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.

Hubbard Street Does It Again

Hubbard Street dancer Meredith Dincolo in "Fluence". Photo by Quinn B Wharton.

I realize it’s redundant for me to exclaim how spectacular Hubbard Street Dance Chicago is, but…well, they are. Last night’s opening night performance of the Fall Series at the Harris Theater was standard in its phenomenal performers and thoroughly entertaining choreography, but with a few surprises. Works from master choreographers Mats Ek and Ohad Naharin, plus a new work from Princess Grace Award winner (and former Hubbard Street dancer) Robyn Mineko Williams and a world premiere duet by resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo showcased the company’s talents from top to bottom.

The first surprise was the emergence of Williams as a thoughtful choreographer that can hold her own with the best of them. Not a shock since we’ve seen her work before, but Fluence was the first time she and her handpicked creative team put it all on stage in a longer, cohesive piece. Quirky chaotic moves turn into a slow duet. A group twitches alongside a lone dancer in his own world.  And then came the bubbles. Yes, bubbles. The delicate spheres came raining down creating a serene, space-like atmosphere. A sole column filled with smoke disintegrated in a puff above dancer Meredith Dincolo, whose solo ended the work with a horizontal disjointed backstroke.

Hubbard Street never lacks for stunning duets in their works, but Surprise #2 is, this time, the couples are female. Emilie Leriche and Alice Klock connect effortlessly in Fluence and Ana Lopez and Jacqueline Burnett in Cerrudo’s Cloudless proved a perfect pairing for his intimate choreography. Cerrudo’s newest work, his 12th for the company, features a dark (obviously) stage, stripped bare with two industrial chandeliers highlighting the dancers. Although we may have seen some of his deft duet designs before, they look completely different (dare I say, even more intimate) set on two women.

The rest of the performance was – no surprises here – stellar dancing of audience favorites Passomezzo (Naharin) and Casi-Casa (Ek). Naharin’s romantic, human duet was at times rough, sweet, funny and endearing with some really difficult, knee-killing dancing by Kellie Epperheimer and Johnny McMillan. The company danced Ek’s work for the first time last season and they have really settled into the piece. Comfortable and at ease, they breezed through the extreme choreography with style and aplomb. Here, the men shined. Quinn B (“Legs”) Wharton opened with a smart, sassy take on the “TV Man” solo and the trio of McMillan, David Schultz and Jesse Bechard gets better and more poignant with each viewing.

Shout out to costume designer Hogan McLaughlin for his futuristic take on leotards in Fluence and a hearty BRAVO to lighting and tech director Matt Miller.

Hubbard Street’s Fall Series runs through Sunday, Oct. 13 at the Harris Theater. Tickets are $25-$99; call 312.850.9744 or visit hubbardstreetdance.com.

 

Hubbard Street Premieres Fluence (preview)

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in Robyn Mineko Williams' "Fluence". Photo by Quinn B Wharton.

This Thursday, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago presents its Fall Series at the Harris Theater. Opening this Thursday and running through Sunday, the program features two returning works from master choreographers Mats Ek and Ohad Naharin, plus the world premiere of Alejandro Cerrudo’s Cloudless and the Chicago premiere of Robyn Mineko Williams’ new work Fluence, which premiered last month in Minneapolis, MN.

Williams received the news in August that she is the recent recipient of the 2013-2014 Princess Grace Choreography Fellowship Award. “It’s bonkers,” she said. “I’m still shocked about it, but I’m really excited.” The grant money that goes with the award went to fund this new work for nine dancers. As a former Hubbard Street dancer, she knows the dancers well and set to work putting together a creative team. Robert (Robbie) F. Haynes composed an original score, Burke Brown provided his expertise in lighting and fashion designer Hogan McLaughlin created intricate costumes. “My creative team has been so awesome,” said Williams. “They’re all so open to anything I have to say and they’re geniuses on their own. They’re cool, laid back people. I think that’s why I stayed so calm throughout the process.”

