CDF 12 Artist Spotlight: Hubbard Street’s Jesse Bechard

HSDC dancers Jesse Bechard & Ana Lopez in  Jir? Kyl?an's
HSDC dancers Jesse Bechard & Penny Saunders w/ Nacho Duato.  Photo by Igor Larin.
HSDC dancer Jesse Bechard.  Photo by Cheryl Mann.
HSDC
HSDC Penny Saunders & Jesse Bechard in
HSDC Jesse Bechard & Jacqueline Burnett in
HSDC Jesse Bechard & Ana Lopez in

The studios at Hubbard Street Dance Chicago (HSDC) were eerily quiet last week.? The dancers were on a well-deserved break and the staff was holed up in their offices busily preparing for the upcoming season (rehearsals started yesterday).? Fresh off a three-week trip to Costa Rica, dancer Jesse Bechard agreed to meet with me before taking an afternoon ballet class.? After spending an hour chatting with the 31-year-old, this is what I know. He’s smart, funny, loyal, curious, an avid reader, and a self-proclaimed news junkie. He plays drums, he loves kale – and, let’s be honest – he’s pretty easy on the eyes.

Bechard grew up in the Northeast (Connecticut, Massachusetts) and cites seeing Baryshnikov dance on tv as his impetus to start dancing.? Here’s the Cliff Notes of his early career:? danced in various Nutcrackers and recitals; quit dancing during the middle schools years to focus on academics and play sports like soccer, basketball and lacrosse; started dancing again at 16/junior year of high school; went to Walnut Hill School for the Arts for his senior year; attended Boston Ballet summer programs; quit dancing again to go to college (one year at University of Chicago); moved to New York City to dance (and wait tables); apprenticed with Ballet Austin for a year; joined Richmond Ballet in Virginia where he danced for eight years.? Whew!? “I didn’t have that much exposure when I was growing up dancing,” he said.? “The things that were put in front of me as goals were all these white tights things.? I didn’t know what was going on in Europe.? I’d seen Hubbard Street, but I didn’t know about NDT (Nederlands Dans Theater).? In the early 2000’s I went to see NDTII and that really changed my trajectory substantially.? ‘Well, there it is!? That?s what I?d like to do.’? I remember the next day in class, my whole motivation and what I was focusing on had really shifted overnight.? I never really had that much of a desire to be the prince at all.? You always idolize Baryshnikov.? He?s beautiful. He does incredible things.? But I don?t think I was built for that.? It?s an interesting point when you come to the realization of what you want to do and what your body is aesthetically built for.”

The “third time is a charm” adage rang true to for Bechard and his bumpy adventure to reach HSDC.? He auditioned for three times before everything worked out.? The beginning of the financial crisis, other contract obligations and lack off an opening in the company all delayed his debut with HSDC until August of 2010.? In 2011, Bechard performed at the Chicago Dancing Festival (CDF) for the Moderns (Sharon Eyal and Gai Behar’s Too Beaucoup) and Masters (Jiri Kyl?an’s Petite Mort) programs.? This year he’s scheduled to perform Twyla Tharp’s Scarlatti in the Chicago Dancing program on Monday, August 20, and Ohad Naharin’s Tabula Rasa in the closing night’s Celebration of Dance on Saturday, August 25.? (Casting may change.)? Here are some excerpts from our chat.

The first thing I remember seeing you in was Nacho Duato’s Arcangelo.? Since then, it seems like you’ve been in everything.? Who were some of your favorite choreographers to work with or favorite pieces?

Nacho was really fun to work with. It was really fun to work with Yoshi (Fumi Inao), who came to set Ohad?s? (Naharin) work. ?”Too Beaucoup” was a really difficult process for me.? I was new.? I?d only been in the company six months at that point and certain things, like Nacho?s piece were within my comfort zone.? Then we come in and have this crazy Israeli woman dancing around asking you what you got out of that.? You get to a point in this company where you get much better at learning the way that things operate.? It?s not often in a ballet company that someone will come in and do something and ask what you got from it, so you learn a lot more how to interpret what you do. ?We do a massive amount of improvisation. ?If you make it up and it looks convincing, it will probably work.? It?s true.? If you?re tentative and hesitant, that reads.? But if you?re like this is what I?m going to do, that?s a choice.? It really doesn?t have to be right, it just has to be what you intend to do.? You can take risks and something can happen that you didn?t intend, but you have to make it happen.? As you get more comfortable with that it becomes more enjoyable.? In her process, I was not quite used to that and her movement style is?insane. ?The process was cool, but it wasn?t my favorite process, but now it is one of my favorite pieces to perform in terms of the visceral experience as a dancer.? You?re in this unitard, you have contacts on, you have a wig on, you?re dancing to this killer music with these awesome lights and you?re just one little cog in the wheel.?It?s awesome for your brain.? You?re just in there, talking to yourself.? You have to count everything.? There?s 9 of these and 14 of these and 12 of these.?I think that?s the piece with the biggest difference between how much I enjoy doing it and how much I enjoyed the process. I love Sharon and Gai, they were really cool, but the process was really hard.

“Petite Mort” (Jir? Kyl?an) – that?s another thing you want to check off the list in your dance career.? That?s one that for most dancers, you really, really want to do.?It?s almost a perfect piece.? It?s concise, it?s short.? It?s not overdone.? It is so insanely musical and so simple.? The whole men?s section…getting six guys to breathe together.

When you all turn around that first time and swipe the sword?it’s such a great moment.

That?s definitely one of the most stressful things?walking down with it balanced on your finger.? Finding that balance point is difficult.? You get good at it, but when the curtain opens up, there is a shift in air and then you?re trying to walk backwards, downstage and find your mark and look at the other person, then lower your sword down and as you lower it, trying to keep it balanced on your finger.?I love dancing in silence with only the sounds of the swords.? There?s such a cool internal rhythm to it.?

Alejandro?s (Cerrudo) stuff feels really good to do.? The movement feels really nice.

Does his work become shorthand after a while, since you?ve worked with him so much??

It becomes much easier to know what he wants.? I think it?s like that with a lot of choreographers.? You know what they like to see.? Not even what they like to see, it?s not about ass-kissing or pleasing someone, but you kind of have an idea of what aesthetic they?re shooting for, so you can just get to it quicker.

The Forsythe piece in the Summer Series was amazing.? You were in both casts.? How did you get through that week? ?

It was really difficult.? That was a hard program. ?I drank a lot of Pedialyte.

What was the learning process like for Quintett?

