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DANCE UK choreographers take leap 'Across the Pond'
by Jerry Nunn, Windy City Times
2019-04-15

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The Joffrey Ballet's spring program finally arrives at the end of April, with three out and proud choreographers' work and two world premieres. Titled "Across the Pond", this project mixes all three pieces in one incredible night of dance and entertainment.

Andrea Walker is one of the choreographers as well as the founder/artistic director of 201 Dance Company. He's half-Italian and half-British, with a style influenced by both hip-hop and street dancing. Walker started dancing when he was 15 years old, and was inspired by MTV.

"Britney Spears was my biggest inspiration," said Walker, adding that cinema has always been important to his work. He wants the audience to forget they are watching steps and fall in love with the story instead.

Walker leaves traditional counting of steps behind and uses sounds to instruct his dancer's movements and choreography. "I used to match a sound to the count, but had to stop that. The music I choreograph for is electronic, and doesn't fit into a count," he said.

His piece is called "Home" and addresses immigration. "Home" is particularly personal for him, with Walker himself being an immigrant from Italy and living in the United Kingdom for more than 10 years. He said that, after being inspired by the immigration aspect overall, the piece became about analyzing what home truly is, and what it means to have a sense of self. "I felt everyone can relate to this universal concept of home," he explained.

Walker added, "Being a gay man myself, I felt very strong about putting LGBT experiences onstage, but I didn't want that to be the only thing pushing the story forward."

When asked about the differences in choreography between gay and straight characters, Walker describes them as being "massively different." He has two casts—with one being gay and one being straight—that creates two different shows, depending on what night the audience attends.

"With pas de deux, it's all about the intimacy, so I really build on the duets and what makes them genuine," he said.

He reflected on his being a performer, such as being in the Coldplay video "Charlie Brown," before realizing he wanted to focus on choreography and creating art. For Walker, it's more rewarding to make pieces like the award winning SKIN, about gender transition, than just taking part in music videos that ultimately don't satisfy him creatively.

Andrew McNicol, a London-based freelance choreographer, has four short movements for the Joffrey piece "Yonder Blue," with music by composer Peter Gregson. It's commissioned in honor of Rahm Emanuel and Amy Rule. McNicol draws inspiration from the book A Plea for Eros by Siri Hustvedt. "I love how she described the word yonder as a word that wobbles. It moves and shifts, describing the distance between here and there. The distance between us is captured in the music and movement," McNicol explained.

When asked about the difference between U.S. and European dancers, McNicol explained that the training is different: "In the U.K., there is an emphasis on refinement and placement, where in America, it's freer. It's about movement and attack. I like both at different times."

The third choreographer, Liam Scarlett, was born just two hours outside of London and began dancing at the age of 4. At 26, he retired from dancing but still has a residence at The Royal Ballet. For the Joffrey, he is presenting a Chicago premiere of "Vespertine," after the piece was first shown in Oslo by the Norwegian National Ballet in 2013. Baroque music was a challenge for Scarlett, but he said, "Lighting has a very important role in this. Hopefully it's a very individual piece that lets everybody shine."

This range of styles with unique perspectives from these talented and diverse artists promises to inspire audiences as well as put them in the mood for spring.

Across the Pond dances into the Auditorium Theatre, 50 E. Ida B. Wells Dr., from April 24-May 5. See AuditoriumTheatre.org .


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