by Michael Estanich
As a dance artist I strive to build connections—between viewer and dancer, between music and action, between image and feeling. For me, moving is the purest way to do that, though its purity needn’t be exclusive. At RE|Dance Group, I develop work that explores the limitless range of human feeling. In order to accomplish this, I stack a variety of images atop each other in the hopes of crafting a multi-sensational experience for the audience. Because all of my senses so beautifully intertwine allowing me to feel deeply and experience life, I welcome all sensorial images into my work. I rely on the audience’s willingness to dispel tradition and embrace curiosity.
Text and visual design collide with movement in all of RE|Dance Group’s work. I create fully realized worlds where every action, sound, and visual carries important information in understanding the whole. I find that these multiple entry points invite the viewer to lean forward and feel.
I enjoy memories and remembering. There is visceral pleasure in retelling something from the past. To me, words and action are undeniably linked. I enjoy how memories translate in my body—through action and in words. I enjoy the process of connecting what I hear to what I see. It is remarkable how willingly the mind catches on and constructs truth and understanding when we engage with all of our senses.
There is comfort in language. We rely on it to let others know how we feel and what we need. To use language to share a part of myself seems so natural. To juxtapose language with motion excites me. Both together enrich the possibility to understand and to feel. This notion is important to me. I want the audience to know that we are complex, that we are moving, hearing, speaking, smelling, tasting, feeling beings and that they can recognize a part of themselves in a singular, special moment inside my work.
With that goal in my mind, I use whatever medium most potently communicates the idea—be it a sly, organic dancing trio, a cacophony of sound, a massive large-scale visual sculpture, or a simple connection through language. Each on their own is powerful art, but combined they produce a complex aural and visual landscape where, as an artist, I get lost in the beauty of my imagination.
Michael Estanich (Artistic Director, RE|Dance Group) is an Associate Professor of Dance at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. He teaches modern dance, composition, dance pedagogy, movement analysis and dance history. He earned his MFA from The Ohio State University and his BFA from Denison University. His creative research currently examines ideas of space, architecture, landscape and habitation often resulting in dances supported by sculptural environments. He and Lucy formed RE|Dance Group in 2009 as a means to explore long distance collaboration. Michael’s performance credits include Molly Shanahan/Mad Shak, Cerulean Dance Theatre, Rebecca Rosen, Melanie Bales, Bebe Miller and a reconstruction of Mark Morris’ acclaimed choreography All Fours. He teaches annually at the Trollwood Performing Arts School in Moorhead, MN and at the American College Dance Association (ACDA). He is the North Central Regional Director of ACDA.
by Jamie Benson
Lights come up on a lone figure, the one burdened with putting a trance over a packed house of smart phones. It’s a tall order to be sure. You don’t just have to dazzle, you have to captivate, ooze an indisputable it-factor that dares an audience of TV brains to look away, as if they could. The best/worst part is that you probably put yourself in the position to be this dance mystic. It’s your fault.
It’s your solo after all.
In an attempt to simplify my life as a choreographer (Ha!), I recently dove headfirst into the idea of making new solos. This was after previously doing a lot of ensemble pieces. It’s more freeing and more terrifying than ever. You’ve been there right? (Or will be.) Let’s have some group therapy real quick and see if we can come out the other end a little wiser, a little more capable of entrancing our next packed house. Game? Good.
Potential Pitfall: How Does It “Read” (a.k.a Do I look nuts?)
It can be tricky to clearly represent the source of whatever emotion one is exploring as a soloist and harder to suss out how it might “read” to an innocent audience-goer. There’s a more immediate response when working with other performers. They laugh when it’s funny, look at you cross-eyed when it’s too complicated or unintentionally awkward, and so on and so forth. As audience members, we’ve all experienced that performance where a soloist goes from poised dancer to insane person in seconds flat. As choreographers we think we know how something looks from the outside because we feel it so deeply. But as an audience member, one can become perplexed and feel alienated really fast if there’s no immediate access point, such as a topical reference, a common emotional gesture, something. Even if we deliberately create space for the audience to make their own choices about what we’re doing, our job is still ultimately to communicate something through movement.
As a dancer, I spend my entire day in socks. They are my preferred footwear — my dance shoes, my ballet slippers, my performance-wear, my fashion statement, my secret weapon. With only one exception (Alejandro Cerrudo’s Lickety-Split), all of the repertory I have performed onstage with Hubbard Street 2 has either been in calf-height socks that neatly match the rest of the costume, or ankle-height socks that match my skin tone. The latter look has been dubbed by some as “the Hubbard Street sock,” but it’s not just this company that performs in stocking feet. Most contemporary dance shows I’ve been to in the past six years have been performed either barefoot or in socks — a phenomenon I’ve come to understand and love, but which also elicits from the audience questions like, “Why are the dancers wearing socks? Are they in their pajamas? Where are their shoes?” Hopefully by sharing my passion for this form of footwear I can debunk and demystify the all-important Contemporary Dance Sock.
