Closure

  • an act or process of closing something
  • a feeling that an emotional or traumatic experience has been resolved
  • (in writing) all texts have an end, a point at which the author stopped writing, a sense of an ending

This has been, at least what feels like to me, a long time coming. I wrote a post about “Unpacking” in August of 2020, and while I did unpack that suitcase full of emotions, I still haven’t put things away. That will happen in the new year. Feel free to come help. That said, I do feel like I’ve finally found some closure and wanted to write about it. That’s what I do now. That’s what I am now. That’s what I’ve always been…a writer.

Joffrey Artists Fernando Duarte & Stefan Goncalvez. Photo by Cheryl Mann.

Frankly, I was shocked by how long it took me to “get over” being let go from the Joffrey. A year-and-a-fucking half! WTF? While I went back to freelance writing almost immediately (huge thanks to Lauren Warnecke) and started a podcast (you should subscribe if you haven’t yet), I felt unmoored. And frankly, I thought as soon as they got back on their feet (literally and financially) and back in the theater, they surely would hire me back. Right? That didn’t happen. They hired a new full-time person in the Marketing Department…not me. That was a harsh reality to accept. At 15+ months since my last day, it was a punch in the gut and to my ego. They didn’t want or need me. Full stop.

As much as I’d like to say “Fuck ’em,” I can’t. I love the Joffrey and those dancers. They hold a special place in my heart and I wish them only success. So, after reassessing my life one more time, I took the assignment to review their first show back for SeeChicagoDance. This was also the first show at their new home at the Lyric Opera. A bittersweet moment for me, since I thought I would be there in an official capacity, but I was going to be there anyway. HOME had different meanings as the title of the performance as I said in my review, but Joffrey was my home too. Having to work, take notes, and rough draft the review in my head helped keep me focused – be professional! – but at the end of the opening piece, Arpino’s Birthday Variations, I cried. First, it was beautiful. But it was the look of happiness, relief, and amazement on the dancers’ faces (We did it!) that did me in. They did it! I wanted to run up and give them all a huge hug. Even though I hadn’t written a review since 2013 (pre-Joffrey), it was as they say, like riding a bike. But a bike I don’t enjoy riding. I hate writing reviews! They’re really difficult and stressful. Yet it was my way to be a part of their homecoming.

Joffrey Artists Amanda Assucena & Miguel Angel Blanco. Photo by Cheryl Mann.

True closure came when I went to see opening matinee of The Nutcracker. I interviewed Music Director Scott Speck for my podcast beforehand, but I was there as a “normal” human to just enjoy the show. Again, bittersweet, however I still love the magic of this “problematic” ballet and my holiday season always includes it. To not be at the Auditorium Theatre felt strange, more so than for the fall mixed rep. This production was built for that theatre and my only issue is that they kept the golden arches in the sets for Act 2. It didn’t feel right to me.

This past Tuesday marked two years from the night after coming home from The Nutcracker) that I fell and cracked my head open on the iron gate in front of my house. I woke up on the ground bleeding. A trip to the ER the next day confirmed a concussion and I was patched up with six staples in my head. I still have a dent in my skull, BUT I’m here. My mini tbi may have slowed me down for a bit, but I’m thankful to be healthy and ready to start new projects in the new year. I’ve got shit to do!

I know many of you lost loved ones over this last year+ and I mourn with you. I lost friends too (Liam, Sue, Christie) and it is especially difficult to process in these surreal pandemic times. At the risk of sounding cheesy, now is the time of year to reach out and tell everyone in your world that you love them. The world needs it.

Podcast Episode 17: Scott Speck

Photo by Ben Harper

With performances in London, Paris, Moscow. Beijing, New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Washington, Scott Speck has inspired international acclaim as a conductor of passion, intelligence, and winning personality.

