Hubbard St Shatters Own Glass Ceiling

Hubbard St dancer Jonathan Fredrickson in Alejandro Cerrudo's "One Thousand Pieces". Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

The lights dim, the audience settles and music begins to play. The tone is set for an evening of wonder and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago does not disappoint. One Thousand Pieces, inspired by Marc Chagall’s America Windows at the Art Institute of Chicago, celebrates the company’s 35th anniversary season with the first full-length work for the company and the first full-evening work by one choreographer – resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo – around a central theme. Bringing both the main company and HS2 dancers on stage together for this world premiere, Cerrudo takes this world-renowned company to a new level of its ever-reaching creative heights.

The curtain opens at the Harris Theater to a lone dancer (Jonathan Fredrickson, hanging briefly on to the ascending curtain) in front of stunning visuals. Blue hues flood the stage highlighting moveable set pieces, some opaque, some clear, some reflective, that look like staggered pieces of glass. A special mirrored Marley floor adds to the reflection/glass theme. Costumes are subdued with dark sheer tunics with a hint of pink or blue underneath for the ladies and dark blue pants with sheer black shirts for the men. The score, a collage of music from Philip Glass and designed by Cerrudo, completes the mood. Once the awe of the scene takes hold. The audience is ready for the dance.

Dancers slide in and out of duets, trios and group work with control and ease. Cerrudo features some – Ana Lopez and Garrett Anderson in frequent, lovely duets threaded throughout, Fredrickson, Jacqueline Burnett, Jessica Tong, Meredith Dincolo and Jesse Bechard – but it’s the moments with all 24 dancers on stage together that really make an impact. The end of Part 1 has everyone doing the same movement, but in alternating directions off three vertical lines having a reflective effect – aided with the mirrors behind them – as if they are multiplying. An interlude between Parts 1 and 2 has Fredrickson floating above the audience like the spirit “Ariel” in The Tempest (from a way too visible harness) reciting a romantic text from an excerpt of Glass’ Einstein on the Beach: Knee Play 5 (*full text below). It could be a nod to the angel or literary figure from the Windows, but that seems to literal for Cerrudo. It’s more likely a love letter to art, to dance, to Glass, to his company, to his fellow dancers and to the audience.

Hubbard St dancers in Alejandro Cerrudo's "One Thousand Pieces". Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

Part 2 brings together the brilliance of the choreography, sets, costumes (both by Thomas Mika), lighting (Michael Korsch), special effects (fog courtesy of Big Shoulders Productions) and dancing in a perfect storm of magic. Shining sparkles dot the floor looking like someone scattered shattered glass across the stage. As dancers move across, the realization hits that it’s water. Three light/fog columns flow down like waterfalls and dancers appear through them from the darkened stage behind to dance in the water. Simply gorgeous.

With that visual still in mind, the shock of intermission was a disappointment and it was a bit difficult to get that vibe back for Part 3, which continued with fantastic dancing from the entire Hubbard Street crew. All the dancers brought their A-game (new company members Laura O’Malley and Quinn Wharton fit in seemlessly), but the true star of the show was Cerrudo himself.? If he’s thinking about topping this any time soon, he better get started now. Wow.

One of the dancers posted to “come get lost” on his Facebook page yesterday. It’s easy to get lost in this world Cerrudo creates completely. A program note quotes Chagall, “Stained glass has to be serious and passionate. It is something elevating and exhilarating.” Serious, passionate, elevating, exhilarating – the perfect description of One Thousand Pieces.

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago presents One Thousand Pieces at the Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph St., through Sunday, October 21. Tickets are $25-$99. Call 312.850.9744 or visit

Harris Theater box office: 312.334.7777.

*Original text source: Samuel Johnson:

The day with its cares and perplexities is ended and the night is now upon us. The night should be a time of peace and tranquility, a time to relax and be calm. We have need of a soothing story to banish the disturbing thoughts of the day, to set at rest our troubled minds, and put at ease our ruffled spirits.

And what sort of story shall we hear ? Ah, it will be a familiar story, a story that is so very, very old, and yet it is so new. It is the old, old story of love.

Two lovers sat on a park bench with their bodies touching each other, holding hands in the moonlight.

There was silence between them. So profound was theire love for each other, they needed no words to express it. And so they sat in silence, on a park bench, with their bodies touching, holding hands in the moonlight.

