The 2019 Cooper Series kicked off its season with the acclaimed contemporary dance company Hubbard Street and music group Third Coast Percussion. Company member Alicia Delgadillo, who has danced with Hubbard Street for five seasons, taught two master classes on Thursday, February 7th. Delgadillo embodies the unique methods, style, and technique of Hubbard Street from pinky to pinky toe, and her classes brought every dancer there to a new level. Clad in my favorite burgundy leotard, I made sure to clear my schedule to be there.
Both Hubbard Street and Third Coast trekked to Pennsylvania from Chicago to perform for Swarthmore. As part of the Cooper Series, Hubbard Street offered ballet and repertory masterclasses to Swarthmore’s dancers in Boyer Dance Studio. The masterclasses were taught the day before Hubbard Street’s performance, giving dancers a taste of the style and mission of the company before seeing them in live performance. Classes were open to all Swarthmore and Tri-Co students. Classes were scheduled during the time slots of Swarthmore’s Ballet II and Ballet Repertory, so they were mandatory for students enrolled in those courses.
Hubbard Street is known for its extraordinary combination of modern techniques and partnering, and the ballet masterclass revealed the foundation of its dancers’ intricate and powerful modern movements. Ballet is the foundation of all modern dance, but it is often structured and rigid in a way that makes it hard to perform. Ballet is built on strict positions and fundamentals. Although the choreography was complex and advanced, Delgadillo did an amazing job incorporating and accommodating all dancers. While she pushed and challenged more advanced dancers by making them use their upper body in different ways, she gave intermediate dancers combinations from which they could both learn and succeed. The ballet combinations showed how Hubbard Street dancers center their movements with a strong technical foundation. Delgadillo told dancers to break that mindset by using their heads and bodies and grounding themselves in a way that allowed them to feel free in their movements.
In her first masterclass, which was ballet, Delgadillo talked about the concept of “circles.” Circles push into the floor and extend the dancer’s base, and also regenerate energy. That continuous energy flow allows dancers to keep expanding and pushing through their movement. Continuing to restore vitality and power, dancers can complete long performances with ease and grace. The concept of energy regenerating through a circle that passes through the dancer’s center keeps momentum pulsing even when the dancer is tired, and this use of circular bases and energy was visible in the Hubbard Street’s long performance.
Swarthmore’s inclusivity and community proved a good match for Hubbard Street dance programs, which also emphasize bringing individuals together harmoniously. Unlike many dance industry professionals who scrutinize dancers, Delgadillo was inclusive and supportive. Delgadillo was there to teach and spread knowledge. After the ballet class, Delgadillo held a Q & A session, and while sitting with students on the floor, she seemed like an approachable friend. We were, at that moment, all on the same level. Delgadillo talked about her background and training and how she got to Hubbard Street, which was helpful to aspiring dancers in the Swarthmore dance department. She also detailed what her life as a professional dancer is like, including how she stays physically prepared for company work and what she does on her days off. Toward the end of the session, dancers got an inside scoop about the upcoming show.
In the second class, Delgadillo taught a piece of Hubbard Street’s repertory. The piece was choreographed by a ten-year resident choreographer and is classic and distinct to Hubbard Street, filled with movements and concepts for which the company is known. Delgadillo started with a warm-up during which dancers had to lie on the floor and feel motion circulating to different parts of their body. This exercise connected the dancers to the ground and their instrument, allowing them to physically and mentally prepare for the choreography.
Katie Knox ’21 said, “The masterclass was transcendent. Delgadillo was very down to earth and open, which made learning choreography in a short timeframe much more enjoyable.” Delgadillo was encouraging. Indeed, her teaching style was focused on building up the dancers and making sure that they learned and benefitted from the class, instead of just asking them to memorize a piece of choreography. Emma Dulski ’22 said that she really enjoyed Delgadillo class because it was “focused on movement and movement quality instead of just choreography.” She felt as though the class environment was more supportive than that of many other professional classes and opportunities that she had attended outside of Swarthmore. Delgadillo allowed dancers in the repertory masterclass to feel comfortable enough to explore the movement quality. As I can best explain: Hubbard Street’s Repertory masterclass was about learning about yourself and pushing your own movement in a new direction, as opposed to trying to impress a teacher or choreographer. It is a lesson which can be carried outside the studio to all classes.
After teaching the choreography, Delgadillo let the dancers perform it in groups. This exercise gave students more space and allowed them to explore the movement. After watching students perform in groups, Delgadillo gave them notes and then let them perform the piece again. During the final round, Delgadillo told students to dance together and enjoy being in each other’s company. More than any part of the day, this moment perfectly connected both the Swarthmore and Hubbard Street communities: the freedom to dance with each other and share the knowledge that has been learned in a masterclass is a unique experience. If joy could be translated into movement, this would have been its moment.
When Delgadillo spoke to student dancers after the show, it made them feel as if they had a voice. Knox said, “I think Delgadillo summed it up when she said Hubbard Street style is really human.” The ability to both see an internationally-renowned company known for innovative power and creativity dance on Swarthmore’s stage, as well as dance with and learn from them before their performance, reminded us that Swarthmore’s arts programs are truly exceptional.
Featured image courtesy of swarthmore.edu