Scott led four performances for the Chicago Symphony in 2014-15 and was immediately re-engaged for four more concerts the next season, and the next. He was named Artistic Director of the Chicago Philharmonic Orchestra in June of 2013, and has been Music Director of The Joffrey Ballet since 2010. His concerts with the Moscow RTV Symphony Orchestra in Tchaikovsky Hall garnered unanimous praise. His gala performances with Yo-Yo Ma, Itzhak Perlman, Joshua Bell, Renée Fleming, Midori, Evelyn Glennie, and Olga Kern have highlighted his recent and current seasons as Music Director of the Mobile Symphony. This season he also collaborates intensively with Carnegie Hall for the seventh time as Music Director of West Michigan Symphony. He was invited to the White House as former Music Director of the Washington Ballet.

In past seasons, Scott has conducted at London’s Royal Opera House at Covent Garden, the Paris Opera, New York’s Lincoln Center, Chicago’s Symphony Center, Washington’s Kennedy Center, San Francisco’s War Memorial Opera House, and the Los Angeles Music Center. He has led numerous performances with the symphony orchestras of Chicago, Houston, Baltimore, Paris, Moscow, Shanghai, Beijing, Vancouver, Romania, Slovakia, Buffalo, Columbus (OH), Honolulu, Louisville, New Orleans, Oregon, Rochester, Florida, and Virginia, among many others. Previously he held positions as Conductor of the San Francisco Ballet; Music Advisor and Conductor of the Honolulu Symphony; and Associate Conductor of the Los Angeles Opera. During a tour of Asia he was named Principal Guest Conductor of the China Film Philharmonic in Beijing.

In addition, Scott is the co-author of two of the world’s best-selling books on classical music for a popular audience, Classical Music for Dummies and Opera for Dummies. These books have received stellar reviews in both the national and international press and have garnered enthusiastic endorsements from major American orchestras. They have been translated into 20 languages and are available around the world. His third book in the series, Ballet for Dummies, was released to great acclaim as well.

Scott has been a regular commentator on National Public Radio, the BBC, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, and Voice of Russia, broadcast throughout the world. He has been featured in TED talks and at the Aspen Ideas Festival. His writing has been featured in numerous magazines and journals.

Born in Boston, Scott graduated summa cum laude from Yale University. There he founded and directed the Berkeley Chamber Orchestra, which continues to perform to this day. He was a Fulbright Scholar in Berlin, where he founded Concerto Grosso Berlin, an orchestra dedicated to the performances of Baroque and Classical music in a historically informed style. He received his Master’s Degree with highest honors from the University of Southern California, served as a Conducting Fellow at the Aspen School of Music, and studied at the Tanglewood Music Center. He is fluent in English, German and French, has a diploma in Italian, speaks Spanish, and has a reading knowledge of Russian.

Podcast Episode 16: Robyn Mineko Williams

Robyn Mineko Williams is a director, multi-disciplinary artist and producer. Following a remarkable 17-year career as a dancer at River North Dance Chicago and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Chicago-native Williams shifted her focus to artistic creation and collaboration. As a dance maker, Robyn has choreographed commissions for Pacific Northwest Ballet, Royal New Zealand Ballet, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Malpaso Dance Company, Charlotte Ballet, and others. She has created and coached movement for an array of projects including music videos, art installations, theater productions, film, and more. Named by Dance Magazine in 2014 as one of “25 To Watch” and “Best Choreographer” by Chicago Magazine‘s Best of Chicago 2016, Robyn is a Princess Grace Foundation USS grant recipient and has been recognized as on of NewCity‘s Players: 50 People Who Really Perform for Chicago. Her work has been presented at Kennedy Center, Harris Theater for Music and Dance, Jacob’s Pillow, American Dance Festival, The Joyce Theater, MCA Chicago, and more.

As a director and producer, Robyn believes in the power of making performance art accessible to all. She founded Robyn Mineko Williams and Artists (RMW&A) in 2015, with a mission to partner with a variety of dynamic artists including musicians, filmmakers, fashion designers, sketch comedians, puppeteers and more, to make and share a body of independent, immersive, and collaborative new works. Collaborations include projects with Manual Cinema, Califone, Ohmme, Verger, Kyle Vegter, The Second City, Mike Gibisser, Alicia Walter, Aitis Band, and more.

