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Balancing a Vision: Hubbard Street's Alejandro Cerrudo and One Thousand Pieces

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Not long ago, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago presented the return of Alejandro Cerrudo's full evening work One Thousand Pieces, premiered in 2012 for the company's 35th anniversary. When the work was originally performed, the response to it from Hubbard Street's audiences was even more enthusiastic than expected, and expectations were unquestionably high. Alejandro Cerrudo had become Hubbard Street's first-ever resident choreographer three years earlier, and his 10 previous works for the company had steadily attracted attention and accumulated admiration, building expectations of similar creativity like the crescendo of a symphony. One Thousand Pieces was a very different undertaking, though. Exponentially more complex, it required the synthesis of so many creative and practical possibilities that it was hard to be sure if even Cerrudo could accomplish it. How he was able to do so, and do so successfully, turns out to be a study in the art of balance as much as the art of dance, balancing personal vision with practical reality, leadership with cooperation.

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Hubbard Street dancers Jesse Bechard, left, and Meredith Dincolo in One Thousand Pieces by resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo (photo by Todd Rosenberg)

It was a substantial undertaking by any measurement, probably least of all because of the scale of the work; more daunting perhaps was the fact that Hubbard Street's stated intentions for the event were so ambitious in their scope. When the project was announced, the company described the idea as "inspired by Marc Chagall's famed American Windows," the six-panel stained glass work that Chagall had created 35 years earlier, the same year Hubbard Street Dance was founded. That left Cerrudo with the challenge of creating an important and large-scale work, and one that was to be inspired by another important and large-scale work by a major artist in a completely different medium. If it was a measure of Hubbard Street's confidence in him that they would ask him to undertake such a widely visible challenge, an even more unusual metric of that confidence is the degree to which it was constantly reconfirmed by all of the individuals involved in the complexities of Cerrudo's vision. "I've never been so supported," Cerrudo says, describing his interactions with the many other people involved in the making of One Thousand Pieces. "If I had an issue, I could go to someone, and that person would do anything to make it work."

He began where he almost always begins, with the music. "For a work inspired by the Chagall Windows, I thought that Philip Glass' music was a perfect fit," he says. "Because of the quality of his music, and of the glass and the colors, and because of the magic of the Windows and the magic of his music, as soon as I thought of the Windows I thought of Phillip Glass." Cerrudo's attention to the music he uses is always careful, and always very precise, because he simultaneously emphasizes the quality of movement that an individual section can inspire and the trajectory he will build from all of the sections he chooses. Usually, that makes choosing music one of the most difficult parts of the process for him. "Surprisingly, for a full-length evening, I knew what the music was very, very early," he says, although exactly how to arrange what he had into an effective progression came a little more slowly. One Thousand Pieces is set to 14 different Glass compositions, but Cerrudo puts them together so seamlessly that it's as if it were a single score composed for the work. "That was my goal," he says, "that, but also that the different parts of the music would take you to different places."

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Hubbard Street dancer Jacqueline Burnett in One Thousand Pieces (photo by Todd Rosenberg)

One of the reasons that Cerrudo can take his audiences to so many different places is his willingness to dream. "I always try to aim for anything I can imagine, anything that I think could work," he explains. "Even if sometimes I think about it and I think, 'That's going to be hard to do,' I still want to aim for it. I don't want to limit myself." At the same time, his success has also been the result of his ability to balance his creative vision without necessarily restricting it. Not surprisingly, it's a very dynamic kind of equilibrium, always in flux, where both the practical realities of staging dance and the creative input of those he works with continuously refine what he strives for. "Your ideas morph into different ideas; they transform into things that you didn't even think of at first," Cerrudo says, "and many factors are involved in that transformation, starting with reality. Things in reality are not the same as what you have in your head."

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Hubbard Street dancers Garrett Anderson, left, and Ana Lopez in One Thousand Pieces (photo by Todd Rosenberg)

For a work as large-scale as One Thousand Pieces, balancing reality with imagination becomes a matter of intricate cooperation; Cerrudo had to communicate a vision that involves exceptional complexities in every facet of dance production, and to do so within a relatively short time frame. One Thousand Pieces showcases an understanding of how to bring the creative abilities of many individuals together effectively, and that's evidence not only of the clarity of Cerrudo's own vision, but also of his ability to sythesize what he imagines with what those he works with also dream. He describes the process in individual terms as he talks about each part of the production and his interaction with all of the other artists involved. "Even working on the movement with the dancers," he says, "you might ask them to do a specific step, and they might not do it the way you originally imagined. Maybe they did something even better, though, so then that becomes part of what you see on stage. It's not just what I think; it's affected by many people and many factors."

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Hubbard Street dancer Jonathan Fredrickson in One Thousand Pieces (photo by Todd Rosenberg)

That may be what Alejandro Cerrudo really managed to capture when he set out to express in dance something of the myriad shades and shapes that someone might see in pieces of richly tinted glass. Working in a medium much more dynamic, Cerrudo creates an ever-changing canvas, mixing the colors of his own creative vision with the individual creativity of a mosaic of other artists. "When Matisse dies," Pablo Picasso once said, "Chagall will be the only painter left who understands what color really is." Of course, Picasso never had the chance to see One Thousand Pieces.

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Hubbard Street dancers in One Thousand Pieces (photo by Todd Rosenberg)

This post originally appeared at aotpr.com