According to Williams, the definition of fluence “is a stream of particles crossing a unit area, usually express as the number of particles per second”. Another definition references magical/mystical influence. “I thought both were apropos for the work,” she said. She was inspired by the ideas of individualism and solitude and the creative team took off from that. “We’re still learning how we collaborate,” said Williams. “We’re kind of going from our guts. It’s instinctual.”

The fact that her work is being presented along with choreographers like Ek and Naharin, not to mention her colleague Cerrudo, could make a girl nervous, but she is only grateful. “It’s cool. I feel really lucky to have this opportunity. If I’m doing anything, I’m just trying to be myself.”

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s Fall Series at the Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph St., Thursday-Sunday, Oct 10-13. Performance times vary. Tickets are $25-$99; call 312.850.9744 or visit hubbardstreetdance.com/fall.

 

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).

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.

 

Chicago Dance 2012 Highlights

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

Nothing says end-of-the-year-review time quite like the last day of the year…am I right? My proficiency in procrastination aside, now is the time to reflect on the past year and look forward to new, exiting surprises in the next. Here’s my Dancin’ Feats year-end review for Windy City Times that came out last week noting 12 memorable performances/performers of 2012, but I wanted to add a few more things.

Looking back at my notes and programs from the year (yes, they are all in a pile, I mean filing system, in the corner of my bedroom) I am so thankful for all the wonderful dance I get to see. Narrowing it down to 12 “top whatevers” was not an easy task for there were too many people and performances to name. Here are some other performances that are still in my thoughts:

Alvin Ailey Dance Theater in Ohad Naharin’s Minus 16. Although Revelations is still amazing, seeing this company in more contemporary work was refreshing. And the audiences at Ailey performances are a show unto themselves.

Paris Opera Ballet and American Ballet Theatre‘s performances of Giselle were stellar for their star-studded casts on opening night, but ABT’s Sunday matinee with real-life couple Yuriko Kajiya and Jared Matthews stole my heart.

Luna Negra Dance Theater founder Eduardo Vilaro brought Ballet Hispanico to town with former Chicago dancers (Jamal Callender, Jessica  Wyatt and Vanessa Valecillos) back for a rep show at the Dance Center to much acclaim, while current director Gustavo Ramirez Sansano continues to take the company in new and fascinating directions.

The Seldoms, in their tenth year, deconstructed the Harris Theater and traipsed around the world to collaborate with WC Dance in Tapei, while tackling the ongoing arguments around climate change with artistic director Carrie Hanson’s trademark wit and intelligence.

Before Hubbard Street Dance Chicago turned 35 this fall, it said goodbye to retiring, beloved dancer Robyn Mineko Williams. Artistic Director Glenn Edgerton completed his goal of presenting all five master European choreographers in the rep with the acquisition of Mats Ek’s Casi-Casa. Ek’s work took the company to a new level, but I’m still haunted by their dancing in William Forsythe’s Quintett from the summer series.

The Joffrey Ballet performed Forsythe’s In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated in their regular season and at the Chicago Dancing Festival. I was proud to be an official CDF blogger for the second year in a row. New to the fest this year was Giordano Dance Chicago, now celebrating 50 years. And Muntu Dance Theatre of Chicago hit 40!

River North Dance Chicago dancer Ahmad Simmons deserves a mention for his work in Ashley Roland’s Beat, particularly his performance on the Pritzker Pavillion stage in Millenium Park.

Special thanks to Catherine Tully of 4dancers.org for her continuous and generous encouragement and insight. Thanks lady!

Dance writing-wise, I’m thankful for the opportunity to write for Front Desk Chicago, Windy City Times, 4dancers and Dance Magazine.

I could go on (and on…), but tomorrow is a new year and I look forward to seeing more incredible dancing and dancers in our most awesome city. Happy New Year!

 

Wunderkind Whittenburg

Zachary Whittenburg - photo by Todd Rosenberg.

