Last fall, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago's new teen program, the Dance Lab Choreographic Fellowship, launched with 22 students accepted for its inaugural year. Even as the company and school have temporarily closed their doors this spring, Hubbard Street company member and choreographer Rena Butler continues to direct this exciting choreographic-study project for students in 10th–12th grades.
At the time of shelter-in-place in March 2020, the Dance Lab still had two more workshops left to do together and a final informal performance. Butler and Kathryn Humphreys (director of Hubbard Street Education, Youth & Community Programs), quickly and agilely took the program online and into the students' homes to see it through to completion. Humphreys says: "The current situation has actually allowed us to give the students more."
"I find myself asking the question of how a resting or home space can be generative for any art practice right now," says Butler. "The course was originally designed around the concept of how environment informs identity and how identity can inform environment. Transcribing the class onto a virtual platform worked out beautifully, because it was a matter of applying what the students learned from class onto a different landscape."
As part of the workshops throughout the year, Butler had the students explore numerous artists to learn about choreography, choreographic tools and genres of dance. With students sheltering in place, she reached out to five of her colleagues—Jason Anthony Rodriguez, Connie Shiau, Micaela Taylor, Yara Travieso and Robyn Mineko Williams—to each make a video for Dance Lab students. "It was important that I contacted choreographers in the field who had varying experiences to prompt extremely different tasks each day for the students," Butler says. "The range of incredible artists who have committed to this project is phenomenal. I wanted the students to work through each task using their imaginations to dream within and beyond their environmental confines."
Each video made for the Dance Lab students was 5 to 15 minutes long; an artist introduced themself and modeled the concept the students would be exploring at home. Butler asked the artists to play with the theme of "In My Room," and each gave a choreographic prompt. The videos ranged in topics from "feeling breath" to vogueing.
After exploring the five videos, the 22 students are completing their final solo projects now and will be submitting videos to Hubbard Street to compile a final video in lieu of the performance. Students are working on their own and at times during the week that work for them, instead of scheduled Zoom meetings together. "We reached out to the students and asked them directly," Humphreys says. "We wanted to be sensitive to their capacity right now and their environments. The students are so busy right now; we wanted to be as flexible as possible."
Additionally, HSDC is excited to share these new resources, free of charge, with teachers in the coming weeks.