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By Zachary Whittenburg
Hubbard Street’s resident choreographer doesn’t mind multitasking.
By phone from Colorado, while creating his first work for Aspen Santa Fe Ballet in July, dancer/choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo, 32, let Zachary Whittenburg pick his brain. This month, ASFB brings Cerrudo’s work to New York. His (and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s) first evening-length piece also premieres, inspired by Marc Chagall’s America Windows: six panels of stained glass by the Russian-born artist unveiled at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1977, dedicated to then-mayor Richard J. Daley. Cerrudo’s work, One Thousand Pieces, will likewise honor the city and its current mayor, noted (and vocal) dance lover Rahm Emanuel.
What are you making in Aspen? It’s a Joyce [Theater Foundation] commission and so I have that theater in mind, what works there. It’s pure. The music I’m using—I knew I didn’t want to [interpret] it with a lot of production, just through movement, costumes, and light. It’s almost getting harder and harder to make a good piece like that, nowadays.
Branimira Ivanova, your costume designer, has become a regular collaborator. Funny you’re saying this. We just tried a run-through with costumes. She’s so talented and creative and easy to work with, although not afraid of saying what she thinks, which is vital.
What have you learned about costumes? It’s a bad word, but I say that costumes are “the easiest way to f**k up your work.” [Laughs] As a dancer, in many cases, when it comes time to put on the costume, I’m like, “What?” Which is why the costumes never come first. I drive them crazy at Hubbard Street because I won’t do it the opposite way and if the costumes don’t work, I’m not afraid to start over.
If costumes are the last thing, what’s the first? Excitement. Then I look for music. After I find the music, I panic. [Laughs] And then I keep thinking and dreaming. I really try to just be silly in my head, be over-the-top in my head—even tacky, if I need to be. I allow myself all of that. Then I make choices.
Your evening-length for Hubbard Street is on the back burner while you’re in Aspen. How hard is it to be in process with multiple pieces simultaneously? I don’t mind so much the pause. It can be beneficial.
How are you responding to Chagall’s America Windows? The evening is inspired by the windows, but I’m not making them in dance. I might give you another perspective. You might look at the windows in a different way, after you see my piece. That would be a huge compliment.
You’re Spanish. They’re America Windows, by an artist with deep connections to both France and Russia. How are you negotiating all of that? People might think, “What’s this Spanish guy doing, making a work about America Windows?” But I feel completely comfortable. The windows aren’t about America. They’re about character, painting, cultural freedom, celebration. They’re an homage and they were a gift. Chagall was a guest in this country and America treated him well. I’ve been adopted, in a way, by America, too. I’m not comparing myself with such an amazing artist as Chagall, but I’m very thankful to Chicago. I want to give a gift, too.
Cerrudo rehearsing Alice Klock and Quinn Wharton in One Thousand Pieces. Photo by Todd Rosenberg, Courtesy HSDC. At top: Photo by Cheryl Mann, Courtesy HSDC.
Will Ivanova design those costumes? No, I’m working with a set designer and he’s going to be doing the costumes as well. His name is Thomas Mika. He’s versatile, can do a big production on a big budget, but can also work with a small budget.
Which will this be? It’s going to be one of the most complex productions I think Hubbard Street has ever done. I don’t know if everything I have planned is going to work. Maybe some of it won’t. [Laughs] It’s always challenging to convince people to see what you see, to get them as excited as you are about an idea. No matter how talented you are, you need friends and people who believe in you.
And your project for Pacific Northwest Ballet? I have two projects before Seattle. Seattle is not in my head yet. I never want to do “just another work.” I hate when I feel like I’m being generic. I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it. [Laughs]
What’s a priority in your process? One thing I’m always very aware of—and this comes from my experiences with Kylián—is the atmosphere in the studio. Creating that perfect working environment, where everybody feels involved and appreciated and feels like they matter. I forget sometimes and just think, This piece has to be good. But it has to be fun, also. The more immersed you are in a creative environment, the more creative you’re gonna be.
Is it difficult to reconcile being a Hubbard dancer and resident choreographer? Yes, but Glenn [Edgerton, HSDC artistic director] has been great with that. I love dancing and I’m not ready to stop yet. It’s valuable to stay connected to how dancers feel, to what being a dancer is. The more you dance, the easier it is to grow as a choreographer.
You’re OK not being the one in charge? It’s as challenging as it is for any other dancer, I think. [Laughs]
Where do you want to be in 10 years? Even if I “just stay a choreographer,” I can always go forward. I think very few choreographers have really reinvented themselves. I want to be one of them.