Hamburg Ballet to return in 2014!

First of all, Happy National Dance Day! I hope you’ll be tapping, pointing, smacking, twerking, turning, jumping, stomping and shimmying the day away.

Big news! The Harris Theater has announced that Hamburg Ballet will return to Chicago to perform in February 2014. The company wowed audiences last season with the epic, overwhelming, evening-length ballet Nijinsky. This season they bring Director John Neumeier’s Third Symphony of Gustav Mahler for the only American performances. Tickets go on sale – today! Deets below.

Other touring dance highlights in the 2013-2014 season are Savion Glover‘s STePz (Jan 24, ’14) Alonzo King LINES Ballet (Feb 27-28, ’14), Trey McIntyre Project (April 3, ’14) and Ballet Preljocaj (May 2-4, ’14). That is on top of the regular season performances by local troupes /resident companies Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Giordano Dance Chicago, River North Dance Chicago, Thodos Dance Chicago, Ballet Chicago and Deeply Rooted Dance Theater.

And, I’m super-duper stoked that Wendy Whelan: Restless Creature is coming (March 20). This project pairs the incomparable New York City Ballet ballerina with four contemporary choreographers including Hubbard Street’s Alejandro Cerrudo! The program has its world premiere this August at Jacob’s Pillow (“someone” couldn’t afford to go see it, so…yay!).

Tickets for the Hamburg Ballet’s “Third Symphony of Gustav Mahler” go on sale today – Saturday, July 27 – at 10 am. Tickets are available at the Harris Theater Box Office (205 E. Randolph); call 312.334.7777 or visit www.harristheaterchicago.org.

2013 Chicago Dancing Festival

Chicago Dancing Festival at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

It’s almost that time of year again. In late August (20th-24th), the seventh annual Chicago Dancing Festival (CDF) hits Chicago stages for another year of fantastic FREE dance concerts. Once again, for the third year, I will be part of CDF’s blogger initiative covering the performances and providing dancer/choreographer interviews and behind-the-scenes rehearsal sneak peeks. Woot!

This year’s line up of performers is fantastic. Local companies Chicago Human Rhythm Project, Giordano Dance Chicago, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and The Joffrey Ballet as well as NY-based companies Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Brian Brooks Moving Company, Camille A. Brown & Dancers and Lar Lubovitch Dance Company all return to the fest. CDF newcomers include Chicago’s Ensemble Español and Natya Dance Theatre and Philadelphia’s Philadanco, plus artists Brooklyn Mack of Washington Ballet and Tamako Miyazaki of Columbia Classical Ballet and Dortmund Ballet.

2013 Chicago Dancing Festival will also have two commissions: a new piece by Chi-town tappers Lane Alexander and Bril Barrett and the Chicago premiere of Alexander Ekman’s Episode 31 by Joffrey (this work will also appear on their Winter program in Feb 2014). Live music will accompany the Lubovitch company and Ensemble Español. Tuesday (Aug. 20) opens the festival with a celebration for the Harris Theater‘s 10th anniversary. Wednesday (Aug. 21) is the CDF gala performance and benefit at the Museum of Contemporary Art/MCA Stage. It’s the only event in which you need to purchase a ticket ($250). Thursday (Aug. 22) showcases Dancing in Chicago with an all-local show at the Auditorium Theatre. Friday is a free repeat of the gala performance, Solitaire – A Game of Dance, featuring all solo works. And, Saturday is the much-loved, highly-attended Celebration of Dance at the outdoor Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park.

All performances – except the gala – are free. Tickets for indoor events need to be reserved, but the outdoor Pritzker show is open to the public. The ticket release for the performances is staggered and there is a limit of two (2) tickets per order. Stay tuned for a post with the ticket release dates and performance times.

Hubbard Street’s danc(e)volve 2013: Review

Hubbard Street 2 dancers Emilie Leriche and Felicia McBride.
Hubbard St 2 dancers Brandon Lee Alley and Emilie Leriche.
Hubbard St dancers Quinn B Wharton and Jessica Tong.
Hubbard St dancers Jonny McMillian and Jesse Bechard.
Hubbard St dancers Alice Klock and Jonny McMillan.
HS 2 dancers Richard Walters and Lissa Smith.
Hubbard St dancers Garrett Anderson and Alice Klock.

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago is known for taking choreographic risks. From bringing top European choreographers like Mats Ek to the Chicago stage to commissioning works from emerging artists to cultivating in-house talent with danc(e)volve: New Works Festival 2013. Some risks are bigger than others. Some pay off, while some get chalked up to a learning experience. This “risk” showcased in the two-week run of performances at the MCA Stage, pays off big time. Usually, there is one piece that sticks with you, one that stands out – a favorite. Not here, all six new works are sharp, unique and satisfying.