The first time I danced in socks was in 2009 at the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance. We were working with Alessio Silvestrin from The Forsythe Company, and without fail he wore socks over ballet shoes in every rehearsal. Coming from a ballet background, this was a new concept to me. I knew it was trendy to wear socks over ballet shoes in order to warm your feet faster for the first combinations at the barre, but I had no idea that in contemporary dance, people actually wore socks onstage in performance. Being the dutiful student I was, I tried to copy Alessio’s look, but I didn’t yet fully grasp the art of dancing in socks. I tried out all kinds in rehearsals: crew-cut athletic socks, calf-height socks of all synthetic blends, those plush fuzzy socks that are great in the wintertime, warm slipper-socks with rubber grips on the bottoms. When so many sock varieties failed to satisfy me I tried keeping my ballet shoes on and danced barefoot a few times, but soon realized that most contemporary choreography really works best in socks.
My friend Carson Stein (now a dancer with Liss Fain Dance and Sharp & Fine in San Francisco) tipped me off to the most important factor of sockage in dance: high cotton content. Synthetic blends had me slipping all over the place. Thick, fuzzy socks tended to stick more to the floor than to my feet, and my poor toes were swimming inside with all the extra room. Athletic socks worked alright, but I soon found that I was bothered by all the extra padding underneath certain parts of my feet and wanted to be able to feel my own skin nearly on the floor, but with a thin layer in between that hugged my foot and enabled me to slide around a bit. Enter the H&M sock: with 83% cotton content (higher in select styles!), it was a revelation. To this day it is the most affordable, most reliable sock I have found to dance in.
Of course there are trends. American Apparel’s knee-high athletic socks were all the rage to dance in a few years ago, particularly the ones with stripes. I’ve found many a fun pair of patterned and unusually-colored socks in the men’s section of Uniqlo. They’re a little more slippery than my standard H&M sock, but depending on the floor they can also work. I usually go for a calf-height sock, but if they’re taller, like the men’s socks from Uniqlo, I’ll just fold them over. Hubbard Street is the only place where I’ve worn ankle-height socks, but when they’re dyed just right, they do a great job of continuing the line of the leg. One could argue that ballet shoes and bare feet do similar things for line, but wearing socks enables you to do all the sliding and swooshing around of contemporary choreography while keeping the skin of your feet in one piece.
For a while, even after I had gotten used to dancing in socks in rehearsals, I preferred to take ballet with ballet shoes on. Then I gradually started taking barre in socks and putting shoes on only for center. Then, sometimes, I would forget to change footwear during class. After I had an ankle surgery, I stayed in socks the whole time to make sure I could really feel the alignment of all the bones in my feet on the floor. I thought I would eventually put ballet shoes back on for at least part of class, but after trying a few times I realized I preferred to feel as much of my foot as close to the floor as possible. My feet feel more supple, dexterous and intelligent if they aren’t closed up in a shoe, dealing with leather pads under my toes and fabric bunching up inside.
When my feet are free to play the floor in socks, I have a much better sense of where my weight is and I feel like I have access to 100% of my articulation, instead of feeling like I’m dancing in mittens or shoeboxes. And I think similar to the idea of those free-running shoe-gloves, you learn to deal with impact in a totally different way when you don’t have any padding underneath your joints. Jumping in socks was a little scary at first, without having the reassuring leather padding underneath the balls of my feet. But after some practice I found that in order to soften my landings while staying buoyant I was actually informing the entire rest of my body from the information I was getting from my feet. My plié had to adjust and become more sensitive, and my landings and takeoffs have, I believe, benefitted from the new knowledge.
From ballet to floorwork to sliding, slicing and swooshing, socks provide the perfect blend of friction, articulation, and maneuverability and so, no, we contemporary dancers have not forgotten to put on our shoes. We revel in our sockage.
Andrea Thompson and Hubbard Street 2 tour Europe with mixed repertory February 21–March 5, presented by Norddeutsche Konzertdirekton. Performances in Heerlen, the Netherlands; Treviso, Italy; and four cities in Germany will feature recent works by Bryan Arias, Ihsan Rustem, Loni Landon, HS2 Director Terence Marling and Hubbard Street Resident Choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo. For a complete HS2 touring schedule, artist profiles and more, visit hubbardstreetdance.com.
