Quest for Fire

Jim Vincent, the new artistic director of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, is a compact man–pensive, soft-spoken, almost introverted. He replaces the venerable Lou Conte, who founded the company 23 years ago and turned it into a local institution. But Vincent, whose career as a dancer and director eventually led him to Disneyland Paris, seems eager to put his own stamp on Hubbard Street. Barely a week into his new job, he’s taking a proprietary interest in the company’s image; as a candidate he was critical of the company’s posters and advertising, and now he says he wants to get involved in its marketing and fund-raising. He’s assembling a project, ten-tatively called “An Evening of Perspectives,” that will bring together four choreographers from around the world to create a quartet of dances on a common theme, which he hints might be presented in a large, unconventional space. To attract new and younger audiences, he’d like to expand the company’s range of venues beyond Ravinia, the Shubert, and the Palace. “Hubbard Street will evolve,” he promises.

The New Jersey native has been dancing since age five, when his mother enrolled him in jazz and tap classes. As a child growing up in the 60s, he paid dearly for his love of dance: “Peer pressure nearly forced me to stop doing what I like to do.” But he persevered, learned ballet, and in 1976 enrolled in the arts school at the University of North Carolina. During his sophomore year, he was invited by choreographer Jiri Kylian to audition for the Nederlands Dans Theater and quit school to move to the Hague, where he eventually became a principal dancer in the prestigious company.

After 12 years there, Vincent retired from performing to work for Nacho Duato, artistic director of the Compaña Nacional de Danza in Madrid. As assistant artistic director, Vincent assisted Duato in a range of activities, from rehearsing the company to hiring lighting and costume designers. Duato was changing the company’s focus from classical ballet to contemporary dance, a stunning shift that began to draw younger audiences. “It gave me a taste for the administrative side of working with a dance company,” Vincent recalls. Duato was a formidable talent, and Vincent wanted his own company, so he left Madrid to become ballet master of the Opera National de Lyon in France.

Two years later, a friend at the Walt Disney Company asked him to help stage the grand opening of a convention center the corporation had built next to Disneyland Paris. Vincent was intrigued, and the performance was very “Fred and Ginger,” as he puts it, vastly different from the sophisticated dance he’d been immersed in. Disney offered him a job as a concept designer and show director for the convention center, and before he knew it he was choreographing fashion shows, organizing fireworks displays, and catering lavish corporate parties. The stress was awful, but he learned a great deal about budgeting and marketing, which made him an especially appealing candidate to the board of Hubbard Street.

“He has the leadership skills and the business sensibility that we were looking for,” says board chair John Ballantine, “and he already knows a lot of the choreographers that have worked with Hubbard Street.” (Vincent’s two mentors, Kylian and Duato, have both presented dances with the company.) The company seems to be approaching a new chapter in its history: in the last three years it’s moved into a new facility at 1147 W. Jackson, signed on with the powerful Nederlander Organization, and added a fall season at the Palace. According to Ballantine, last year’s operating budget of $4.2 million is expected to grow at least 10 percent in fiscal 2001. And Vincent seems eager to hit the ground running. “I get tired of institutions always doing things the same way, which is why I wound up taking the job at Disney,” he explains. “I am looking for ways to evolve, and when there is no more growth, I move on.”

Coming Into the Black

This weekend the League of Chicago Theatres membership will gather for its annual retreat, six months after the trade association was rocked by an embezzle-ment of more than $200,000. The exact amount of the loss can’t be determined until the annual audit is completed later this year, but according to executive director Marj Halperin, the league has come up with about $200,000 in replacement funds. An insurance policy paid out $25,000, a spring benefit honoring arts patron Lewis Manilow raised $115,000, and the balance came from grants that were redirected into the general operating budget. Halperin predicts that the league’s deficit for the fiscal year that ended June 30 will be under $25,000.

In related developments:

This could be the last league audit conducted by Pandolfi, Topolski, Weiss & Company. “We are revisiting the matter of who will be our auditor,” says Halperin, who retained the firm after becoming executive director in January 1997. Pandolfi is currently defending itself against an accounting malpractice suit filed last year by the town of Cicero; Daniel J. Kubasiak, the town’s attorney, says the discovery phase of that case should begin soon.

Defiant Theatre, one of several off-Loop companies that got the runaround last year while trying to collect their ticket revenues from the league’s Hot Tix program, allowed its membership to lapse on July 31.

The league’s board of directors has appointed a task force to explore the idea of recruiting board members from outside the theater community. “These people may have strengths that would be helpful to the league,” explains Halperin, who thinks the move would be a “logical step in the growth of the organization.” The constant turnover at nonprofit companies and the consolidation and downsizing of commercial theaters have complicated the process of finding members. Following last spring’s board elections, there are still five slots waiting to be filled.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/J.B. Spector.