Artistic director Glenn Edgerton on Hubbard Street Dance Chicago
Art is a valuable source of individual expression, but it’s an equally important force for social change. Towering murals on the streets of Detroit, songs sung by political dissonants and defiant protest art painted onto cracked cardboard for the March for Our Lives are testaments to this. Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, in collaboration with the University Musical Society (UMS), returns to the Power Center this fall with “Two Different Programs,” to use contemporary dance as their personal appeal for action.
Hubbard Street Dance Chicago was founded in 1977 and is in its 9th season under the artistic direction of Glenn Edgerton. The modern dance company molds their dance around changing social issues and is known for providing collaborative opportunities with up-and-coming artists. “Two Different Programs” is no exception.
Oct. 19 presents “Decadance/Chicago,” a collaboration with iconic Israel-based choreographer Ohad Naharin, known for his distinct gaga style of dance and his famous piece “Minus 16.” Oct. 20 brings 23-year-old viral choreographer Emma Portner and Movement Art Is, an organization that aims to use movement as a form of social education. Live music from Grammy-winning group Third Coast Percussion and a composition by Devonté Hynes adds an innovative touch to Saturday’s performance.
In a phone interview with The Daily, Glenn Edgerton further illuminated on Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s fall program and his time as an artistic director.
The Michigan Daily: What makes Hubbard Street Dance Chicago unlike other dance companies?
GE: The dancers are incredible. They bring a beautiful sense of movement quality and technical ability, mixed with great imagination and thought-provoking intention. We also give opportunities to emerging choreographers, and this, mixed with our dancers, gives a great opportunity for choreographers to improve their imagination. But we’re not just a dance company: We have a huge education program. We also teach to autistic children and people with Parkinson’s. They’re dancers in their own right. These classes make our mission very satisfying; we feel like we’re making a difference in the dance world.
TMD: Given your prior background as a professional dancer with the Nederlands Dans Theater, what drew you to directing?
GE: As a dancer, I was always aware of my directors and curious of why choices were made. I specifically remember, as a dancer, you’re very consumed with your individual performance or role. I wanted to expand my mindset but stay in the same art form. Directing is something I’ve always wanted to do; as a child, I was putting on shows in my garage and selling tickets for a quarter. Putting on a performance is something I’ve always done.
TMD: One of the choreographers you highlight in this fall program is Ohad Naharin, an artist you’ve worked with frequently. What has it been like working with him all these years?
GE: I’ve known Ohad for 30 years and it gives me great satisfaction to have my dancers take part in such significant work. ‘Decadence Chicago,’ the piece choreographed especially for our company, is a wonderful journey from beginning to end.
TMD: Do you think it has become easier for your dancers to work with Naharin’s style over the years?
GE: Absolutely. We’ve performed so many of his works, between ‘Minus 16’ in 2000 and ‘Decadence Chicago’ in 2018. In those 18 years, we’ve had a new work from Ohad every two or three years. That development and investment is wonderful to see.
TMD: Your second performance includes Emma Portner; what has it been like working with such an emerging artist?
GE: She’s incredibly imaginative. She’s recently got into a whole concept of environmental issues, so her participation in this evening includes her feelings towards the Earth, how to make it sustainable and how we treat each other through our connection with the Earth. I love finding new choreographers that are just at the brink of starting their career. Emma is now booming and is being sought after all over; she (has) dabbled in so many different areas already at such a young age.
TMD: Movement Art Is is also focused on our relationship with the environment. Would you say the combination of Emma Portner and Movement Art Is has made Saturday’s performance take on an environmental theme?
GE: Yes, it has. Movement Art Is participated in the Standing Rock Pipeline Protest, and they’re depicting the narrative they learned from an Indian tribe in North Dakota through their dance. It’s unusual to see these hip-hop artists (Jon Boogz and Lil Buck), known for their style of juking and popping and locking, to go into a creative narrative piece.
TMD: Do you think Third Coast Percussion has fit well with your company’s style?
GE: I’ve wanted to work with them for many years. We’re of like mind: We’re both open-minded and collaborative. We’re flexible and can go with ideas that have been thrown out and enhance them instead.
TMD: As an artistic director, where does your inspiration come from?
GE: It comes from all over. It can be from a conversation, something I’ve read, a video, a movie. My intent artistically is to keep the company relevant. ‘What’s going on in the moment?’ is always something I ask myself. We’re forever evolving and changing — sometimes you hit the mark and sometimes you don’t. We’re an experimental company and we’re always going to be exploring what’s next.
TMD: What are you expecting from this Ann Arbor crowd?
GE: I’d like the public to walk away and still be thinking about the piece. I want them to feel something beyond just that moment. I don’t want them to leave and hear someone saying to their friend, ‘What do you want to eat for dinner?’ They should still resonate with the work days after the performance.
“Two Different Programs” will run at the Power Center this Friday and Saturday at 8:00 p.m. A free Q&A will follow both performances (you must have a ticket to the show to attend).