Finally she spoke. “Do you love me, John ?” she asked. “You know I love you. darling,” he replied. “I love you more than tongue can tell. You are the light of my life. my sun. moon and stars. You are my everything. Without you I have no reason for being.”

Again there was silence as the two lovers sat on a park bench, their bodies touching, holding handls in the moonlight. Once more she spoke. “How much do you love me, John ?” she asked. He answered : “How’ much do I love you ? Count the stars in the sky. Measure the waters of the oceans with a teaspoon. Number the grains of sand on the sea shore. Impossible, you say. Yes and it is just as impossible for me to say how much I love you.

“My love for you is higher than the heavens, deeper than Hades, and broader than the earth. It has no limits, no bounds. Everything must have an ending except my love for you.”

There was more of silence as the two lovers sat on a park bench with their bodies touching, holding hands in the moonlight.

Once more her voice was heard. “Kiss me, John” she implored. And leaning over, he pressed his lips warmly to hers in fervent osculation…

Sneak Peek: Hubbard Street’s One Thousand Pieces

Hubbard Street dancers Ana Lopez and Garrett Anderson in front of "America Windows". Photo by Todd Rosenberg. Marc Chagall ? 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.

Yesterday morning I popped in on rehearsals at Hubbard Street for Alejandro Cerrudo’s much-anticipated new full-length work, One Thousand Pieces, ?inspired by Marc Chagall’s America Windows?housed at the Art Institute of Chicago.?This was the first rehearsal with the mirrors covered and with the dancers getting used to new elements (which I’ve been asked not to reveal), so there was some experimentation with aspects of the movements and a lot of starting/stopping as is necessary in a cleaning rehearsal. With that in mind, what I saw was a company fresh, focused and on the verge of something big.

Preparing for next week’s world premiere celebrating the company’s 35th anniversary at the Harris Theater (Oct. 18 – 21) is a collaborative effort engaging all Hubbard Street dancers – main company and HS2 – with all artistic staff hands on deck. Hubbard Street rehearsal director Terry Marling, HS2 director Taryn Kaschock Russell and dancer Penny Saunders (who is expecting a baby – congrats Penny and Pablo!) take turns running rehearsals and helping Cerrudo mold his new masterpiece.

The little bits I saw – and, frankly I wanted to?stay and watch all day – were enough to make me believe this work will be something spectacular. Here’s a little glimpse into the process filmed by HMS Media:

Hubbard Street Inside the Studio: One Thousand Pieces



CDF 12: Opening Night slideshow

After School Matters #CDF12
After School Matters CDF 2012
Bolero Chicago CDF 2012
Bolero Chicago CDF 2012
Bolero Chicago CDF 2012
Bolero Chicago CDF 2012
GDC CDF 2012
GDC CDF 2012
Joffrey CDF 2012
Joffrey CDF 2012
Joffrey CDF 2012

View some great photos taken of the Chicago Dancing Festival‘s opening night program Chicago Dancing taken by the ever-lovely Cheryl Mann.

1 & 2: After School Matters in Touch of Soul by Nicholas Leichter

3 – 6: Bolero Chicago by Larry Keigwin

7 & 8: Giordano Dance Chicago dancers Maeghan McHale & Martin Ortiz Tapia in Two Become Three by Alexander Ekman

9-11: Hubbard Street Dance Chicago dancers Kellie Epperheimer, Johnny McMillan, Garrett Anderson & Pablo Piantino in Scarlatti by Twyla Tharp

12-14: Joffrey Ballet dancers Victoria Jaiani & Rory Hohenstein in In The Middle, Somewhat Elevated by William Forsythe


HSDC dancer Johnny McMillan in "Quintett". Photo by Cheryl Mann.

The past few weeks have been pretty good for Johnny McMillan.? In late April, he was promoted from HS2, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago‘s (HSDC) second company, to the main company.? He was immediately cast in William Forsythe’s Quintett (a big fucking deal), which he danced with veteran company members in the Summer Series at the Harris Theater earlier this month.? In addition to Forsythe, he performed a tiny part in resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo’s Malditos – “I was a cross-over girl.” – and sections of the group work by Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin THREE TO MAX.? He’s now setting a new work for HSDC’s in-house choreographic workshop Inside/Out, which will be the third piece he’s made since joining HS2 in 2010.? Did I mention he’s only 20?

