First of all, Happy National Dance Day! I hope you’ll be tapping, pointing, smacking, twerking, turning, jumping, stomping and shimmying the day away.
Big news! The Harris Theater has announced that Hamburg Ballet will return to Chicago to perform in February 2014. The company wowed audiences last season with the epic, overwhelming, evening-length ballet Nijinsky. This season they bring Director John Neumeier’s Third Symphony of Gustav Mahler for the only American performances. Tickets go on sale – today! Deets below.
And, I’m super-duper stoked that Wendy Whelan: Restless Creature is coming (March 20). This project pairs the incomparable New York City Ballet ballerina with four contemporary choreographers including Hubbard Street’s Alejandro Cerrudo! The program has its world premiere this August at Jacob’s Pillow (“someone” couldn’t afford to go see it, so…yay!).
Tickets for the Hamburg Ballet’s “Third Symphony of Gustav Mahler” go on sale today – Saturday, July 27 – at 10 am. Tickets are available at the Harris Theater Box Office (205 E. Randolph); call 312.334.7777 or visit www.harristheaterchicago.org.
Dancer Joel Walsham dances on Karekare Beach in his native New Zealand. Photo by Kristen Walsham.
New Zealand dancer Joel Walsham is heading to San Francisco…with your help. He is one of 18 dancers accepted to the LINES Ballet/Dominican University Bachelor of Fine Arts program beginning this fall. Walsham, 18, is the only international student to be accepted to the program this year and is the first New Zealander.
To help him finance his trip and stay in CA, he’s started an Indiegogo campaign (video below). His tag line says it all: Think big. Dance bigger.
Hubbard Street & LINES Ballet dancers in Alonzo King's "Azimuth". Photo by Margo Moritz.
What happens when two very different top contemporary companies combine talents for a much-anticipated joint appearance including a premiere commissioned by the Harris Theater in honor of its 10th anniversary and funded in part by a grant from the Joyce Foundation? You get an amazingly danced, slightly overwhelming, long-ass show. Last night Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and San Fransisco-based Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet took the stage for the Chicago premiere of a new collaborative work by King presented with an older work (Rasa) from King and a work by Hubbard Street resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo. As the culmination of a years-long process that included a three-week residency at the University of Irvine and the world premiere collaboration of Azimuth, it is a historical dance feat, for sure, but this felt like a LINES Ballet show with Hubbard Street as mere guest artists.
King has a unique approach to choreographing, pushing the dancers to always investigate and make choices with their movement. This makes for interesting, ever-changing dancing, but at times proves tiring for the audience and with works pushing 40-minutes a piece, a little editing would go a long way. His philosophical base of construction is a bit too heady for my taste, but what he gets out of the dancers is astounding. His dancers are beautiful creatures with legs, arms and technique for days that move in a way that is uniquely King-created. There is something in the way they move their arms that is breathtaking. Courtney Henry, Keelan Whitmore and Michael Montgomery were stand outs in this super talented group.
As if thrown in as a quirky palette cleanser between King pieces, Cerrudo’s Little mortal jump offered lighter fare with its whimsical, theatrical humor. The ending duet between Jesse Bechard and Ana Lopez (my favorite part) is usually clouded in dark, foggy lighting that adds to the ethereal quality of the slow-motion duet. Last night’s lighting was much brighter (showing dancers behind boxes, the couple exiting upstage, etc.) losing some of its magic.
Obviously, with King choreographing the new work, the LINES dancers were at an advantage, but the fact that Azimuth looked like another all-LINES piece is a testament to the Hubbard Street dancers’ chameleon-like talent to assimilate. Some adapted quicker than others – Jacqueline Burnett, Johnny McMillan and Kellie Epperheimer were all featured in solos. Epperheimer was also featured in a soaring quintet aided by Hubbard Street men (Jonathan Fredrickson, Garrett Anderson, Bechard and David Schultz) that had her diving, floating, skimming, jumping and climbing around the entire stage. Yet, when all 26 dancers were on stage moving together, it was a lot to take in. The dancers I’ve spoken with all say it was an inspiring process and I’m sure they have all grown from it, while gaining new friends as an added perk.