The people that he sent – Thomas (McManus), Stephen (Galloway) and Dana (Caspersen) – they were fantastic.? None of us really knew what to expect when they came in. ?That process was great.? I really enjoyed working with them. I think what Thomas was asking me to do and trying to get out of me and everybody felt massively different from the beginning to the end.? And then it felt massively different from when we did it here and at ADF.?

Did you get to meet William Forsythe at the American Dance Festival??

Yeah, he worked with us.? He comes in wearing jean, sneakers and a tee shirt. He?s a totally quirky, awesome, incredibly laid-back guy.? I?ve heard that he can really not be that way, but anyone who is trying to create something can go a little crazy. He wasn?t like ?Forsythe?.? He was joking about himself and totally mellow.?He was super encouraging.? In that piece, because of the nature of the music and the movement, you really are supposed to go for it as much as you can.? And if something happens that didn?t happen before?? See where it goes. ?

At the Harris, I?m pretty sure I saw you slide off the stage at one point.

I fell at one point.? I was running and sliding and hit a tape mark. ?But honestly, that could be the movement.?

There was something different about that work.? Even in rehearsals, if was the first time I saw you guys laughing and having fun in rehearsal. Not that you don?t have fun, but everyone seemed really laid back and you seemed to be having such a good time, especially on stage.

It makes you smile.? We don?t have a lot of smiling pieces.? It feels like that when you?re doing it.? We weren?t putting that on.? In rehearsals, you?re kind of like ? gasp! ? dying, but on stage, it makes you smile. The fact that it was made right after his first wife passed away, you thought it was sort of memorial, but it?s a celebration of life and memory.? Working with them there was no stress.? There was so much respect.

So, Twyla. What was it like working with her??

It?s another one of these ?icon? people.? She was great.? She was super fun to work with.? She a little ball of energy.? She could power a city.? She 71 now. She was jumping on me and wrapping herself around me ? totally off the floor.? I?m there with Twyla hanging off of me thinking ‘I can?t drop her. This is a lawsuit waiting to happen.’? She?s so professional and has such a specific style and procedure of working.?She?s a workhorse.? She didn?t take lunch.? She would have lunch brought to her and stagger our lunches, so we could have lunch, but she could continue working throughout the day. ?

How is dancing Scarlatti? ?

It?s a fun piece to do. ?It?s entirely different than “Quintett”.? In “Quintett”, you want to really throw yourself at it. ?”Scarlatti”, you throw yourself at it too, but there are parts that are much lighter on the floor.? It is super musical, so it?s fun to dance. ?I think it?s exactly what she intended it to be.? It exactly fits the music. I?d like to work with her again. ?

Chicago Dancing Festival 2012 runs August 20 – 25.? For more information, visit chicagodancingfestival.com.

Slideshow Photo Credits:

Bechard with Ana Lopez in Jir? Kyl?an’s “Petite Mort”.? Photo by Cheryl Mann.

Bechard in “Arcangelo” rehearsal with Penny Saunders and Nacho Duato.? Photo by Igor Larin.

Bechard headshot by Cheryl Mann.

Bechard in Jonathan Fredrickson’s “Untitled Landscape”. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

Bechard and Penny Saunders in William Forsythe’s “Quintett”. Photo by Cheryl Mann.

Bechard and Jacqueline Burnett in Alejandro Cerrudo’s “Malditos”. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

Bechard and Ana Lopez in Alejandro Cerrudo’s “Little Mortal Jump”. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

 

 

 

CDF12 Artist Spotlight: Joffrey’s Amber Neumann

Joffrey's Amber Neumann & Graham Maverick in William Forsythe's "In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated". Photo by Herbert Migdoll.

On a sunny morning in July, a perky little ray of sunshine walks toward me clad in a yellow sundress. ?”I made this,” she says, referring to the dress, her smile lighting up the sidewalk. ?Amber Neumann, 21, has a lot to smile about. ?Now entering her third season with the Joffrey Ballet (after 6 weeks off, rehearsals for the 2012-2013 season started yesterday), her list of accomplishments keeps growing.

She’s worked with well-known choreographers like Julia Adam, Yuri Possokhov, Val Caniparoli and Edwaard Liang.? She danced the lead role of Kitri in Possokhov’s Don Quixote to rave reviews after an injury shook up the cast.? She learned the part in a day (“four hours of rehearsal and a dress rehearsal”).? She proved her acting chops last season in Wayne MacGregor’s Infra depicting an emotional breakdown center stage. ? She showed fearlessness in William Forsythe’s “In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated”, where she explosively danced what is known as the “jet? pas” (her entrance is three ball-to-the-walls jet?s across the stage partnered by Graham Maverick).? She recently purchased her first home and is enjoying nesting, gardening and making clothes.? “It’s been the summer of experimenting,” says Neumann.? “It’s been busy.? I just started taking Krav Maga (an Israeli fighting technique).? I took a trip to Canada with my Mom to the Shakespeare Festival in Stratford.? I went to a lot of weddings.”

This season, Neumann is looking forward to learning and performing Kurt Jooss’ The Green Table, Jiri Kyl?an’s Forgotten Land and is excited to be dancing for the first time at Dance For Life as well as participating again in the Chicago Dancing Festival (CDF).?? In last year’s fest, she? performed in George Balanchine’s Stravinsky Violin Concert on the Pritzker Pavilion stage.? This year at CDF, she will be performing Forsythe’s In the Middle in the Chicago Dancing program on Monday, August 20th at the Harris Theater.? RB sat down over coffee with Neumann at the end of her summer break.

?Tell me about learning the Forsythe piece.

Working with Glen (Tuggle, r?p?titeur) was a blast.? He was so much fun, but kept us all focused at the same time, which is not easy.? He had this way of giving us just enough free reign so we could play with the timing and the steps.? There’s a lot of improv, so you could change it up.? You could do something a little different every time.? There’s a certain amount of “ooh, what’s going to happen now?” and that’s always exciting.

And the jet? pas?

There are a lot of arms and things that are really intricate and you have to be really together with your partner.? This is not on your leg.? This is get off of your leg and twist your arms around your head and try not to choke each other.? We had a really good time.? It was hard, but once you get into it, it starts to flow.

Is it difficult to count?

It was at first.? It was really difficult.? There are some parts you absolutely have to count.? If you don’t count, you’re screwed.? It is hard to count unless you really listen and understand the music.? Once you do that, its a solid meter.? If you can find the meter, you’re fine.? There’s the second pirouette section in the back, where everyone is going at a different time…that took us longer than I care to admit for us to get that.? And the sets are minimalist, there aren’t really wings, so you really have to know your counts.? It’s a little bit of flying without a net.