The choreographers range from the more experienced – HS2 director Terence Marling, former Hubbard Street dancer Robyn Mineko Williams and soon-to-depart, new Mom Penny Saunders to the younger, just-starting-out HS2′s Andrew Wright. Wright proves he has a bright future as a choreographer opening the show with Agape. Utilizing his fellow HS2-ers, he goes from a twitchy opening female solo with dancers running and reaching for something unattainable to a freeing second section where the dancers run in abandon with their arms and heads flung back. The second company commands the stage in this opening piece, especially Emile Leriche, who will join the main company this fall. She’s strong, subtle and stunning. When she’s on stage, you simply can’t take your eyes off her. At times, she seems to dissipate like a puff of smoke.

With a packed touring schedule, we rarely get to see HS2 perform alongside the main company. It was nice to see the younger dancers mixed in with the more seasoned dancers. Marling’s ditto, a trio with HS2′s Leriche and Brandon Lee Alley dancing with Ana Lopez, blurred the lines between first and second company. Alley showed considerable skill partnering the always stunning Lopez. Saunders’ Adalea featuring six dancers from the main company had some fun with chairs, ending with a tumbling, tossing, physical duet with Jesse Bechard and Johnny McMillan. As a lovely extra, at the end of the first act, a video made by the dancers of their trip with DanceMotion USA was shown giving us a glimpse into some of the adventures they had while in North Africa and Spain. Pictures and video from the trip with voice over from the dancers reveal an inspiring once-in-a-lifetime adventure.

Jonathan Fredrickson’s Límon-esque For the Wandered was a meditation in white for five dancers incorporating text via hidden microphones inside movable starched white mounds of material. Most of the new works were somber, focusing on the complex construction and the dancing, but Marling’s stop…stop…stop. was a lighter, humorous romp set to a mambo with the dancer’s voices remixed on top like an audio thought bubble. HS2′s Lissa Smith and Richard Walters were perfect as a shy, awkward potential couple manipulated by the dashing Quinn B Wharton as a mentor/matchmaker. Wharton’s intermittent sly solos a fun, quirky interlude to the actions of the couple. Mineko William’s Grey Horses closed the show with the black brick back wall exposed creating a darker, starker stage.  Again mixing dancers from both companies (props to Leriche – again – and Walters!), she used the stark setting to create another dance of shadows across the back wall with beautiful solo work by Alice Klock. Set to music titled Ghost Come Morning by Robert G. Haynes, the final image of Klock and her shadow fading in to the dark brought an otherworldly feel.

Most performances are already sold out, but there are ticket still available for the Sunday, June 16 shows. Get them here now!

Slideshow Photo Captions: All photography by Todd Rosenberg.

Emilie Leriche and Felicia McBride in “Agape” by Andrew Wright.

Brandon Lee Alley and Emilie Leriche in “ditto” by Terence Marling.

Quinn B Wharton and Jessica Tong in “Adalea” by Penny Saunders.

Johnny McMillan and Jesse Bechard in “Adalea” by Penny Saunders.

Alice Klock and Johnny McMillan in “For the Wandered” by Jonathan Fredrickson.

Richard Walters and LIssa Smith in “stop…stop…stop.” by Terence Marling.

Garrett Anderson and Alice Klock in “Grey Horses” by Robyn Mineko Williams.

 

 

Hubbard Street’s Kevin Shannon Talks DanceMotion USA (Part 2)

Hubbard Street dancer Kevin Shannon with Roma children in Spain.

Some days my “job” is easy. Case in point, meeting Hubbard Street dancer Kevin Shannon on a Sunday afternoon shortly after he returned from his trip abroad with DanceMotion USA. Shannon along with fellow Hubbard Street dancers Jesse Bechard, Jacqueline Burnett, Meredith Dincolo, Kellie Epperheimer, Jason Hortin, David Schultz, Jessica Tong and their fearless leader Glenn Edgerton, lighting and tech director Matt Miller and Company Manager Ishanee DeVas traveled to North Africa and Spain as cultural ambassadors providing dance workshops and performances.

RB spoke with Shannon in March right before he left, when he talked about the DMUSA program – ie. Part 1. Once he was back in the States, we wanted to have a tapas-style picnic, but the weather did not agree with us, so we met at Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba. After ordering a pitcher of sangria and a couple of small plates (I ate octupus!). I said, “Ambassador Shannon, tell me everything.” For the most part, my job was done. He proceeded to tell me all about the trip including a number of dancers getting ill requiring performance adjustments, spice markets, a tannery, Moroccan tea, guys on donkey carts, crazy driving and traffic, a lovely day off in Spain and meeting new friends. Here are his stories in his own words. Hint: the word inspiring came up a lot!