Hubbard Street + LINES Ballet at the Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph, through Sunday, March 17. Tickets are $25-$99; visit www.hubbardstreet.com or call 312.334.7777.
Hubbard Street's Kellie Epperheimer 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.
It starts with two men working with 12 different choreographers separately, then they take the material and remix it. In the meantime, funds need to be raised, a venue found and confirmed and the final product created. Much like the mind behind The Nexus Project – it’s complicated. Benjamin Wardell is not new to the Chicago dance world. He danced with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago for four seasons in a wide range of works by Nacho Duato, Alonzo King and many by resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo, among others. After he left Hubbard Street, most thought he’d retired from dance and/or moved away. Lucky for us, he didn’t.
Before coming to Chicago, the Memphis-native danced for the Cincinnati Ballet and Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet. Now a freelance dancer (a touring stint with Azure Barton and Artists and currently with Lucky Plush Productions), he’s also teaching at Extensions Dance Center, Visceral Dance Center and occasionally at Lou Conte Dance Center. He’s the official videographer for Luna Negra Dance Theater and River North Dance Chicago as well as a freelance photographer. He also does repetiteur work setting piece from the Hubbard Street rep around the country and is in charge of the company’s summer intensive program in Iowa. “I’m all over the place,” he said. “For me, that’s great. My brain is in 20 places at once. Whenever I would get into a company, I would eventually feel compressed by the lack of variety. Even just going in the same building every day. Now, I’m in so may place that I stay calm to make sure I don’t forget anything. That lifestyle works better for my internal make-up.” For the upcoming project he’s teaming up with dancer Michel Rodriguez Cintro (of Hedwig Dances) and a dozen local choreographers for an exciting and ambitious project tentatively scheduled to premiere later this fall.
RB sat down with Wardell earlier this year to talk about his career, past and present.
Hubbard Street is currently in collaboration with Alonzo King/LINES Ballet. You’ve previously said that working with Alonzo for a long period of time is transformative and that it changes the way you dance. Is it also emotionally taxing?
Yes. He pushes really hard. The work is not particularly emotive, but it’s emotionally taxing because you’re always pushing really hard. He expects you to always be generating thought. In a way, your creativity with your movement maxes out, because he always wants it to be different every time and you perform the same piece like 130 times, but if you do it the same 2 or 3 times, he’ll call you out on it. “You need to explore that section of movement in a different way.” Part of the transformation was how to get creative doing the same movements and embracing the constant change. One of the good things is it prevents that subtle death of the choreography where it starts to look comfortable.
When you decided to leave Hubbard Street, what was going through your head?
I started to realize I wasn’t built for companies. It’s becoming easier to freelance and the sound of being in control of what I was doing was appealing. I thought it was pliable for me to do. I got to the point where I’d achieved all my institutional goals. At this point, I’d rather make something new that’s a “swing and a miss” than do a masterpiece that was made for someone else. I found myself at this place where I wanted to be generating stuff rather than learning choreography. That combined with I was getting into video and photo work and wanted to explore those avenues. I needed to be on my own in a way that I could do a lot of things. I had a vague thought about wanting to produce work, but that was the least part of my original plans.
Why did you call the new project The Nexus Project?
I’d been calling it the “Two Man Show” since it’s inception, but I though that was a little generic for product packaging. I talked to a friend of mine that does marketing and he said I should have an overarching name. “The Nexus Project” was the first thing I came up with. The idea for the project, having all the choreographers and an open rehearsal process for the second half, is that the two of us, rather than being in a bubble, are the crossing point for all the spokes.
How did you pick Michel?
He choreographed for The A.W.A.R.D.S. Show and I was like “who the fuck is this guy and how have I lived here for two years and not know him?” I saw Chino (Michel’s nickname) dance and was shocked that he would be in this city and I had no idea. So Iintroduced myself. I need to find another guy that I can share the stage with for an hour and be on even ground with and who is available to do the amount of rehearsals needed. That list was short, because of all the demands.
How did you pick the choreographers (*listed below)?
