A few days ago “Chicago Tonight” went behind the scenes at a rehearsal for Joffrey Ballet. The venerable Chicago dance company got a creative boost from across the pond for the closing show of its season.
Brandis Friedman: At Joffrey Tower in the Loop, a classically-trained dancer works with a very modern choreographer.
Andrea Walker, choreographer: My style is very inspired by a mix of like contemporary, commercial, street dance, hip-hop, but I what I really care about is just telling stories through movement, whatever that movement is.
The Joffrey dancers are fantastic. In the U.K. I’m used to working mainly with hip-hop dancers, and I always say that there’s things that my hip-hop dancers can do that the Joffrey dancers can’t do. But there’s so much the Joffrey dancers can do that my hip-hop dancers back home, yeah… It’s just a completely different experience. Just the professionalism and the strength, stamina, precision.
Friedman: The admiration is mutual.
Fernando Duarte, Joffrey dancer: He’s so set in his vision that it’s very clear to see. And for us dancers, there’s no better way than for a choreographer who comes in the studio to be like “do this this and this”, and we’re like “fine.” It’ll take me a second to get it and make it organic and genuine. It’s so nice to bring someone’s vision to life right in front of their eyes.
Friedman: Andrea Walker also found inspiration while working as a dancer in a Coldplay video.
Walker: Dancing for Coldplay was a moment that changed my career. … I remember I was dancing so full-out for 12 hours and at the end we wait for the video, it takes a few months, and in the end you can see me in the video for a whole 3 seconds.
I just felt, you know as a commercial dancer those kind of videos with those big artists are pretty much what you aspire to be, and I felt that as a dancer I had reached for the top of that. … And that’s what really got me started studying choreography seriously.
Video: Walker talks about dancing for Coldplay.
Friedman: And when Britney Spears headlined the U.K.’s biggest pride festival, Walker employed his own 201 Dance Company to make a tribute video to the pop star.
Walker: I one million percent grew up on MTV, especially like 2000-2001. What really made me fall in love with dance ya know was Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake and Missy Elliot. All that amazing, dark R&B was very influential to me and still is today.
Friedman: With the Joffrey, the choreographer – born in Italy and raised in England – is looking at definitions of home.
Walker: This concept of “home” kept coming back. The concept of home being the place where you lived but also the place where you come from and also just feeling at home within yourself, feeling at home within a relationship.
Duarte:: I’m from Brazil so I can relate. Like my home is there, my family is, but I also created a sense of family here, which is my family here at Joffrey and the people that I live with and the relationships that I’ve had.
Friedman: Two other dances on the program were also created by artists from Great Britain with Walker’s work being the biggest departure for the company.
Duarte:: It’s very different from anything we’ve done.
Walker: The beauty of the show for me is I have moments that are incredibly fast and precise with the ensemble. We have an 18 cast ensemble so it’s big, but then we have these very intimate moments between our two leads.
I want the audience to completely forget they’re watching a dance show. I want them to fall in love with these characters, fall in love with the story, and at the end when the show is over and they’re like “oh yeah, that was a dance show but I completely forgot.” I want them to see every move as a conversation.
Note: Joffrey Ballet’s “Across the Pond” opens Wednesday and runs through May 5.