Michel Rodriguez' Choreographic Journey

Michel Rodriguez was one of three finalists at the 2010 A.W.A.R.D. show in Chicago, and his duet "Moi Aussi" is in performance again September 23 and 24 at The Other Dance festival. Rodriguez himself performs the duet with Jessie Gutierrez as part of the Hedwig Dances presentation, and the work's dramatic -- and athletic --- complexity suggests an already rich background of dance experience, even in the early stages of this choreographer's career. We asked Rodriguez about his days in the professional Dance community in Cuba. Here's some of what he told us about the experiences that inform his work:

"I started my professional career in 2003 after graduating from the Escuela Nacional de Arte in Havana. Right away I was chosen to be a member of Danza Comtemporanea de Cuba, the largest dance company in the country, and became a principal dancer in 2006. There I worked with several European choreographers --- only European, because there was no way that an American choreographer would go to Cuba because of the political situation. The first European choreographer I worked with was Jan Linkens, from the Netherlands, who was working with the company for the second time. The production was “Compas” and it was a huge succes in Cuba. What surprised me the most from Jan was his musicallity, he’ll know the score of the music perfectly, like a musician, before starting to work on the movement. I also danced another work from him, “Folia”, a piece that marked a new era for the company, the opening to a more european style, but still keeping the Cuban essence.

The A.W.A.R.D. Show Finals: Joanna Rosenthal, Michel Rodriguez and Jacqueline Stewart

Choreography by Joanna Rosenthal (Photo by William Frederking)
Choreographer Michel Rodriguez and Jessie Gutierrez (Photo by Lindsay Schirk)
Grace Whitworh and Charlie Cutler in "It's Not Enough To Close Your Eyes"

"Grey Noise" by Joanna Rosenthal, "Moi Aussi" by Michel Rodriguez, and "It's Not Enough To Close Your Eyes" by Jacqueline Stewart made for an outstanding final evening in the 2010 A.W.A.R.D. show in Chicago. The three works express the three distinctly different visions of Rosenthal, Rodriguez and Stewart and, as is fitting to the final evening in a prestigious competition, each of the works was carefully thought-out and executed at award show level. Jacqueline Stewart was awarded the 2010 prize for her intoxicating duet, presented in a stunning performance by Grace Whitworth and Charlie Cutler, on the basis of a decision by a panel of four judges: Lane Alexander, Homer Bryant, Roeli Schmidt and Linda Shelton. The final decision is actually determined by five votes, one by each judge, as well as one vote based the results of an anonymous ballot of audience members.

The A.W.A.R.D. Show tries to establish parameters for how to choose among the works presented, but it can never be easy to compare such richly different voices in any hierarchical way. Stewart's "It's Not Enough To Close Your Eyes" is certainly a uniquely compelling vision, not only because of the imaginative way that a simple light on stage serves as a focus of the work, but even more so because of the effortless flow of movement ideas in an unspoken story. One of the real challenges of judging a competition though, is where to even find a basis for comparison, how to even begin to judge creative ideas. Is there really any way to compare the somber mysteries of "It's Not Enough To Close Your Eyes" to the expansive and bright "Moi Aussi"? Although also a duet, in Rodriguez' work Jessie Gutierrez and the choreographer perform a dynamic, intricately athletic drama, effortlessly commanding the full scope of a large stage. Joanna Rosenthal presents yet another challenge to a judge, and at The A.W.A.R.D. show that includes everyone in the audience, with an excerpt from her work "Grey Noise", in which a cast of five dancers develop a broadly-conceived architecture to some of the boldest soundtrack ideas that a choreographer could design.

The A.W.A.R.D. Show Chicago

The A.W.A.R.D. Show is presented in a really unique format, with work by the twelve finalists in the competition divided between three consecutive nights. Last night's presentation was the first of the three shows that leads up to Saturday's finale, where three works, one from each evening, are presented again to complete the selection of the award winner. Wednesday's show included works in four very different styles. The first was the duet "It's Not Enough To Close Your Eyes" by Jacqueline Stewart, which was followed by an innovative solo work entitled "Sometimes/Always", both choreographed and danced by Alicia Wilson. The third piece in the program was an intriguing excerpt from the ballet "Curiosity" by Mike Gosney, performed by seven dancers, in an interwoven series of solos, duets and trio. The final work of the evening was Kate Corby's imaginative "Go", which was choreographed in collaboration with the dancers Erin Kilmurray, Emily Miller and Anna Normann.

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