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Joel Hall's new leader Jacqueline Sinclair takes steps to continue the work
By Aaron Hunt
2018-07-04

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"I'm house-hunting today!" Jacqueline Sinclair giggled to Windy City Times over the phone. She's not your average house hunter. The newly named Artistic Director of the Joel Hall Dancers is looking to move the the company into its "forever home."

If there was a tiny trepidation in her tone, the biggest part of the orchestra was playing glee. "Our lease is up at the Edgewater location. We've been there for eight years, built lots of great memories in that neighborhood and we're looking forward to moving to a location that better meets our needs," Sinclair said.

Branching out, leaning in

Stepping into the position vacated by company founder Joel Hall ( see related story ), Sinclair has far more on her mind than real estate. With The Legacy Project, she's also focused on continuing the company's ambassadorship, and working with Hall to preserve the company's repertoire, codify his ground-breaking method, and build a system to roll it all out to academia through a certification program.

"My initial focus will be getting the company on many different stages, having [new] audiences be exposed to Joel's work. This season is we're bringing Nuts & Bolts to the Beverly Arts Center," she said of the company's popular, jazzy take on "The Nutcracker."

"The Beverly Arts Center has expressed desire to really connect their community members," she said. "As we know, Chicago is a very segregated place and the Joel Hall Dance Center has always been such a diverse company and school. We want to be spreading that to new places."

Sinclair visualizes further outreach through The Legacy Concert, a traveling celebration of Hall's ballets. "My intention is to program one of Joel's signature works from each of the decades spanning his career, including a premiere work that Joel himself would set," she said.

Straight outta '42nd Street'

Sinclair sees her move to artistic director as a natural progression, born of a dance experience she laughingly calls, "Joel Hal 101" and her extensive experience in academia.

Sinclair studied jazz dance while pursuing her BA at Columbia College and attended Hall's masterclasses whenever possible. After graduation, she had no conscious intention of working toward a career in dance. But after Sinclair singed up for a class at Joel Hall Center, her career began to resemble the plot from "42nd Street." She was asked to step into a performance at the last minute for an ailing dancer. Sinclair's performance caught Hall's eye and her artistic yellow brick road materialized beneath her feet.

Sinclair joined the company in 1990, at the same time working to create a dance program at a northwest suburban school, designing and developing her own curriculum.

Living work, in words and motion

Sinclair stressed that Hall isn't retiring so much as he is was not retiring but taking the type of space gifted an emeritus artistic director to contribute in fresh ways. Their mutual goal of codifying his methods has already begun. Classes are being filmed; the construction of syllabi will follow. Then, the work will live in written words that can direct, inspire and endure long after the dancers who have memorized Hall's choreography are no longer on the scene.

Classes will continue at the Clark Street studio until June 2019, while Sinclair moves ahead with her new initiatives. She sees a time in the future when she will begin to create dances for the company, but for now she is focused on increasing visibility, and passing along the wealth.

"So often you hear people talk about our studio's sense of home. For me it's a little deeper than just physical space feeling like home, it's where I found my voice. We're not at all in fear of this next phase. We're hugely excited about a move and what that can mean to the dance community in Chicago, and for the company! We're excited! We're about to blow up!"


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