That’s a lot to absorb for his petite 5’6″ frame, but he’s enjoying every minute.? “I wasn’t really nervous for Malditos at first, because I was just going on stage and doing three counts of eight,” he said last week from HSDC’s West Loop studio.? “But the first night, I run out on stage, slide, and my whole body goes ‘oh no, there are people here’.? That’s when it hit me.? I’m dancing with the main company.? Everything I’ve wanted in dance is happening.” That he got to dance a Forsythe piece in his first show is a testament to his talent and maturity.? Dancing alongside Ana Lopez, Alejandro Cerrudo, Jacqueline Burnett and Jesse Bechard, McMillan fit right in.? “It was a surreal experience,” he said.? “The nice thing about starting with Forsythe was…it wasn’t directed at the audience.? From the moment you’re on stage, you don’t have time to think about anything but the people you’re dancing with and what you’re doing.? That was nice.? It was just being on stage for 25 minutes and having a blast.? That’s the most fun I’ve ever had with a piece.”

Hitting the ground running, so to speak, he’s already learning tons of rep like Twyla Tharp’s speedy marathon Scarlatti and Sharon Eyal’s brain-twister Too Beacoup, while also rehearsing the three works he’ll perform at Inside/Out, as well as setting a solo on HSDC dancer Penny Saunders set to “Goin’ Out of My Head” by Little Anthony and the Imperials.? “It’s really groovy.? We were in Kansas (on tour) in the airport and I heard this song.? I was outside smoking a cigarette and it was on and – shazam! – this is it”, McMillan said.? “I’m really liking the solo and everything Penny is doing with it.? He’s taking a new approach with this piece, working more with improv than strict, set steps and patterns.? Inspired by memories of entertaining his parent as a child and watching videos of HS2 artistic director Taryn Kaschock Russell’s son Donovan, McMillan found his groove.? “Kids have this carelessness.? It’s always about the music.? I really want to play with this lack of counts and just hearing and feeling the music…not even choreographing to the music, but the way it makes you feel.”

McMillan’s work premieres this weekend along with 17 new works from HSDC dancers and artistic staff in the intimate UIC Theater. ?Tickets are still available, but going quickly. ?The thing I find most intriguing about Inside/Out and new works programs (there are a ton in Chicago) is that when the tables are turned and the dancers have the opportunity to create the movement, you really get a glimpse at who they are as people, not just as performers. ?Don’t miss this chance to see you favorite HSDC-ers in a new light.

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago presents Inside/Out at the UIC Theater, 1044 W. Harrison St, Saturday, June 23 at 5 & 8 pm. ?Tickets are $20 ($35 for VIP, $15 for students). ?Call 312.850.9744 or visit


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:?, call 312.850.9744 or visit the Harris Theater box office at 205 E. Randolph.?

Robyn Leaving The Nest

Robyn Mineko Williams. Photo by Cheryl Mann.

This weekend?Hubbard Street Dance Chicago (HSDC) presents its Summer Series at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance (May 31-June 3). ?The three-piece program concludes another stellar season for the group and sets the bar high for next season, their 35th. ? Another conclusion this weekend is the tenure with the company of dancer Robyn Mineko Williams. ?The matinee on Sunday, June 3rd will be her last Chicago performance with HSDC. ?(She will dance with them this summer at the American Dance Festival – June 29-30 and on tour in Aspen, CO. – July 6-7.) ?The three-piece, mixed program includes HSDC Resident Choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo’s cross-company collaboration with Nederlands Dans Theater (NDT) Malditos, the U.S. premiere of William Forsythe‘s lush, emotional Quintett and Ohad Naharin‘s choreographic mash-up THREE TO MAX. ?Williams, always a stand out in Naharin’s works, will dance this final piece for her HSDC finale. ?”She’s done a lot of Ohad’s work. ?It’s kind of her forte,” says HSDC Artistic Director Glenn Edgerton. ?”Robyn is a fantastic force of nature in everything she does. ?I might start crying…I love her. ?She’s a special lady.” ?The feeling is mutual. ?Williams tears up multiple times talking about leaving Edgerton and the dancers she adores. ?Anyone witnessing her dance feels like they know her. ?She’s a friend, a sister, a lover. ?She dances with open, honest, heartfelt grace. ?Her eyes sparkle with a sly, wickedness that intrigues, making you want to know all her secrets.

