Dancer Spotlight: Hubbard Street’s Emilie Leriche

Hubbard Street dancer Emilie Leriche. Photo on left by Quinn B Wharton. Photo on right by Todd Rosenberg.

“I’m an old soul,” Emilie Leriche said. At 20, she’s the youngest main company dancer at Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. She’s also the first dancer to come up through the Hubbard Street ranks entirely from attending Youth Summer Intensives all the way to joining the main company earlier this year. “I’ve done every step on the ladder.” If you haven’t seen her dance, you should. She’s stunning.

Leriche took her first dance class in Santa Fe, NM “because my babysitter danced”. As a self-proclaimed tomboy, soccer was more her style, but she quickly found a love for the art. “I didn’t want to go to ballet class, ” she said. ” She [Mom] forced me into a leotard and kicked me into dance class and, I don’t know, I just liked it.” Proving a natural, she auditioned and was accepted into the Walnut Hill School for the Arts, leaving home at 14 to attend the school full-time for three years. “I had to go,” said Leriche. “This is what I had to do.”

She attended workshop intensives on her summers off including Hubbard Street’s for younger dancers in Los Angeles. The summer before her senior year, she came to the older/advanced dancer intensive in Chicago and was offered an apprenticeship with the second company at age 17. “It was another situation where I had do.” Leriche finished her high school courses online and danced with the second company, HS2, for two years before being promoted to the main company this year. “It’s been really crazy and whirlwindy,” she said.

As a member of HS2, Leriche had to chance last year to perform with the main company in the premiere of resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo’s evening-length One Thousand Pieces inspired by Chagall’s America Windows, which the company revisits “by popular demand” this weekend at the Harris Theater. She credits being in the same room with the main company as a learning experience that taught her about professionalism and productivity. “Resetting it has given us the chance to set everything and fix things. It’s given us the chance to beautify it. At this point, we’re excited to get into the theater,” she said. “You hit that point where you say, ‘We’re ready. Let’s do it!’”

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago presents Alejandro Cerrudo’s One Thousand Pieces at the Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph Dr., December 12-15. Performance times vary. Tickets are $25-$99; call 312.850.9744 or visit hubbardstreetdance.com/winter.

Dancer Spotlight: Abigail Simon, Dance For Life

Dancer Abigail Simon. Photo by Gina Uhlmann.

This Saturday, Aug. 18, marks the annual dance performance, Dance For Life, that raises money and awareness for HIV/AIDS prevention. Proceeds from this year’s benefit will go to the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, the Dancer’s Fund and Chicago House. Always a highlight of the show are two world premiere finales, Act I by Harrison McEldowney and Jeremy Plummer/C5 and an Act II finale by Randy Duncan. Participating companies include DanceWorks Chicago, Giordano Dance Chicago, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, River North Dance Chicago and Thodos Dance Chicago. Also performing this weekend are independent artists Mauro Villanueva and Abigail Simon.

Simon, 27, was born in New York to a director/actor father and an opera singer mother. The family was bi-coastal spending time split between NY and Los Angeles, where she started dancing at age three. At seven, back in NYC, she studied for three years at Ballet Hispanico and at ten, was accepted to the School of American Ballet (SAB), where she studied for ten years. She danced with American Ballet Theatre‘s second company (ABT II) for two years and with the main company for another two years. “I learned so much there,” she said. “I knew that because I came from SAB and because I hadn’t had much classical training that I needed to go to a smaller company to get my wings.” Joffrey was holding auditions in NYC, she auditioned and spent the next seven years dancing with them here in Chicago.

Some may recognize her from her extremely perky performances as Clara in The Nutcracker, but some of her favorite roles from her time at Joffrey are the virtuoso pas Balanchine’s Tarantella and Valencienne in Ronald Hynd’s The Merry Widow. Simon has only performed in Dance for Life one other time when she was part of Harrison McEldowney’s finale in 2011. This year, she partners with former Joffrey dancer Villanueva for the pas de deux from Le Corsaire, a gala favorite. “We’re excited,” Simon said. “It’s pure classical. It’s got tricks!”

Simon recently left Joffrey to pursue a freelance career. “I’m going to miss that family feel and being on the road,” she said, “but when I told them I was leaving, it felt like the chains coming off. You’ve got to trust your instincts and follow your heart.” So far, she’s kept busy dancing with Ballet Next, coaching students for the Youth America Grand Prix, modeling for Bloch and Revolution Dancewear. She has modeling gigs set with Capezio and Custom Barre and auditioned for Christopher Wheeldon’s new Broadway project An American in Paris. She’s also up for a lead role in an upcoming movie with actress Sean Young set to film next year in Venice, Italy. (Rumor has it people affiliated with the film will be at the show on Saturday. Perhaps if we clap extra loud, she’ll get the part!)

