Preview | DanceWorks Chicago: “Dance Flight”
Andreas Böttcher and Julie Nakagawa’s stellar track record of grooming world-class dancers continues.
DanceWorks Chicago artistic director Julie Nakagawa applies humor to conversation with the panache of a pastry chef dusting fritters with sugar. In the library at the , the Evanston native slips it into a mention of her Japanese heritage.
“Butoh? Never done it. Chopsticks? Challenging. But there is a certain part of me that embraces that Asian, one-pebble-at-a-time-to-build-a-mountain thing.”
Nakagawa and DanceWorks’ CEO, Andreas Böttcher, are three days away from their 19th wedding anniversary. Seated to her right, he says that, “artistically, I would say that we’re achieving what we set out to achieve.” The two founded the company, in residence at the Page center, four and a half years ago.
With a self-imposed limit of six young dancers and a busy schedule of events (there are four this week), DanceWorks is outwardly similar to the hard-driven junior ensembles or apprenticeship “second companies” now common to major dance organizations. And for good reason: Böttcher and Nakagawa were the first directors of an early example, Hubbard Street 2, started in 1997 for artists between the ages of 18 and 25.
But what the two set out to achieve with DanceWorks didn’t include feeding talent to a parent company. A stand-alone group whose members “transition,” says Nakagawa, after anywhere between four and 24 months, DanceWorks feeds talent to the dance world at large. Alumni include Ghrai DeVore, a rising star with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and James Johnson, currently rehearsing for The Color Purple’s U.S. tour. At HS2, dancers groomed by Nakagawa and Böttcher joined not only Hubbard Street Dance Chicago but also leading ensembles in Montreal, New York, Frankfurt and Stockholm.
“The product is the people, as opposed to the dance onstage,” Nakagawa says. “It’s about integrity, dance citizenship, a desire for excellence and a respect for the process.”
Her case in point: On Saturday 14, DanceWorks will hold an audition in the theater at the and, as always, it will be open to the public to observe.
Dancers dismissed during most auditions usually leave the building, to vent about being cut or to lick their wounds. They’ll have those options this weekend as well, but they’ll be encouraged to stay and sit with the audience. “If you can put aside your disappointment or frustration or relief, whatever you’re feeling at that moment,” Nakagawa says, “there’s so much learning that can be done.”
“They’ve set up a place to look in the mirror and see who you are, to accept that and love that,” says choreographer Harrison McEldowney, who’s worked with the duo for more than a decade. “Once dancers, and choreographers, have that sense of self and confidence, they can fit in anywhere.”
DanceWorks Chicago shows are unfailingly well-danced and -programmed; still, its talent is raw, if also of the highest order. I’ve long wondered what the couple would produce working with older, more seasoned performers. I ask.
“I don’t see that as a constraint,” Nakagawa responds. “And this age and stage of artist, early-career, is not really attended to.… Usually, at auditions, the assessment is, What can you do for me? We really also ask, What can we do for you?”
Catch Böttcher, Nakagawa and DanceWorks Chicago on Thursday 12–Saturday 14 and Monday 16.