Dave Mekelburg
Three nights of this? Fabulous. (COURTESY OF UMS)

Ben Johnson, the University Musical Society’s director of education and audience development, said the society rarely offers a performance by the same dance company three nights in a row.

But the arts presenter pushed hard for an entire weekend of performances by the Chicago-based contemporary dance company Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, starting tonight at the Power Center with an 8 p.m. performance of pieces choreographed by creative star Twyla Tharp, current company dancers and the company’s director.

Johnson said Hubbard Street is one of UMS’s favorite guests, and a fairly frequent one. The company last appeared at the Power Center in February for a single night of dance.

The repertoire company’s modus operandi, an amalgam of dance styles and choreography whose origins and goals vary by piece, seems a natural fit for Ann Arbor’s arts presenter. The company’s visit has a sense of regional loyalty as well as international variety, since its works pointedly incorporate diverse influences – much along the lines of UMS’s philosophy in bringing eclectic performers to Ann Arbor.

Also like UMS, Hubbard Street aims to impress. Press and reviews of the company, whose 30th anniversary is this year, describe the group as athletic, exuberant and virtuosic.

Johnson, himself a fan of the company, said this weekend in particular will be an exciting one to attend. The company comes to Ann Arbor recently having finished its season in Chicago.

“At the end of (its) Chicago season, it’s usually the best of those pieces that come to the Michigan tour,” he said.

It’s not only audience members who can look forward to the six works presented this weekend. Hubbard Street dancer Shannon Alvis, an Indianapolis native in her seventh year with the company, said in a telephone interview that she has her own reasons for enjoying this run in particular.

“They brought back a personal favorite of mine, Twyla Tharp’s ‘Baker’s Dozen,’ which I’d seen before I was in the company,” she said. “It’s a visit back to old-school Hubbard Street.”

One constant in a company that switches up styles and creative direction – not only season-to-season but within performances – is the training of its dancers. All the dancers are classically trained in ballet, which lends any dance form a foundation of precise technical skill. Viewers familiar with dance performances should sense how this allows a company to stand out from other modern and contemporary dance groups. The shared training is likely what enables the company to vary its material so consistently without losing its professionalism.

Companies like Hubbard Street break with traditional ballet in many ways, some of them less obvious than the different steps used.

“One thing that I like about Hubbard Street is that there are maybe 20 dancers onstage, but we each have our role,” Alvis said. “Rather than it being a corps and one soloist, you see a strong group of individuals.”

Jim Vincent, Hubbard Street’s artistic director since 2000, worked in the Netherlands, Spain and France before joining the Chicago company. Johnson said these European, rather than American, roots stand out in Hubbard Street’s general treatment of its dances and of the dancers’ bodies.

“In America, we take dance and separate it from everything. In Europe, it’s thought of more as choreography – they look at theater and dance and movement and how they relate to each other,” he said.

Alvis explained her sense of what drives Hubbard Street, which initially sounds like a complex beast given the number of creative sources it uses each performance: “Basically anything can happen. We’re not stuck to one idea – we want to bring new and exciting things to the stage, whatever those may be.”

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago

Today, tomorrow and Saturday at 8 p.m.


At the Power Center

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