Corrections or additions?
This article by Nicole Plett was prepared for the November 8, 2000
edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Hubbard Street Homecoming
Throughout its ample and dynamic 22-year lifetime,
Hubbard Street Dance has taken on the special energy of its Chicago
home. Founded in 1977 by Lou Conte, it started life as a group of
four dancers performing at a senior citizen’s home. Over the years,
the tireless and resourceful Conte built it into a 20-member, $4.2
million company. Today Hubbard Street performs worldwide, attracting
audiences of more than 130,000 each year, with the promise of modern
dance charged with explosive energy, innovative repertory, and jazzy,
Now Conte, a veteran dancer and choreographer and ever the role model
of leadership, has hit his retirement years and stepped down as head
of a thriving company. Taking the reins since August 1 is artistic
director Jim Vincent, a native of Lawrenceville who has lived and
worked in Europe for more than 20 years. Vincent marks a happy
when Hubbard Street Dance Chicago comes to McCarter Theater for two
performances, Wednesday and Thursday, November 8 and 9.
The program features "Petite Mort" by Jiri Kylian, set to
Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 21, and "Group Therapy" by
Chicago choreographer Harrison McEldowney. Also featured are
by Trey McIntyre, described as an exuberant, "nine-minute,
marathon of intricately structured jazz that blends sock-hop spunk
with acrobatic athleticism," set to music by jazz drummer Art
Blakey, and "Minus 16," a work for 17 dancers by Israeli
In a telephone interview from his new home in Chicago, Vincent’s
years in Europe are very much in evidence. "Yes, there’s some
culture shock," he concedes, speaking English with a distinct
French inflection. "I’ve been away for 22 years. I arrived in
Europe two months after I turned 20."
Vincent holds both U.S. and French citizenship. He speaks four
— English, French, Dutch, and Spanish. His wife, France Nguyen,
is also a former dancer with Netherlands Dance Theater and the Lyon
Opera Ballet. They are the parents of three daughters, Lena, 10,
7, and June, age 20 months. While she was still dancing
Nguyen earned her degree as a literary translator through a University
of London program in Paris.
Although he’s used to spending one month each summer with his family
in Lawrenceville, Vincent says he hasn’t seen McCarter Theater since
the late 1960s when he performed in Princeton Ballet’s annual
"We’re busy and we’re adjusting," says Vincent. "But I
didn’t plunge the family into a 26-floor apartment building in
Chicago. Instead we live in Oak Park, a historic suburb, and we have
a garden." His two older daughters attend the French School.
they speak both French and English, the girls have not yet learned
to read and write English.
Born in New Jersey, Vincent began his dance career at
age five, training with Mary and Phyllis Papa in the Mercer and
Ballet companies and making guest appearances in the Princeton
Vincent graduated from Lawrence High in 1976 and studied on
with Washington School of Ballet, Harkness House, and at the North
Carolina School of the Arts. He was recruited from NCSA by Jiri Kylian
of the Netherlands Dance Theater where he began his dance career in
1978. This was an ascendant moment for Kylian, known for his abstract
and often surrealistic ballets. NDT grew and prospered, and Vincent
stayed with the company for 12 years.
Vincent’s parents still live in Lawrenceville in the house where he
grew up. Both recently retired, his mother provided home day care
for children, and his father worked as a mechanical engineer for
Today his brother lives in Ewing and operates his own restaurant,
Kriste’s Cafe there, near the Mercer Airport.
In addition to his years with NDT, Vincent’s work as a professional
dancer includes guest appearances with Lar Lubovitch, and two years
with Nacho Duato’s Compania Nacional de Danza in Spain. He has also
worked with choreographers William Forsythe (the innovative,
American director of the Frankfurt Ballet), Mats Ek, Hans van Manen,
Christopher Bruce, and Ohad Naharin.
The invitation to apply for the Hubbard Street job came out of the
blue last year, and Vincent turned it down. With Vincent working hard
for Disneyland Paris, the couple had just had their third child and
settled into a beautiful old house in the country.