Through her work with RMW&A, Robyn uncovered her fascination with creating shows and happenings in unsuspecting places, public and private, reimagining the identity of the spaces and breathing new wonder into them with live art. She loves the element of surprise and the way the art itself gains new purpose and meaning from the different spaces and people engaging with it. Among her many spellbinding creations is Undercover Episodes, an on-going, site-sensitive performance series. Hailed as a “hidden gem” by the Chicago Tribune, these exclusive, one-of-a-kind experiences can take place as free pop-up performances, private house shows, corporate event highlights and more. Using a keen eye for composition and understanding of her movement, Robyn continues to extend her voice as a director, making and translating work for film and live performance.

Inspired by a lifelong, ever-evolving love of music, film, dance, and pop culture, Robyn is excited to continue working and creating in the many lanes and intersections of art, culture, and performance.

Tickets for Echo Mine at Thalia Hall, December 15 at 8:30 PM available HERE.

Podcast Episode 15: Margi Cole

My guest for episode 15 of the Rogue Ballerina podcast is Margi Cole, a good friend, dancer, teacher, mentor, and choreographer.

Margi Cole, founder and Artistic Director of The Dance COLEctive, received a BA in dance from Columbia College Chicago and an MFA in dance from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She has taught for several educational and professional organizations nationally and internationally and performed with many well-known choreographers and companies. In 2011, Cole participated in the Deborah Hay Solo Commissioning Project. She has received two Illinois Arts Council Individual Artist Fellowships, a 2005 Chicago Dancemakers Forum Lab Artist Award, three Individual Artist Program Creative Project Grants form Chicago’s DCASE, an American Marshall Memorial Fellowship, and most recently, a 2018 Art Omi Dance Residency.

Photo by William Frederking

Active in the Chicago dance community, she has served as a Chicago Dancemakers Forum Consortium member, on grant panels, in public forums and is on the board of See Chicago Dance. Cole was on faculty at Columbia College Chicago, where she has served as a Lecturer and Associate Chair and as the Program Manager of the Dance Center Presenting Series. Currently, she is a faculty member in the Dance Department at the Alabama School of Fine Arts. Read her full bio here.

Podcast Episode 14: Taryn Kaschock Russell

My guest for Episode 14 is Taryn Kaschock Russell, a dancer, teacher, director, mentor, wife, mother, sister, friend, and all-around wonderful human.

In September of 2019, Taryn embarked on a new journey as the Director of the Harkness Dance Center at the 92nd Street Y. Before making her way to the Upper East Side, she served on the Artistic leadership team of the Juilliard Dance Division as Associate Director in the 2016-17 and the 2018-19 academic years, and as the Acting Artistic Director in 2017-18. Education is one of her passions, and since relocating to New York in 2013, she has taught both as part of the faculty of the Juilliard School and as a lecturer for the Conservatory of Dance, SUNY Purchase. She has also worked as a guest teacher with Abraham in Motion, Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, Lar Lubovitch Dance Company, Ballet Hispanico, Ballet BC, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago (HSDC), and as a regular company teacher for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater when they are in NYC.

Photo by Guiliano Correia

From 2008-2013, she directed Hubbard Street 2 programming and staffing the HSDC summer intensives and curating HSDC’s National Choreographic Competition. During that time, she also oversaw the production of its first full-length children’s program, Harold and the Purple Crayon: A Dance Adventure, which had its premiere at the Kennedy Center to a sold-out house in October of 2010.

Taryn also performed for 12 years in Chicago with both HSDC and The Joffrey Ballet, performing works by George Balanchine, John Cranko, Agnes de Mille, Martha Graham, Lar Lubovitch, Jiří Kylián, Nacho Duato, Ohad Naharin, and William Forsythe. You can read her full bio here.

92Y’s Harkness Mainstage Series at the Kaufman Concert Hall opens tonight with FLOCK (Alice Klock & Florian Lochner). In-person or digital ticket information is here.

Photos by Cheryl Mann, Todd Rosenberg, Guiliano Correia, and gingerb3ardmen.

Podcast Episode 13: Randy Duncan

Episode 13 features Chicago-based teacher/choreographer Randy Duncan. We discuss the beginning of his dance career, transition into leadership, and natural talent for choreography. Duncan is known for his famously difficult and inspiring finales for Chicago’s Dance For Life finales.

