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.

Podcast Episode 8: Carrie Hanson

Photo by Julie Ballard

My next guest on the Rogue Ballerina podcast is the Artistic Director of The Seldoms, Carrie Hanson.

Carrie Hanson is a choreographer, dance educator, and the Founding Artistic Director of The Seldoms. Her work involves research and embodiment of social, political, environmental issues and history, as a mode of pressing performance to speak to larger subjects. She has created connections with artists across Chicago, designing projects with practitioners of visual arts, theater, music/sound design, fashion, and architecture. Hanson pursues a type of performance that stages articulate, rigorous, problem-solving bodies.

In 2015, she was named Chicago Tribune’s “Chicagoan of the Year in Dance,” honored for her “brawny, brainy movement.” Time Out Chicago called her work in an outdoor pool, Giant Fix, on of the “best dance moments of the past decade.” Her 2015 work about the figure Lyndon B. Johnson, Power Goes, was commissioned by the Museum of Contemporary Art, received a National Performance Network Creation Fund and NEFA National Dance Project Award, and toured to ten U.S. venues, hosting community members as on-stage performers via a workshop entitled “Bodies on the Gears.”

She has received commissions from Texas Performing Arts, the Morton Arboretum, and the National Theater of Mannheim, Germany, and was a resident artist at the National Center for Choreography at Akron. She teaches at the Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago, and was an Interdisciplinary Artist-in-Residence for Fall 2019 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

She is certified in Laban Movement Analysis, earned a BFA at Texas Christian University and an MA Laban London. Hanson has received two Illinois Arts Council Fellowships, a Ruth Page Award, was a Chicago Dancemaker’s Forum Lab Artists, and one of Dance Magazine‘s “25 To Watch” in 2012. The Chicago Tribune wrote, “Hanson is among the more fascinating and surefooted of our contemporary choreographers.”

You can see two virtual excerpts of the work, Floe, on Thursday, April 22, on the Art Institute of Chicago‘s Earth Day webpage. Floe is The Seldom’s dance theater work about our climate crisis: vanishing polar ice, rising sea levels, extreme weather, forced migration, the tension between denial and evidence, and adaptation and resilience. Hanson will also be part of a Virtual Panel: Art and Climate Crisis on April 23 from 12:00 – 1:30 PM. More information and registration here.

Topics discussed:

Podcast Episode 7: Erica Lynette Edwards

Photo by Cheryl Mann.

Erica Lynette Edwards is an accomplished consultant and public speaker who champions change to advance social justice. With diversity, equity, and inclusion as the core foundation of her work, she transforms visions into reality. After a rewarding 15-year career as a ballerina at The Joffrey Ballet and five years as the Director of Community Engagement, she founded Cultivating Better Tomorrows. Through this consulting company, Erica reshapes the dynamics of performing arts communities to produce environments where all can thrive. Highly skilled in delivering consistent success and effective change, she is passionate about facilitating results-driven conversations and workshops focused on reflection and knowledge-building. Her visionary leadership has earned her many honors and opportunities, including speaking on national panels, giving a TEDx talk, and being selected as a member of Crain’s Chicago Business “40 Under 40.” By developing shared understandings, Erica inspires communities to make the world a more just place.

Topics discussed:

Podcast Episode 6: Ethan Kirschbaum

Photo by Noah Powell of Osprey Visuals.

My guest for episode 6 of the Rogue Ballerina podcast is Ethan Kirschbaum, founder of the Chicago Movement Collective. I thought it would be fun to leave this episode RAW: UNCUT, UNEDITED, UNCENSORED – so there is explicit language. You will hear our entire conversation including flubs, faux commercial breaks, sirens, commentary, and lots of laughs. Enjoy.

Ethan is originally from Oakland, CA, and began his dance career as an apprentice with the Savage Jazz Dance Company while still in high school. He studied at the Ailey School/Fordham University in NYC, graduating summa cum laude with departmental honors in dance performance and a BFA degree. During his junior year, he joined Hubbard Street 2, dancing and teaching workshops around the globe while concurrently completing his degree.

He has performed with the Sante Fe Opera and danced internationally in various countries including Canada, Mexico, Holland, Germany, Israel, Switzerland, Luxemboug, France, and Russia. In 2011, he moved to Germany to dance with Donlon Dance Company under the direction of Marguerite Donlon. He was on faculty at the Lou Conte Dance Studio since 2012 and was named the scholarship mentor, delegating scholarships to promising pre-professional and early-career artists until its closure in March of 2020. Ethan also performed as a company member of River North Dance Chicago for five seasons.

Ethan is certified by the Ailey School to teach all levels of the Horton Technique and is a freelance artists performing at the Lyric Opera of Chicago, choreographing locally, and teaching nationally as a guest to dance studios and university programs alike.

Ethan is proud to be the founder of Chicago Movement Collective and director of the Claire Bataille Legacy Program, continuing to provide a home for talented and passional pre-professional dancers.

Photo by Noah Powell of Osprey Visuals.

Click HERE to donate to the Chicago Movement Collective. If you want to take class (you may qualify for a FREE class!) or audition for the Legacy Program, email chicagomovementcollective@gmail.com.

