Not another safety dance

There are ballet slippers, yes. But they’re teamed with sports jerseys.

And you will hear Chopin. More often, though, it’ll be hip-hop or techno.

The first thing that’s apparent about a Hubbard Street 2 performance is that this is no Tchaikovsky show. Three men in white T-shirts gyrate on the floor, athletically and somewhat suggestively. Three women in red flamenco dresses execute moves to a wildly percussive Latin composition that’s as much informed by funk as by Spanish folk.

And the full scope of the Chicago-based dance group’s soundtrack runs from Brazilian rhythms to Bobby McFerrin experiments.

There is not a single pink tutu to be found.

Instead, six dancers bounce on stage in purple basketball uniforms. They slam chests in mid-air before settling into competition-worthy moves complete with a referee and comical voice-overs.

“It’s very diverse,” Hubbard Street 2 Artistic Director Julie Nakagawa Bottcher allows of the dance group’s repertoire. “We use African and Asian music, Brazilian, techno and even Chopin.”

She adds: “We’re happy to give people a taste of different kinds of music.”

But that’s not the only new taste these dancers are serving up. Hubbard Street 2 was created in 1997, according to Bottcher, “to provide an opportunity for young dancers and young professionals to practice their craft in a safe environment.”

Which is how creations like “Stand Back” — the Latin-flavored, full-company dance dreamed up by new choreographer Katarzyna Sharpetowska — or “Dance Sport,” the daring team-jerseys-meets-ballet-slippers work of Harrison McEldowney, make it to the stage.

“Creating a safe environment means we’re not trying to sell a product,” Bottcher explains. “[The audience is] not paying for the name or the packaging.” Which results in the company being able to take some pretty interesting risks.

“Diminishing Returns” is set to a didgeridoo track, while “In the Dark” is danced — almost gymnastically — to Hindu chanting.

“Hubbard Street 2 is really about the dances and the individual choreographers,” Bottcher emphasizes. “It’s about dance, but not about this [one] famous choreographer you’re supposed to love.”

And that’s exactly why they can perform dances like “Dynamic Trio.” Created by former HS2 member Francisco Avina, the piece features three dancers performing hip-hop-inspired moves to techno and computer-generated sounds. Even the costuming is more street sensibility than Swan Lake: hoodies and cropped sweats.

Not surprisingly, the group’s age range is roughly 17 to 25.

Bottcher points out that those numbers are just guidelines. “It’s designed to be a company for young artists. Young doesn’t mean age only,” she insists. “It could mean young in career.”

But HS2 undeniably uses youth to its advantage, building a reputation for edgy, innovative dance. “Our vision is to find the next known entities,” the artistic director reveals. She’s in the business of discovering the up-and-coming Martha Grahams, Twyla Tharps and Paul Taylors. But that’s all about the future.

For now, “No one’s going to come to a Hubbard Street 2 performance because ‘Oh my God, that choreographer.'”

Certainly careers get jump-started at HS2, though — the group’s larger, parent company is the famed Hubbard Street Dance, founded in 1977. And just check out “I Wantchu Kool Cuz, U Blow My Mind,” a dance that delves into two types of romantic relationships. Choreographed by Kristopher Storey, who won HS2’s 2000 National Choreographic Competition, the performance is set to two Beatles songs, “With Love From Me to You” and “I Want You So Bad,” as performed by Bobby McFerrin.

Taking such risks, predicts Bottcher, “is going to empower those future artists.”

And that’s the way Hubbard Street 2 means business. Though modern-dance fans have obviously embraced the successful group, members aren’t exactly toeing the road to Riverdance kind of renown.

“When people come here to create, they’re not trying to sell tickets,” Bottcher says.

That kind of attitude, she adds, “can taint the product.” It takes a free spirit, after all, to dance believably to a didgeridoo.

Diana Wortham Theatre’s Mainstage Dance Series presents Hubbard Street 2 Friday, Nov. 12 and Saturday, Nov. 13. Both shows start at 8 p.m. Tickets cost $30/general, $28/seniors and students, $10/kids. (Hubbard Street 2 will offer a Master Class for intermediate and advanced dance students on Saturday from 1:15 p.m.- 2:45 p.m. at the UNCA Dance Studio inside the Justice Gym. Cost is a $10 suggested donation, payable at the door.)

About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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