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THE DANCE ENTHUSIAST ASKS: Linda-Denise Fisher-Harrell On The Future of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago

THE DANCE ENTHUSIAST ASKS: Linda-Denise Fisher-Harrell On The Future of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago
Cecly Placenti

By Cecly Placenti
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Published on March 13, 2024
Linda-Denise Fisher-Harrell. Photo: Michelle Reid

Catch the Company at The Joyce Theater this March 12 - 24, 2024

Linda-Denise Fisher-Harrell is the artistic director of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. Fisher-Harrell ascended to this role in 2021, after an extraordinary career as a professional dance artist and educator. Born in Baltimore, Maryland, Linda was invited by Hubbard Street founder Lou Conte to join the main company at the age of 19. After three seasons with Hubbard Street, Linda-Denise became a principal dancer with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater under the direction of Judith Jamison and was with the company for 13 years. We spoke to her about the company's upcoming program in New York City.

WHO: Hubbard Street Dance Chicago

WHEN: March 12 - 24, 2024

WHERE: The Joyce Theater

TICKETS: Click here

Cecly Placenti for The Dance Enthusiast: Linda, what is your process when curating a tour like Hubbard Street’s upcoming visit to The Joyce Theater?

Linda-Denise Fisher-Harrell: I wish everything was formulaic! (Chuckling.) I do a couple of things. I know what works here in Chicago. There are certain pieces we premiere here, and there are certain pieces that presenters see that they like. I love to listen to presenters that say “I really loved xyz, my audiences would love that!” I am always listening for what a certain community wants to see and I lean into that.  Also, I consider how I want audiences to be introduced to the company and the note I want to leave them on.

For example, for the Joyce there is a program A and a program B. Program A is going to leave you in a whole different place than program B! You’re gonna end with a house party in one, and a certain bit of serenity on the next.

Linda-Denise Fischer-Harrell. Photo: Michelle Reid

In Program A audiences will see Dichotomy of a Journey by Darrell Grand Moultrie, Nevermore by Thang Dao and Dear Frankie by Rennie Harris. Program B consists of Coltrane's Favorite Things by Lar Lubovitch, Aguas Que Van, Quieren Volver by Rena Butler (a former Hubbard Street dancer) and return to patience by Aszure Barton. What is special to you personally about these particular selections?

What is really special about all of them is that after each one of these works you’re gonna say, “Is this Hubbard Street?” All of the works being presented are so vastly different in their structure and movement qualities that the audience can’t help but go “Wow! This company can literally do anything.”

In 2021 you became artistic director of the company after being away from it for several years. What do you think has changed?

One thing that is still true is that the dancers have always been incredible and versatile and masters of whatever you throw at them. They really dive into what each of the pieces are about. I don’t think that has changed. I think that has been the crux of Hubbard Street since its inception 46 years ago. Something that is different is the company has never done a hip-hop piece before, and the way Hubbard Street goes into a form really magnifies it in a different way. The dancers’ voices are even more amplified now. There are many different dancers of color in the company. Not that that hasn’t existed before; I am a dancer of color who was in the company 32 years ago — I just think it is more evident now.

Hubbard Street Dancers Simone Stevens and Jack Henderson in "Coltrane's Favorite Things." Photo: Michelle Reid

In your transition from dancer to artistic director, what has been your top priority in leading the company forward?

My vision is to bring our audiences back. For a period of time there had been a shifting in identity and in what audiences could relate to. I appreciate all the audiences we have had over the years and I think there is room to keep that audience member that we gained back in the late 70’s while attracting new audiences today. We can do that through a continuum of excellence and excitement. Hopefully with that trajectory it just blows up. I really want people to appreciate the beauty of the company. Some people really know who Hubbard Street is and some people don’t. And that is frustrating. My vision is to let everyone know what is happening on our stages.

What do you think New York audiences are going love about this show?

I think there is going to be something for everyone. We are doing Thang Dao’s Nevermore, which is a little more on the dramatic side. If you have been a Hubbard Street fan, this might be a departure for you. The dancers represent 2 different birds. The first part is based on Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven and Thang also blends in the Asian folkloric tale the Bridge of Magpie. Then there is street dance and a homage to Chicago house music in legendary DJ Frankie Knuckles alongside Lar Lubovich. Just to see the dancers go through all of these different styles, and do them really well, is going to be so satisfying for dance enthusiasts.

Where do you see the company in the next 5 years?

I would hope that everybody knows who Hubbard Street is! That the mention of it brings delight and joy to people and that our audiences increase tenfold. I would love to see a bigger company. Right now, we have 14 dancers and there is a lot of work that we do. And, you know, dancers aren’t AI!  It takes a toll on their bodies and I would love to see a bigger company  share that work. We closed our school before the pandemic and it would be nice to bring that element back as well. It would be great to have a building of our own, a real home so people from every background can be a part of what we have to offer.

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in "Dichotomy of a Journey" by Darrell Grand Moultrie. Photo: Michelle Reid

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