Simon said it is easier to find consistent work as a freelance dancer in New York, so she and her boyfriend are getting a place there too and will be splitting their time. “I’m excited,” she said. “I’m very open. It took me a couple of years to figure out, but if you’re positive and open to change, good things can happen. Just get on the horse and start riding. I’m so happy.”

Dance for Life at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Pkwy., Saturday, Aug. 17 at 8 pm. Tickets for the performance only are $50-$75.

A pre-performance gala reception will be held in the International Ballroom of the Hilton Chicago, 720 S. Michigan Ave., at 5 pm. Gala tickets (which include a ticket to the performance) are $200-$500.

For more information, call 312-922-5812 or visit danceforlifechicago.com.

Dancer Spotlight: Nigel Campbell

GöteborgsOperans Danskompani dancer Nigel Campbell.

A couple of weeks can make all the difference. Right after a well-received March performance of Luna Negra Dance Theater‘s Made in Spain, dancer Nigel Campbell found himself out of work. The company announced the dancers would be put on an extended hiatus effectively making the current dancers at least temporarily unemployed. Little did we know that Campbell was planning to leave at the end of the season and quickly convinced his new boss, GöteborgsOperans Dankompani Artistic Director Adolphe Binder, to let him join the Swedish contemporary company early. “Initially she told me no, because it was pretty much the end of the season” he said. “She wrote me back two days later and said I could come on as a cover and start learning things for next season. I’ll always be indebted to her.” After a quick pit stop home in New York, Campbell moved to Sweden and just danced in his first performance with the company earlier this month as a replacement for dance/choreographer/rehearsal director Fernando Melo who is on paternity leave (yes, they get that!).

RB spoke with Campbell via Skype on a Sunday evening after he got settle in Sweden. Here are excerpts from our conversation:

Alright, I’m recording this shit. Hi! How are you? What time is it there?

12:30. I had kind of an easy day and I have tomorrow off since they had the show today. I just went to see it. It was absolutely incredible. I’ve only been here two weeks. Everything has happened so fast that I haven’t had time to process it. I’m waiting for the moment to hit me. It’s kind of a blessing.

Why that company? How did you get there?

I was going to join the company next season. It wasn’t official yet and I had just spoken to Gustavo [Ramirez Sansano] about it a few days before everything happened, so I hadn’t made it public yet. I had been aware of the company for quite some time and it has a really good reputation and recently has shifted its focus to very contemporary work and creation and lots of risk taking. Of course at Luna we worked with Fernando [Melo] twice. I had a good rapport and relationship with him. The opportunity presented itself for me to be here and I thought it was a really good opportunity and new information, because it’s really different. It’s an institution. It’s an opera house and there are 40 dancers. It’s completely different from the way I was working at Luna. I was very happy, but I’ve always had this idea for my life where I have lots of different experiences and try on lots of different hats and live in different places. What I’ve always liked about dance is that you get to have so many lives. I’m young and I want to try on lots of different hats. This hat presented itself and it was something I needed to take advantage of. I’m still processing everything. It happened so fast.

How is your body?

Ohhhh. My body is in a bit of shock. I had two weeks to get everything in order to move here. There was a move from Chicago to New York and then New York to Sweden. I didn’t really have time to dance during those two weeks and I was lugging around suitcases and boxes and I’m jet lagged. I jumped into rehearsals here and it’s a very physical piece as well and completely different way of moving from what I’ve been focusing on for the past three years. My body is quite in shock. It hurts, but it’s good. We have physical therapy and massage therapy every day. My body is starting to get used to things. Everything is starting to settle, which is nice.

Talk about Mr. Nigel. Where did you grow up? When did you start dancing?

I’m from the Bronx. I started dancing at a studio in Brooklyn, because my mother’s family is from Brooklyn and we went to church in Brooklyn. This school was affiliated with the church that I went to. I was about 12, which is quite late to start dancing.  They trained me to get into LaGuardia High School for the Performing Arts which is the ‘Fame’ school. The school the movie was based on. That was my introduction to formal training. I was taking ballet every day and the Graham technique. That was when I started to become a bit more serious about my training. I felt like I had a lot of catching up to do, so I really pushed myself. It was dancing all the time and taking four or five classes a day. Also, because I don’t have a natural body for dance. I’m not very flexible. I worked really hard and I graduated from La Guardia and went to Juilliard. That was a very intense experience. I call it the best/worst experience of my life. It’s everything. It’s so full. When people ask, ‘how was it at Juilliard? Was it amazing?’ It was amazing. I cried and I laughed and I met people who are my closest friends in the world. I learned so much, but it’s difficult. They’re pushing you to be incredible. It takes a lot of work and dedication. There are a lot of big fish from small ponds all coming together and you’re all really talented and different. It can be difficult. This is also really beautiful. I went there for four years. It has informed a lot of my choices throughout my life.