If you’re at all familiar with the Chicago dance scene, you know his name.  He’s been a dancer, choreographer, teacher, student, panel moderator, writer, critic and “insatiable audience member.” Locally, he’s danced with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Lucky Plush Productions, Same Planet Different World Dance Theatre and Molly Shanahan/Mad Shak. After graduating high school two years early at age 16, he moved to Seattle to train at Pacific Northwest Ballet School and joined the company at 18. After three years at PNB performing works by choreographers ranging from George Balanchine to William Forsythe, he moved cross-country to dance with North Carolina Dance Theatre, where he was a soloist for a season before coming to Chicago to dance with Hubbard Street for two years.

He then traveled for a year performing Crystal Pite’s choreography with Les Ballets jazz de Montréal. He’s also written for many publications and websites including Flavorpill, See Chicago Dance, Windy City Times, Hoy Chicago, Time Out Chicago, Dance Magazine, Pointe Magazine, Dance International magazine (where he recently got the cover story!), Dance Teacher magazine, Dance Spirit magazine as well as his own blog, trailerpilot. Zac Whittenburg: wunderkind, indeed.

Now, Whittenburg is taking his career in a new direction. Almost a decade after dancing with Hubbard Street, he returns to join the external affairs team at the beginning of an exciting landmark season that will include a full-length world premiere by resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo, a work by Swedish choreographer Mats Ek and a collaboration with Alonzo King LINES Ballet.

I spoke with him over Labor Day weekend, just before he started in his new position.

When you danced with Hubbard Street, which choreographer or pieces were your favorites or that you had a deep experience with?


I’ll never forget the experience of learning “Minus 16″ [by Ohad Naharin]. It’s probably the piece I performed most when I was in the company. I might’ve done over 100 performances of it in two years. It’s such an extraordinary piece. It asks so much of the dancers as artists. We did a piece by Jirí Kylían for five dancers called “No More Play.” It runs like a wristwatch, the way the characters and the vocabulary intersect with each other, and how the sections turn from one into the next. I’d never been so close to something that was built that way. I learned so much about choreography just by being involved with that.

Why did you leave Hubbard Street?


Well, there are two answers to that question. A dancer’s career is very short, and things run their course. And it was around the time that I became aware of Crystal Pite’s choreography. I saw a video of “Short Works: 24,” which I think was the first piece she made while she was in residence [at Les Ballets jazz de] Montréal. I was aware of her when she was a member of Frankfurt Ballet, which sort of became today’s Forsythe Company, but hadn’t seen her choreography before. I wasn’t aware of the things she was doing using Forsythe’s movement vocabulary in a dance theater context. I thought that was really fascinating, and that she was doing it with a lot of intelligence and humor. I wanted to work with her. I had the wonderful fortune of doing Crystal’s evening-length work ["The Stolen Show"] all over Canada and in Asia and in the United States. To get to see so much of the world, and to have the reason for that travel be that you’re bringing this work to audiences all over…it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. There was a sense of purpose. A feeling that we were a company of ambassadors for contemporary dance.

Let’s talk about your new gig at Hubbard Street. What is your official job title and what will you be doing?


I’m going to be the company’s manager of communication. I have a pretty good understanding of what I’ll be doing, but of course, I’m not in the chair yet. It’s a great position because there are a lot of different angles to it. A large part of it is press relations and working with media outlets to get the word out about what the company is doing. That said, that comes in a variety of flavors. The conversations that I had in the interview process…we were talking about how the media landscape is changing. Part of this job is going to be working on getting the word out about a company when the channels about how the word gets out about a contemporary dance company like Hubbard Street are changing. There are new channels opening, old channels closing, a whole new landscape of how people receive information. I’m thrilled to walk into the challenge of, how do you work with that, and how do you get the most out of what the current media landscape is, anticipate how it’s going to change in the future and use all of that to your advantage, to make sure people know what Hubbard Street is doing, make sure they are aware of the variety of things we do in addition to the production and stage work, and how those things relate to one another. I’m excited to talk about our partnerships with other institutions and put stories in places where the company hasn’t been covered before.

You’re coming in right at the beginning of the 35th Anniversary Season, which is a big deal. What do you expect to be doing on day one?


