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,

powerful technique.

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

homecoming

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

up-and-coming

Chicago choreographer Harrison McEldowney. Also featured are

"Split"

by Trey McIntyre, described as an exuberant, "nine-minute,

non-stop

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

choreographer

Ohad Nahrin.

In a telephone interview from his new home in Chicago, Vincent’s

professional

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

languages

— 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,

Claire,

7, and June, age 20 months. While she was still dancing

professionally,

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

"Nutcracker"

production.

"We’re busy and we’re adjusting," says Vincent. "But I

didn’t plunge the family into a 26-floor apartment building in

downtown

Chicago. Instead we live in Oak Park, a historic suburb, and we have

a garden." His two older daughters attend the French School.

Although

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

Burlington

Ballet companies and making guest appearances in the Princeton

Ballet’s

"The Nutcracker."

Vincent graduated from Lawrence High in 1976 and studied on

scholarship

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

PSE&G.

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,

expatriate

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

to Chicago.

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

the company."

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

accept

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

performing

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.

"France

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

enough.

The experience of raising children definitely helps the performing

artist."

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

previously."

says Vincent, referring to the 1989 tour. "That’s when I first

met Lou Conte. I was impressed by the individual artists and the

repertory,

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

represented

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

"Fugue,"

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

Vincent

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

strength

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

performing

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

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, McCarter Theater,

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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