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Fusing Break Dancing, Ballet and Modern Moves

By: Susan Reiter
Date: Sep 13, 2019

The Montreal-based RUBBERBAND makes its Joyce Theater debut


Choreographer Victor Quijada's eclectic background accounts for his signature fusion style. The son of Mexican immigrants, he was raised in Los Angeles where he began break dancing in his youth. Later, at the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, he studied with post-modern master Rudy Perez from Judson Dance Theater. In his early twenties, Quijada finally learned ballet (quickly!) when he joined Twyla Tharp's ensemble for three years, followed by stints at Eliot Feld's Ballet Tech and Les Grands Ballets Canadiens. The entire time, he was hitting the clubs at night to indulge his love of hip-hop. Quijada was an artist being stretched between two scenes, so it's fitting that the troupe he founded in Montreal 17 years ago is named RUBBERBAND.

Next week, RUBBERBAND kicks off the fall season at the Joyce Theater. Although the company has made brief appearances in New York in the past, this is the troupe's most substantial showcase in the city to date. That's why Quijada chose a substantial work for this run: Ever So Slightly, his most recent full-length piece based on experiences he's had over the past five years.

"How can I not be inspired by what I'm personally living?" Quijada says about the dance, an athletic exploration of the struggle to bounce back from the obstacles life throws at us that's performed to a live score by Jasper Gahunia. "So much has changed for me since my last creation for the company," he adds, including becoming a father and stepping back from performing.

RUBBERBAND's early repertory was fashioned for six (or fewer) dancers, all trained personally by Quijada. For Ever So Slightly, he expanded the ensemble to ten, which meant he spent a lot of time schooling the cast in his distinctive RUBBERBAND Method, an amalgam of hip-hop, ballet and contemporary moves.

"It prepares them for my choreography," he explains. "What we do is this type of crossbreeding: having the knowledge of what the breakdance floorwork is, and the break acrobatics, but also having the spatial and body awareness that a rigorous ballet-trained dancer has. I've come to this place where the RUBBERBAND Method is really cooked. It's done, it's airtight. If a new dancer comes into the company, we can train them within three to four weeks."

Aaron Mattocks, the Joyce's new director of programming, has had Quijada on his radar since he first encountered RUBBERBAND a decade ago. It's telling that Mattocks chose the troupe to open the first full season he's programmed -- a new-to-the-Joyce company launching a new era for the dance hub.

"Once I saw Vic's Mix [Quijada's inventive reimagining of his own work], I was convinced that we should have RUBBERBAND here," says Mattocks. "It's the mixture that's so exciting, this blend of many different forms that Victor has access to. His dancers have the mechanics of break dancing -- the classic partnering -- but he takes it in very different directions. It really has a thesis about our modern moment and living with the current realities."

While coverage of Quijada's oeuvre tends to emphasize his street-dance origins, his work is impressively multidimensional, pulling from the varied techniques he's learned over his career. And he's passing that knowledge on to a new generation.

"All of this cross-pollination happened very organically," he says. "I needed to get everybody on the same page as to whatever my body knew. Then we could use that as a diving board into something else. It's been a longtime goal of mine to have this small army of people who all speak the same language and can do all the same things, and we're there now."


TDF MEMBERS: At press time, discount tickets were available for RUBBERBAND. Go here to browse our current offers.

Susan Reiter regularly covers dance for TDF Stages.

Top image: RUBBERBAND. Photo by Marie-Nöele Pilon.

Susan Reiter covers dance for TDF Stages.