Other topics discussed:

Podcast Episode 5: Melissa Thodos

On episode 5 of the Rogue Ballerina podcast, we welcome Melissa Thodos, Artistic Director of Thodos Dance Chicago. We discuss her career, the evolution of her company, and her long friendship with Broadway’s Ann Reinking.

Melissa Thodos and Ann Reinking.

At the age of six, Melissa Thodos wanted to really MOVE…so she did, by training at the Evanston School of Ballet, choreographing in high school as part of “Esande” the Evanston Township High School dance club, and doing both at Skidmore College. Following acadamia, she became a featured performer, educator, and choreographer with the Chicago Repertory Dance Ensemble, performing works by Paul Taylor, Lar Lubovitch, and Ze’eva Cohen, among others until founding Thodos Dance Chicago in 1992.

Thodos Dance Chicago served as a platform for her own choreography and for other American choreographers from the national dance landscape. Melissa also collaborated with such noted artists as Ann Reinking, Yoko Ono, and accomplished architect Jeanne Gang to bring blended vision and voices to the stage and many communities. For a quarter century, the Company performed in over 25 states and six continents, and beyond the stage, Melissa created a professional environment that not only trained dancers, but also nurtured them as choreographers, and activated them to grow as educators.

The NEW Dances choreography project was part of Thodos Dance Chicago’s fabric and structure since 2000, and this special creative project for our community continues in collaboration with DanceWorks Chicago.

Listen here:

Other topics discussed:

Chicago Repertory Dance Ensemble

Dance For Life

New Dances Choreography Project

Broadway Theater Project

Thodos Dance Chicago Vimeo page with interviews and dance excerpts

The Devil in the White City

Carpe Diem String Quartet

Chris Olsen

SHINE: Making A Light in the Dark

Podcast Episode 4: Jeraldine Mendoza & Dylan Gutierrez

On episode 4 of the Rogue Ballerina podcast, we welcome Joffrey Ballet Company Artists Jeraldine Mendoza and Dylan Gutierrez. It’s also the Valentine’s episode, and this real-life couple is THE cutest!

Jeraldine Mendoza joined The Joffrey Ballet in 2011. She was born in San Francisco, CA, and trained at City Ballet School of San Francisco since the age of five. At 17, she was invited to graduate in the Russian course at the prestigious Bolshoi Ballet Academy in Moscow. She later won 1st place at the YAGP San Francisco Regional Semi-Finals in 2011. In 202, she won the young artists’ scholarship from the Leonore Annenberg Fellowship Fund and later graced the cover of Dance Magazine in May 2015, the magazine’s first international issue. You can follow her on Instagram @jeraldm

Dylan Gutierrez joined the Joffrey in 2009. He grew up in Van Nuys, CA, and received his training at the Los Angeles Ballet Academy under the direction of his mother Andrea-Paris Gutierrez. In 2006, he was awarded a full scholarship to train the The Royal Ballet School in London and later was offered a job as an apprentice with the San Francisco Ballet. You can follow him on Instagram @dylanrgutierrez

You can read their full bios and learn more about the roles they’ve danced by visiting joffrey.org. All photos by Cheryl Mann.

Links to topics discussed:

Jeraldine wins the Annenberg Grant

Jeraldine and Dylan dance together in Gerald Arpino’s Sea Shadow

WTTW’s Emmy-Award winning Nutcracker documentary (with a cameo by Kahlua)

Action Lines: Interim Avoidance showings will take place Feb. 1 – April 30 at 150 N. Riverside Plaza, Monday – Friday: 8:00 – 9:30 AM, and 4:30 – 8:00 PM, and Saturdays: 1:00-7:00 PM. All attendees are required to wear a face covering.

It Was All A Dream video

Interview on the making of It Was All A Dream

Black Star Project

Excerpt from Joffrey’s 60th anniversary book.

Restaurants mentioned:

Formento’s

The Bristol

Pacific Standard Time (now closed)

Wasabi

Mirai Sushi

Quartino

Cafe Tola

ABA

SKY

Podcast Episode 3: Ahmad Simmons

Ahmad Simmons. Photo by AMBE J Photography.

My guest for Episode 3 of the podcast is Ahmad Simmons. Ahmad is a dancer, choreographer, educator, and creative producer based in New York City. He was last seen on Broadway as Diesel in Ivo Van Hove’s groundbreaking revival of West Side Story. Previous credits include the Original Broadway Cast of Hadestown, and most recent revival casts of Carousel and Cats. Regional theater includes A Chorus Line at New York City Center and a dozen shows with the Pittsburgh CLO. Ahmad co-starred alongside Sam Rockwell and Michelle Williams as Ben Vereen in the Emmy nominated FX mini-series Fosse/Verdon. Other TV appearances include ABC’s remake of Dirty Dancing. Prior to his career on Broadway, Ahmad toured internationally and all across the United States as a dancer with Parsons Dance Company, River North Dance Chicago, and Eisenhower Dance Detroit. He is a graduate of Point Park University.

Listen to our conversation here.

Additional links to topics discussed:

Pittsburgh CLO: CLOse Ups! interview

Beat by Ashley Roland danced at River North Dance Chicago (excerpt)

Ahmad Simmons Takes Center Stage

Broadway Sandwich interview

Fosters Theatrical Artist Residency

Black Broadway Men