On this Memorial Day, along with celebrating those who serve our country and those who have sacrificed their lives serving, RB gives tribute ?to Williams who has ?danced in the Chicago-area her entire life, first in Lombard, as a scholarship student at Lou Conte Dance Studio, for four years with River North Dance Chicago and as a HSDC company member since 2000. ?”I’ve been here forever,” she says from the company’s West Loop studios. ?”This was my 12th season. ?It’s been awesome. ?When you’re dancing with the company so full-time, it’s all-encompassing. ?I feel like I’m ready to take on new challenges.” ?When asked what she’s going to to next, before answering, she shrugs and giggles. ?”I know I want to stay in the dance realm and I want to keep choreographing. ?I’d love to perform still, just at a different intensity level.” ?Her choreography will keep her connected to HSDC. ?HS2 continues to perform Harold and the Purple Crayon: ?A Dance Adventure, which she co-created with HSDC Rehearsal Director Terry Marling, ?and they may be adding Recall, her piece from last season’s danc(e)volve to their rep.

RB sat down with Williams early one morning before company class.

What was the reaction when you told everyone?

Oh…(tears), I’m choked up just thinking about leaving the people. ?Every week Glenn asks if I”m sure this is really what I want to do, so I have to be strong in my decision. ?I adore him so much. ?These small opportunities I’ve had over the last few years with “Harold'”, danc(e)volve and the Art Institute, I’ve realized that I love the challenges of making new things and collaborating with different artists in different mediums. ?That’s something I’d love to be able to do more of. ?It’s difficult when you’re in a company.

Are there artists you’d like to work with?

Aszure (Barton). ?I’d love to work with her again. ?I’ve gone to a couple of auditions…trying to put my feelers out. ?It’s such a shockingly different world for me. ?It’s such a different way of thinking. ?I still love dance and I’m not ready to leave it. ?I’m ready to see what else is out there and work on collaborations. ?I feel like I’m being a little naive and risky taking this leap, but one day it all focused in for me and I thought “this is right”. ?I’m open to change. ?I’m hoping something comes my way.

You know, they’re auditioning for Disney princesses down the hall today.

Hmm…maybe I should break out my 16 bars.

What were some of your favorite pieces at HSDC?

“Minus 16”, because I grew up with that piece. ?It’s the piece that’s in me the most – that I know the most. ?I got to do it with so many different people.

Did Ohad come set it on you?

Yes, that’s why it has a special place. ?Ohad and Mari (Kajiwara) came. ?They were here for about a month and it was this intense workshop process. ?It was the first big thing I did with the company. ?It was really a game-changer for me. ?

What else?

I loved doing “Passomezzo” (Naharin). ?I felt like that was a chance that was given to me to hold some ground. ?”Walking Mad” (Johan Inger), “Gimme” (Lucas Crandall), “Lickety-Split” (Cerrudo). ?These pieces are some of the pieces where I felt like someone was giving me a chance. ?Jorma Elo (“From All Sides”, “Bitter Suite”), he really played a pivotal role for me in the way I approached movement. ?His words, though sometimes few are very softly spoken, resonated strongly and allowed me to perceive and explore in ways I never had before. ?Super cool experience.

Can you tell me a little something about each of the directors you’ve worked with at HSDC? ?Something they taught you…

Lou (Conte)…I worked with him, technically, for like a month, but I grew up with him. ?He taught me to be strong. ?You have to have a certain level of confidence in yourself to be successful. ?Jim (Vincent), in a similar vein, had the ability to make your attributes work for you, especially in your frame of dance. ?Take advantage of what you have and explore those qualities, because that’s what makes you special. ?Glenn…I’m not crying…he’s taught me so much. ?He instilled such trust…(crying)…

So, your last show…

Chicago, then ADF and Aspen. ?I think Aspen will be my last show. ?My Mom will be there. ?They’re doing “Harold”, so the second company will be there. ?I’m excited about the Chicago show. ?I have the opportunity to go out doing something I’m proud of and that represents what I do. ?I’m excited. ?I hope I don’t get too crazy and fall off the stage.

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago Summer Series, Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph Dr., Thursday, May 31 – Sunday, June 3. ?Tickets are $25-$94. ?Call 312.850.9744 or visit

Ballet Hispanico Comes to the Dance Center

Ballet Hispanico in "Mad'moiselle". Photo by Eduardo Patino.