And after you graduated?

I graduated in 2008 and moved to Germany. I danced for Marguerite Donlon for two years. That was my first job out of college. Maggie was awesome. I’d lived my entire life in NYC. It’s such a fast pace. I love the energy and fast pace, so when I moved to this small town in Germany, my whole life was flipped upside down in the most amazing way. Everything was new. I didn’t know anyone. I don’t know the culture. I don’t speak the language. I’ve never worked professionally. For the first time, I’m very far away from my family and friends. This was exciting. It was a chance for me to reinvent myself and decide who I was at that moment. At Juilliard, there’s an encouragement to explore Europe. There’s a lot of dancers from the school who are dancing in Europe. I spent all of this time worrying that no one would want me, but taking classes in Europe, I thought I could actually do this. I could be a professional. It was really fresh and new and amazing. Maggie nurtured me and built my confidence. I got to dance a lot when I was there. There were 20 of us. She believed in me. She put me on stage. I grew a lot in those two years. I had to discover my own identity.

What brought you to Chicago?

I heard about Gustavo while I was dancing in Europe. He was already quite famous in Europe. I was on my first summer holiday, my first vacation. I went to visit my friend in Madrid, he was dancing for Nacho Duato. I went to a show. It was a two-billed program. One by Nacho and one by Gustavo. I saw this and immediately fell madly in love with him. I didn’t know him. I didn’t know anything about him. I thought why don’t I know him? This is everything I love about dance and nothing that I hate. I went home to New Yrok and talked to my friend Sarah, who was dancing with Luna Negra under Eduardo Vilaro. She said she thought Gustavo was taking over and in the fall it was announced that he was taking over the company. I didn’t have his email or anything, so I sent him a message on Facebook. I was apprehensive, because it seemed so unorthodox. I told him I’d been following his work and I’d love the opportunity to physicalize his work on my body. I sent him a link to some video clips, but I didn’t expect anything from him. I felt in my spirit that I needed to let him know how I felt. He wrote back quickly. I worked with TitoYaya [Sansano's Project in Spain] for a week. It was really difficult. After the audition in Chicago in April I was 100% down with him and ready to be a part. I finished the season in Germany and moved to Chicago to dance for Gustavo at Luna Negra. He delivered everything that I ever dreamed and expected and wanted him to deliver. He pushed me further that I thought anyone could push me. He demanded a lot of me. It was difficult and frustrating at times. It was scary. It was a different system. I’d never worked professionally in the States. I didn’t understand the complicated health care system. I didn’t understand the lay off system. There was a thing about the way he was working and creating and about his work that felt very much a part of who I am. It was difficult. Gustavo’s body can do these crazy things. My body can’t do that. It was a struggle to get inside of the work in my body. He gave us the freedom to discover his work in your own body. I connected to his physicality, to his musicality, his speed. Some of the actual physical things I had to figure out. There was an intellectual process behind it as well.  In looking at his work, there’s something so architectural. It’s so structural and everything fits together.  He sees it in his head. You can see it working in his head. I was 23 when I started with him. To work with someone that I really believed in and considered a genius…he opened me. He never allowed me to excuse myself. He would say, ‘I’m not going to let you say that you can’t do it. You have to figure it out. I believe that you are talented and intelligent enough to find out how to make it work.’ It was harsh, but always with a cushion of love and support. In that way, he pushed me further than anyone else ever has.

Is there anything you’d like to say “one the record” about what happened at Luna?

It was rough. I don’t think anyone planned it or wanted it to happen. It wasn’t a great situation for anyone. I don’t have any ill will toward the company. I wish Luna Negra all the best in the future. What I take from it is three years of really incredible work and really incredible people. I think we created something special.  I’m honored that I got to be part of something so special. I stand behind Gustavo 100%. I believe in his work and his vision and his artistic direction. That is always where my loyalty and where my conviction has been. I feel that my relationship with him is stronger and I’m thankful that he’s been so supportive of me and that he’s been so understanding. He’s been in my corner this entire time. I will always be part of the Luna Negra family and it will always be a part of my life. I really do wish them the best. I stand by Gustavo. It was time for me to move on and make a change. That was my personal decision. I think I’m a very positive person. I always try to look on the bright side of things. We all falter sometimes and our emotions get the best of us. After some time to think, I’m such a better person, a better dancer, a better artist three years later after having my experience in Chicago with Luna Negra. I’m really grateful for that. My love and loyalty and devotion is with Gustavo. I think he’s brilliant,. I think he’s the voice of a generation. He has the talent and intelligence to move the art form forward. I’m grateful that I got to have that experience. I’m really blessed. All I can do is be thankful for my life.