Have you started putting it back together yet?

No. Right when we start back we’ll start putting it back together.? There’s not a lot of time.? Stamina-wise, it’s so incredibly difficult.? It really doesn’t matter if you run and exercise; it’s a different kind of stamina.?

For more information on the Chicago Dancing Festival 2012, click here.

Read more about Amber here.

She’s a winner!

Joffrey Ballet's Jeraldine Mendoza & Mauro Villanueva in Edwaard Liang's "Age of Innocence". Photo by Herbert Migdoll.

It was announced last week that Joffrey Ballet dancer Jeraldine Mendoza has been awarded a $50,000 grant from the Leonore Annenberg Fellowhsip Fund.? Mendoza, 20, is the first performing artist in Chicago to receive this award. Originally from San Francisco, CA, she trained from an early age under the tutelage of Galina Alexandrova at the City Ballet School and was the first American female dancer to graduate from the Bolshoi Ballet Academy (now the Moscow State Academy of Choreography).

Mendoza, in her first season with the Joffrey, made an impression with her break out performances in Wayne McGregor’s Infra and a duet in Edwaard Liang’s Age of Innocence.? We chatted Friday evening via text as she was wrapping up rehearsals for Vaslav Nijinsky’s? Sacre du Printemps (The Rite of Spring) and a world premiere by Stanton Welch at Joffrey Tower.? It’s my first texterview!

Tell me how you got the award. ?Did you have to apply? Did someone nominate you?

CCC (Christoper Clinton Conway, Executive Director) and Ashley (Wheater, Artistic Director) nominated me and, I think, sent in a letter of recommendation, along with my application, which included a bio, photos, a video of me dancing and a three-page essay explaining how it would benefit my career and future goals.

What does wining this mean for you – for your career?

Winning this award is a true honor and I feel a great amount of flattery. ?To be given something like this by my first professional company and at a young age is amazing and I’m grateful! ?For my career? It will help me improve my dancing both in technique and expressiveness. ?There is still yet so much to more to learn and this grant will allow me to do so. ?Plus, it looks really great on my resume!

What are your career goals (companies, dream roles)?

My career goal is to soon be a lead in a prestigious classical or contemporary ballet. ?The Joffrey hopes to do “Romeo and Juliet” in the very near future and it would be amazing to be cast as Juliet. ?But my absolute dream, dream role is Kitri in “Don Quixote”, which was my first professional program here at the Joffrey and where I was also cast to do Queen of the Dryads…so, almost getting the lead! ?There’s something about that music and ballet that screams classics, and I love the classical ballet classics.

What are you going to do with $50K?

With this amazing grant, I plan on traveling this summer. ?I plan on going back to San Francisco for two weeks and take classes with my teacher Galina Alexandrova. ?Then, I plan on flying to Moscow/St. Petersburg to take some classes there and watch some performances, also try to find out more about possibly taking some courses of how to become a ballet teacher and achieve a teacher’s degree from the Bolshoi Ballet Academy. ?Then, I’ll head to London, where I will request from Freed to customize a pointe shoe for me. ?I can’t wait for my adventures!

Congratulations to Jeraldine for this well-deserved award.? Perhaps there is a Juliet in her future?

Girls On Film

Dancer/choreographer/filmmaker Kailtin Fox.
Dancer/choreographer/filmmake Nadia Oussenko.  Photo by Daniel Kullman.
Atalee Judy.  Photo by Carl Wiedemann.

Three local dance artists are taking their talent to the screen. ?The Dance Center of Columbia College is curating this month’s edition of?Dances Made To Order, an online film series created in 2011 by LA team Kingsley Irons (dance maker/producer) and Bryan Kock (filmmaker) that features a different city’s artists each month.? Columbia College peeps Colleen Halloran, Richard Woodbury and Bruce Sheridan chose Kaitlin Fox, Atalee Judy and Nadia Oussenko as the three artists to represent Chicago.

Here’s how it works: ?pay a one-time membership fee, $10 for one month (if you only want to see the Chicago films) or $50 to see all the films created this season online.? Once you sign up, you can vote on the themes the filmmakers will be required to use. ?Voting – which is FREE – for the Chicago series started yesterday and runs through May 10th at midnight. (I just voted and can’t wait to see what these lovely ladies come up with!) 65% of the revenue raised goes back to the artists.

Besides dance, choreography and filmmaking, Fox, Judy and Oussenko have something else in common.? All three received an email from Columbia College Dance Department Chair, Onye Ozuzu.? “Onye sent me a cryptic email,” Judy said.? “I was a little cautious, because I’d never heard of it.? They’ve got a Netflix kind of thing going on, but with a different concept.”? Fox and Oussenko had never heard of the series either, but all three warmed to the idea quickly.? These lovely ladies have dabbled in filmmaking before, so the process isn’t new, but new challenges will be thrown at them.? For one, it’s difficult to plan a shoot if you don’t know what the film will be about.? Five themes will be voted on taken from questionnaires the artists and their collaborators filled out earlier in the year.? Three of those five themes will be incorporated into each film.? “We can start to plan, but we really don’t know,” said Oussenko. ? Fox said she’d been trying to make a dance that would incorporate all five themes, but that plan has been put on hold.? Since graduating from Columbia in 2010, she admits it takes a bit longer to get that “creative kick”.? “I’ve been trying to find ways to expand creatively,” she said.? “This should be a good learning experience.” And Judy said, “I’ve been thinking about it, but it’s futile.? There are certain things you can’t prepare for.? We’re going to wing it and hope to be inspired.”

While, the trio is concerned about the time limit of two weeks for filming, production and editing, some of the rules may help with the process.? “It helped simplify,” said Fox.? “It allows us to scale back.”? Oussenko worries about scheduling.? “You have no idea how hard it is to just get five people together,” she said.? Judy thinks the time frame is “doable” since she’s done a series of film shorts called Danse Skitz for her company BONEdanse, but she’s clearing her schedule for those two weeks, just in case.? The range of freak out is “kind of scary” to “half excited, half nervous” to “I’m terrified”.

For dancer bios and more information or to sign up and vote, go to DancesMadeToOrder.com.

 

She’s Really Gone!