This weekend, March 22-24, Ballet Hispanico (BH) under the direction of Eduardo Vilaro, Columbia College alumni, former Dance Center artist-in-residence and founder and former artistic director of Luna Negra Dance Theater, takes the stage at the Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago.? Vilaro’s newest work Asuka, set to salsa music by the legendary Celia Cruz, will make its Chicago debut on the mixed repertory program.? “It is thrilling to be back,” said Vilaro.? “The Dance Center was home for me for almost four years…and has been a major dance force in the national community since its inception.”? BH has been busy touring the past few weeks, so I corresponded with Vilaro and dancer Jamal Callender (graduate of The Julliard School and former member of Hubbard Street 2) via email.? Callender told me the best thing about being back in New York after his season in Chicago with HS2 is getting to see his family and his many friends and Julliard peeps dancing on Broadway and on the movie screen. He’s enjoying his time at BH.? “Mr. V is very forward-thinking and I like the relationship I have with him.? I appreciate his advice and the way he looks out for me and all the artists,” said Callender, who is dancing in three of the four pieces. “The repertory catered to me so well. It’s beyond diverse. It’s eclectic, like me.? I feel like an artist here!”

Vilaro, who began dancing with BH in 1985, talked about how the company has changed since he was a dancer there.? “When I started dancing there, it was a modern dance company with some neo-classical ballets.? Our founder, Tina Ramirez had a strong theatrical background, having had a career in Flamenco and Broadway.? The repertory reflected that.”? Now as artistic director, he wants to work with choreographers that explore Latino culture…so the work is more contemporary without losing sight of its heritage.? As an example, his Asuka celebrates a Latin American music icon, but focuses on how her music impacted the Latin community rather than a narrative of her life.? Alongside Vilaro’s piece is Andrea Miller’s Moor-influenced Naci and a duet about human struggle titled Locked Up Laura by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa.

Also on the program is a commission work from African American choreographer Ron Brown.? Set to songs by Peruvian singer Susana Baca, Espiritu Vivo deals with personal loss and recovery.? “His work is a direct connection to the African influence in the Latino world,” said Vilaro.? “There is a deep connection that can be seen in the seamless harmony of his movement with the music.? It can also be seen in the articulated hips and torso found in Latin social dances.? Ron is a special human being and his gentle strength embraced by the dancers helped lead them to fully understand his work.”? For Callender, dancing in Brown’s piece is a full-circle moment.? “When I was younger, I remember watching Ron in the dance studio working with his company.? I used to it by the door in awe and just admire everyone in the company.I remember going with my Mom every year to the Joyce to see them perform.”

Aside from touring, the company was recently asked to perform at the victory parade for the Super Bowl Champion New York Giants.? After dancing for the crowd Vilaro and crew taught the fans a simple salsa step in honor of wide receiver Victor Cruz, who claims this as his touchdown dance.? “I was thrilled that dance was represented alongside such a beloved American sport,” Vilaro said.? “There is a large world out there that needs to have more dance in their loves and I hope we gained some new friends.”? Callender added simply, “It was a blast.”

Ballet Hispanico, Thursday-Saturday, March 22-24 at 8 pm

Dance Center at Columbia College, 1306 S. Michigan Ave. Tickets are $26-$30. Call 312.369.8330 or visit

*There is a post-show discussion on Thursday, March 22 and a pre-show talk at 7 pm on Friday, March 23.

Thoughts on HSDC’s danc(e)volve – for real!

Johnny McMillan in "Never was" by Alejandro Cerrudo. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

Over the weekend on the MCA Stage, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago (HSDC) presented nine new works created by HSDC dancers/choreographers and the winners of HSDC’s 2010 National Choreographic Competition. danc(e)volve – preview here – proved to be an interesting and intimate look into what makes HSDC tick: its artists. ?Tickets for the four shows were sold out early, but there are tickets still available for the upcoming shows this weekend except for Saturday, which is already sold out. ?(Hint: get your tickets now!)

Unlike most HSDC programs, this new works festival serves up multiple shorter pieces averaging 15-minutes a pop. ?It’s like going to your favorite restaurant for a five-course chef tasting. ?You aren’t sure what you’re going to get, but you’re confident you’re going to like it. ?Unlike a big, gluttonous meal like an Ohad Naharin work, with a number of smaller pieces, you get varying tastes: ?an amuse bouche, a palette cleanser, complex notes, sweet and light and the one course that wow’s you. ?If you don’t like one course, something completely different is coming next. ?(Hmm…note to self: ?remember to eat before the show!)

