Most modern dance companies - Alvin Ailey, Martha Graham, Paul Taylor - are dedicated to the work of their founders. Hubbard Street Dance Chicago is not like them.
The company features the work of many choreographers, creating a repertoire that is as diverse in style as it is exceptional in contemporary dance technique.
Hubbard Street is celebrating its 36th anniversary season alongside Spoleto Festival USA, as both were born the same year. This dance company is returning to the festival for the first time in nearly a decade, after its premiere in 2005. It will perform four works by four choreographers, each pushing the limits of physicality and athleticism.
"I was in the Netherlands for 15 years in dance theatre and I've always had that interest in Hubbard Street because it is known to be a company of innovation that is trying new things and taking risks, and is not afraid to be a leader in that mission," said Glenn Edgerton, artistic director of Hubbard Street since 2009.
One aspect of Hubbard Street's inventive process is that the dancers rehearse and perform with the company year-round. This gives them the opportunity to work closely with choreographers for extended periods of time.
"We always have the choreographer work with the dancers as often as possible." said Edgerton. "Some companies have two weeks' process for a work; we'll have five to six weeks with a particular choreographer. They are not afraid of digging deep into a work. They thrive on it, they're hungry for it, they live for it."
Founded in Chicago in 1977, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago grew out of the Lou Conte Dance Studio. Conte was artistic director for the company for 23 years and developed relationships with many choreographers, including Nacho Duato and Jiri Kylian, whose works will be performed at Spoleto this year. Conte's successor, Jim Vincent, established a relationship between Hubbard Street and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
Hubbard Street is presenting four works in three shows at TD Arena - "Gnawa," "PACAPEPEPLUTO," "Falling Angels" and "Quintett."
Gnawa, choreographed specifically for Hubbard Street in 2005 by the 57 year-old Spanish choreographer Nacho Duato, channels the sounds of North Africa and Duato's native Spain. "Gnawa" refers to people from the ancient Ghanian Empire in North and West Africa. "There are these really beautiful shapes that happen in Gnawa," Hubbard Street dancer Jacqueline Burnett said. "You're like a bucket of water and someone is splashing the water in different directions."
The German-based American choreographer William Forsythe's "Quintett" is a tribute to his wife who died of cancer. This dance features five dancers and is set to music that repeats. "You need stamina for that piece," said Burnett. "It's very playful and you feel like you're playing games the whole time. There is a special process for it, because there is a focus on how this isn't just a dance, it's a way of life."
Edgerton considers "Quintett" especially important to Hubbard Street.
"I think it represents what the company is and what the company has been," he said. "It could be considered a signature work for the company."
"Falling Angels," choreographed by Czech artist Jiri Kylian, is a rugged, elegant and aerobic work for female dancers. They dance to percussion music that creates a frenzied atmosphere at times.
"It's very cool for us to be dancing with multiple women in this company," Burnett said. "We have quite strong women and we all have bodies that dance differently, but together it creates quite an ensemble."
Alejandro Cerrudo became Hubbard Street's first resident choreographer in 2009. His work, "PACOPEPEPLUTO," features three men in dance belts cavorting to songs from the 1950s and 60s sung by "the king of cool" Dean Martin. This piece showcases three solo characters - Paco, Pepe and Pluto - each one dancing to a different song.
"The movement is very lighthearted," dancer Jason Hortin said. "It's easygoing, old fashioned, and you can laugh."
Edgerton said he takes many things into account when selecting repertoire, including music, costumes, lighting and the overall feel of a piece.
"Variation in an evening is important so that everyone walks away with something they can relate to," he said. "You make sure one moment to the next, or one piece to the next, has a few surprises. That's my goal: that everyone in the audience will walk away with something that makes them remember Hubbard Street."
Melanie Lustig is a Goldring Arts Journalist.