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Student Spotlight: Embedded with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago

By Meri Bobber

Editor’s note: As part of the UMS 21st Century Artist Internships program, four students interned for a minimum of five weeks with a dance, theater, or music ensemble part of our 2015-2016 season. Meri Bobber is one of these students. This summer, she was embedded with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago.

Below, Meri shares her travel stories with the company in advance of their return Ann Arbor on October 27, 2015.

Assume nothing; be curious. This approach to artistry is something I learned from choreographer William Forsythe at Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s Spotlight Ball on June 1, 2015. The glamorous night was a celebration of dance and highlighted the success and impact of Forsythe’s work, as the main company prepared to perform his choreography in its upcoming season. By the night of the gala, I was already a few weeks into my internship, but I carried this advice with me as I continued my summer in Chicago as a UMS 21st Century Artist Intern.

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On left, the gala was held in a ballroom of the Fairmont Hotel in downtown Chicago. In this shot, dinner guests applaud as Artistic Director Glenn Edgerton introduces all the professional dancers of Hubbard Street. On right, Hubbard Street’s second company, comprised of early-career artists, perform a movement composition exercise to supplement the dance education of Chicago elementary school students.

My internship at Hubbard Street was structured so that I would rotate departments weekly for two months. This structure ultimately proved to be incredibly appropriate, as I saw firsthand that non-profit organizations require their employees to wear many hats, big and small, simultaneously, and to still maintain the ambition to learn on the fly, to jump in wherever he or she is needed. For example, the accounting manager at Hubbard Street also serves as IT. A former professional dancer of the company is now its Manager of Communication on the marketing team. When I joined the second company for a day of several dance outreach performances at Chicago area schools, the artistic director drove our van.

I practiced the same adaptability in my internship, beginning in artistic administration, where I was trusted with an important, ongoing project right away. One of the repetiteurs from The Forsythe Company was to come to Chicago and set three of William Forysthe’s works on the dancers for the performance Hubbard Street will bring to Ann Arbor in October. As an artist of German citizenship, he needed a visa for his work in Chicago. So, although I bounced around departments, I worked throughout my internship to research this repetiteur’s career, assemble resources, and write a coherent paper about him that proved the legitimacy of his trip and his work at Hubbard Street. I needed to present enough evidence to prove that he was the best and only man for the job. My supervisor worked closely with me on the project, taught me how to address the guidelines required by the government, and left me confident with a new, important skill. One of my highlights from the summer was the day that my supervisor informed me that the application had been accepted by the government. I met him in person later on, and his gratitude for my help with his application touched me. The work I had put into it proved successful for Hubbard Street and the Forsythe production.

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On left, a shot from backstage of the Hubbard Street Youth Showcase where I helped the professional dancers of tomorrow make it on stage in time for their numbers. On right, I spent the week leading up to Hubbard Street’s Summer Series at the Harris Theater helping out at dress rehearsals backstage. It was a treat to find my name included on the Hubbard Street Staff listing in the program on opening night!

I switched responsibilities each Monday. I served in the marketing department, where I initially felt far out of my comfort zone but ultimately learned a lot in just five days; the youth education department, where I made great friends with other interns and helped the youth showcase recital run smoothly; backstage of the Harris Theater downtown, where I assisted Hubbard Street’s main company manager during a production that featured the work of resident choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo; and the development department, where I learned about external affairs and donor profiling, and helped out behind the scenes at the aforementioned gala. And that’s just to list a few!

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On left, Hubbard Street marketed the Summer Series show with ads like this all over street kiosks downtown. It was fun to learn about such marketing strategies at work, then go see them in action on my walks to and from the theater. On right, Hubbard Street’s Resident Choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo signed my program on closing night of the Summer Series.

Following the internship, I stayed on for a third month to participate in the college-level summer dance intensive. This is a program I enjoyed thoroughly last summer as well. I was happy to have Hubbard Street’s artistic staff, alumni, and current dancers give me another satisfying amount of choreography to study and a technical kick-in-the-pants. The training tested my adaptability as a dance artist, connected me with talented young dancers from around the country, and filled gaps in my technique. It was a special experience to come to the building every day and spend 8 hours in the studios just as Hubbard Street’s professional dancers do. I studied ballet, yoga, Pilates, improvisation, Gaga technique, Horton technique, partnering, and a variety of diverse repertory excerpts that required me to dance with different qualities and intentions. I sweat. A lot.