 

 

 

 

 

Dancer Spotlight: River North’s Ethan Kirschbaum

River North dancer Ethan Kirschbaum in Adam Barruch's "I Close My Eyes Until the End". Photo by Cheryl Mann.

Monday night I stopped by the Ruth Page studios to peek in on the end of an adult jazz class. A group of women were dancing a short combination to a slow GLEE version of Florence + the Machine’s Shake It Out. Leading the combo was River North Dance Chicago (RNDC) dancer Ethan Kirschbaum, 25, who was sub teaching for a friend. Even though he was marking while demonstrating, emotion and easy enthusiasm oozed out of his body. You could feel how much he loves to dance.

Kirschbaum grew up in Oakland, California and began studying dance on a bet from his babysitter. He and his brother had to take a class and if they didn’t like it, she would buy them a Slurpee. “We went and pretended we hated it to get our free Slurpee,” he said. “But a week later, we were taking classes. We started out in jazz together and slowly started adding classes until I was basically living at the studio. My brother broke off into more hip hop and I went more classical.” His training took him to the San Francisco Ballet School and summer programs with Alonzo King LINES Ballet and the Juilliard School. He was also a performing apprentice with Reginald Ray-Savage’s Savage Jazz Dance Company.

He attended college at the Ailey School/Fordham University in New York where he had the chance to perform with the Ailey company in his sophomore year, travel to the Holland Dance Festival and perform a work by Spanish choreographer Nacho Duato. “I got a lot of great opportunities in school, but I felt like I wanted to get closer to contemporary work,” he said. “The summer of 2007, I was doing my first paid gig with the Santa Fe Opera and I had this epiphany. I should dance with Hubbard Street 2!” He auditioned, got the job and moved to Chicago with college friend Jacqueline Burnett, also joining HS2 (now in Hubbard Street’s main company) in January 2008.  After two and a half years, director Taryn Kaschock Russell suggested he audition for Marguerite Donlon’s company while they were touring in Germany. He did and, shockingly (snark), he got in and moved to Germany in 2010. “It was probably the hardest thing I’ve done to date,” he said. “I’d never lived alone. I’d never lived in another country. I had a boyfriend in Chicago at the time. My heart was here, but my career was there. My friends were here, but my future was there. It was rough, but it brought me a lot of self-awareness.”

Back in Chicago after a season with Donlon Dance Company, he auditioned around town and found a home at RNDC. He’s now concluding his second season. “I think I was intrigued by going back to my jazz roots,” Kirschbaum said. “I think River North has a good balance and a good rep. There was something familial about it. After being in a foreign country for a year, where I felt like I didn’t belong, I wanted to be somewhere that felt like home. It’s been a good fit so far. I love the people I work with. We just have fun every day. We laugh at each other. That’s one thing I’ve really learned. It’s not so much the job, but the people you work with. The day-to-day, in-the-studio is your life as a dancer. It’s not the two minutes on stage; it’s the hours in the studio.”

This weekend, Kirschbaum and his RNDC family perform at the Auditorium Theatre as part of the Music + Movement Festival with the world premiere of Havana Blue, a collaboration with Orbert Davis’ Chicago Jazz Philharmonic (CJP). Davis and RNDC artistic director Frank Chaves traveled to Havana together for a nine days of research, immersing themselves in Cuban music and culture. Also on the program for the one-night-only show are three pieces by CJP and Chaves’ Eva, which premiered earlier this month at the Annenburg Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia, coincidentally the same theater where he first auditioned for HS2 (“full circle moment!”). Kirschbaum said of the new work, “It’s very musical, very emotional, very expressive…quintessential Frank. It’s always amazing to have live music on stage next to you. There’s energy. You can make eye contact. You can play off of each other. It’s something special.”

Saturday’s performance is the last of the season for RNDC. Kirschbaum will spend the hiatus teaching – take his 11:30 am intermediate modern class at Conte’s on Saturdays! – before returning to rehearsals in July to start his third season. Eventually he may want to explore other contemporary avenues, but for now, he’s happy where he is. “I love my life,” he said. “Right now, I’m very content with where I’m at. I love my home environment. I love to connect with the community. I love the fluidity of the relationships and how quickly you can all become friends.”

River North Dance Chicago & Orbert Davis’ Chicago Jazz Philharmonic premiere Havana Blue at the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Congress Pkwy., Saturday, April 13 at 8 pm. Tickets are $32-$76; call 800.982.2787 or visit auditoriumtheatre.org/musicandmovement.