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 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 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 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