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On left, one of my closest friends from school, Lena Oren, came into Chicago for the summer intensive. Here we are dancing outside of Hubbard Street’s building, located on Jackson Boulevard and Racine Avenue. On right, the summer intensive concluded with an in-studio showcase, which offered my fellow dancers and me the opportunity to perform the repertory excerpts we had been studying for the past four weeks.

Beyond working and dancing at Hubbard Street’s building in the West Loop, I found that living in Chicago in the summertime was delightful. I grew up in Milwaukee, but hanging out on Lake Michigan’s lakefront never gets old. The Brown Line to Kimball route of the Chicago Transit System (the “L,” as locals call it) offers stunning views of the downtown Loop. The Taste of Chicago food festival, the Bean, Buckingham Fountain, and the city’s diverse and characteristic neighborhoods gave me much to do and explore. I had the priceless company of my older sister, who has lived in Chicago for more than a year now, and my best friend from school, who traveled from California to participate in the summer intensive at Hubbard Street with me. We ate out, walked the lakefront, hung around Clark Street, and attended street festivals, parades, and shows. I also used my weekends to attend dance classes and shows anywhere and everywhere in an attempt to acquaint myself with Chicago’s greater dance community.

I subleased two apartments during my three months there: one from a coworker at Hubbard Street, a 15-minute walk from the West Loop (where Hubbard Street’s building is located) in the quaint, historic Little Italy neighborhood of Chicago. The other sublet was more of a gamble. I lived with a stranger far uptown at Lawrence and Clark, a location that required me to learn how to navigate Chicago’s public transportation system each morning in order to get to work. In terms of my mysterious roommate, I actually got very lucky. I lived with a Chicago and dance enthusiast who showed me around the city, specifically the characteristic area of Lincoln Square, and has become one of my closest friends.

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On left, Chicago skyline from the Brown Line train north to Kimball. On right, downtown loop of Chicago from the Brown Line train north to Kimball.

And so, both inside and outside of Hubbard Street’s building, my summer in Chicago fulfilled and excited me day-by-day. The pressure of having new assignments and needing to catch on to the operations of a new department at Hubbard Street every week honestly made me a little anxious on Monday mornings (especially during my week in marketing, an area in which I had no previous experience). The variety of choreography I studied during the intensive also required me to be flexible, in more ways than one! So I learned to adapt to the diversity in both the office and the studio, and to do my best with all that was thrown my way.

My to-do list throughout those three months was anything but monotonous. Every morning when I arrived at the building, I knew I could be asked to do just about anything to help make dance happen. I rolled out a marley floor. I organized video archives. I sifted through the dusty costume cage in the back warehouse. I wrote and I researched. I faxed and I answered phones. I brainstormed and I went to meetings. I ordered and picked up gifts for the choreographer on opening night. I ran the video camera at technical and dress rehearsals. I went to dance class and came back day after day with more sore spots and bruises. I cared to finesse the individual details and qualities of each piece I was taught. I tried assuming nothing and being curious all summer long, and it was an impactful approach to my working to bridge my student experience with becoming a professional.

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On left, my Chicago-based older sister and I on a city bus. On right, Here I am at the Chicago Pride Fest, one of the many summer city activities I soaked up. Others included Taste of Chicago, the Blackhawks Stanley Cup Victory Parade, and free concerts at the outdoor Jay Pritzker Pavilion.

I left Chicago with a big-picture understanding of the many factors that make up the dance powerhouse that is Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. The organization offers more than 70 classes a week to the public, rents studio space out to dance projects and companies, holds special dance education workshops through The Parkinson’s Project and The Autism Project, educates young dancers in a variety of dance styles, practices dance outreach in Chicago’s public schools, develops early career artists through the second company, and produces professional shows that feature a wide range of choreography on national and international stages.

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I spent one afternoon getting lost in Hubbard Street’s media room, which contains rehearsal and performance footage that dates back to the 1980s.

I now have a personal understanding of the effort, talent, teamwork, and dedication it takes to maintain such an umbrella for dance. The company dancers themselves are no less exceptional. They are thoughtful, articulate, versatile movers who appear almost invincible in the studio and in performance. When they grace the stage of the Power Center this October, you’ll see what I mean.

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago returns to Power Center with an evening of works by choreographer William Forsythe on October 27, 2015.

Interested in more? UMS Artist Services Manager Anne Grove was once company manager of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. Read our interview with Anne.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Meri Bobber pursues a BFA in Dance Performance and a minor in Law, Justice, and Social Change at the University of Michigan. She also professionally teaches dance and fitness classes. Upon her December 2015 graduation from U-M, Bobber will dance professionally with the Detroit-based contemporary company ArtLabJ Dance under the artistic direction of Joori Jung.

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