Randy Duncan, a native of Chicago, who began his dance training with Ms. Geraldine Johnson and credits much of his artistic development with Harriet Ross, has the unique privilege to be a three-time recipient of Chicago’s prestigious Ruth Page Award for Outstanding Choreographer of the year. He has received numerous other awards including the Artistic Achievement Award from the Chicago National Association of Dance Masters, three Black Theatre Alliance Awards, and the Gay Chicago Magazine After Dark Award. He earned an American Choreography Award Nomination for his choreography in the blockbuster movie Save the Last Dance starring Julia Stiles.

Mr. Duncan’s work has been seen in the companies of The Joffrey Ballet, Giordano Dance Chicago, Ballet Met, and many others. He has created choreography for such theaters as The Goodman, Manhattan Theatre Club, South Coast Repertory, Actor’s Theatre, Court Theatre, Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Washington Shakespeare Theatre, and Portland Opera. Most recently, his work can be seen in season four of Showtime’s The Chi.

For the past 28 years he has been on the faculty of the Chicago Academy for the Arts, where he now serves as Dance Department Chair and received the 2019 Faculty Legacy Award. He has been choreographing the finale the Chicago’s annual Dance For Life gala since 1994 and received the 2013 AIDS Foundation Chicago Civic Leadership Award for his work with Dance For Life.

Podcast Episode 12: Cheryl Mann

On episode 12 of the Rogue Ballerina podcast, I chat with dancer-turned-photographer (and one of my favorite people) Cheryl Mann. We hear about her career with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, transition to photography, and the importance of never giving up on your dreams. 

Photo by Selena Moshell

Cheryl Mann began her professional career at the age of 17, dancing at Walt Disney World in Orlando, FL, and received her dance degree from Point Park College in Pittsburgh, PA. She performed with the Civic Light Opera in South Pacific as “Liat” under the direction of Robby Marshall in Pittsburgh. Upon moving to Chicago, she danced with River North Dance Chicago before joining Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. Fulfilling her childhood dream of becoming a Hubbard Street dancer in May of 1997, where she remained for over a decade, she has been fortunate in her career to travel to and perform in 17 countries, as well as countless cities in the U.S.

She served as the Artistic Associate of Visceral Dance Chicago until she moved to LA to with Ate9 under the directorship of Danielle Agami. LA credits include NBCUniversal’s Little Big Shots featuring Steve Harvey, Associate Choreographer of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory Live at the Hollywood Bowl, and Axis Connect led by the Barton Sisters. She also had the pleasure of casting and choreographing Moby’s latest music video Motherless Child.

She is the owner of Cheryl Mann Productions, where she travels the world setting dance works for world-renowned choreographers, as well as photographing companies such as Ate9, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, The Joffrey Ballet, Ballet Hispanico, Thodos Dance Chicago, among many more.

Podcast Episode 11: Matthew Harvat/Circuit Mom

My guest for the Pride month episode is a dear friend, former boss, and one of my mentors.

Matthew Harvat designs events and environments, from the intimate to the grand and from the enduring to the spontaneous. As principal and lead designer of his own Chicago-based event company (Circuit Mom Productions), Harvat has transformed both public and domestic spaces for more then twenty-seven years. His event production includes such major venues as the House of Blues Chicago, the Aragon Ballroom, the Uptown Theater Grand Lobby, SideTrack Video Bar, Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, and countless other performance spaces locally and nationally where he has worked as artistic director, actor, performance artist, and DJ. His DJing includes headline appearances in Vancouver, Prague, Miami, Chicago, Orlando, Toronto, and Hollywood.

Concurrent with this evolution, over the last twenty-seven years, Harvat developed the alter ego, drag superstar Circuit Mom and became an iconic presence in dance music festivals around the world. Gay and straight audiences alike embrace his unique combination of DJing, production and performances that fuse glamour, wit, and audacity. His creativity is irrepressible and his keen eye for fostering talent has also become a hallmark of his productions. Up-and-coming artists, DJ’s, photographers, dancers, actors, musicians, costume designers, and more have not only added their incomparable talents to countless event productions, but have become family and continue to work as a collective force to bring Harvat’s audiences the very best.