It took me three or four months to hash out the project, it was a pretty slow process. It started off with just wanting to explore male duets. So a two-man show, then I started to think about my particular strengths and weaknesses. I’m not good with or particularly good at generating movement. That was a bit tricky. So what if I work with other choreographers? What am I good at? Outside of dancing, my secondary talent or other interest is coordinating people and finding connections between disparate parts, partly because my brain exists in that place. The way that things connect is how I see thing. I love complexity, so I should make a complicated process, because I’m going to feel at home in it. It’s going to tap into my capacity spectrum. Part of it was wanting to deal with the hierarchy of dance. Every choreography has a different methodology, but the way dance gets made is essentially the same in terms of the choreographer coming into the room and being in charge and making a piece and then leaving. That basic structure doesn’t really change. I’ve never been in a process that has more choreographers than dancers. Let’s try that. And, frankly, I just like the number 12.
Is there a choreographic theme to the show?
No. This is one of the aspects of the show that I’m most proud of – the process. It wasn’t one of my goals, it’s something I realized had happened once the process was set. The 12 choreographers have that truly rare consequence-free environment. That have two dancers who can do pretty much anything they can come up with, who are willing to try whatever, from the most risky to the most strange. We will do whatever you ask us with zero judgment. They get 12 hours of rehearsal each and they get to keep the work, but they’ve given us permission to use them. The choreographers came from wanting to represent the community, to give credit to all the stuff going on. I want people to have total freedom. At the end of February, whether they’ve finished their piece or not, I’m done with that phase of the project and need to move onto the second, which is the remixing process, an open rehearsal process (for donors) and putting the show together. A big part of why the second part is open is that studio time is our favorite time as dancers and yet we never let anyone in.
What are your hopes for The Nexus Project?
In terms of the final show and guaranteeing it being not terrible, priority number one is “Don’t Suck!” Especially if you’re trying something new. It’s terrifying because this is all my little new idea and I haven’t had any experience with it aside from having a choreographer set work on me. The basis of the show that will make it at the very least not a waste of time, is that they’re going to come see some good damn dancing. You’re going to see two real good male dancers who are real good at dancing with each other and can hold a 60-70 minute show no matter what we’re doing. I felt like we would get better at dancing together more quickly if we had to work with a bunch of different choreographers than if we were spending the same number of hours just doing our own thing. It’s hard to avoid self-indulgence when you’re totally in charge. Having to go from style to style, I feel like we’ve gotten to know each other’s dancing fairly quickly.
For more details on The Nexus Project and to donate to the Kickstarter campaign (ends Wednesday, Jan. 23!) click here.
*Choreographers include: Harrison McEldowney, Francisco Avina, Autumn Eckman, Robyn Mineko Williams, Julia Rhoads, Penny Saunders, Ron De Jesus, Jonathan Meyer and Julia Rae Antonick (Kechari), Nicolas Blanc, Jonathan Fredrickson, Matthew McMunn and Daniel “Brave Monk” Haywood.
Hubbard Street dancer Quinn B Wharton. Photo by Cheryl Mann.
Her: What’s the B. stand for?
Him: It’s a good question, isn’t it? I’ll never tell.
Her: Ooh, it’s top secret!
Him: It’s more interesting that way, right? There’s no period.
Her: Is that an artistic statement?
Him: It’s like that on my birth certificate, Quinn B Wharton. There’s a reason.
Her: Do you want to tell me?
Him: Then you’d know and it would be no fun. Maybe I’ll tell you someday.
That’s how my conversation began with the tall, lean, talented dancer at Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. Quinn B – no period – Wharton was bright, blithe and downright bewitching when we met over tea (for him, he was recovering from a cold) and decaf (for me, ’nuff said) two weeks ago. Who is this man with the mysterious initial and missing punctuation? I did my best to find out.
Wharton grew up in Seattle and began taking hip hop classes with a friend through an inner city outreach program. Pacific Northwest Ballet School‘s Dance Chance program took notice and offered him a scholarship. After a five-year “drought” in his training when his family moved to Hawaii, he relied on the wisdom of his ballet-teaching grandmothers to find him a teacher to get him back in shape. A summer program at San Francisco Ballet (SFB) led to three years at the North Carolina School of the Arts before he returned to San Fran to join the ballet company’s trainee program, or second company, while completing his degree via correspondence. Wharton danced with SFB, under the direction of Helgi Tomasson, for seven years before joining Hubbard Street in the summer of 2012.