First stop – Casablanca: We flew from Chicago to New York, New York to Madrid, Madrid to Casablanca. It’s a long trip. We arrived around 11 in the morning and had a little bit of a break. Everyone was jet-lagged. That evening we had a press conference with the woman from the Embassy. The next day we woke up at 7:30 to start the workshop. It was in a little neighborhood. It was still in Casablanca (the white city). They split us up in two groups and we do two workshops a day. One group was all hip hop. Nobody has any training. They come from the street. There were more men. The culture is not conducive to have women be dancers. A lot of the girls came, but wouldn’t tell their family what they were doing. They were so dedicated. We’d teach them a lot of improvisational and movement technique. What’s it mean to do points in space or to manipulate your body? We even taught ballet to them. There they have folk dancing, hip hop and b-boys. They wanted to learn something different, more contemporary, so they could incorporate it into what they do. It was so cool to see them try to figure it out. They can dance and move, but it’s a different way of thinking and moving. It was really inspiring.

We worked with a group of actors there as well. They did not have dance training at all. We pushed them to think creatively and physically in new ways. Physical dance theater…taking an object and doing exercises with it and around it without words. We worked with people in a detention facility. They were either abandoned by their family or they’d been abused or there was violence within the home where they had to leave. They had girls that were the leaders. I worked with them. To get them to be physical is very difficult. It’s not their culture. The empowerment of women is really important to see. It exists as a whole in certain ways, but it doesn’t exist outside of the home. Or being a physical woman, to dance, to move…they don’t do sports. The men do that. The men are ready to move and be physical, but the woman are more tentative and on the side afraid to do it. It was great to have empowering woman like Meredith and Jac and Kellie and Jess say, ‘no, you can do this’. By the end of the workshop, there was a huge change in their demeanor. Their faces lit up.

 

Hubbard Street and ONCI Ballet of Algeria.

On to Marrakesh: Marrakesh was very different. Marrakesh has more tourism. One of the guys asked where we should go eat and they said “McDonald’s!” The McDonald’s were packed. [It was] strange to see that Americanization of certain areas. We were staying at this beautiful hotel. It was strange to be in that Westernized place and then working with students in a studio with the floor falling apart. We had one day to walk around. We went into the spice market. I brought some spices home. I carried them around to Algeria, so when I got home and unpacked, it smelled so pungent. We went to these old French mansions. Everything is hidden behind walls. So you walk in and there’s this beautiful large space, but you don’t see it from the street. 

Next stop, Spain: Seville – that was our next journey. It was beautiful. I loved Spain. Morocco is a place to visit. Spain is a place to live. I’d like to go back. We worked with adults with Down Syndrome. It was incredible. They were dancers. The kids with Down Syndrome and the hearing-impaired children were the best students. They were so expressive with emotion. They could just go there. They were so creative and inventive. We did the same type of work. Each workshop was a little different. The place we were teaching the workshops were near this bridge and had a lot of empty spaces. Even though there are a lot of economic issues, there’s still a lot of support for programs like this. In Morocco there’s nothing. We worked with flamenco students as well. They were incredible. We taught them ‘Little Mortal [Jump]‘ and sometimes Jason would give a little jazz warm up. They were beautiful. We didn’t get to learn, but we got to watch them. We got to hear them talk about it. They’re just as skilled at what they do as we are. It’s so sexy. A lot of it is improv. They watch the teacher and just pick up what she’s doing. And, the tapas bars are amazing! Valencia is paella city. Beautiful, huge paellas.Valencia was an amazing city. Seville is more traditional, where Valencia is more progressive in the sense of there are more contemporary stores, etc. I would love to go back to Valencia.

And Algeria: And then to the chaos of Algiers. ‘Battle vans’. They were these armored vehicles that were bulletproof. That’s what we traveled in. Algiers was like Morocco, but without the tourism. You don’t see Americans. It’s a police state. They are all over. There are halts and barricades, bomb detectors. Morocco and Algiers don’t have a good relationship. Their borders are closed. In Algeria we worked with Roma children. They are like gypsy families. It was interesting. We’d worked before with the hearing-impaired children. They were so good, so focused. With the Roma children it was like herding cats. Their school is beautiful. It was in an old area that used to be a fishing community. The Roma children are a little darker than typical Spaniards and the culture is less Westernized. Flamenco music is a huge part of that culture. Their identity is music.

We did a performance together with a folkloric company ONCI [Ballet of Algeria] *. I don’t think they were expecting it to be so physical. I taught a movement improv class. They were in shock. They aren’t used to moving that much. The women do their little steps. Some are dancers, but some are more actors. We worked with them for three days. Then we found out a former president had passed away. The country went into eight days of mourning, so all of our performances were cancelled. We ended up doing a performance for the students.

Looking back: It was really inspiring to see dancers without really any training trying to do what we do and then giving us so much back. Sharing movement. It’s just dance. We didn’t have to speak the same language, but the language is dance. It’s the movement. You don’t have to have words. One of the most beautiful parts of this trip is it reminded me that what I do is so extremely important and such a gift. It is a gift to be able to share dance. Dance can be high class or for the middle class or from the streets. It transcends. For me it was very inspiring to come back here and be more inspired to do this again. Sometimes you get burned out and need to be reminded why you do what you do.

