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Q&A: Hubbard Street Dance Chicago Artistic Director Glenn Edgerton

by Danielle Georgiou 18 Nov 2010 10:57 AM

Art&Seek guest blogger Danielle Georgiou speaks with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago Artistic Director Glenn Edgerton about all things dance ahead of his company’s performance at the Winspear Opera House Friday night.


Guest blogger Danielle Marie Georgiou is a dance lecturer at the University of Texas Arlington. She also serves as assistant director of UT Arlington’s Dance Ensemble.

Glenn Edgerton, the Artistic Director of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, has had quite the illustrious career. The Texas native beginning with the Joffrey Ballet, then moved on to the Netherlands Dans Theatre, only to find himself stateside again in sunny Los Angeles and the Colburn School of the Performing Arts. He has now settled in Chicago, directing Hubbard Street Dance Chicago (HSDC).

Glenn Edgerton

Edgerton and HSDC will come to the AT&T Performing Arts Center on Friday, thanks to TITAS, to present three unique pieces by three inventive choreographers: Ohad Naharin of the Batsheva Dance Company (Tel Aviv), Victor Quijada of RubberBanDance (Montreal) and Aszure Barton (New York City).

Naharin’s work, Tabula Rasa (Clean Slate), radiates as sense of loss. The music of Arvo Part in the first half has an affecting melancholy, while the second half of the work is danced through a textured melodic haze, depicting imagery of being a clean slate. Quijada’s Physikal Linguistiks creates a new language that fuses L.A. style hip-hop with ballet. For Untouched, Barton created movement based on the personality of the individual dancers. She pulls out their uniqueness as people and attempts to incorporate that into the work.

Edgerton said during a recent telephone conversation that offering such a diverse program is stimulating. It challenges all parties involved and makes for a great platform for promoting dance and the collaborative environment inherent in the arts:

Art&Seek: Hubbard Street is know for its collaborative take on dance. How important is the collaborative process to you personally, and to Hubbard Street as a company?

Glenn Edgerton: It’s very important! It’s enriching everything we do. We have major collaborations with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Art Institute of Chicago, and both have very much enhanced everything we do. I find that in life, the more you’re informed in other areas of the performing arts, or the arts, that information helps in giving more substance to the work.

We are also embarking on a collaboration with the Lines Ballet. Alonzo King has, to me, been an important choreographer, and [a few weeks ago] we had both companies in the studio working together with [him]…with the intent for future collaborations together.

A&S: Will this turn into a traveling performance?

GE..: Well, we’re looking toward that, yes.

A&S: You mentioned an ongoing collaboration with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Do you travel with the orchestra, or is it a Chicago-bound partnership?

G.E.: Each year we have a program with the orchestra and we perform at their orchestra hall, on the same stage with them. We present the orchestra on the stage, rather than putting them in the pit, so that you have both (the dance and the music) happening together. We have also staged performances with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and the L.A. Philharmonic in the same way.

Tabula Rasa; Dancers: Kevin Shannong; Robyn Mineko Williams, Benjamin Wardell. Photo by Cheryl Mann. 

A&S: Do you prefer to use live music? There is a debate here in Dallas, and nationally, amongst musical companies and dance companies about whether or not to use live music. The big question here is whether it enhances a performance.

G.E.: Oh, if we had the ability to use live music, we would use it at every possibility! A lot of the pieces (that Hubbard Street Dance Chicago presents) are modern oriented, where you can’t really re-create the music by an orchestra. But when possible, when it is more classically minded … I would love to have live music. But financially, in this day and age, having live music is a problem. We cannot possibly travel with an orchestra, and then to pick up an orchestra in any given city, is also a huge cost. We’re a smaller company with much less means than what a large ballet company would have.

But we’re not having a huge turnover in the company, which is really nice for me as a director, because I have dancers who we’ve invested time in and projects we have invested time that are working and have developed.

A&S: With the current state of arts funding, how is your company managing?

G.E.: Uh … we’re managing (chuckles) … We’re managing. We do a lot, and we’re doing more and more and more. And we need the funding. I believe that we need to be recognized and funded. Imagining all the programs that we have going by the wayside would be a huge a loss … We’re managing though, but it’s an ongoing struggle.