Each work in danc(e)volve looked remarkably like the dancers that choreographed them, which is testament to their honesty as an artist. ?The natural way they move embedding itself into their art. ?Many took the opportunity to?play with traditional conventions, pushing the definition of what the audience is used to seeing. ?Lighting effects – shout out to lighting designer Matt Miller! – (downstage footlights creating shadows on the back wall), entrances and exits (utilizing the side door in the audience), even starting/ending points (music beginning in darkness or the dance ending in darkness, while the music still plays). ?Some were greeted with tentative applause (is it over?), others with a murmur of surprised approval.

Resident Choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo’s duet?Never was,?at seven minutes one of the shortest pieces, served as the main course of each program. ? ?Placed in the middle of Programs A and B, his newest work takes trademark moves (a quick saut? in second, a perky parallel pop up like a pencil, a partnered promenade slide in pli?) and distills them into their purest essence. ?You see moments of Cerrudo’s previous works woven in and watch as he hones his craft before your eyes. ?Straight up props to Emile Leriche and Johnny McMillan (two of the younger dancers in HS2) for their strong showing in this dense, intense piece.

Other pieces of note: ?Robyn Mineko Williams’ Recall, ?a techno-infused meditation on memory with some breaking tossed in for fun;?Penny Saunder’s humorous and slightly creepy Vaudevillian ?Bonobo; and Terry Marling’s thrice, which completely transformed from its previous incarnation, twice (once) that premiered last December. ??Many of the works used the dancers from HS2. ?It was nice to see the younger dancers perform at home (they tour a LOT) and in challenging works made by their HSDC mentors.

Hubbard Street presents danc(e)volve, Jan 26 – 29

MCA Stage, 220 E Chicago, 312.397.4010

Hubbard Street Evolving

HS2 dancers Johnny McMIllan & Nicholas Korkos in Cl?bio Oliveira's "The Fantastic Escape of the Little Buffalo". Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

The West Loop studios housing Hubbard Street Dance Chicago (HSDC) were bustling last week when I stopped by in preparation for dance(e)volve, a two-program, two-weekend set of performances showcasing in-house choreography opening tonight on the MCA Stage.? Bad news up front: ? this weekend’s show are already SOLD OUT!? Tickets are still available, but going at lightening speed, for next week’s run (Jan 26 – 29).

As a natural evolutionary step from HSDC’s Inside/Out Choreographic Workshop that is held every summer, Artistic Director Glenn Edgerton picked certain pieces from last year to be expanded, reworked and presented in the MCA’s intimate theater.? Along with the HSDC and HS2 choreographers, two National Choreographic Competition winners from 2011 will show new works.? HSDC company member Penny Saunders takes inspiration from Vaudeville traveling shows, while Cl?bio Oliveira ponders the human/animal connection.? New dances from Jonathan Fredrickson, Alice Klock, Johnny McMillan, Robyn Mineko Williams, Taryn Kaschock Russell, Terence Marling as well as a duet by HSDC Resident Choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo also appear on the programs.

Williams’ and McMillan’s works are featured on Program A (Jan 19,20 & 28,29).? I sat in on rehearsals for these very different pieces.? Williams showed her choreographic chops by teaming up with Marling for last year’s hit Harold and the Purple Crayon.? Her new work, Recall stems off the concept of memory.? “I’m fascinated by how different memories work and from one scene people have a similar memory, but a different perspective.”? Set to a driving beat by The Chromatics and an original score by Chris Menth (parts are reminiscent of Canadian band Men Without Hats classic song Safety Dance), the 15-minute piece combines walking in a maze-like patterns and shifts in tempo where some dancers move in slow motion.? It reminded me of the inner workings of a clock, only with Williams’ smooth dance style and personality showing through.? “Glenn wanted me to try something different from Inside/Out,” she says.? “I walked into the studio with no ideas, no music…nothing.? I worked like that for three days.? It’s amazing what starts to develop in such a short time.? With these dancers, they bring so much to the table that it’s much easier for the choreographer.”? Williams’ piece has a techno rewind vibe, but McMillan’s new work Path and Observations takes a more earthy, grounded path.? With a soundscape of Sami folkloric music (Pekka Lehti, Mari Boine), he incorporates autumnal leaves and emotional movement with moments of stillness.? “The first 40 seconds of the piece are two people on stage in stillness,” McMillan (who just turned 20 on Tuesday) tell me.? “It allows the audience to take in everything, to sit there and think, maybe go off in their own thoughts before they have to watch the dancing.”? Promoted from apprentice to HS2 this season, he’s always been interested in choreography and created his first dance at age 16.? “It was a ballet piece with 21 girls.? It wasn’t very good.? There were a lot of bourr?s.”? He’s excited to see his new work on the stage this week and is a perfect example of the creative evolution from Inside/Out to danc(e)volve.