Don’t miss Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s danc(e)volve opening tomorrow night at the MCA Stage, 220 E. Chicago Ave. Most performance dates are already sold out, but tickets are still available for the matinee (3 pm) and evening (7:30 pm) performances on Sunday, June 16. 

 

 

MIA & Update

Howdy! Sorry I’ve been M.I.A. on the blog the last week or so. I’m taking a brief, but much needed break from our crazy dance scene – honestly, Joffrey‘s Othello wore me out! – for a couple of days, but working behind-the-scenes on some upcoming stuff.

Things to look for soon: notes on the Music + Movement Festival Showcase, a review of Eifman Ballet‘s Rodin (both at Auditorium Theatre next week), part two of my interview with Hubbard Street dancer Kevin Shannon about his DanceMotion USA trip, a preview/ Q&A with flamenco dancer Chiara Mangiameli about her studio’s upcoming performance of Quejíos – Cries In The Air, a chat with former Luna Negra-turned-GöteborgsOperans Dansekompani dancer Nigel Campbell! I’m sure there’s more, but I can’t think of what they are right now, so they will be a surprise.

Kisses!

 

Hubbard Street’s 2013-2014 Season

Hubbard Street dancers Jessica Tong and Jesse Bechard in Alejandro Cerrudo's "One Thousand Pieces". Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

Kylián, Naharin, Ek, Duato, Forsythe. Five big names – perhaps the biggest – in European-based choreography will be represented by Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in the 2013-2014 season. Add in a reprise of resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo’s full company, Chagall-inspired One Thousand Pieces, plus a world premiere from him next June and it looks to be another amazing season for the 36-year-old troupe. All performance will be held at the Harris Theater (205 E. Randolph).

I’m super stoked about getting to see One Thousand Pieces again. I was very melancholy leaving the theater last year, after seeing it for the second time. I didn’t want it to be over. Set to music by Philip Glass, Cerrudo creates a vivid, beautifully surreal world in water, glass and blue.

Over the years, Hubbard Street has challenged me to expand and/or change my perception and likes/dislikes of choreography. Some of my favorite works now are from choreographers I had never heard of growing up in Central Illinois. It will be interesting (and fun!) to see which of the five superstar international choreographers will come out on top at the end of next season. (Front runner: Forsythe, by a hair.)

Former Hubbard Street dancer Robyn Mineko Williams, now making quite a name for herself as a choreographer, will also create a new work for the company to premiere in October. Also of note, Terence Marling will succeed Taryn Kaschock Russell as the new director of HS2 – congrats!! – and Lucas Crandall returns to Chicago to fill Marling’s former role as Hubbard Street’s rehearsal director.

Fall Series – October 10-13, 2013: Passomezzo (Ohad Naharin), new work (Robyn Mineko Williams), Casi-Casa (Mats Ek), and the Compass quintet from AZIMUTH (Alonzo King).

Winter Series - December 12-15, 2013: One Thousand Pieces (Alejandro Cerrudo).

Spring Series – March 13-16, 2014: All Kylián! Sarabande, Falling Angels, 27’52″, and Petite Mort.

Summer SeriesGnawa (Nacho Duato), Quintett (William Forsythe), world premiere (Cerrudo).

Hubbard Street’s Kevin Shannon Talks DanceMotion USA (Part 1)

Hubbard Street dancer Kevin Shannon in Mats Ek's "Casi-Casa". Photo by Quinn B Wharton.

“I started tap dancing when I was eight, mainly because I was a little rambunctious,” he said. “I was just troublesome. I was always trying to figure out a way to get a reaction out of people and my Mom was just over it.” Hubbard Street Dance Chicago dancer Kevin Shannon, 28, told me about growing up in inner city Baltimore (the John Waters movie Pecker was filmed there) over ice cream – his brilliant idea! – his one day off after the company’s combined performances at the Harris Theater with Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet before heading out on tour to Wisconsin. Before landing in Chicago in 2007, Shannon took his orneriness to the Baltimore School for the Arts and Julliard. He’s now in his sixth season with Hubbard Street.

It was his senior show at Julliard that caught the attention of Jim Vincent, Hubbard Street’s artistic director at the time, and brought him to the Midwest. “I’d auditioned in Europe and Canada, but I kind of wanted to be in the States,” Shannon said. “The rep here is so great and we get to travel. This is one of the best contemporary companies in the world, not just the States. I don’t think a lot of companies have what this company has. These dancers can do anything and do it well.” Seven of those dancers, plus fearless leader artistic director Glenn Edgerton, joined Shannon this week in an epic adventure. On Monday, they flew out on the first leg of a cultural diplomacy program sponsored by the U.S. State Department and the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) called DanceMotion USA (DMUSA). Now in its third year, DMUSA sends American dance companies abroad for performance, education and outreach. Hubbard Street is one of four companies chosen this year and will be visiting Morocco, Spain and Algeria.