In 2008, during SFB’s 75th Anniversary season, Wharton sustained a lower back injury that kept him from dancing. He used his down time to develop an impressive talent in photography. After “working like hell” on his ballet come back, he started traveling and auditioning to see what else was out there in the dance world. Now, he joins fellow SFB alums Garrett Anderson and Pablo Piantino at Hubbard Street.
Wharton, 25, will be dancing the opening “TV Man” solo in Swedish choreographer Mats Ek’s Casi-Casa this weekend at the Harris Theater. Hubbard Street’s Winter Series will be the first time an American company has presented this work. Also on the program, Canadian choreographic phenom Aszure Barton’s Untouched, a dense and grand work make for the company in 2010, and a coupling of short works by resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo. One is a quartet for women, the other a trio for men.
Ek has been in and out of town working with the dancers for a while, but is aided by his wife/muse Ana Laguna, who notably danced a duet with Mikhail Baryshnikov at the Harris Theater in 2009, and repetiteur Mariko Aoyama, who is well-known for her work with Pina Bausch. A rehearsal earlier this fall for the “TV Man” solo had Laguna riffing on the finer points of chair slumping and nose picking. Here is a peak into the rehearsal process filmed by HMS Media:
Wharton (also a gifted videographer) started his Hubbard Street career with a bang. Only two weeks in, he found himself learning Twyla Tharp’s SCARLATTI to replace an injured dancer the next night at the Chicago Dancing Festival. Welcome to Chicago! Here’s a bit of our chat on working with Ek.
I’ve read a lot of articles and interviews in the past few years and most of the dancers say they want to work with Ek. Is he someone you aspired to work with?
He wasn’t, actually…until now.
Since he wasn’t on your list, what makes it…
Amazing? It’s watching someone that’s been so thoroughly in his craft for so long, so specifically. It’s very different from how most dance is portrayed. It’s almost like from a theater background. You can tell from what he makes for film. I don’t know what it’s like when he creates, but it seems like he comes into the room with these characters and bases dances on them as opposed to creating movement and infusing it with character, which is what most people do, if at all. He’s a little soft-spoken. He’s tall. He wants really big movement. He’s not irrational with what he expects, but he does demand a lot. He’s respectful, which is nice. When he came back this past week, we were working on the TV solo. Watching it is really weird, but hearing him talk about it, makes complete sense. At first it seemed really obscure. The TV Man is in love with this game show hostess on tv and you write her a bunch of letters and she doesn’t respond to you. You love her, but you hate her and this couch is always here for you and it’s your friend you love it. There are people out there like that and it allowed me to relate to what I was doing.
What was it like working with Ana and Mariko?
I can see why Mariko was here first. She’s super sweet. She’s very detail-focused. She gave us a lot of information very quickly. She’s fast and she pushes. She’s quirky and she’s worked in very contemporary dance for years with Pina Bausch. They both just give us a base, because they know Mats will come in later. Ana is a sweetheart, beyond sweet. Obviously she knows Mats work inside and out.
In rehearsals you were playing with a black bowler hat. What’s with the hat?
What IS with the hat? I like hats. I am the hat man, as well. I die at the end of my solo. I turn the tv off and I die, because that is my world. “Vacuum Lady” comes on and has a hat. I go for it and she takes it away. I put it on and she sends me somewhere. It’s very conceptual. Either it’s another world or I’m a spirit. I provide transition and “slight leadership”. Every time I come in to change a scene, I’m wearing the hat…except for the finale.
Hubbard Street Dance Chicago presents its Winter Series at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance, 205 E. Randolph, on Thurs., Dec. 6 at 730 pm, Friday-Saturday, Dec. 7-8 at 8 pm and Sunday, Dec. 9 at 3 pm. Tickets are $25-$99. Call 312.850.9744 or visit hubbardstreetdance.com.