Hubbard Street presents danc(e)volve: Jan 19-22 & 26-29

MCA Stage, 220 E. Chicago, 312.397.4010, Tickets are $35



Artist Profile: Joffrey’s Michael Smith

Smith as Drosselmeyer in Joffrey's "Nutcracker". Photo by Herbert Migdoll.

“I’m very thankful,” Michael Smith told me over cocktails this summer. ?”The Joffrey chapter of my life has been going on for a while. ?I’m lucky because I never really planned on it being this way.” ?A Chicago native, he lived for a short time in Gary, Indiana with his teacher/social worker mother before moving back to the city. ?That is where he got his first taste of dance at school. ?”My grandma would say that I watched The Nutcracker in her living room and just dance around. ?She’d say, ‘ok, you need to stop it before you knock something over!'” ? Smith, now in his 11th season with the Joffrey Ballet, is finishing this year’s run of Nutcracker performances (only two matinees left!). ?This season he’s dancing multiple parts:? a parent in the Party Scene, a soldier, the Mouse King, in snow scene, two parts in Waltz of the Flowers and Russian nougat and Dr. Drosselmeyer, his favorite part.? “There’s nothing like it.? It’s an acting role, but it really gives you a chance to tell the story with Clara and have a great time with the audience,” says Smith.? “You are the storyteller and you get to make all the magic happen.? It’s hard because if it’s not done well, the story is lost.”

Here’s my Q&A with a man that literally grew up within the Joffrey and who I’m happy to call friend.

So, what’s your story?

(Laughing) I’m a child of the 80’s. ?Imagination was really pushed with me and my sister. ?When I was going to be a freshman in high school, my Mom thought I should audition for this private school…Chicago Academy for the Arts. ?I wanted to just go to school and be a teenager, but she convinced me. ?I went to the audition and I got in…then I freaked out. ?I had no idea what that really meant. ?Most kids know that they want to dance and have been dancing since they were three. ?For me, it was more like a hobby. ?At school. I was taking three hours of ballet, jazz, modern classes and learning about the art form. ?It wasn’t until my junior year that I thought maybe I should do this…maybe I should start taking this seriously.

How did you go from hobby to Joffrey?

The secretary of the school told me the Joffrey was looking for boys to fill in the background in The Nutcracker and I was like, “no, I don’t do ballet”…but she convinced me. ?The school sent four of us over and we had to take class. ?Mr. Arpino came and watched. ?The asked me and a friend (David Gombert) to come back and take another class, then asked if we were interested in doing Nutcracker. ?So for a few months, we would go to school in the morning, then head over to Joffrey to take company class at 10:00 am. ?We were there all day rehearsing. ?We did Nutcracker season and started getting to know a few people in the company that we weren’t scared of. ?I was terrified of everyone, but Calvin (Kitten). ?He’s the cutest little nugget ever. ?I was a soldier. ?I still am! ?I did the same soldier spot for like 12 years. (laughing) That’s sad. ?Now, I help teach it. ?

Were you hooked? ?Was Joffrey it for you?

My goal since my junior year was I want to go to New York. ?I’m going to dance for Ailey. ?Period – end of story. ?My email address used to be Ailey2000! ?Being at Joffrey…we were in this fantasy bubble where dance was our life for a few months, it was weird transitioning back into school life again. ?Joffrey was starting a new apprentice program for six dancers and asked if we (Smith and Gombert) were interested. ?I’d just started taking it seriously, meaning, ok I’m not going to skip my ballet class and go take another modern class. ?I knew that I didn’t want to go to college. ?I thought ‘you need something. ?You can’t be poor!’ ?I agreed to it and signed the contract. ?Literally a week later I got offered a contract with Hubbard Street 2 and had to turn it down. ?I graduated in 200 and started the apprenticeship in the fall.

Over the years, how has the company changed?