I know I have a meeting on Tuesday morning with some other managers. It’s great that literally the first thing I’ll do is touch base with people in other departments to see what they’re doing and what they have planned for the near future. I haven’t been in that building very much in the last eight years. I have a lot of catching up to do, not only meeting the people that make the magic happen, but what the company’s overall strategies are. There are a lot of things that I’ve already learned about the 35th Anniversary season and there’s a lot more that I don’t know yet, so I imagine a lot of it will be about finding my place in relation to all those initiatives, cooperating with the other team members and figuring out how I can help them.

You know I like to joke around about how we’re arch nemeses, but I hope you really know that I’m a huge fan. Your voice, not only in the Chicago dance scene, but nationally, is really important and you have a big fan base, so what does your new job mean for trailerpilot?

The blog still exists. When I was full-time at Time Out Chicago, I wasn’t posting a lot. At this point, I’ve got 426 posts on the blog. It’s a big archive and I will continue to make the annual payments to make sure people can find it. I’ve always been interested in things other than just dance and choreography. I’m glad I’ll still have a place, where, if I go see a film and really have something to say about it, I can. My voice will still be out there, I’m still on Twitter, although long form writing about dance isn’t appropriate while I’m manager of communication for a dance company. I think, just in going back over my career with you, over the phone this morning, it’s just been one episode after another of all of these different things I’ve done, and all of my various experiences constantly coming back around and intersecting and sort of morphing together in new ways. Writing is one of those things. I’m certain that will continue. I don’t have my mouth stapled shut, but Hubbard Street is going to be the star in my sky. I love the company. I love where it’s been and where it’s going. I’m really looking forward to helping them get in front of more people and new audiences.


CDF 12: Celebration of Dance

Bolero Chicago. Photo by Cheryl Mann.

The Chicago Dancing Festival (CDF), a week-long series of free dance events, came to a close Saturday night on the Pritzker Pavilion stage in Millennium Park.  A large crowd turned out on a beautiful night to witness dance from some of the top companies in the country as well as artistry from fellow Chicagoans.  Festival co-founders Lar Lubovitch and Jay Franke addressed the audience and introduced a casually dressed Mayor Rahm Emanuel before the show began.  “Hey Chicago! Hey dance lovers!” The performance opened and closed with local talent: the After School Matters Hip Hop Culture Dance Ensemble with Nicholas Leicther’s Touch of Soul in honor of Maggie Daley and Bolero Chicago with Larry Keigwin’s homage to our sweet home city.

Nestled in between the two large local numbers was a mini tasting of the best of the best in the current dance scene.  Houston Ballet performed Mark Morris’ Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes with live piano accompaniment from Katherine Burkwall-Ciscon.  Dressed in comfy looking white blowsy tops and short leggings (can I get this in black?), the dancers skipped and skimmed across the stage in a light-footed romp that showcased Morris’ deftly musical choreography.  Two gala-esque performances by major ballet companies showed the range of classical ballet.  New York City Ballet stars Ana Sophia Scheller and Gonzalo Garcia dazzled in the show-stopping pas de deux from Marius Petipa’s  Don Quixote (1869). An early one-handed lift seemed to last forever and Scheller’s fouette run in the coda, featuring a double pirouette every second turn for the first 16 counts and one every third turn for the second half, had me jumping out of my seat.  Girl can turn.  Later, Sofiane Sylve and Vito Mazzeo from San Francisco Ballet danced Christopher Wheeldon’s pas de deux from Continuum (2002).  The couple brilliantly danced the Sleeping Beauty pas earlier in the week and proved they are just as stunning doing more contemporary work.

Two powerhouse companies represented the same kind of choreographic range in the modern/contemporary realm.  Martha Graham Dance Company performed an excerpt form Chronicle (1936), which they performed earlier in the week in its entirety.  Steps in the Street physically showed just how powerful women can be.   Local favorite Hubbard Street Dance Chicago danced an excerpt of Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin’s Tabula Rasa (1986), giving an equally powerful performance in a more relaxed, freer style.

