by Lissa Smith
One of many special things about working at Hubbard Street Dance Chicago is the opportunity to dive into a variety of works, both new and existing. As a dancer, having a piece created on you allows an immediate personal connection with the choreographer and the choreography. It provides the opportunity to take ownership.
In contrast, learning and performing a revival presents the chance to step into a different pair of shoes. I have equal admiration for both creative and restaging processes, and in my recent work with Hubbard Street 2, I’ve done both — simultaneously.
On May 4, 2013, HS2 performs with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra as part of its family-friendly “Get Up and Dance” series. I’ll perform excerpts from the famous Martha Graham work, Appalachian Spring (1944).
I began intense training in Graham technique at the age of nine. I took Graham master classes once a week at my dance studio with an incredible teacher, Peter London, who was and is a great mentor. He encouraged me to audition for, and later attend, New World School of the Arts, where I had the opportunity to study Graham technique in further depth.
During my four years at New World, I performed renowned Martha Graham works such as Diversion of Angels (the Couple in Yellow) and “Conversation of Lovers” within the piece Acts of Light, both staged by London. Throughout the years, I have also studied at the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance in New York, and I have enjoyed seeing the Martha Graham Dance Company perform many times. I am always moved by their passion and language. Their repertory transports me into their scenario and has me follow their dramatic story line from start to finish.
My sophomore year at the Boston Conservatory, where I was pursuing a BFA in dance performance, I was privileged to work with former Graham dancers Yuriko and her daughter, Susan Kikuchi, on the restaging of Martha Graham’s piece Frontier. This happened to also be the last Graham work that Yuriko would restage.
Never in my life could I have predicted that here, at Hubbard Street, I would have the opportunity to perform yet another piece by Martha Graham. My costume arrived at our studios the other day and, coincidentally, it is the same dress that my current director, Taryn Kaschock Russell, wore when she performed this same piece with the Joffrey Ballet. In the dance world, the passing of a costume is like passing the torch; it’s incredibly exciting and meaningful to me and I’m grateful and honored to work with Susan Kikuchi again on Appalachian Spring. To be able to perform this masterwork, passed down through generations of dancers, is a dream come true.
Hubbard Street’s next hometown performances are June 6–16, our second annual danc(e)volve: New Works Festival at the Museum of Contemporary Art. The danc(e)volve choreographers are all company members, selected from the previous year’s Inside/Out Choreographic Workshop at the UIC Theatre. (Save the date for our next Inside/Out, coming up on July 6!) These choreographers are asked to either expand their projects or create brand-new works for danc(e)volve.
Working with Andrew Wright, a fellow HS2 dancer, on his new piece has been a bonding experience for our company. We are all so eager and hungry to try new things, to really explore, and our excitement provides fuel for each other’s creative energy. A different side of each one of us has emerged as we learn Andy’s specific movement style and get to know his approach to directing.
I chatted with Andy about his piece and he said, “The process turned out to be completely different than I expected, going into it. I had all these grand ideas, thoughts, and inspirations, but at the end of the day, when I took a step back and just allowed myself to be present in the studio with my cast, things just ended up flowing. The piece ended up going in a much more personal direction than I had originally intended, but I understand why it had to.”
I asked him to elaborate. “These past two years at Hubbard Street have had a profound effect on my life,” he explained, “and I think that comes across in the work. At the end of the day, when I watch it, I see us. I see our experiences. I see Hubbard Street 2.”
Having a coworker at the helm of the studio has been inspiring. There are definitely times when we all laugh and goof off, as friends do, but we are a focused group of committed dancers, and we give Andy the respect and attention he deserves — and we can’t wait to share his piece with audiences next month.
Another work I’ll perform during danc(e)volve is a duet for myself and Richard Walters, another fellow HS2 dancer, with comedic cameos by main company member Quinn B Wharton. It’s a portrait, really, of Ricky’s and my different, strong personalities, anxieties and habits. Making it even more personal is the fact that Terry recorded, edited, and arranged our voices to make the piece’s score.
There’s nothing like rehearsing to the sound of your own voice. It’s fulfilling (and refreshing!) to spend a rehearsal day rehearsing three projects so different from each other. Terry’s piece is very versatile, and is choreographed around a small table and two chairs. We will perform this at danc(e)volve and at Chicago City Winery on May 6, as part of Hubbard Street 2’s opening act for Fear No Art’s “The Dinner Party.” The choreography is extremely detailed and fast-moving, which keeps Ricky and me on the edges of our seats — literally!
More of Terry’s new choreography shares our program with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Appalachian Spring. He’s been the main company’s rehearsal director since 2010 but, at the end of this month, our current director Taryn Kaschock Russell departs with her family for New York and Terry takes over as director of Hubbard Street 2. I’m so grateful to be having this experience during the transition. Although I will truly miss working with Taryn, I’m very excited for all that’s in store for Hubbard Street 2 — which you’ll hear more about in my next guest post, here at 4dancers.org. Thanks for reading!
Catch Lissa Smith and Hubbard Street 2 onstage:
Contributor Lissa Smith, age 21, was born and raised in Miami, Florida. She is currently dancing with Hubbard Street 2 of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. She attended The Boston Conservatory where she was both a Dance Conservatory Scholarship recipient and Jan Veen Dance Scholarship recipient.
Lissa has trained at the prestigious Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, The Juilliard School, Alonzo King’s Lines Ballet, The Martha Graham School, The Joffrey Ballet School and The Joffrey Midwest Workshop. Lissa has worked with world renowned choreographers such as: Thang Dao, Peter London, Alberto Del Saz, Maurya Kerr, Clébio Oliveira, Penny Saunders, Hofesh Shecter, Didy Veldman, Uri Sands, Gregory Dawson, Stephen Pier, John Magnus, Josée Garant, Viktor Plotnikov, Robyn Mineko Williams, Tony Fabre, and Judith Jamison. She has danced principal roles such as: “Yellow Girl” in “Diversion of Angels”, “Conversation of Lovers” within “Acts of Light” and “Frontier”, the solo choreographed by Martha Graham and staged by Yuriko and Susan Kikuchi along with Yasuko Tokunaga.
Lissa was the soloist lead dancer in both Thang Dao’s contemporary ballet, “Foil” and Greg Dawson’s contemporary ballet, “Eclipsing Venus”. She has also performed Jose Limon’s “Choreographic Offerings” staged by Jennifer Scanlon and Libby Nye. Lissa has performed the “Doll with Broken Head” solo from within “Mechanical Organ” choreographed by Alwin Nikolais, staged by Alberto Del Saz. Lissa received the “Modern Dance Award” and the “Dean’s Dance Award” upon her graduation from New World School of the Arts High School in June 2009 and won the “Arts For Life!” dance scholarship in 2009 presented by Former First Lady Columba Bush.
In 2012, Lissa was awarded the Martha Hill Young Professional Award.
Lissa’s posts on 4dancers are her own opinion and in no way reflect the thoughts or opinions of her employer, Hubbard Street 2.