Podcast Episode 10: Rory Hohenstein

Rory Hohenstein was born in Washington, D.C. and raised in Maryland where he began dance at the age of seven, studying tap, jazz, and modern. He joined the Kirov Academy of Ballet in Washington, D.C., graduating from the full six-year program. At the age of 17, he joined the company Le Juene Ballet de France in Paris, France. After spending a year touring around Europe, he joined the San Francisco Ballet as a corps member in 2000, and was promoted to soloist in 2006. He then joined Christopher Wheeldon in his new company Morphoses in 2008, splitting their home season in both New York and Sadler’s Wells, London. After several seasons, he then spent a season dancing with the Lar Lubovitch Dance Company before joining The Joffrey Ballet as on of the leading artists in 2011. After eight seasons with the company, in 2019, he joined the Atlanta Ballet as a Ballet Master.

Over his nearly 20-year career, he has worked with such choreographers as Justin Peck, Lar Lubovitch, Christopher Wheeldon, Mark Morris, Alexei Ratmansky, Wayne McGregor, Alexander Ekman, Yuri Possokhov, William Forsythe, Helgi Tomasson, Val Caniparoli, Stanton Welch, and John Neumeier.

Some personal highlights for Hohenstein include Romeo in Krzysztof Pastor’s Romeo & Juliet, dancing the role of Levin in Yuri Possokhov’s Anna Karenina, Step Sister in Antony Tudor’s Cinderella, Amor in John Neumeier’s Sylvia, The Lovers in Alexander Ekman’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, the Monk in Yuri Possokhov’s RAkU, Cassio in Lar Lubovitch’s Othello, and in Fancy Free and Riff in West Side Story Suite, both by Jerome Robbins. He has also enjoyed working in stage productions with Debbie Allen, Neumeier’s opera Orphee and Eurydice, as well as working with Wade Robson from TV’s So You Think You Can Dance.

Podcast Episode 9: Annabelle Lopez Ochoa

My guest for episode 9 of the Rogue Ballerina podcast is world-renowned choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa. We discuss her career and process, using the studio as a playground, creating new heroine roles for ballerinas, and pandemic silver linings.

Annabelle Lopez Ochoa is an award-winning and sought-after choreographer that has created works for 67 dance companies around the world such as the Dutch National Ballet, English National Ballet, Hong Kong Ballet, West Australian Ballet, Ballet Nacional de Cuba, San Francisco Ballet, New York City Ballet, Ballet Hispanico, and Dance Theater of Harlem, among others.

A versatile choreographer, Lopez Ochoa creates regularly within the dance field but also for theater, opera, and musical theater. Her wide-ranging body of work includes short conceptual pieces, full-length narrative ballets, and dance films. The Colombian-Belgian Lopez Ochoa completed her dance education at the Royal Ballet of Antwerp. After a 12-year career in a number of European dance companies, Lopez Ochoa decided in 2003 to focus solely on choreography. That same year, she was hailed as the “rising star of the Dutch dance scene (NRC newspaper) and only seven years later, the Temecula Performing Arts Examiner wrote: “Ochoa is truly a masterful choreographer with an edge for what dance can and should be in this constantly changing industry.”

In 2012, she was awarded the Best Classical choreography award by the Circle of Critics of the National Dance Award UK for A Streetcar Named Desire, created for the Scottish Ballet. That same year, the work was nominated for an Olivier Award. In 2016, Broken Wings, choreographed for the English National Ballet was nominated for numerous awards and reworked into a full-length ballet, FRIDA, for the Dutch National Ballet in 2020.

In 2019, she became the recipient of the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award, as well as being named the program director of the Jacob’s Pillow Contemporary Classical Summer Course, a position she will hold for three years. During the pandemic of 2020-2021, she pioneered remote choreography and dance film creations premiered online. She has created 22 short dance films for which she has been featured in several articles in Pointe Magazine, Bachtrack, Tv5 Mondo, Dance International, and Dance Magazine.