Pointe shoes, electric guitars, muscle and fierce art collide on the MCA Stage this weekend.? Karole Armitage, dubbed the “punk ballerina” in 1984 by Vanity Fair Magazine brings her troupe to Chicago as a compliment to the museum’s exhibition This Will Have Been:? Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s.? After taking a break from her company Armitage Ballet for 15 years while working in Europe, she came back to revive and rename the group Armitage Gone! Dance in 2005.? Why gone?? “One of the early pieces I did, almost my first piece was called Gone (A Real Gone Dance – 1982),” Armitage said.? “I feel like I?m gone from the mainstream, I?m gone from the predictable, I?m often just plain gone.? It?s also a hipster term from the 50?s, like ‘she?s a real gone gal’.? I liked the multiple meanings.? I just didn?t want to take myself so seriously.” This woman that doesn’t take herself seriously, it seems, has done it all.? She’s danced for George Balanchine and Merce Cunningham, started her own company, lived in Europe for 15 years choreographing and directing companies, re-started her own company, worked with Mikhail Baryshnikov, Rudolph Nureyev and Michael Jackson, choreographed Madonna’s Vogue video, received a Tony nomination for choreographing the Broadway revival of Hair and is currently choreographing the newest Cirque du Soleil tent show in Montreal.? “It’s funny.? In my career, I’ve worked with children, singers, dancers a now every kind of acrobat and very shortly I’ll be working with William Wegman on a dog ballet, so I’m adding animals to my list,” she said.? “I’ve covered the spectrum now.”

For the MCA appearance, the company’s first since 2008, AGD revives two of Armitage’s 80’s works -? Drastic-Classicism (1981) and The Watteau Duets (1985) – and her 2011 piece GAGA-Gaku.? The Rogue Ballerina talked with the Punk Ballerina over the phone one Sunday afternoon.? Here are some excerpts from our fascinating conversation.

You were born in Wisconsin and grew up in Kansas and Colorado.? How did you end up in Switzerland for your first job?

I started taking ballet when I was 4 years old in Kansas with a woman from New York City Ballet, so I was bitten by the magic of the art form.? At age 12 or 13, everyone was saying to be really serious, you have to go study full-time, you can?t just take class in Kansas.?? So I went to the School of American Ballet in NY in the summer.? I started going to junior high and high school at the North Carolina School for the Arts.? That was the only school in the U.S. both academics and very serious artistic, performing arts training at the time.? Summers were in NY.? Balanchine fell in love with Suzanne Farrell and she got married to someone else, so he decided to move part-time to Switzerland to escape his lovelorn state and he took all of us from the graduating class with him to Switzerland.? That?s how I got there, by a kind of fluke.?

And then you went to dance with Merce.? What made you want to make that jump?

I always loved doing the leotard ballets by Balanchine ( “Agon”, “The Four Temperaments”) that were really more modern.? Psychologically, I was a modern woman. I never felt comfortable, at that age, putting on a tutu and being kind of European.? It didn?t make sense to me, so why not do something even more modern, more of my time.? I?d never seen Cunningham, I?d never studied modern dance.? I went and took a class and I just loved it.? It used all of the technique you have in ballet, plus new thinking about movement and music.? It was a very exciting place to confront ideas.

Had you always been interested in choreography?

I never really thought about becoming a choreographer or anything.? I just thought there was no one doing what I imagined dance to be.? There was this oozing gap and I just decided to try and people really liked it.? I thought I?d probably only do one piece.? It was just an experiment and it just kind of snowballed.? I was asked to another piece and another piece, then Paris Opera asked me?it all happened in an organic, unexpected way.?

What do you look for in a dancer?

I do love technique.? The more skill that way, the better because I think it gives you freedom. ?You can just carve it and not even think about it.? I like virtuosity. I like being able to see the body go to the absolute with new dimensions of movement.? Technique is important for that freedom, but only if it is a real person living inside that body that has something to say.? I?m not interested in virtuosity for virtuosity?s sake.? I really look for personality and imagination.? People who are daring, who are willing to participate in a the creative process that the rules are unknown?it takes people who really have courage and are willing to go down these unknown paths.? It?s very hard to find dancers who combine all of those qualities.? Looking at the whole company, it?s like each person is a different spice and I?m always trying to make a beautiful meal.? I don?t want two people that are alike.? I want people who are different.

Everything I’ve been reading about Drastic-Classicism says it is an iconic work.? Why was it such a big deal in 1981?

There are electric guitars on stage. It used Cunningham technique in the model of Balanchine, so a new vocabulary was born.? In addition to that, it really had this raw, theatricality and wildness and jubilation of destruction.? That punk feeling.? It?s a very youthful piece.? It?s very free-spirited.? Sometimes the guitars are used as partners.? It really was punk, modern dance and ballet put together.? That was a very new idea.?

With the two revivals, did you change anything?

?There?s not a great video, so every step isn?t exactly as it used to be.? The dancers in my company weren?t even born yet!? That was about the spirit of counter-culture and the joy of being marginal.? There is no counter-culture now.? Their inner life is different.? I don?t know how to recreate literally that spirit and put it into people.? They?re different people, so it?s somewhat different.? That?s one of the extraordinary things about dance, it?s so of its moment. That?s a great part of its power.? It gets you in touch with now.? Being in the moment and feeling our time. We change ? even though the notes are the same, it comes out different.? It?s as close as I knew how to do it.? The Watteau Duets is a little easier to revive.? It was me and one partner, so it?s quite the same.? It?s a relationship from attraction to romance to erotic complicity to neurosis.? It?s been fascinating to work with my dancers who technically they?re better than I was on pointe.? When they put on their pointe shoes and dance a duet, they take on this ?I have to be perfect? ballet mentality.? To free them from that and get them to be completely comfortable with who they are and show who they are rather than trying to conform to an idea of what ballet looks like, which was a big process.? It?s fascinating to me that it wouldn?t be completely natural to them.

How did you get them to not think that way?

A lot of rehearsal and talking about it from lots of different points of view to help them find it for themselves.? It needs a sense of irony and freedom that takes a lot of work to get to be so comfortable and confident and secure in their sense of being a woman.? It?s a complicated thing to demand of them.? It took quite a bit of work to have them break free from the mold and become completely themselves.?

When Vanity Fair dubbed you the ?punk ballerina?, what was your initial reaction?? Was your career helped by the exposure or did you not want to be labeled??

I think I liked the label.? To me it really captured that I was interested in the most fine articulate balletic side of dance, but also the raw, visceral and unpredictable side that comes from rock-and-roll culture.? I thought it summed up the spirit of my work in a great way.? Honestly, I think it caused a lot of jealousy. I wasn?t in the ballet world, I wasn?t in the modern world and I think it was disturbing to the traditional dance world.? But, of course, that?s who I was and who I think I still am.? I don?t really fit into these categories.? It?s some other different kind of thing.? I?m still this odd-ball person.? Of course, the publicity was fantastic.? If only Vanity Fair was doing more dance.? Dance has become more marginalized in mainstream America.? It?s just not part of mass culture.? We need that exposure.? I wish there was more of it.