Earlier this year, they traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet with Assistant Secretary of State Ann Stock and BAM Executive Producer Joe Melillo to be briefed on the trip, the regions/cities they would visit (Casablanca, Marrakesh, Valencia, Seville, Algiers and Orun) and their duties as artistic ambassadors. “I’m really excited about it,” said Shannon. “We’ll have one performance in each city and every day we’ll be doing workshops. It’s more of an outreach/teaching program. It’s a wide range of students. Some will be dance trained and I think in Spain we’ll be working with mute and deaf children.” The eight dancers – Shannon, Jesse Bechard, Jacqueline Burnett, Meredith Dincolo, Kellie Epperheimer, Jason Hortin, David Schultz and Jessica Tong – will be performing five in-house pieces from the Hubbard Street rep from dancer Jonathan Fredrickson, former dancer Robyn Mineko Williams and resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo.

While they’re away, the rest of the company is hard at work here getting ready for the upcoming Danc(e)volve performances of newly created in-house choreographic works. Not to be left out, Edgerton is having the DMUSA dancers create a work while they’re gone about the trip. Another way they’re staying connected is through social media. You can follow the dancers throughout the entire trip via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the DMUSA blog. “My hope for this program, going into it, is that when we come back, we stay connected, so we can expand our outreach,” said Shannon. “It’s really exciting. Once you do this, you’re always a cultural ambassador and will always have a connection to the State Department.” Well, Ambassador Shannon, we look forward to hearing all about the trip in Part 2 of the interview, when you get back.

Check out what’s happening on their first stop in Casablanca, Morocco – where they are right now!

 

 

 

Hubbard Street + LINES Ballet: Review

Hubbard Street & LINES Ballet dancers in Alonzo King's "Azimuth". Photo by Margo Moritz.

What happens when two very different top contemporary companies combine talents for a much-anticipated joint appearance including a premiere commissioned by the Harris Theater in honor of its 10th anniversary and funded in part by a grant from the Joyce Foundation? You get an amazingly danced, slightly overwhelming, long-ass show. Last night Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and San Fransisco-based Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet took the stage for the Chicago premiere of a new collaborative work by King presented with an older work (Rasa) from King and a work by Hubbard Street resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo. As the culmination of a years-long process that included a three-week residency at the University of Irvine and the world premiere collaboration of Azimuth, it is a historical dance feat, for sure, but this felt like a LINES Ballet show with Hubbard Street as mere guest artists.

King has a unique approach to choreographing, pushing the dancers to always investigate and make choices with their movement. This makes for interesting, ever-changing dancing, but at times proves tiring for the audience and with works pushing 40-minutes a piece, a little editing would go a long way. His philosophical base of construction is a bit too heady for my taste, but what he gets out of the dancers is astounding. His dancers are beautiful creatures with legs, arms and technique for days that move in a way that is uniquely King-created. There is something in the way they move their arms that is breathtaking. Courtney Henry, Keelan Whitmore and Michael Montgomery were stand outs in this super talented group.

As if thrown in as a quirky palette cleanser between King pieces, Cerrudo’s Little mortal jump offered lighter fare with its whimsical, theatrical humor. The ending duet between Jesse Bechard and Ana Lopez (my favorite part) is usually clouded in dark, foggy lighting that adds to the ethereal quality of the slow-motion duet. Last night’s lighting was much brighter (showing dancers behind boxes, the couple exiting upstage, etc.) losing some of its magic.

Obviously, with King choreographing the new work, the LINES dancers were at an advantage, but the fact that Azimuth looked like another all-LINES piece is a testament to the Hubbard Street dancers’ chameleon-like talent to assimilate. Some adapted quicker than others – Jacqueline Burnett, Johnny McMillan and Kellie Epperheimer were all featured in solos.  Epperheimer was also featured in a soaring quintet aided by Hubbard Street men (Jonathan Fredrickson, Garrett Anderson, Bechard and David Schultz) that had her diving, floating, skimming, jumping and climbing around the entire stage. Yet, when all 26 dancers were on stage moving together, it was a lot to take in. The dancers I’ve spoken with all say it was an inspiring process and I’m sure they have all grown from it, while gaining new friends as an added perk.

Hubbard Street + LINES Ballet at the Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph, through Sunday, March 17. Tickets are $25-$99; visit www.hubbardstreet.com or call 312.334.7777.

 

 

Hubbard Street’s Kellie Epperheimer Talks LINES Collab

Hubbard Street's Kellie Epperheimer in Alonzo King's "Azimuth". Photo by Margo Moritz.

In 2011, The Joyce Foundation awarded a grant to Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and San Francisco-based Alonzo King LINES Ballet for a multi-year collaboration culminating in a shared program coming to the Harris Theater next week. Hubbard Street will perform resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo’s 2012 work Little mortal jump and LINES performs King’s 2007 Rasa. The show ends with the Chicago premiere of the two companies combined in King’s Azimuth.