Technically, the company has always had its technical people in it, but now it is really emphasized. ?The company is a lot younger than it used to be. ?There’s a huge age gap. ?There’s a small group of us that are about to turn 30 and a few at 25, then the babies…19, 20, 21. ?Over the years, the emphasis on rep has changed…the things being brought in and what is being demanded of us. ?I kind of miss doing some of the historic works. ?There’s nothing better than to be choreographed on, being that vehicle to produce art. ?At the same time, there’s something very interesting and a lot of growth can happen by doing older, historic works. ?I go to do the horse in ‘Parade’. ?Who wants to do that? ?The experience was amazing. ?I miss doing Arpino stuff a little. ?I guess that’s a change as well. ?I got to dance while he was still alive in his company. ?To have that greatly influenced how I viewed and still view dance and this company. ?

Do you have a favorite Mr. A story or memory?

Some of my favorite memories are just random moments. ?I miss seeing him sitting in front of the room or seeing him in the back giving you a thumbs up or an ‘ok’ sign. ?As apprentices, we would get gifts from him every once in a while. ?One of them was this huge, oversized knit scarf that,I assume, someone had made for him. ?The first couple of years, I only wore it every once in a while, but now it is a saving grace come wintertime. ?I need that big, chunky scarf. ?I need Mr. A’s scarf. ?Getting to dance for him at the opening of the new building (Joffrey Tower), that was a really special moment. ?He’d always say, ‘This company is going to have a home.” ?To see him walk into that building was such a special time. ?His dream just came true. ?That was pretty kick ass.

How have you changed?

I’m a lot calmer with age. ?Outside of work, I try to be really chill. ?In the studio, in my early 20’s, I tried to be a bad ass and talk back. ?You’re still trying to figure out who you are at that age and my nature was to be more aggressive about it. ?You have to find where you’re going to put your energy. ?Life is too short. ?I’m here to dance. ?I want to be art. ?I want to express myself through art. ?I want to exchange art and discuss it with other people. ?I’m the most senior boy in the company now and I know what it’s like to be that little punk kid in high school. ?Now I have all this experience under my belt. ?There is nothing more humbling than to have someone new in the company and to go and help them. ?I learn things and help teach it to others. ?I’ve been here a long time. ?I’m dedicated to it. ?It’s home to me. ?

What have been some of your favorite pieces to perform?

(Jiri) Kyl?an’s ‘Return to a Strange Land’, hands down. ?I got to do it with Maia (Wilkins) and Willy (Shives). ? That was beyond a dream come true on so many levels. ?Kyl?an is one of my all-time favorite choreographers. ?It just feels good to do his movement. ?Having the chance to dance with two people that are such great partners and to be the third in the trio…that’s a lot to live up to. That was a super highlight. ?The Pilobulus piece ‘Untitled’, ‘Suite Saint Sans’. ?’Inner Space’ was three dancers in a 4×4 Plexiglass box. ?Loved it! ?Everyone wants to go out and be the prince or the lead, but there is something to be gained from doing the more abstract stuff too. ?Finding your own story in it or how you can get through this to make it entertaining and find growth within yourself. ?You’ve never had to do some self-examination until you’ve been put in a 4×4 box with two other people for seven minutes! ?Getting to do one of the stepsisters in ‘Cinderella’ with one of my best friends (Gombert). ?We were playing ourselves pretty much only in women’s clothing. ?I don’t know if anything that silly will enter my life again. ?It was pretty fantastic. ?And ‘Nutcracker’ is always something special. ?I do love it. ?It’s the one time of year where you are performing constantly. ?It’s like, should I even take this make-up off? I’m going to be right back.

You also have talents in a vast range of hobbies: ?photography, videography, choreography and teaching. ?What are your goals?

To take whatever comes and see what happens. ?When Jessica Lang came and set ‘Crossed’…that was a great experience. ?Really inspiring. ?You truly just have to be the vessel and let the art come through you. ?She told me to never say no to anything. ?Go do it and see what happens. ?Try to make all these things happen and see what comes out of it. ?It was a great piece of advice. ?Not that you can’t say no, but if you can do it…why not? ?My goal wold be to keep experiencing everything I can possibly experience. ?If you allow yourself to be open to just experience it, you’ll learn a lot. ?I’ve auditioned for Hubbard Street like five or six times now. ?I love them. ?I’d love to dance for Hubbard Street. ?