HSDC dancers Jesse Bechard & Ana Lopez in Alejandro Cerrudo's "Little mortal jump". Photo by Todd Rosenberg.
As usual, the dancers of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago(HSDC) ruled the Harris Theater stage last weekend. Shocking, right? First, they were performing two works from last season I already liked, plus a world premiere by resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo. It was safe to assume, I would be a goner. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no push over. In fact, it usually takes a lot to impress me, but these dancers seem to always knock it out of the park with energy, style, finesse and a humbleness that belies their collective and individual talents.
Alonzo King’s Following the Subtle Current Upstream, kicked off the performances. The LINES director set his work on the company last spring and with a year to play inside the choreography, the dancers seem more comfortable and willing to take more risks. There were a few wobbles in the first all-male section on Thursday, which could be attributed to last minute, lingering opening night nerves or they were really pushing it. The piece grew stronger with every section as the dancers took bigger risks with the movement. (I’m not sure, but I think one of them even danced right off the marley for a second.) Kevin Shannon – looking buff – has really grown in the work. His solo ending the piece was strong and daring. The duet danced by Penny Saunders and Cerrudo (Thurs) and Kellie Epperheimer and Jesse Bechard (Sunday) is the highlight of the work. The Cerrudo/Saunders relationship was comfortable, secure and trusting, while Bechard/Epperheimer showed a fresh tension and sensuality. The same choreography telling two opposing stages of love. Cerrudo expertly navigates the stage dragging, pulling, lifting and stopping Saunders as if he is a compass guiding her back home. Bechard lets Epperheimer take the lead offering support, helping her go where she yearns to be. Also returning from last season was Sharon Eyal’s Too Beaucoup. Think avant garde aliens acclimating to a futuristic Midwest 8th grade mixer.
It was the duet in Cerrudo’s premiere, Little mortal jump, that still has me transfixed. Coming at the end of several vignettes in a shadowy haze of black, white and gray, the duet transports the audience to a different realm at one point even transcending time. The slow motion sequence in the last minutes of the work makes you feel like you were in the movie Inception, taking your breath away with aching emotions, elegant reaches and its technical defiance of gravity. Bechard again shows his partnering prowess, this time dancing with the exquisite Ana Lopez. Cerrudo’s love of movies and music front and center in the short “film” clips hinting at past works melded with an eclectic hand-picked score that was spot on. The final image of the couple in a downlit lift center stage after pushing the through a wall of moveable black boxes was stunning. As they run off into the darkness upstage, the other dancers send the boxes spinning before exiting themselves. The moment was spectacular warranting a standing ovation for Cerrudo and crew at both shows.
I met a new friend at intermission. Max had never been to see a dance performance before. (Way to start at the top!) Let’s just say he was impressed.
Last week I sat in on rehearsal at Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s (HSDC) West Loop studios. The well-respected group is prepping for a spring run of shows at the Harris Theater, March 15 – 18. Two of the three pieces they are presenting are audience favorites (and two of my favorites) from last season that pushed the dancers to new limits. Alonzo King’s Following the Subtle Current Upstream takes classical technique and tilts it off balance, skewing lines and testing the boundaries of center. Sharon Eyal’s Too Beaucoupchallenges detail, sensory and memory capacity while stripping away virtually any sign of individuality. They are a study in contrast. It’s the third work on the program that proves to be an enigma. HSDC Resident Choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo, always a man of mystery, presents the world premiere of Little mortal jump at the top of the show. He will then dance in the remaining two pieces.
His new work for ten dancers has little bits of his older works Off Screen (2008), Extremely Close (2007) and Lickety Split (2006) and is set to an eclectic score that pieces together a collage of musical ranges from Tom Waits to Max Richter. “I think the piece has a twist,” Cerrudo said before a run-thru at rehearsal. “It starts one way and finishes in a completely different world. I tried to do that as smooth as possible. To me, the mood of the piece starts very theatrical and finishes…more dance, more intense.” Although he begins every new work with a fresh perspective, Little mortal jump shows glimpses of his evolution as a choreographer, while also proving he is a master of both extremes – humorous theatricality to intense beauty. Incorporating interactive set pieces adds an intriguing touch that will surprise all. A duet with Ana Lopez and Jesse Bechard includes a slow-motion sequence that is a tender, private moment in a fast-paced piece.
