“I wanted to celebrate Chicago and to stretch the dancers’ vocabulary, and I wanted to treat hip-hop and street dance as contemporary dance. If ever there were a dance that’s contemporary, it’s hip-hop,” says Linda-Denise Fisher-Harrell, artistic director of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, of the decision to commission a piece by Rennie Harris, whose Philadelphia-based company Puremovement specializes in ushering dances forged on pavement to the concert stage. Harris’ new work will premiere in two separate programs, part of Hubbard Street’s “Facets” series, May 18–21 at the Harris Theater.
Fisher-Harrell’s desire to broaden the technical range of the company—already widely considered The Dancers Who Can Do Anything—tracks with changes she has introduced since taking the helm of Hubbard Street in 2021. Nine of the fourteen dancers were hired in the last two years and are a vastly more diverse group than historically has been the case for the company. Fisher-Harrell has also courted choreographic talent on this continent, a deliberate shift from the heavily European slant of Hubbard Street’s repertoire for the last decade. Harris’ new piece, a tribute to Chicago House music and legendary DJ Frankie Knuckles, will appear alongside recent commissions from Bessie-winning Alvin Ailey alum Hope Boykin, beloved Chicago choreographer and educator Randy Duncan, and a world premiere from former Hubbard Street company member and Chicago native Rena Butler.
Butler’s work, which appears on the Saturday-Sunday program B, evolved from a trio she was working on via Zoom with a few Hubbard Street dancers at the height of the pandemic. Fisher-Harrell saw promise in the sketch and invited Butler to develop it. The result is “Aguas Que Van, Quieren Volver,” a trio inspired by “The Book of Laughter and Forgetting” by Milan Kundera. “It’s inspired by some of the characters in that book and some of [Butler’s] life experiences,” says Fisher-Harrell. “It’s intense and beautiful and seductive in a way. It’s not trying to be seductive, but that’s where it resides.
“Rena is an alum and we’re so proud of her,” she says. “There’s no better place for her than to come home to the dancers she knows. She knew what they were capable of and she could dive in the second she got here.”
The programs collectively include remounts of “Georgia” by Hubbard Street founder Lou Conte; “Coltrane’s Favorite Things” by Lar Lubovitch; and “Nevermore” by Thang Dao—a moody and sweeping ensemble piece inspired by both Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” and the Chinese legend of the magpie bridge, which premiered in March of this year. Several of the pieces across the two programs appeared in Hubbard Street’s spring series at the MCA; the “Facets” series offers an all-too-rare opportunity for audiences to see these dances for a second time (or the first, and on a bigger stage) as well as for the dancers to revisit them without years passing between. As Fisher-Harrell says, “These dances are favorites. But they don’t become a favorite until you see them again.”
Hubbard Street Dance Chicago “Facets” at Harris Theater, 205 East Randolph. May 18-21, Thursday at 7:30pm, Friday and Saturday at 8pm, Sunday at 3pm. $15-$110.