Armitage Gone! Dance at the MCA Stage, 220 E. Chicago Ave.? April 26 – 28 at 7:30 p.m.? Tickets are $35.? Call 312.397.4010 or visit mcachicago.org.

 

Another Daley in Chicago

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre dancers in "Revelations". Photo by Christopher Duggan.

In middle school, Sarah Daley came to Chicago’s Auditorium Theatre (ATRU) to see Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater (AAADT) perform.? She left inspired, but never anticipating that a few years later, at 25, she would be getting ready to perform on that very stage as part of the acclaimed company.? “It’s so crazy.? It’s very surreal the closer I get to it,” she said.? “Especially dancing at the Auditorium, because that’s where growing up I got to see all these amazing companies.? To be on that stage is going to be great.”? Tomorrow night, Daley will take the stage with her fellow AAADT dancers for opening night of a six performance run.? Dreams – with a lot of hard work – really do come true.

Daley grew up in up in South Elgin and started dancing at the Faubourg School of Ballet in Hanover Park.? When looking for colleges (her Mom said not going to college was not an option), a dance program was paramount.? She ended up at Fordham University which has a partnership with AAADT.? After two years dancing with Ailey II,? she’s now in her first season with the main company.? This is also the first season under new artistic director Robert Battle.?? While traditional Ailey pieces like Revelations are still in the rep, Battle includes his choreography but is also bringing in different styles of work to challenge the dancers and the audience.? On the Chicago programs are works from Ailey, Battle, Rennie Harris, Paul Taylor and Ohad Naharin.

I spoke with Daley over the phone earlier this week.? The company arrives in Chicago today.

Did you always want to be in Ailey? Was this your goal?

It was definitely a goal.? I wasn?t sure how realistic it was?it seemed like a long shot, but it was always something that I really wanted to do.? I was going to do everything I could do to make that happen.??

It?s an exciting time with the company going in a new direction.? What?s it been like for you?

Like you said, it?s really exciting.? There?s this air around Ailey everywhere we tour, everybody knows it?s the beginning of a new chapter.? Everyone is excited to see what Mr. Battle is bringing.? He?s a great person to be around. He has a really great energy that?s trickled down into the company and how we work with each other.? It?s good to be a part of it.

Has it been challenging changing the rep to include a Paul Taylor or Ohad Naharin piece?? For instance, Ohad?s work is so particular. Was it hard for your body, since you aren?t used to his technique?

It was difficult in the rehearsal process.? Some things came easier for some people.? “Arden Court” was a bit more natural for me.? It seemed more familiar than “Home”.? I?ve never been a hop hop dancer.? I love that whole genre of dance, but I?d never done it.? “Minus 16” was just totally new for everybody.? It was research ? a total investigation, pare down of everything you know and start from the beginning with a new language.? It was definitely something to get used to, but it was a lot of fun.? It made “Minus 16” a lot easier to transition into once we?d started learning his way of moving.

Tell me about the Rennie Harris piece, Home.

We had a three-week workshop when he came in to set the piece.? A lot of people weren?t hip hop/house dancers and he wanted it to be authentic and not us just mimicking the moves he would teach us.? We learned the basic house language for the whole time he was there.? It was inspired by people living with or affected by HIV/AIDS.? I think it?s more of a celebration of life and music and dance than it is anything else.? When you?re inspired by a topic like that, it can get really dark and heavy, but he wanted it to be about the music and the dance.? It?s a club setting, so we?re almost in a trance at times.? I really enjoy doing it.? It?s so much fun and you get to relax on stage.? The audiences everywhere we?ve gone really love it.??

Can you describe to me what it feels like to do Revelations.? It?s such an iconic work.? What?s it like to actually be doing it?

It?s definitely an experience, especially the first few times you do it.? You?re excited and thinking about the history of the piece and how many people have done it before.? I pretty much do it every night, so there?s always another chance to investigate and get deeper into it.? Sometimes it?s good to take a break and watch it from the audience, so you remember why everyone loves it so much.? You get the full effect of it, so when you go back, you have something to work with.? It?s really an experience to do such an historical work.?

Recently on the Ailey Facebook page, they asked the question: what is your favorite section of Revelations?? What’s yours?

My favorite section to do is “Didn?t My Lord Deliver Daniel”.? It?s short and gets right to the point.? It?s high energy.? I don?t know why ? out of all the sections ? when I do it, I really feel like I?ve made an impact on the audience when I do it.? I really enjoy doing it. My favorite to watch is “I Wanna Be Ready”.? It has a lot to do with the people I get to watch do it.? Being able to watch Matthew Rushing from off stage do this piece is ridiculous.?

Your bio includes this quote:? ?Dance for me is becoming more and more about discovery and imagination.?? Can you explain that?

I started to think about this in Ailey II when we started to tour and perform a lot…to think of ways to keep what I?m doing fresh, not just for me but for the audience. If a dancer is over what they?re doing, the audience totally feels that.? I?ve been trying to go a little deeper with everything I do.? I can focus on something different in “Minus 16”, every time I do it.? That?s been my discovery and revelation in a way.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre – April 11 – 15 at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Pkwy

Tickets are $30-$90. Call 800.982.2787 or visit ticketmaster.com/auditorium.

 

 

 

 

Artist Profile: River North’s Lauren Kias

RNDC's Lauren Kias. Photo by Bob Gallagher.

This weekend River North Dance Chicago (RNDC) takes the Harris Theater stage for its annual Valentine’s weekend engagement. Love is… features six pieces including two world premieres, Contact-Me by Italian choreographer and director of Spellbound Dance Company Mauro Astolfi and The Good Goodbyes by RNDC director Frank Chavez.? Revivals of audience favorites Ella, Risoluta, Sentir em N?s and Al Sur Del Sur round out the program.

The company returned from an extended tour of Virginia last week and went right into rehearsals for the Valentine show.? After a few failed attempts at scheduling an interview with veteran dancer Lauren Kias, we ended up doing a quick Q&A via email.? Here is an edited version of our “chat”.

How was the tour?