Contributor Andrea Thompson (Maplewood, NJ) trained at the New Jersey School of Ballet, American Ballet Theatre’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School and the Ailey School in New York City. Thompson has also studied at the Juilliard School, Northwest Professional Dance Project, Springboard Danse Montréal, Nederlands Dans Theater and Batsheva Dance Company, which brought opportunities to perform choreography by Gregory Dolbashian, William Forsythe, Natalia Horecna, Jessica Lang, Marina Mascarell, Idan Sharabi, Robyn Mineko Williams, Paul Lightfoot and Sol León. At the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance, under the direction of Summer Lee Rhatigan, she trained with and performed works by Christian Burns, Alex Ketley, Thomas McManus, Robert Moses, Ohad Naharin, Alessio Silvestrin and Bobbi Jene Smith. Thompson joined Hubbard Street 2 in August 2013, following work in San Francisco and New York with Zhukov Dance Theatre, Chang Yong Sung, LoudHoundMovement, Backwoods Dance Project and the Foundry.1
Some insight on being fully immersed in a role, creating a character, not comparing yourself to the past 400 years of Juliets, and kissing your co-workers…
by Alessa Rogers
“Let love drive you.” These are not the words of Shakespeare but of stager Giovanna Lorenzoni as she attempts to mold me into a Juliette Capulet worthy of Jean-Christophe Maillot’s stunning ballet. They are the words that have been driving me since I was first cast as Juliette in October 2013, through the intense rehearsal process that led to the first time Atlanta Ballet performed the ballet last year and now, as I prepare for an encore round of shows February 6-14. As I prepare for my second shot at what has become my favorite ballet, I reflect on the process, on remembering that opening night is just one night, and how the genius is in the details.
For me, being cast as Juliette was a dream come true. But as is the case with most dreams, reality was a little different than I imagined. First of all, this version, which was choreographed in 1996 for Les Ballets de Monte Carlo, is a departure from the classical versions I grew up with. This is a stripped down, more contemporary version. Third Act I am barefoot. There are no lavish sets, cumbersome period piece costumes, and nary a sword or a vial of potion to behold. Instead, the story is told through the movement and the musicality only. As such, every step is vitally important. Nothing is thrown away or meaningless. There is text in every gesture, tension is every moment of stillness.
Juliette herself is different too. She is older than she is normally portrayed, closer to woman than girl. She is fierce and fearless and knows a thing or two about the world. She knows herself and what she wants. She takes the lead in the budding romance with Romeo, demarcating their boundaries or lack thereof. The streak of mischief in this Juliette is part of the reason why I got this role in the first place. Early in the process one of the stagers from Monte-Carlo came upon me in the hallway, shoving a piece of cake into the mouth of one of the other dancers. That, she said, is exactly what Juliette would do.0
It’s always interesting when one artist inspires another–especially when they operate in two different mediums.
Brock Clawson is a choreographer who has had work performed by both the Milwaukee Ballet and The Joffrey Ballet. Herbert Migdoll, artist, Director of Special Projects for Joffrey, and long-time company photographer, recently created a series of art pieces based on Clawson’s piece, “Crossing Ashland”.
We wanted to learn more about how the inspiration for this work came about, so we reached out to Mr. Migdoll to learn more about his process. (Please feel free to click on the photos below to bring up a larger view.)
What was it about Brock’s piece (Crossing Ashland) that you were drawn to specifically?
Initially, in the Joffrey dance studio, the work reminded me of the ballets performed at Judson in the Village in the olden days. That period included such artists as Carolee Schneeman, Laura Dean, Meredith Monk, Twyla Tharp, Cathrine Litz and many others. It always had a rawness and simplicity in the aesthetic, which allowed one to realize that all movement is a part of dance. The core came from rough ideas, and the motion of the dancers presenting those elements were indulged by an audience and relished by visual artists–like Rauchenberg who jumped into dance and even performed in a work with Steve Paxton there. A photo from that performance is on my list of paintings, TO DO.
The bodies of the dancers (in Brock’s piece) rolling to the left and then to the right is totally unique to how bodies are normally focused upon.
As a kid I loved to roll down low ravines or in the shallow waters of an ocean tide foaming onto the beach as the twilight of evening was approaching. All of this creates a visual plethora of ones past experience with rolling around. I knew fairly quickly that Brock had touched a nerve in my collective consciousness and that I would have to run with it. That electrical moment does not occur that often and when it does you are not able to not jump into the creative process.
