Art Talk with Alejandro Cerrudo
Hubbard Street Resident Choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo with Marc Chagall’s America Windows at the Art Institute of Chicago. Photo by Todd Rosenberg. Marc Chagall © 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris
In 1977, the city of Chicago received two new cultural treasures: Marc Chagall’s America Windows were dedicated at the Art Institute, and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago was founded, which has since become one of the city’s most original forces in contemporary dance. To celebrate the 35th anniversary of the company, Hubbard Street will debut One Thousand Pieces this Thursday, a new, full-length work inspired by Chagall’s dreamy, stained-glass masterpieces.
One Thousand Pieces was choreographed by Alejandro Cerrudo, who joined Hubbard Street as a dancer in 2005 and was named the company’s first resident choreographer in 2009. A native Spaniard who has been dancing since age nine, Cerrudo has created close to a dozen pieces for Hubbard Street, and his work has been performed across the country and the world. As final rehearsals for One Thousand Pieces were taking place, Cerrudo made time to speak with the NEA about his dual role as choreographer and dancer, how music moves him, and why he considers himself to be a lazy audience member.
NEA: How does One Thousand Pieces capture or interpret Chagall's America Windows?
ALEJANDRO CERRUDO: That's a question that I think you can answer yourself if you come to a performance. It's not for me to say. What I can say is that I've been inspired by the windows and it's my personal inspiration. Anything further that I would like to explain to anybody, I'll explain it through the dance. So I don't think anyone should expect anything coming to this except to have a wonderful evening of dance.
NEA: Besides Chagall, where else or to whom else did you look for inspiration for this piece?
CERRUDO: I talked with three different set designers, and the conversations with them helped me a lot. They inspired me very much. And there's inspiration in the music. The whole evening is by Phillip Glass---I think it's perfect for trying to do a piece inspired by the Marc Chagall windows. I could not use another piece of music.
And also the dancers. I try to be as open-minded as possible in the studio, and I try to take a lot from the dancers. So they inspire me immensely. If I did this piece in another company, it would be a very different piece. I work with the people that I have in front of me. I don't do steps in my head, and then have to [use] them no matter what. I really work with things I can touch and see and feel.
NEA: This is your first long-form piece, correct? How has this process been challenging, or at least different for you?
CERRUDO: Usually the pieces I've done in the past are 20 minutes; this is going to be over an hour. Most of my work is completely abstract. Even if it has a concept, it doesn't have a storyline. So to keep the attention of the audience without a story I think is one of the biggest challenges; to keep them engaged and surprised. It's not easy when you do a piece of 20 minutes, but certainly it's a lot more difficult when you do a full evening of choreography. So that's the main difference. Plus…when I do a piece of 20 minutes, and I do something that people don't like, they have other two works [in the performance] that they might like. You have a lot more responsibility when it's just you in the evening.
NEA: Can you quickly walk me through your choreographic process?
CERRUDO: Every time is different. I do that on purpose. I try to learn from every piece I do, and not approach it the same way, because I don't want all my work to be the same. It's a very scary thing, because it feels like every time you start a process, you start from zero. You have to learn from your own mistakes…rather than having that formula that you know works. I try to challenge myself every time to do it differently.
But usually I'm very inspired by music. If I have a specific idea and I try to find music for it, I find it quite difficult. It's a lot easier for me to listen to music and then feel inspired by it and think of ideas.
Hubbard Street Resident Choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo with Hubbard Street Dancers Ana Lopez and Garrett Anderson with Marc Chagall’s America Windows at the Art Institute of Chicago. Photo by Todd Rosenberg. Marc Chagall © 2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris
NEA: How do you go about finding music? Is it usually music that you know?
CERRUDO: The more I listen to it, the more I have [in my] back library. So I can go back to things that I have been thinking of using. The most difficult part of choreography for me is to find the right music for the dance. It's not just to picking a piece of music that you like. There are so many pieces of music that I love that don't inspire me to choreograph, or I don't know what to do with them. And there are pieces that maybe I don't love, but end up working very well. It's funny to figure out which pieces of music work or don’t work. I cannot tell you for sure what piece of music is good for dance. I think that's very personal for each choreographer. I never know if I'm going to like a piece to choreograph or not until I'm in the studio.
NEA: How do you view your dual roles as choreographer and dancer?
CERRUDO: It’s become a lot easier. I'm building this relationship with these dancers, and we understand each other very well. I think the first year, the first two years, it was more of an adaptation time for me to learn how to guide the room, and for them to learn to create that boundary. As soon as I become a choreographer, it's a different relationship---it's kind of switching back and forth. I feel everybody's comfortable with it now, myself and the dancers. When I'm dancing with them and not choreographing, they treat me as another dancer, and when I'm a choreographer, they respect me as [they would] any other choreographer that would come to Hubbard Street.
NEA: You know the Hubbard Street dancers very well---their bodies, movements, and personalities. How is choreographing them different from choreographing another company, for example when you’re doing a commission?
CERRUDO: Choreographing at Hubbard Street is a lot easier for me, I would say, for the very reasons that you said. I also feel like I experiment a lot more here because of that relationship and that understanding with the dancers. When I choreograph for another company, that's good for me too. It pushes me to explain things again, or maybe in a different way. Here at Hubbard Street, sometimes I have to explain very little for [the dancers] to understand me, because they know what I might be wanting or trying to achieve. That's why I feel so lucky here at Hubbard Street, because I have this laboratory of sorts to keep experimenting and I don't have to start from zero every time I start a new piece. When I choreograph in another company, the first week, the first two weeks, are pretty much for me to get to know the dancers and for the dancers to get to know me. Every choreographer works in a very different way, so the dancers need to adjust to that. The dancers should never assume how a choreographer is going to work; everybody works differently. All that has been learned here at Hubbard Street, so that's great.
NEA: Is there anything else you’d like to add?
CERRUDO: I hope people come and see it, and I hope people like it. There are some people who are not so familiar with dance and they go, “I'm not sure,” or “I don't get it.” And I think dance, like any other art, is there for everybody to enjoy, whether you're an expert on dance or in painting or architecture, or if you don't know anything about it. I'd like people to experience the work, and let themselves go and enjoy it. Or not. Hopefully enjoy it. And don't think too much. Just let it come to you. I'm a lazy audience member. I don't like to think very much when I go to the theater. I don't want to try and figure out what the choreographer is trying to tell me. If I'm trying to say something as a choreographer, and the audience sees something else in the piece, that's completely fine. I think that's totally fair. Many times an audience member has seen my work and said, "Oh, I think Alejandro was trying to say this,” or “I saw this in the piece." And after hearing that, I start seeing my piece that way. I enjoy that. I allow it. That's what art is for. Everybody has a right to enjoy it the way they want, or the way they know.
One Thousand Pieces will be performed at Harris Theater in Millennium Park on Thursday, October 18 at 7:30 p.m., Friday, October 19 and Saturday, October 20 at 8 p.m., and Sunday, October 21 at 3 p.m. Please visit www.hubbardstreetdance.com for further ticket information.