"The first time I was approached for the job, I said no,"
says Vincent. "But the people on the search committee and with
the search agency who knew both the company and knew me thought the
chemistry was right. They wouldn’t accept my answer."
"I was with Disney for 2-1/2 years, producing about 200 special
events a year," he continues. "It was interesting work and
it opened up the world of performing arts for me, but it was very
stressful." The stress aspect prompted him to send his CV back
His own January interview with company and board, followed by a 10-day
Chicago stay with his wife, sealed the appointment. "They were
encouraged by my objectivity, not just artistic decisions, but the
overall picture of my marketing and technical experience. At Disney,
I had learned so much about marketing, contracts, spontaneity, and
fundraising for individual events, I think it made me attractive to
Asked about the combination of a busy family life and a career in
dance, Vincent shows his mettle as someone who is not willing to
the status quo in life or in art.
"We’ve been very lucky, but we were also insistent," he says.
"So many times it has been proposed to us that a dancer or a
artist could not have a family. Since when are dancers so different
or unique? Actors, classical musicians, opera artists — they’re
all capable of doing both. But choreographers and artistic directors
have said to us point blank that it is unnerving or disturbing for
them to think there is something that could be more important in our
lives than the company."
Vincent firmly believes that a full life makes a better artist.
and I had done so much touring, we had stayed in so many cities and
visited so many museums. But there comes a point where it’s not
The experience of raising children definitely helps the performing
Vincent saw Hubbard Street Dance for the first time 1989 when the
company came to perform at Netherlands Dance Theater where he was
working. "No one from our company had heard of them
says Vincent, referring to the 1989 tour. "That’s when I first
met Lou Conte. I was impressed by the individual artists and the
and also by the collective effort, the sense of unity the company
shared backstage and in the Green Room."
Such progressive and entertaining choreographers as Daniel Ezralow,
John McFall, Margo Sappington, and Lynne Taylor-Corbett were all
at Hubbard Street by the early ’90s. Then, in what some considered
a marketing coup, the company was selected as a repository for a group
of works by Twyla Tharp. The innovative American choreographer had
folded her modern dance company into American Ballet Theater during
ABT’s Baryshnikov years and Hubbard became a temporary home for
such homeless masterworks as Tharp’s early and austere
as well as the masterful 1979 "Baker’s Dozen," "Sue’s
Leg," and "Sinatra Dances."
Today, rather than look back and rest on Hubbard Street’s existing
repertory, Vincent says he wants to look forward. Tharp’s work is
not currently in the repertory. She spent a day in Chicago with
in September, meeting half the company members for the first time.
"Right now we’re focusing on something else," says Vincent.
"This is a transitional period for Hubbard Street," he says.
One critic’s commentary on the fall season indicated to Vincent that
he is on his mark. "This critic wrote that watching the program
was like watching four different companies," Vincent says. "I
loved that — four excellent and different companies. And the
of the company is the capacity of individuals to handle and execute
the different styles. It reminds me of Netherlands Dance Theater when
I joined in 1978."
Now he sees his company poised to take old ideas about modern dance
into the 21st century. "What people are looking for in the
arts is a little bit of the unexpected. We want to breathe new life
into the form. Many of us are trying to break barriers and rules."
Vincent cites Cirque de Soleil, the maverick Canadian single ring
circus, as a model. "Cirque de Soleil incorporates choreography,
commissioned music, and total design — right down to the buttons
on a costume," he says. "There is much dance still has to
learn about performing arts and entertainment."
Does he feel the shadow of his successful predecessor looming large?
"Lou Conte is very supportive, but he’s enjoying his time in his
country home," says Vincent, noting that Conte did not attend
this fall’s performances in Chicago. "It’s so courageous of him
to step aside at this time. Usually a company is falling apart when
they call you in. But I’m getting something that’s in great shape.
I can’t ask for any better."
— Nicole Plett
91 University Place, 609-258-2787. The program features works by Jiri
Kylian, Harrison McEldowney, Trey McIntyre, and Ohad Nahrin. $33 and
$36. Wednesday and Thursday, November 8 and 9, at 8 p.m.
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