The well-received new work had its world premiere earlier this year in Berkeley, California and will also be presented for one-night-only later this month in Madison, Wisconsin and later this summer in Los Angeles, California. King came to Chicago last year to work with the Hubbard St. dancers and the companies both did a three-week residency last summer at the University of California Irvine. He used all of his LINES dancers and all but two of the Hubbard St. dancers to create a cross-country masterpiece for 28 top-of-their-game dancers.

One of those dancers is Hubbard St.’s teeny phenom Kellie Epperheimer. At 5’1″ “on a good day”, she’s on the shorter end of the spectrum on stage with the LINES dancers who tend to be tall (one of their female leads is 6′!). Epperheimer, 27, was featured in King’s 2000 work Following the Subtle Current Upstream (in the Hubbard St. rep since 2011) and is featured in the new work, particularly in a quintet section that has four Hubbard St. men carrying her around the stage in a lengthy lift sequence as if she’s floating on air. A California native, she recalls being “blown away” seeing Hubbard St. perform Ohad Naharin’s Minus 16 as a teen. She was crushed when she didn’t make it into Julliard for college, but moved to New York anyway to train and took every class she could. In 2005, she joined HS2 under the direction of Julie Nakagawa and Andreas Böttcher. “They were extremely formative in my transition,” she said over the phone while on tour. “I don’t think I would be where I am today without their help and guidance.”

After two years in the second company, she joined the main company where she’s now in her sixth season. Here’s an excerpt of our conversation:

What’s it like working with Alonzo?

He is an incredible mind. He has these ideas and is really interested in having the dancers explore the work of what he gives. There’s a lot of freedom, I think, in his movement. You can push yourself and not get too comfortable. He’s a big fan of it constantly changing and morphing and testing your limits to see what happens. I think he asks a lot from his dancers, in a really excellent way. He’s specific with certain things, but how you interpret that is very free, which allows the dancer to put in their personality.

How are his dancers different from Hubbard St. dancers?

They’re not that different. They are a taller company, for sure. Their bodies can do some amazing things that I can’t. I had hip surgery a couple of years ago, so my legs don’t go up as high as they used to. I think we get low. My initial impulse is to drop my center and get low. It’s been nice to have him test me to be up quite a bit and use that space as well.

Did you notice either company changing the way they moved? Did you adopt each others’ style?

Absolutely. I think it was a good two-way street. We all were very influenced and inspired by each other. They work with him often, so they know his vocabulary better, but they were really interested in how we were approaching it as well. It was a great experience. It was nice to have a community like that.

Tell me about the new work, Azimuth.

He did an excellent job of using all of us. It starts out with a large group section. We’re all dancing on stage, but interpreting our own timing and rhythms. We eventually sync up to do another large group dance. The different bodies and dynamics are interesting. We have a couple of sections with duets where we are integrated amongst the LINES dancers. It’s a nice little journey he takes us on throughout the piece with breakout solos and an ebb and flow to it.

Hubbard Street + LINES Ballet perform at the Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph St., Thursday-Sunday, March 14-17. Tickets are $25-$99. Call 312.334.7777 or visit hubbardstreetdance.com.

HS2′s Taryn Kaschock Russell: The Exit Interview

Hubbard Street 2 Director Taryn Kaschock Russell. Photo by Cheryl Mann.

On January 17th, Hubbard Street 2′s Artistic Director Taryn Kaschock Russell, rocked the Chicago dance world with this Facebook post: “After 17 amazing years in Chicago…I will be moving back to the east coast…”. You may think I’m being hyperbolic, but this petite powerhouse made a huge impact on the local dance scene. She will be missed. The impetus of the move comes via her husband Greg, who was recently named the new Company Manager for the New York City Ballet. “He started out at SAB (The School of American Ballet),” Kaschock Russell tells me over the phone from her West Loop HSDC office. “To be back managing the building that he learned in, some parts seem full circle.” The couple met while dancing with the Joffrey Ballet soon after the company made the transition to Chicago from New York in 1995.

Kaschock Russell grew up on the East Coast. She graduated high school early and planned on joining Boston Ballet II, but ended up at the Joffrey School in New York right before they declared bankruptcy – “It was a really amusing situation.” – and spent a year in NYC with her brother (dancing with David Parsons) and sister (on scholarship at Ailey). During her seven years at Joffrey, she made quite a name for herself in principal roles including the “Cowgirl” in Agnes de Mille’s Rodeo and as the first female outside of David Parson’s company to perform his six-minute, jump-laden solo Caught. In 2002, she joined Hubbard Street and was soon recognized as a “25 To Watch” in 2003 by Dance Magazine. After retiring from the stage, she began teaching and setting works for Hubbard St as part of the artistic staff – had a baby! – and in 2008, took over as director of the second company, HS2.