One of the many things I love about this job is the national and international traveling we are asked to do. Touring with the company is much like traveling with the circus.? You have a group of dancers very diverse with big personalities performing on the road together for up to a month at a time.? You can be on the road so long and travel to so many places you often will wake up and not know what city you are in.? We were just in Virginia for about 10 days. We had performances in Lexington, Fairfax and Richmond.? On this particular tour I was responsible for warming up the company before the shows.? This usually entails teaching a ballet class that will get the dancers on their leg and help set them up for a long day in the theater.? This responsibility comes with a fair amount of stress because dancers are very particular on what they like to do before a show. I was up for the challenge and did the best I could.

You’re in your seventh year with RNDC.? Was the company always on your radar?

I first saw River North in high school when they were on tour in my home town of Indianapolis. I remember loving the company immediately and keeping them in my radar from that moment on.? While attending Butler University, I participated in their summer intensive program. I had such a positive experience that I made it a goal of mine to become a member of the company. After that summer I moved to Chicago and Frank asked me to be a company apprentice. After two years as an apprentice I was given a spot in the company.

Why is it a good fit for you?

River North is a good fit for me because the rep is so versatile. I love to dance as many different styles as I can.? We get to work with a number of different choreographers every year that create very diverse pieces.? The variety that we experience keeps our minds and body?s fresh and growing in this ever changing art form.

What is the most exciting part of dancing with RNDC and what is the most challenging?

It’s an exciting time to be in River North. There has and continues to be a lot of international touring gigs for the company. In the last couple years we have traveled to Germany and Switzerland twice for three weeks of touring.? Last summer we performed on an ocean front stage at an International dance festival in Busan, South Korea.? We are currently in the process of organizing a month long tour to Russia with as many as twenty shows. I love to travel and see the world and I am very fortunate that my job can take me on so many adventures.? The most challenging part of being in this company, or any company for that matter, is staying injury free and staying in the best shape that you can. While at home we have all of the resources to help us stay healthy and injury free.? Most of the time when we travel we don’t have access to physical therapists or a proper gym. You have to rely on yourself and the support of your fellow dancers to maintain good habits and injury prevention to stay as healthy as we can.

What will you be dancing in the upcoming show?

In this weekend?s ‘Love Is…’ Valentine’s performance I will be performing four very different pieces.? The first is a solo choreographed by Robert Battle entitled ‘Ella’. The second is the world premier of ‘Contact-Me’, choreographed by Mauro Astolfi artistic director of Spellbound Dance Company in Rome, Italy. ‘Contact-Me’ connects the dancers in intense relationships of intertwining movements to the music of Jon Hopkins and the Italian Cellist Giovanni Sollima. I will also be performing in another premiere, this one by our very own artistic director Frank Chaves entitled ‘The Good Goodbyes’. Mr. Chaves has teamed up with Josephine Lee, Artistic Director of the Chicago Children’s Choir, who has written an original composition for the new work.? Lee will be performing live with the company on the Friday and Sunday performances. Finally, we are closing the show with a sultry suite of Argentinean tangos choreographed by Sabrina and Ruben Veliz entitled ‘Al Sur Del Sur’.

Tell me about your solo Ella.? What was it like working with Robert Battle?

‘Ella’ is a high energy comical solo set to Ella Fitzgerald scatting.? This piece is by far the fastest movement I have ever done that has everything and the kitchen sink.? Complete with quick articulated movements, a little tumbling, and Battle’s legendary “falls” that make your bones ache.? A couple of us in the company have come up with the term “Battle wounds” which is something you require from doing Robert Battles movement.? I love working with Robert Battle.? He has a wonderful sense of humor and it takes center stage in this solo.? He makes you want to push yourself beyond your limits and at the end of the day you end up surprising yourself.

Ok, Charles Moulton’s ball piece: really hard, fun or a just a pain in the ass?

Hahahaha!? All three! Charles Moulton’s ball piece was about as fun as a ten car pileup on the way to a wedding where you rear ended the bridal party.? In all seriousness, I had a great time with this challenge.? We had a little less than two weeks of learning patterns different types of passes, as well as run drills for what to do when you’ve dropped your ball. If you happened to fumble a ball, you had two spare behind your back secured by a cummerbund that you would whip out in a Billy-the-Kid fashion. I am happy to say that River North was up for Charles Moulton’s challenge and answered by not dropping a single ball at our first attempt on the Harris stage under the hot lights.

River North Dance Chicago presents Love is… Feb 10 & 11 at 8pm, Feb 12 at 3pm

Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph. Tickets are $30-$75. Call 312.334.7777 or visit harristheaterchicago.org

Saturday, Feb 11 there is a post-show party with drinks and desserts, where you can mingle with the dancers.? Tickets are $25.

 

Out of Mosh Pits & Mash Ups

BONEdanse. Photo by Chrystyne.com.

Under the muscle and punk rock exterior, Atalee Judy is a true beauty. ?Piercing pale blue eyes, refreshing honesty and self-awareness tinted with humor are what you get one-on-one. ?She’s fierce, cool and definitely one-of-a-kind.? Her background is as interesting as her look.? Judy grew up on a horse ranch in Mansfield, Texas.? After her father died when she was 12, she ran away to New York and lived with three punk bands, serving as a techie and housekeeper. Her uncle, a rich Republican that lived in the Chicago suburbs adopted her and she ended up in an all-girl Catholic high school which happened to have a terrific dance program.? “I was on the basketball team…and the basketball coach was inspired by the football players taking ballet and dance to get better coordination.? We got thrown into dance class and I pitched a fit about not wanting to wear pink tights.? I didn?t want to take ballet, so she put me in this modern dance class.? I insisted on wearing my basketball jersey.? I was such a fucking tomboy.? I fell in love.? From that point on, I was doing talent shows.? The nuns loved me.? I had the shaved head, Sinead O?Connor look with my combat boots and little Catholic girl uniform.”? A brief stint as a bio chem major led her to realize that dance was her passion.

As Artistic Director of BONEdanse, the new incarnation of? her brainchild Breakbone Dance Co, which she started in 1997 after graduating from Columbia College’s dance program, she’s tackled social and political issues with tenacity and creativity.? She’s also codified her own technique – the Bodyslam Technique – that she teaches in the Chicago area dance scene.? “At Columbia, I realized that this whole falling stuff that I?d been working on was very interesting to them, but also confusing,” Judy says over coffee and some very hot tea.? “They didn?t know what to do with me.? When given a choice to improvise, instead of using classical technique stuff which I didn?t have an interest or want to do, I?d be doing prat falls and things I thought were exciting or energetic.”

