Dancers Tong and Hortin dish on HSDC’s Winter Series, Victor Quijada and not the Nutcracker

CHICAGO — An abundance of choreographic royalty appears onstage at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) this weekend and next as Hubbard Street Dance Chicago (HSDC)* presents its Winter Series featuring Princess Grace Awardees Kyle Abraham, Robyn Mineko Williams, and Victor Quijada. Abraham’s Counterpoint is on the program (after last summer’s premiere as a commission of the Chicago Dancing Festival) and Mineko Williams launches a new trio called Waxing Moon.

HSDC dancers Jessica Tong and Jason Hortin worked with Quijada in 2010 for his company debut PHYSIKAL LINGUISTIKS, the same year he was awarded the Princess Grace nod. Artistic Director of RUBBERBANDance and a newly appointed artist in residence at USC’s Glorya Kauffman School of Dance, Quijada’s distinctive hip-hop style is quite different from HSDC’s M.O., and particularly challenging for a mostly classically-trained group. Tong and Hortin reflected on his process four years after PHYSIKAL LINGUISTIKS, in developing Thursday’s premiere Enter Woven:

“It’s a totally different technique,” said Jessica Tong, HSDC company member since 2007 and named one of Dance Magazine’s 25 to Watch in 2009.

“Now versus four years ago, Victor has refined his method, for sure. The way he communicates is clearer and more succinct. It is helpful that we had both done his work before, although even people who weren’t part of that process four years ago — everybody’s really tapped into it, regardless. Naturally, guys are more adept at the stuff that requires a lot of upper body strength, and their centers of gravity are higher, which helps with the more b-boying types of material.”

“I think we’re less worried about looking stupid,” said Jason Hortin, who has been looked anything but since he joined the company in 2008.

“But going back, I agree with Jessica,” he said. “It is more simplified and more concrete. Victor has really identified the core ideas of his technique and that drives them deeper into our bodies. Everything points back to his three concepts: anchor point, camera, and ‘the air is not empty.’ Anchor points can be used to pull yourself through space. It’s the idea that you pick a point on the body and ‘lock it’ in place — either to a spot in the air, or on the floor — and use that to reorient everything else. The camera concept… It’s maybe just another word for ‘focus,’ but, he’s interested in us treating our focus like a cameraman… He talks about [‘the air is not empty’] in terms of a spectrum, of how thick the air is.”

“It’s never nothing, you know, like, frictionless,” explained Tong. “The scale goes from one to ten, with one being movement with the most ease, just through a gas or maybe smoke, for example, and then, like, water is higher up the scale, then peanut butter or, like, tar — that more extreme resistance of trying to move through tar.”

Enter Woven is the biggest of the trio of works, at least in terms of cast. Thirteen dancers in all, including Tong and Hortin, will take to the stage in a comparatively small theater. HSDC’s primary residence at the Harris Theater for Music and Dance is always a fitting venue for the big, beefy company, but Tong and Hortin enjoy being in the intimate Edlis Neeson Theater once a year. “It’s nice to have that more intimate feel — especially for these pieces, I think it’ll be better for experiencing all of the details,” said Tong.

If three world class choreographers, some of the country’s best dancers, and two world premieres aren’t enough, Tong and Hortin offer some alternative reasons for grabbing a seat at HSDC’s Winter Series:

“It’s all new work, it’s current, it’s what’s happening now,” said Tong. “You’re not going to see these pieces anywhere else, being performed by any other companies. It’s like the MCA: We’re showing contemporary art — that’s what this is.”

Jason Hortin: “It’s not The Nutcracker.”

Hubbard Street and the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago co-present Princess Grace Awards: New Works Dec. 4-14, 2014 in the Edlis Neeson Theater at the MCA (220 E. Chicago Ave.). Performances Dec 4–7 are exclusively for Hubbard Street Season 37 subscribers and sold out. Tickets for the second weekend start at $35, available at or by phone at 312-850-9744 ($28 for MCA members at Additional weekday performances may be added according to demand