 1990s attracted the world's hottest choreographic talent -- most of it European and male.

"My time in Europe opened my eyes: [Jirí] Kylián, [Nacho] Duato, [ William] Forsythe, Mats Ek, [Hans] van Manen, [Ohad] Naharin. Dancing in that vicinity, I was very fortunate."

Edgerton culled the upcoming Ahmanson Theatre program from that A-list. This weekend's standout is the West Coast premiere of "27'52," " a work for three couples by the Czech master choreographer Kylián and clearly an Edgerton favorite. "Kylián's work operates on so many levels it's phenomenal," he says. "The imagery is so rich." A relatively controlled man, Edgerton exudes passion for Kylián's art: "He was my second mentor after Robert Joffrey. His work has arrived at a point of fine simplicity. There is nothing extraneous on the stage. No moment is inconsequential; it's all predestined or put there specially."

"When we stage Kylián's work, I don't want to just re-create. I want people to say that my company gets the essence of his work."

In "27'52" " (the title as well as the length of the piece -- 27 minutes, 52 seconds), the stage floor, an element of the dance, becomes destabilized and is pulled from under the dancers' feet. "It represents the instability and fragility of life," says Edgerton.

The score by Dirk Haubrich, a German composer who has collaborated on four prior Kylián pieces, contains French, German and English text, played at times in reverse with the movement retrograding as well. "We all get that feeling that maybe we could take back our words," he muses.

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