RB spoke with Kaschock Russell earlier this month about her career, leaving Chicago at the end of April and what’s next. Here are excerpts of our conversation:

First of all, I’m very sad, but happy for you too.

I know. It’s the same type of emotions I’m having too.

I know you from your Joffrey days. Let’s talk about Caught. Did your brother dancing for David Parsons have anything to do with you getting the part?

Yes and no. David knew me beforehand. I used to sit there and watch when it was only David doing the role. I remember sitting at City Center in the front wing when I was 15, watching David. I’m very proud of this story. I never went in and asked for anything, I didn’t believe in that. I believed in hard work and that should be acknowledged. But when I found great out that David was coming and that they were doing “Caught” that it was one of those opportunities in a career.  So I said, I’m going to get my shit together and I’m going to go in during my lay off and I’m going to tell Mr. Arpino that I just want to learn it. I want to be in the room. I know that women can’t do it, but I want to be in the room and learn it. I walked in and they had the schedule up during lay off, before I went to talk to him, and there were three names on the list to learn it. It was Davis Robertson, Harris Jones and me. I never said anything! He just put me in there.

I have to say, seeing you do that solo was one of the coolest things I’ve seen in Chicago dancing. It was so awesome to see a girl do it. How hard was it? It was all jumps! 

Thank you. It kicked my ass. Basically you have to keep jumping because you don’t know the timing of how the strobe works. It was a ton of trial and error. It is all jumping. After the first or second day, I’d blown out my quads. I had no idea what that was. I couldn’t walk up stairs. My legs kept giving out and then I’d have to go to rehearsal and they were like three-hour-a-day rehearsals. We would do it over and over again. I remember very vividly, he (David) pulled me aside after having me do something like ten more times than the guys did it and he said, “You just bought yourself a matinee missy, if this company will let me put a woman on”. It was really hard. First of all, it took a while to even have the stamina to do it. Still when I was in the wings before I went on, I would feel almost physically sick, because I knew how tired I would be at the end. At the same time, the audience experience is unreal. It’s like a rock performance. I knew that from watching him, but when you feel that and you’re on the stage and the whole audience freaks out that certainly ups the adrenaline. There’s that perseverance of I’m going to get through this.

You came to Hubbard Street in 2002. What made you switch?

I can’t believe I haven’t told you this story. One of the things I loved and was fortunate enough to grow up with was original creations, original choreography. At Joffrey, I got to do that a small amount, but it wasn’t happening quite as often. I had been watching Hubbard Street for years. We always traded tickets. The first inkling when I considered Hubbard Street was after I had just seen NDT’s (Nederlands Dans Theatre) performance of “Petite Mort” on an arts channel. It was the very first piece of choreography on television that made me cry. It was so beautiful and so unexpected and musical. I swear within a week of me seeing it, we got a newsletter at Joffrey saying that Hubbard Street had acquired “Petite Mort”! I remember freaking out. I went to see it and it was right after they’d learned it, so I think the company was still settling in to that kind of partnering, so the experience of watching it from the third balcony at the Shubert didn’t match how I felt watching NDT do it. I thought,ok, I’m still where I’m supposed to be right now. I was kind of getting a bug where I wanted to do more contemporary work, but I wasn’t there yet. Then I had a life-changing experience at Joffrey dancing “Appalachian Spring”. Yuriko Kikuchi came in to set it. The entire experience for me changed a lot of how I was viewing performance or what I get out when I’m learning. She was so giving. She’s very demanding, but so rich with information and not any part of that information felt selfish. She just wanted it to be ours and to watch it grow. It really was profound, the entire exchange and getting to dance that role and working with her. By the time I got to the stage, all I wanted to do was live in it and perform it in that way. I don’t think I’d experienced anything to that point. The process of learning it and putting it on stage was perfect in so many ways. At the same time, I was at a party with Cheryl Mann. She was going through the exact same kind of profound experience (at Hubbard Street). She said, “There’s this man, Ohad Naharin.” She started to describing the initial time he was there for “Minus 16″.  The improvisation, pushing them outside their envelopes, telling stories, how he was using their vocals and everything that went into mounting that first “Minus 16″. So she and I made a pact. She was going to come see “Appalachian Spring” and I would go to see “Minus 16″. They had done “Petite Mort” in that program and then the last thing was “Minus 16″. That time “Petite Mort” floored me. I was in tears. The way they were dancing together was seamless. And “Minus 16″ sealed everything. I think I looked at Patrick Simonello, who was with me, and said, “What am I doing with my life? And why am I not doing this?” It changed everything. I certainly had never thought of staying in Chicago. When you change companies, you normally move cities. I thought I’d go to Europe, or San Francisco or another ballet company. That performance just did it. That’s what I want to do with my life. I wanted to do the work, which made a huge difference and why I’m still here.