It’s an exciting time for Cerrudo. In late February, it was announced that HSDC’s 35th anniversary season would open with a full-length work by Cerrudo inspired by Marc Chagall’s America Windows at the Art Institute of Chicago. After this week’s premiere, he has a week off then travels to Milwaukee for final rehearsals of Extremely Close, then to set a new work on Aspen Santa Fe Ballet. The rest of the summer will be working on the Chagall piece in the studio. He, of course already is planning it in his head. “I’ll try to make it fun,” he said. “I know what I want a full-evening to look like or feel like, but it doesn’t mean I can make it work that way. I’m going to try my best.” If his past work is any indication, his best will surely delight and enthrall.
Hubbard Street Dance Chicago at the Harris Theater, 205 E. Randolph. Tickets are $25-$94. Call 312.850.9744 or visit hubbardstreetdance.com
Thursday, March 15 at 7:30 pm, Friday & Saturday, March 16 & 17 at 8 pm and Sunday, March 18 at 3 pm.
Jonathan Dummar in "The Nutcracker". Photo by Herbert Migdoll.
“I’ll be home for Christmas this year,” said a happy Jonathan David Dummar over coffee this past summer. After dancing with the Joffrey Ballet for six seasons, Dummar, 27, decided it was time for a change of scenery and moved to San Francisco in August to dance with Smuin Ballet. He’s currently performing in their annual show The Christmas Ballet. No Nutcracker? “I’m so thankful for that,” he laughs. “Don’t get me wrong, I love Tchaikovsky…and, by the way Joffrey’s is the best! Bob (Joffrey) and Jerry (Arpino) really knew what they were doing. I’m so proud to be a part of the legacy of the Joffrey.”
From Reno, Nevada, Dummar began taking dance classes after being invited into his sister’s class by her teacher. She had seen him watching from the window and trying to do the moves. The physical child, who participated in gymnastic, swimming and diving, was hooked. To avoid competition, his mom enrolled the children in different dance schools. His very first teacher, Ava Kerr, basically changed his life. “She was so fundamental,” he says. “She taught me so much. She had me partnering within two weeks.” From there he participated in dance competitions, spent summers in LA at the Edge Performing Arts Center on scholarship, Pacific Northwest Ballet‘s (PNB) summer program and on to The Harrid Conservatory to finish high school. “The training at Harrid is rigorous. It’s boarding/ballet school. They really helped me hone a lot of things and gave me a good base. I’m a completely different dancer now.” After graduating valedictorian, Dummar danced with PNB’s professional division until an ankle injury ended in surgery. After healing, he danced two years with Ballet Memphis, where he met choreographer Trey McIntyre and became a founding member of the Trey McIntyre Project. Feeling that he wasn’t utilizing his ballet technique fully, he auditioned for the Joffrey and joined the company in 2005.
At the Joffrey A Starry Night party after the final show of the season, I approached Dummar having just found out at the performance that it would be his last with the troupe. “You should interview me,” he said. A few weeks later, we sat down to discuss his career.
So, why did you decide to leave Joffrey now?
I’ve been here for six years. The company is skewing younger and more classical all the time and I’m going in the opposite direction. I’m really thankful for the opportunities that I got. My values are changing and they aren’t necessarily aligned with where Ashley is taking the company. Ashley taught me a lot. He gave me a lot of opportunities. I’m really appreciative and grateful. I feel really glad about what I did, but I can’t wait to start this next chapter. There’s a lot of personal reasons too. I’m from the West Coast. I’ve been away from home for 11 years. I’m ready to be closer to family. San Francisco is like the promise land of the new age. There’s organic produce on every corner, the yoga there is amazing, they compost, they have clean energy…I was so impressed with all of that. It finally feels like I’m finally making a decision for me as a whole person. It’s kind of selfish, but all of the things I’ve done to grow and learn and do what I wanted to do. Now I can take it and share it with my family.
Well, I ‘m going to miss watching you dance. What have been some of your favorite pieces at Joffrey?
