Friday, December 16, 2011

Chicago's Hedwig Dances Heading for Cuba

Chicago Dance Company Prepares For Tour Of, Artistic Exchange With Cuba

Chicago contemporary dance company Hedwig Dances has long been a staple of the local performing arts scene. The dance company in residence at the Chicago Cultural Center since 1992, the company is known for their theatrical, interdisciplinary work.

But wanting to take their work a step further, the company, under the direction of its co-founder and artistic director Jan Bartoszek, has an ambitious project on their hands: A tour of Havana, Cuba, an artistic exchange with a local dance company there and the creation of a film documenting that tour.

The 2012 Cuba Tour, set to depart in late January 2012, will offer a chance for the company and its guests to get a sense of the energy and passion that permeate the dancing traditions of Havana as they visit the training ground of Danza Contemporanea de Cuba and learn more about the dancers' experiences and backgrounds.

HuffPost Chicago interviewed Bartoszek about her company's fundraising as part of our "Can They Kick It?" series.

HP: How long has this tour been in the works? What prompted the idea?

JB: About a year ago, we started talking about it because I have four dancers in my company who are from Cuba that I'd worked with. I know the touring company and the people in it and they've gone to Cuba eight times. I thought we should do this and center the work around dance and set up an exchange with a Cuban dance company. It is a person-to-person artistic tour that focuses on dance and is being led by Art Encounter. Things are starting to loosen up a little bit and there's a lot of interest right now in Cuba because it had been kind of closed off for so long from the United States. We're taking 28 people with us to show them the dance of Cuba.
My senior company members, Victor Alexander and Maray Gutierrez, have been dancing with me for nine-and-a-half years and will be going on the tour. They grew up dancing in the Escuela Nacional de Arte and they're the perfect candidates to lead a tour there because they know all of the people there. I can't tell you how excited I am to go!

In terms of the exchange between your company and the Cuban company, what do you most hope your dancers will pick up from the Cubans?

We're most interested in contemporary dance here, but contemporary dance in Cuba is very influenced by ethnographic dance and African dance specifically. The arts have been really well cultivated in Cuba -- dance artists are probably tantamount to our athletes and rock musicians there. Everybody knows what's happening at the ballet. Alicia Alonso went down there and set up a platform in dance in the sugarcane fields. Danza Contemporanea de Cuba, the company my students danced with, dance all over the world and they have a lot of international choreographers working with them. They're very much in the loop of international dance and it's actually quite sophisticated work they're doing that's both developing the choreography there in Cuba, but also showing works by European and Asian choreographers, in addition to other Latin American choreographers. I'm also very excited to see the street dance, which I think will be really interesting. Cuba is alive with dance and I think it is a really central part of culture there, from what I understand.

On the flip side of that, what do you hope the Cuban dancers can learn from your company members?

I think that we have developed sort of a unique perspective in our integration of many disciplines into dance. We focus on working from the inside out and we plan to share that with this company in Cuba. We also do a lot of partnering and work a lot with giving and taking weight away from each other.

How long have you been involved with Hedwig Dances and how does this tour fit into the larger picture for your company?

I'm the founder and artistic director of the 27-year-old company. We've been in residence at the Cultural Center for 20 years. This is our first international artistic tour and we're planning on cultivating this in a way that sets up an exchange that continues over time. We hope to also, once we establish it with Cuban artists, try to do that with other countries as well. This is a new endeavor for us.

One of our bloggers wrote recently about the explosion of American interest in contemporary dance due to "So You Think You Can Dance" and other reality competition shows. Why do you think dance is finding a new resonance, in a lot of ways, with Americans today?

I think that it's very interesting to me as a sort of phenomenon that sort of happens as we become more and more of a communications culture that is kind of distanced from person-to-person communication. We don't call anyone anymore, you text or e-mail. We used to pick up the phone and call people, and there's less and less contact like that. Real human contact. I think dance provides that. It's one of the things about dance that's so amazing if you give yourself to it: It's so physical and it's about the whole person -- the body, the spirit and the mind -- in action. That is missing in so many other ways in our culture.

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