HS2 ladies: Emilie Leriche, Alicia Delgadillo, Taryn Kaschock Russell, Felicia McBride and Lissa Smith. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

Tell me about the transition from dancing to artistic staff.

One of the reasons I stopped dancing specifically is that we were touring so much and I wanted to have a family and that wasn’t working out. It just wasn’t happening. I stopped dancing in December and within a month, Jim (Vincent) asked me to come back to set a piece. Julie (Nakagawa) and Andreas (Böttcher) had just resigned, so there was an interim year where HS2 had a rehearsal director and trying to figure out what to do. I set one piece on second company and shortly after they named me rehearsal director. It wasn’t a full-time contract. I didn’t go on tour, but when the company was here, I was here. Two months after I stopped dancing, I got pregnant. So I was rehearsal director and going back to school (studying Psychology at Northwestern) and pregnant. I really was crazy. I was responsible for remounting works from scratch. I started teaching class for the company. The transition was really smooth. Right after I had Donovan, they had a conversation with me about working with the second company. Basically, from the second I started working with the second company, it was history, because I just fell so in love. I came in the first day. My first group was with Jacqueline (Burnett, Hubbard St.) and Eduardo (Zuniga, Luna Negra) and Ethan (Kirchbaum, River North) How could you not fall in love with them? They were so hungry for information. I started giving corrections on a piece I already knew and the amount that it impacted them within 24 hours was so profound that I was floored. It was two things. It was exhilarating and beautiful and it was scary as hell. They will take what I say and it will mean this much to them. It will make an impact in their lives. The responsibility of it was overwhelming. It was the same way with becoming a new parent. The opportunity to impact lives in that way and help produce change that was meaningful for them. And to just give, in the same way, strangely enough, that I feel Yuriko had given to me. The way she gave to me made me want to give the same way to other people.

What is your teaching/mentoring philosophy?

I’m a little bit crazy. I’m not kidding. I make a fool out of myself every single day, multiple times a day. I’m so not self-conscious about who I am that they feel more comfortable being who they are and I make sure that can happen. I really, truly believe that HS2 needs to be a safe environment for exploration. I give this lecture every single year. You walk into that room and you are there to support each other. You support each others’ failures and successes. You root for everyone to succeed. Not everywhere is like that. I feel that the second company’s experience needs to be a place where they can try and fail in order to get to where they’re going to get to next. You have to fail. You have to fail in big ways and small ways and be able to try things that are ridiculous. The room is a safe room. I really look at everyone individually and try to develop groups that will work to feed off each other’s strengths and weaknesses. I would never want a group of individuals that is very similar, because there’s not enough diversity in the room to add. Everyone comes in with their own experiences and it adds to how everyone grows. They see each other change and I think it helps them. Nobody should want to leave two years later as the same person. They want to be transformed. My directing is trial and error. I’m trying things out. If it doesn’t work, I try other things. I don’t walk in with the answers. I walk in with every bit of information that I have and I give them everything that I have. Even if it’s “I don’t know”. I’m very honest. I try to be extremely honest about what their strengths and weaknesses are even when it’s hard. There are always difficult moments. It takes a lot of confidence on my own part to sit down and know that I’m not going to make someone hate me by saying something difficult. That’s growing up on my part. Laughter. Laughter is enormous. It’s allowing emotion to be shown. Our pieces are set up that they’re theatrical. They’re contemporary internal. They’re always asking for “you” to be in there. Your personality has to be in there. Especially for 18 to 25-year-olds, that can be super uncomfortable. Allowing the time to be ridiculous and silly in that safe atmosphere. You need to be somewhere where you aren’t judged for trying.

What advice would you give to the next director of HS2? 

Allow yourself to be changed. Observe and learn from the people you’re directing. People learn from example. I love the education outreach we do. I believe in it so wholeheartedly. My love for those things goes to my dancers. My willingness to think outside the box in situations and create site-specific improves so they look the best. As I open my mind to things, their minds are open as well, because they see the person in front of the room be excited and inspired. Also, believing the dancers are really special. They are special and they are worth serious investment. Each group of them will change. Adapt to your companies and leading them with strong examples without fear. If you’re asking them to give all of that to you and to create a safe environment, then you have to do it too. You have to lead by example.

What’s in your future in New York?

One of the things I’d like to do is stop touring. He’ll be touring some, so I want to take the opportunity to be the one not leaving. I’ve been fortunate to be able to have worked with a lot of choreographers and NYC isn’t a small dance town. I’ve developed some friendships. I’ve put out some feelers at university programs. That age group fascinates me because they want to learn. But I would be lying if I didn’t say some of the companies there would be interesting to work with. I’m not going towards one thing there. I’m looking forward to spending a little time and teaching in different places and figuring out what might make the most sense. I’m pretty non-committal. My first priority is getting settled and finding where we want Donovan to be in Kindergarten.