For This is a DAMAGE MANUAL, four dancers (including Judy) and a sock puppet named Earl take the stage for a two-week run at Theater Wit starting Thursday.? The evening-length work takes its cues from 1950s self-help records mixed with some 80s themes and a little psycho-analysis and self-reflection.? Characters (a stressed out housewife, a dysfunctional ballerina, a Hitler-esque figure with a cold that under hypnosis becomes an Elvis impersonator) born out of last summer’s 12-week video project Danse Skitz are brought to life in problematic glory while trying to “fix” their damage via hypnosis and outdated advice.? I sat down with Judy in mid-January to talk about the show.

From punk bands to dance, it seems an unlikely transition.?

I was choreographing early on.? It felt like something that I needed to get out.? I’m a doer.? I’d just do, not knowing what I was doing.? When I was a kid, I would sketch the horses an try to make them move as opposed to static pictures.? I was always watching them, how graceful and gorgeous they are.? When you’re up on a balcony and looking down on a mosh pit, that kinetic energy going on and the whirlpool that happens…I’ve always wanted to bring that to the stage.? I want a mosh pit on stage.? I’ve always said there’s a lot of fall and recovery in the mosh pit.? You really have to know where your weight is or else you’re going down to the ground and get a boot in your face.?

Why the name change?

A lot of cumulative things.? Some are kind of trivial, some are deeper, but I really feel personally trapped when I get categorized too much or defined?even when I feel obligated to be something that I don?t want to be or I?m not all the time.? I think Breakbone started defining itself and me as this one thing and that?s all I did.? I wanted to fold and just create something else that had a little more leeway and a little more play with it to where I could do anything I want, so I wouldn?t be defined by it.? Oh, she falls a lot.? I didn?t want to be the one-trick pony.? It started getting to get to where I was demanding this of all my dancers. ? A lot of dancers don?t think they are athletes. I couldn?t keep working on the psychology of their issues.? Either you?re an athlete and you believe it and you go to the gym and work out and build your muscles or you atrophy.? It?s not enough just to do the movement.? I was projecting a lot of my values onto them and I hate when people do that.? I dwindled it down to people I really wanted to work with, because they offered different skill sets.? And the other thing is the trust issue, making sure that I trusted their skill sets to be more collaborative.? I used to come in with all the movement, all the concepts, all the answers ? not in a control freak way, well they may have thought it was ? they wanted to be fed and I would have all the answers for them.? They just had to implement.? Things have changed the trajectory.? It feels more open, a little bit freer?less defining.? One of the other elements is I feel like I said everything I wanted to say with Breakbone.? We had a lot of social issues, political stuff that was very ragey, some controversial.? I?m not going to top any of that.? I think I?m done talking about that.? The new trajectory it?s getting into a more psychological level of evaluating my own issues as well as things that I?m sharing with the company right now.? It?s deeper versus reactionary.?

Tell me about DAMAGE MANUAL.

I don’t know what I’m sitting on with this show.? There’s a solo I do that’s so fucked up that I don’t even know if it’s funny.? It’s just wrong.? The whole show has a mash up feel.? I saw Jyl Fehrenkamp perform this solo once for a show with Winifred Haun and it blew me away.? It was about Women’s Stress Disorder. When we were working on this show, that idea kept coming up.? I commissioned that from her.? We’ve been working on a ten-minute chunk from last spring that we did it for the Other Dance Festival.? My partner Karl has an old collection of self-help records from the 50s.? Oh my, are they creepy.? The records have all the glitches and skips.? Somehow the 80s was coming in so I just went with it.? There’s a therapist’s office, a ballet studio, a bathing suit section with a Crisco can, bathing caps and tanning bed goggles, a bullet bra…a mash up.?

WHAT’S YOUR DAMAGE?

BONEdanse presents This is a DAMAGE MANUAL, Feb 2-5 & Feb 9-12, Thurs-Sat at 8pm, Sundays at 3pm

Theater Wit, 1229 W Blemont, 773.975.8150, $15-$24?

Chatting with @drummamamma

Paris-Gutierrez in LABA's new studios. Photo by Iker Gutierrez.

Andrea Paris-Gutierrez in one busy lady.? She’s the owner/Artistic Director of the Los Angeles Ballet Academy (LABA).? She’s the Director of the Los Angeles Youth Ballet Theatre and the Theatrics Dance Company, which have 70 young dancers between them.? This past August, she moved her studios into a brand new space designed by architect Robert Elbogen.? Student enrollment is up, she’s now launching adult classes and fitness project.? Growing up at her mother’s dance studio in New Zealand, she helped out with classes and soon joined the New Zealand School of Dance and toured with the New Zealand Ballet.? At almost 5’10” and still a teenager, she found it difficult to find work in ballet.? Once she moved to the States, her knowledge of jazz, modern and teaching helped her gain work in television, film and musicals, even touring internationally.? Some of her bio includes:? Sugar Babies, Anything Goes, Pennies From Heaven, The Wonder Years, Rags To Riches, General Hospital, and the Oscars. Oh, she also happens to be Joffrey Ballet dancer Dylan Gutierrez’s Mom.

RB met Paris-Gutierrez last fall in the Harris Theater lobby at Hubbard Street‘s Twyla Tharp premiere.? We quickly became Tweeps!? We finally had a more-than-140-character conversation over the phone one Wednesday evening last November.

How was your day?

(Laughing) Long.

Tell me about the new space.

It’s a really beautiful, inspired space that’s never been used.? We had a 20-year lease on our old building, but the city wanted to tear it down, so we were forced to relocate.? The city bought the building.? We wouldn’t have had the money for a new facility, so it was sort of a fortunate/unfortunate accident.? (Dance/Celebrity Photographer) Rose Eichenbaum is doing a shoot of the new space for “Ventura Magazine”.?

?Why is your Twitter name @drummamamma?

Dylan loves to play the drums.? In high school we got him a drum set, which upset all the neighbors…they called the police.? We now have two drum sets for sale – acoustic and electronic!

We met when you were in Chicago to see your son dance in Joffrey’s new production of Don Quixote.? What did you think?

I like the production.? The flying was cool looking.? Dylan used to say it would be a dream come true to dance “Espada” and now he got to do Basilio too.? I’m pretty critical, but he did a fantastic job!? He got to dance with Victoria (Jaiani), which was amazing.? She was calm, sweet and supportive to him.?

What makes you a good teacher?