The Pritzker Pavilion is a wonderful outdoor venue that normally houses musical acts including the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.  With that said, the seating isn’t ideally designed for viewing dance.  The seats are directly behind one another and on a very shallow raking. My apologies to the woman seated behind me for “driving her crazy” by moving my head from side to side to see.  Unless you’d like a detailed account of the woman’s hair cut and color in front of me, it was a necessary evil.

Congratulations to everyone that worked, volunteered or performed at CDF 12.  It was a wonderful week full of terrific dance that won’t soon be forgotten.  All free.  We are lucky Chicago.

 

CDF 12 Artist Spotlight: Hubbard Street’s Jesse Bechard

HSDC dancers Jesse Bechard & Ana Lopez in  Jirí Kylían'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 Kylían’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” (Jirí Kylían) – 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 Jirí Kylían’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.

 

 

 

Thoughts on HSDC’s Summer Series 2012

In a word:  brilliant.  The dancers, the dancing, the choreography, the curation – all of it.  Hubbard Street Dance Chicago‘s (HSDC) Summer Series opened last night at the Harris Theater with a three-work program that solidified the company as an elite group of dancers at the top of their field.  Breaking new ground as the first U.S. company to perform William Forsythe’s Quintett, HSDC proved (again) they have the chops to tackle anything.  HSDC resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo’s cross-company collaboration with HSDC and Nederlands Dans Theatre Malditos and Batsheva Dance Company artistic director Ohad Naharin’s 2011 mash-up of previous works THREE TO MAX bookended Forysythe’s piece for a full, lush, well-rounded evening.

Malditos is a study in shadows.  Dark lighting is a tool Cerrudo uses often, but never with as great effect as in this work.  The dancers slip in and out of the darkness like ghosts appearing and disappearing at the edges of your mind.  The score from the film The Beat That My Heart Skipped by Alexandre Desplat beautifully compliments his    choreography.  The end, where an almost naked Ana Lopez dances duets with three interchangeable men, is breathtaking.  The dancing continues as the lights fade out and back in as a different partner joins her.  Each partner touches her with the top of his head, but she reacts differently to each touch eventually taking over and touching one back with her head before they melt to the ground together as the lights fade.  The duets throughout are stunning displays of love and trust studded with architectural partnering and razor-like technique.  Cerrudo holds his own next to master choreographers Forsythe and Naharin.

The performance of Quintett was transformational.  What these five dancers (Meredith Dincolo, Penny Saunders, Jonathan Fredrickson, Jesse Bechard and Kevin Shannon) created on stage was extraordinary.  They are always good, but this was something truly special.  A looped score of a homeless man singing “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet” created a base canvas for the movement to take life.  The repetition let you focus on the relationship of the five characters.  Simple ballet moves like a tendu devant or a double pirouette seemed to take on new meaning.  The piece was created in 1993 in collaboration with five of Forsythe’s dancers.  Three of the original cast – Dana Caspersen, Stephen Galloway and Thomas McManus – worked with the HSDC dancers to set the work over the past few weeks.  The connection, emotion and energy of the dancers was palpable.  Bechard, a strong presence in all three pieces on the program, at times simply defied gravity.  One quiet moment as Saunders rested her head on Bechard’s back for a couple of seconds let the audience catch their breath before being sucked back in to the wonderful whirlwind happening on stage.

Naharin’s piece has the dancers clad in simple jeans and colorful tank and tees. Dressed as civilians, the dancers seemed stripped down to their bare essence.  They were open, honest, subtle, sensual, vulnerable.  Human.  The rich movement sections captured their talents and personalities.  At one point a dancer looks at his hands and then extends them to the audience, giving us what’s there as if saying “here, this is who I am”.  The counting section (where the dancers ascribe a movement to a number as a voice counts to ten, adding new movements each time the counting starts over) and a partially improvised follow-the-leader sections are stand outs.

Three shows remain in the Summer Series.  I highly recommend it.

For ticket information:  hubbardstreet.com, call 312.850.9744 or visit the Harris Theater box office at 205 E. Randolph.