God does good stuff too–like grass and human bodies seemed inevitable elements of collaboration. The grasses in Lurie Garden are often nifty, and also in Ping Tom Memorial Park.
Do you have a particular piece you gravitate toward?
The first grey panel I produced with colored bodies on top and flesh bodies below would be my first choice if I could afford to buy one. But I can’t.
Also the 5 bodies lost in the Lurie Garden autumn grasses is uniquely magical.
Bob Joffrey once remarked that wonderful art will always have a quality of being magical. It’s the magic that allows you to enter that other dimension.
What was your creative process like with this project?
It started by watching a rehearsal–and from that to know that I had to shoot a lot of rolling around stuff. And I did.
Then I edited down to nine iconic images and placed them mostly sequential order as they appeared on stage–but not strictly. Next I looked at them in Photoshop to eliminate the photographic aesthetic and coax the slickness out of the photo into an evolved
sort of drawing–and then to finally take shape into an acrylic reproduction–producing a digitally painted series of nine images in a row.
The monochromatic “drawing-like” figures were so on the mark, I stopped and simply continued to create an almost square of bodies which became a matrix for the possibility of endless modular combinations. And these compositions of modules will now continue on as long as I have funding to produce new canvasses.
The grey backgrounds on some of the works led to the beauty of colors against grey, and intermingled with the lush flesh colored bodies. All of which have nothing and everything to do with Brock’s ballet. Rothko, one of my heroes, inspired me to pursue the soft edge of one or two colors firmly blended and totally separate. It’s all kind of a “stream of consciousness” response–and finally a leaving of the source of inspiration. It is an acceptance that the inspiration is the golden source–not because it recreates the final images–but because it evolves art totally unique from the source.
Painting is not illustration. It’s something else!0
by Catherine L. Tully
Wendy Whelan is here in Chicago. And after waiting nearly a year for her to heal from a hip injury and re-schedule her tour, Restless Creature is on the schedule at the Harris Theater tonight.
The dance community is buzzing…
Whelan retired from New York City Ballet near the end of last year, and she is transitioning to the next phase of her career. Restless Creature is a unique dance offering that takes four young choreographers and challenges each to create a duet for one of the greatest ballerinas of our time.
But there’s a twist–they also dance these pieces with her.
Here’s a quick peek at each of the pairings that will be on stage this evening:
In Chicago Alejandro Cerrudo needs no introduction. This Spanish-born dancer became Hubbard Street‘s resident choreographer in 2009. His duet with Whelan, Ego et Tu is the first of the four to be performed.
Also on the program is Joshua Beamish with Conditional Sentences*. Beamish is the force behind MOVE: the company, which he founded in 2005.
Choreographer Kyle Abraham has his own company, Abraham.In.Motion, and his duet, The Serpent and the Smoke is the next offering on the program.
The final pairing for Restless Creature was created by Brian Brooks, and is titled First Fall. He is the choreographer at Brian Brooks Moving Company.
The program runs approximately 55 minutes and is only here for one night. It should be a thrilling one.
For more information about upcoming tour dates, visit Wendy Whelan’s website.
*4dancers originally had the name of this piece incorrect and it has been updated.0
by Cara Marie Gary
Over the past twenty-three years I have gathered many memories around Christmas time, but the one that stands out amongst the others starts with a magical event that has forever made an impact on my life and has left me with new found feelings of eagerness and desire.
The time had finally come, the chilly December air made the girls run quickly through the green backstage door of the Peace Center in Greenville, South Carolina. It was the night of The Nutcracker performance and I, along with other aspiring young dancers, were waiting for the curtain to go up.
After anxiously skipping up and down the long hallway filled with dressing rooms, the moment had finally arrived where the burgundy curtain was lifted and Tchaikovsky’s music filled the theater. I wore a red and black solider costume adorned with strings of gold and stood backstage between two tall curtains. The joy of the holidays filled the air and crept back to the small spot where I was standing. I experienced a feeling of awe as I observed the older girls dancing before me. The tall girl with a radiant smile and a blue dress, who had the role of Clara, stood out to me. She moved with elegance as she danced across the stage; I longed to dance just like her one day.
As I executed my role during the battle scene I attempted to keep the graceful vision of Clara in mind. Staring out at the anonymous silhouettes of the strangers in the audience, I felt as if everything was perfect. The feeling of wonder bubbled inside of me as I took that final bow. I knew from this December night that I wanted to pursue dance, and learn how to leap and twirl like the tall girl in the blue dress. For me this memory combines the joy of Christmas and the motivation I had discovered to pursue a new found passion.0