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.
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!
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.
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.
Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, the Columbian-Belgian choreographer of international acclaim, brings her talents back to Chicago – virtually, of course. It Was All A Dream is the fifth in a series of video collaborations meant to give artists around the world a way to express themselves during the pandemic when most are confined close to or within their homes. “I wanted to make a diary…what are the artists doing?” said Lopez Ochoa. “These short videos give a stage to the dancers who have been ripped off their stages.”
For the most recent video (released today), Lopez Ochoa teamed up with some of our hometown favorites from The Joffrey Ballet. Jeraldine Mendoza and Dylan Gutierrez, along with their pup Kahlua, are featured in the video. Gutierrez also composed the music, and Xavier N??ez (another Joffrey dancer) edited the video. “The movie is about two dancers dreaming that they go outside,” Lopez Ochoa said. “Hopefully when we all look back at 2020, it will be like a distant, bad dream.”
“Even though it’s about the pandemic, it’s not sad,” said Mendoza. “It’s still light and hopeful.” Gutierrez agrees, “It’s meant to uplift and be fun. It’s a three-minute break.” While all are proud of the final product, the process of creating a short work via Zoom was a bit of a challenge, but one everybody was ready to overcome. Lopez Ochoa had some practice having worked with other artists on videos previously. Her first foray into filmmaking was a learning experience. She obtained a mentor – a Dutch cameraman – who was not impressed by her first effort. He told her to broaden her vision and think 360 degrees around the dancers.
Lopez Ochoa met Mendoza and Gutierrez in 2015 while in Chicago creating the world premiere Mammatus for the Joffrey. They suggested bringing N??ez on board and the process began in May. “At the point when she asked us, we hadn’t been doing anything,” Mendoza said. “We were obviously excited to work with Annabelle, but also excited to have a schedule and something to work towards.” Described by the choreographer as “contemporary classical with a pedestrian touch,” it really creates the feel of a day in the life of the couple. And aside from the cameos of Kahlua, the real star of the video is the city of Chicago.
The connecting of choreography, music, and video editing make it a true collaboration. One facet does not overtake the others. Gutierrez had worked with Lopez Ochoa previously on music for her piece Delicious Pesticides and their process was refined for this project. With N??ez coming on to edit, it was more of a journey. “I knew from editing the other films that you always have to translate,” Lopez Ochoa said. “He was very respectful of the choreography, but I told him that once you put it on video, it becomes something else. You have to remake the choreography. This is just material for you to play with.” N??ez accepted the challenge and the team worked together on the final product (which was changing up to the last minute). “It was evolving the whole time,” Gutierrez said. “We weren’t sure if the order should stay the same as how it was choreographed. It really speaks to Xavi’s creativity to take something he’d already finished and completely mix it up. It’s so cool and so hard to deconstruct something and make it better.”
Technical artistry aside, the real upside to the project was dancing…actually dancing. Like most companies, the Joffrey has been “off” since mid-March. There are daily classes offered, but that can get redundant and how many battements can you do holding on to your kitchen counter before you go crazy? (Can someone do this experiment? I’d really like to know.) “It was really nice,” said Mendoza. “The motivating factor was Annabelle watching us. To have someone watch us, direct us, tell us what to do, what intention we should have behind the steps…it keeps you going. You get lost in the moment. It was really reminiscent of going back to work.” Lopez Ochoa adds,”The most interesting part as a choreographer in the studio or on Zoom, is not making steps, but talking about intentions and seeing dancers transform and commit to the character or the situation they are playing. That’s when they can lose themselves. It’s beautiful to watch.” Well, watch for yourself.