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.