It was a surprise when Hubbard Street Dance Chicago executive director Gail Kalver announced this fall that she’d be leaving the organization. She’d been with HSDC for 23 of its 29 years and, at least in Chicago, was as much the face of the company as founder Lou Conte or artistic director Jim Vincent. But Kalver said she was itching to try something new–and who wouldn’t be after all that time?–and she promised Vincent she’d be around until a replacement could be installed. It all sounded reasonable and orderly. A recent announcement that Hubbard Street 2 artistic director Julie Nakagawa Bottcher and managing director Andreas Bottcher are also leaving, rather abruptly, is harder to understand.
The wife-and-husband team essentially created HS2, the parent troupe’s junior company, and ran it for the last decade. In an internal statement dated December 1, they said they decided to resign after “thoughtful consideration, careful listening, and passionate discussion.” They’re making their exit January 1, they wrote, adding the curious remark that they didn’t want to “detract from the Executive Director search.” Reached by phone, Bottcher said he couldn’t elaborate. In an equally mysterious companion statement Kalver and Vincent waxed philosophical, saying “‘There is a time for every purpose.’… And, this is indeed, a time of transition for Hubbard Street. With admiration and respect for difficult decisions, we announce the impending departure.” In a follow-up interview, Kalver said the couple is leaving for “personal reasons.”
A press release dated December 8 quotes Vincent as saying of the junior company: “We are committed to continuing these programs as well as this approach to cultivating the appreciation of dance from both sides of the curtain.” According to Kalver, the HS2 artistic director slot is likely to be filled without being advertised, “through Jim’s contacts.” In the interim HS2 associate Whitney Moncrief–who’s helped with both artistic and administrative duties–is taking over. Beyond that, Kalver says, they’ll be “tweaking” the organization chart: “We built HS2 around Julie and Andreas’s strengths; we’re not knee-jerking too quickly about how we’ll fill the administrative end of it.” Translation: look for infrastructure change. Kalver says, “When people leave there’s an opportunity to combine functions.” Hubbard Street wants to “rework the feeder systems” too, she says, to strengthen the ties between the main and second companies.
HSDC, founded by onetime Broadway dancer Lou Conte in 1977, is known for its technical expertise, hip approach to new work, and international stable of choreographers. It’s made up of three nonprofit enterprises: the main company, which has 20 dancers; HS2, with a half-dozen dancers ages 17 to 25; and the Lou Conte Dance Studio, which is still run by Conte and offers about 60 classes a week at levels from beginner to pro. Julie Nakagawa Bottcher, an Evanston native who performed with Christopher D’Amboise and Twyla Tharp before becoming manager of the Lou Conte Dance Studio in ’94, created HS2 from the main company’s training program and grew it into a showcase for young dancers and choreographers that has its own national and international touring schedule and an annual choreography competition. Andreas Bottcher, who trained in his native Germany and danced there, in New York, and with Ballet Chicago, joined HSDC in ’96 and became its first director of education, creating programs that take dance into public schools. Eventually, Kalver says, HS2 got so big it became the Bottchers’ exclusive focus. (The last time it was mentioned in this column, in late 2005, it was being documented by a German filmmaker.)
HSDC is just completing a multiyear capital campaign that paid for a $1.25 million renovation of its 55,000-square-foot headquarters on West Jackson. Originally the home of Ruby Chevrolet, the 60-year-old building got its cracks filled and a semisleek new facade designed by Krueck & Sexton Architects. Kalver says they’re looking to raise another $250,000 for maintenance on the building, which has been the company’s home since ’98. It houses production, scene, and costume shops, a sound-mixing studio, offices, and five dance studios, used for rehearsals by the main company and HS2 as well as by the school’s classes. Two tenants rent 15,000 square feet, and there’s an active rental schedule for the studios; in the spring they’ll be used for three weeks of rehearsal for The Color Purple. The rentals subsidize HSDC’s $5.7 million annual budget. The company has a relatively modest endowment of $3 million, most of it established with a matching grant from the Ford Foundation six years ago.
The main company does 75 to 90 performances a year–but Chicagoans might blink and miss them. The hometown season, at the 1,500-seat Harris Theater for Music and Dance, has recently consisted of two weeks in the spring and one in the fall. In 2007 they’ll add a week to the fall schedule, so there will be 20 performances instead of 15–a lengthy run in the world of dance. The rest of the time the troupe tours nationally and internationally, but Kalver says touring is less profitable than it used to be and they’ll be more selective in the future. In late January HSDC will make a three-performance appearance with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra at Orchestra Hall. CSO resident composer Mark-Anthony Turnage has created new music for the premiere of a one-act piece, From All Sides, choreographed by Jorma Elo.
HS2, which does most of the company outreach work, actually performs more often: 80 to 100 performances a year at home and, to a more limited extent, abroad. These are mostly at community theaters, schools, and college campuses.
Kalver, a former professional clarinetist who still plays with the North Shore Concert Band, says she “struggled through the summer” with her decision to leave, but thinks change will be good for her and the company. She says she’s “looking into a couple of jobs,” and she’s been approached to do consulting on a project basis. A national search is under way for her replacement.
In 1999 and 2000, when Conte stepped down as HSDC artistic director, Kalver says, 14 people left but the company survived. “And I remember Lou and I looking at the first crop of dancers, when Claire [Bataille] stopped dancing, and Ginger [Farley] and Kitty [Skillman Hilsabeck]. Lou said, ‘We can’t do these pieces anymore because these dancers are leaving.’ But then we were doing them. Art goes on, life goes on, and this company has a life of its own. It evolves and this is another turn in its evolution.”
Gravy Train Approaching
Evanston is looking for an artist to accessorize a new fire station at 2830 Central–and has $40,000 to spend. Nominate yourself by December 19. Info at 847-448-8260, ext. 105, or cityofevanston.org.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Bill Winter, Building, Cheryl Mann, the Bottchers.