“Round of Angels” has been one of my favorite things I’ve ever performed. The Arpino rep is really fun. You watch it and it’s easy to be critical, but when you do it, it’s so fun…fast and hard. It’s part of dance history. “Crossed” by Jessica Lang. I really liked “Bells” (Yuri Possokhov). When I first joined, Fabrice (Calmels), Val (Robin) and I did Kylían’s “Return To a Strange Land”. We did the pas de trois. It was a very emotional piece. It was a fantastic opportunity.
Tell me about Smuin Ballet.
Michael Smuin is the former Artistic Director of San Francisco Ballet. He wanted some more artistic freedom and wanted to do some things the board wasn’t in to, so he left and started his own company. He was a Broadway choreographer before he did ballet, so all of his works are more showy, more dancy. He died about three years ago. It was horrifically tragic for the company. He was very much the lifeblood. He died in the studio teaching class of a heart attack. Everyone talks about him with so much reverance. The company is going in a new direction. We’re doing Trey McIntyre, some Kylían, lots of premieres, and a few by Michael Smuin. It’s a smaller company. I know I’ll be more valuable. Some of the ballerinas there deserve a really strong, attentive partner. I have some friends in the company. It was just an overall feeling. I went and auditioned and thought this is where I need to be. It was perfect timing with the Joffrey lock out.
What’s in your future?
I want to direct. I know that’s in my future. I know there’s an intellectual side that I’ll need to cultivate, but I think you can do that with dance. Absolutely. I’ve been to some modern shows and the ideas they present are incredible. Ballet doesn’t even come close to presenting these ideas and I think they can. I think further integration of these disparate kinds of dance is completely possible. I’d love to work with Alonzo (King) at some point.
HSDC dancer Jessica Tong in Sharon Eyals "Too Beaucoup". Photo by Todd Rosenberg.
Hubbard Street Dance Chicago (HSDC) announced its 2011-2012 season today. Some Twyla, some Nacho, some Forsythe, some old, some new, a little Harold, LINES and a lot of Cerrudo. On paper, it already looks amazing. On stage, it is not to be missed. Under the direction of Glenn Edgerton, HSDC has continued to show an international audience why they are one of the best. Flawless technicians, intuitive artists, open and honest performers and consummate professionals.
Next season opens with the company at the Harris Theater in October. Nacho Duato’s gorgeous Arcangelo (if you were lucky, you saw it last fall), Johan Inger’s Walking Mad and a world premiere from Twyla Tharp (working with the company again after a 15 year absence) launches the new season. HSDC switches it up for the Winter Series in January, by performing a slew of new works on the MCA Stage and presenting danc(e)volve: New Works Festival. Edgerton will curate the show featuring pieces picked from the company’s Inside/Out Choreographic Workshop, two winners from the annual National Choreographic Competition and HS2 will perform a world premiere from HSDC Resident Choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo.
Springtime brings HSDC back to the Harris for a power-packed program bringing back Sharon Eyal’s techo-intense Too Beaucoup (a huge hit from this year’s Spring Series), Alonzo King’s Following the Subtle Current Upstream (which audiences will see in the upcoming May Summer Series) and another world premiere by Cerrudo, his 10th in four years as Resident Choreographer (keep them coming please!).
In December, HS2 bings back the delightful children’s program Harold and the Purple Crayon: A Dance Adventure. Choreographed by HSDC dancer Robyn Mineko Williams and HSDC Artistic Associate Terrance Marling, Harold wowed the sold-out crowds at its premiere, enthralling parents and kids alike. (Case in point: I’m not sure who enjoyed it more – me or my 6-year-old goddaughter!) Rounding out the season, the company revisits Cerrudo’s Maltidos and Ohad Naharin’s THREE TO MAX (which just had its premiere in March) and presents the much-anticipated company premiere of William Forsythe’s Quintett. Of course, this is just the Chicago concert series. The company is always busy touring, cultivating the collaborations with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (now in its 9th year) and the Art Institute of Chicago and doing community outreach through the Chicago Public Schools.
Merde to HSDC for what will undoubtedly be another outstanding season of dance!