Untouched; Ana Lopez and Benjamin Wardell. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

A&S: One of your main programs involves community outreach and art education. What do you all do in your community to promote the arts?

G.E.: We have an extensive education program where we’re teaching artists to go into the public schools to teach the concepts involved in our work. We’re not teaching ballet technique, but we’re presenting creative movement based on the curriculum of the schools.

Just as an example, in science, you’re learning how ice turns into water then turns into gas. Students are just sitting there reading about it, or looking at it on the blackboard. But we send teaching artists into the classroom, and they have the students interpret the science in the form of dance. You can imagine that creativity spawns their thought process to a level of understanding the science involved much more substantially than if they were just reading about it on a piece of paper. If they act it out, it becomes much more important to them.

A&S: Are the dancers involved in these educational programs?

G.E.: We have specific events where children are brought in to see rehearsals or performances. Every time we perform at the Harris Theater (Chicago), there will be an opportunity where hundreds and hundreds of children are being bussed in to see a performance from one of the companies, either the second company or the main company.

A&S: That’s wonderful that the dancers are also involved in the educational work. That truly brings together the collaborative process that seems to be so central to the company.

G.E.: It goes further even. We have the second company going out to the schools on a regular basis. They go out and give lectures and demonstrations about the work and integrate the students, and this allows them to ask the dancers about their work, or what it’s like to be a dancer, an artist. It gets very interactive in that way.

A&S: This interactivity is also seen outside of your community outreach programs.

G.E.: Yes, it is.

A&S: It shows up in how Hubbard Street is structured. It is probably one of the most eclectic companies in America and is known for presenting diverse choreographers and working with new and upcoming choreographers and dancers. As the artist director, what are you looking for when commissioning new choreographers?

G.E.: In a word, I’m looking for individuality. I want each choreographer to have an uniqueness in his or her own right and in his or her movement quality. And, ultimately, in how the movement that they create gets presented on stage. The feel of each work needs to be different than the next. I think choreographers should have their own statement or way of presenting the dance … that is going to feel diverse from the one before.

A&S: How do you go about choosing them? Is there an audition process, or do they send in videos of their work? Or are you going out and seeing their work live?

G.E.: I’ve been in this business for so long that you get to know the choreographers that are important, and I want our dancers to experience working with them. As for the emerging choreographers … I will get videos sent to me all the time, and I’ll study them. And at any given moment, I will go out and look for new choreographers. It’s constant research. You’re always looking at YouTube, videos, websites and going to live performances … It’s all part of the research process.

A&S: As a choreographer myself, I find it stimulating and exciting that there is an established dance company willing to take a risk with a new choreographer.

G.E.: It’s great to be taking those risks. But what happens in the dance world … people always like that you take those risks, but the moment you present the piece that is more experimental and probably needs a little time to become acquainted with, some viewers get antsy. In this day and age, everything needs to be so quick and people need, or want, information immediately … they want a finished, perfect product … but it’s often not enough time to cultivate a new choreographer.

A&S: It’s nice that there is still that opportunity.

G.E.: Well, I’m going for it. I’m not going to be swayed by that need. … I think it’s an important part of the evolution of the art form.

HSDC dancer Jessica Tong in Physikal Linguistiks.  Dancers Penny Saunders and Christian Broomhall in the background.

A&S: And where do you see dance going? With the barrier between classical and contemporary dance becoming more blurred, modern dance is ever-changing …

G.E.: It is becoming more blurred. Classical ballet is being presented more athletic than it would have been 50 years ago. The range of technique within a classical ballet company is much more extreme than it was. It does get fused much more than it used to be.

But I think that the way dance is being presented … is going to change. I think that’s what I can offer perhaps … a way to present dance differently. Maybe through more site-specific pieces, more interaction with the audience to where you don’t just go to the theater and sit and watch a two-dimensional view of the proscenium.

I think dance has evolved and is evolving into more of an event. With all the technical possibilities, it becomes quite fascinating what we can do on stage now.  There is something to be said about how all of that is getting fused together … ballet, modern dance, circus, just the theatergoing experience. It’s all just becoming more collaborative.

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago comes to the AT&T Performing Arts Center for one performance on Friday. Tickets range $19-$65. They can be purchased online.