No one has ever asked me that before.? I’m really passionate about it.? I’m interested in it.? You have to be interested to keep up and see what’s going on.? You have to have a constant interest and hunger.? I’m never bored with it.? When I first started teaching, I would still dance in class.? I thought if I was doing ok, then everyone else was good too.? One of my former teachers told me to stop dancing, to turn around and see what’s going on.? Observe.? You can’t just give the corrections.? You have to explain to the younger students what you want and have the patience to watch…let them feel it physically.? Do it and repeat it until they understand what you want.? Enforcement.? It seems like a harsh word, but it’s not.? Help them be a healthy, happy person and bring out the best in them.? And, I’m competitive.? I don’t give up easily.? I like to be the best and my students do too. ?

What was it like dancing at the Oscar’s?

Insanely crazy!? It’s not like performing in a theater where the audience is in the dark.? There are really bright lights.? You can see them and you know every face in the audience.? Bette Midler was supposed to be there, but rumor was she didn’t show because she wasn’t nominated for “Beaches” (Paris-Gutierrez also danced in the movie).? At the end of the opening number there was a big show and Bette was supposed to walk out, which didn’t happen.? They kept changing it and making cuts.? Finally, at rehearsal on the day of the show, they added a kick line and told the dancers to sing “Hooray for Hollywood”.? We didn’t know the words, so they put up a teleprompter.? It’s time for the kick line and the camera is coming across our faces in a close-up and the teleprompter goes out.? There are no words on the screen!? It got bad reviews, but it was a fabulous experience.? I met amazing stars.? I met Lucille Ball.

Tell me about shooting the video with Jane’s Addiction (“Been Caught Stealing” won the 1991 VMA Best Alternative Video award).?

We met in a hotel room to discuss the concept and I got the job (choreographer).? I also did casting on it.? We did a night shoot at a liquor store in Santa Monica.? It was a fun shoot.? The band was really focused.? It really upped my cool factor with my students.?

 

Changing Scenes

Jonathan Dummar in "The Nutcracker". Photo by Herbert Migdoll.

“I’ll be home for Christmas this year,” said a happy Jonathan David Dummar over coffee this past summer.? After dancing with the Joffrey Ballet for six seasons, Dummar, 27, decided it was time for a change of scenery and moved to San Francisco in August to dance with Smuin Ballet.? He’s currently performing in their annual show The Christmas Ballet.? No? Nutcracker?? “I’m so thankful for that,” he laughs.? “Don’t get me wrong, I love Tchaikovsky…and, by the way Joffrey’s is the best!? Bob (Joffrey) and Jerry (Arpino) really knew what they were doing. I’m so proud to be a part of the legacy of the Joffrey.”

From Reno, Nevada, Dummar began taking dance classes after being invited into his sister’s class by her teacher.? She had seen him watching from the window and trying to do the moves.? The physical child, who participated in gymnastic, swimming and diving, was hooked.? To avoid competition, his mom enrolled the children in different dance schools.? His very first teacher, Ava Kerr, basically changed his life.? “She was so fundamental,” he says.? “She taught me so much.? She had me partnering within two weeks.”? From there he participated in dance competitions, spent summers in LA at the Edge Performing Arts Center on scholarship, Pacific Northwest Ballet‘s (PNB) summer program and on to The Harrid Conservatory to finish high school.? “The training at Harrid is rigorous.? It’s boarding/ballet school.? They really helped me hone a lot of things and gave me a good base.? I’m a completely different dancer now.”? After graduating valedictorian, Dummar danced with PNB’s professional division until an ankle injury ended in surgery.? After healing, he danced two years with Ballet Memphis, where he met choreographer Trey McIntyre and became a founding member of the Trey McIntyre Project.? Feeling that he wasn’t utilizing his ballet technique fully, he auditioned for the Joffrey and joined the company in 2005.

At the Joffrey A Starry Night party after the final show of the season, I approached Dummar having just found out at the performance that it would be his last with the troupe.? “You should interview me,” he said.? A few weeks later, we sat down to discuss his career.

So, why did you decide to leave Joffrey now?

I?ve been here for six years.? The company is skewing younger and more classical all the time and I?m going in the opposite direction.? I?m really thankful for the opportunities that I got.? My values are changing and they aren?t necessarily aligned with where Ashley is taking the company.? Ashley taught me a lot.? He gave me a lot of opportunities.? I?m really appreciative and grateful.? I feel really glad about what I did, but I can?t wait to start this next chapter.? There?s a lot of personal reasons too.?? I?m from the West Coast.? I?ve been away from home for 11 years.? I?m ready to be closer to family.? San Francisco is like the promise land of the new age.? There?s organic produce on every corner, the yoga there is amazing, they compost, they have clean energy?I was so impressed with all of that.? It finally feels like I?m finally making a decision for me as a whole person.? It?s kind of selfish, but all of the things I?ve done to grow and learn and do what I wanted to do.? Now I can take it and share it with my family.

Well, I ‘m going to miss watching you dance.? What have been some of your favorite pieces at Joffrey?

“Round of Angels” has been one of my favorite things I’ve ever performed.? The Arpino rep is really fun.? You watch it and it’s easy to be critical, but when you do it, it’s so fun…fast and hard.? It’s part of dance history.? “Crossed” by Jessica Lang.? I really liked “Bells” (Yuri Possokhov).? When I first joined, Fabrice (Calmels), Val (Robin) and I did Kyl?an’s “Return To a Strange Land”.? We did the pas de trois.? It was a very emotional piece.? It was a fantastic opportunity.

Tell me about Smuin Ballet.?

Michael Smuin is the former Artistic Director of San Francisco Ballet.? He wanted some more artistic freedom and wanted to do some things the board wasn?t in to, so he left and started his own company.? He was a Broadway choreographer before he did ballet, so all of his works are more showy, more dancy.? He died about three years ago. It was horrifically tragic for the company.? He was very much the lifeblood.? He died in the studio teaching class of a heart attack.? Everyone talks about him with so much reverance.? The company is going in a new direction.? We?re doing Trey McIntyre, some Kyl?an, lots of premieres, and a few by Michael Smuin.? It?s a smaller company.? I know I?ll be more valuable.? Some of the ballerinas there deserve a really strong, attentive partner.? I have some friends in the company. It was just an overall feeling.? I went and auditioned and thought this is where I need to be.? It was perfect timing with the Joffrey lock out.

What’s in your future?

I want to direct.? I know that’s in my future.? I know there’s an intellectual side that I’ll need to cultivate, but I think you can do that with dance.? Absolutely.? I’ve been to some modern shows and the ideas they present are incredible.? Ballet doesn’t even come close to presenting these ideas and I think they can.? I think further integration of these disparate kinds of dance is completely possible.? I’d love to work with Alonzo (King) at some point.