Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and Cuba’s Malpaso Dance Company are each groundbreaking contemporary dance companies in their own right with their own distinctive styles. In March, these two acclaimed companies take the Auditorium Theatre’s stage for a special set of shows: The “Made in Chicago” 312 Dance Series performances on March 2 and 3 highlight a crosscultural collaboration between the two companies, with Hubbard Street performing a work by Malpaso Artistic Director and founder Osnel Delgado, and Malpaso performing a work created by Chicago choreographer Robyn Mineko Williams. Delgado will also perform his duet piece Ocaso with a Hubbard Street dancer, and Hubbard Street will perform Williams’ 2017 work Cloudline. Williams, who danced with Hubbard Street for 12 seasons, and Delgado spoke with the Auditorium Theatre about their experiences choreographing works for companies in other countries, the similarities between Hubbard Street and Malpaso, and the importance of cross-cultural collaborations between artistic institutions.

How does Hubbard Street’s style compare with Malpaso’s style? What makes the two companies different? Similar?

Robyn Mineko Williams: The dancers of both companies possess a magical combination of open-mindedness, movement intelligence, and a giant aptitude for new styles and ways of working. They are exceptionally versatile and can take on whatever you throw at them. I love that both companies work so powerfully as ensembles while simultaneously celebrating the distinct character and contributions of each individual creating the whole. The dancers all share the fantastic quality of being able to interpret work with clarity while thoughtfully weaving themselves into it, creating a beautifully genuine experience in process and performance.

Osnel Delgado: Hubbard Street is one of the few references we had in mind when we founded Malpaso. Both Hubbard Street and Malpaso are repertory companies with strong and versatile dancers, both ensembles have similar training, and both have developed their own choreographers. This collaboration, for us, is an honor.

What is the inspiration behind each of your works? What can audiences expect to see on March 2 and 3?

Robyn Mineko Williams: With each new work, my initial seed of inspiration seems to take on a life of its own. A beginning motivation for this piece was ignited by the recent passing of a family member and imagining a fantastical world filled of memories, distorted time, and dreamlike images that he might have passed through during the transition from life to death. The original idea is now layered and infused with everything that came during my time in Cuba: the dancers’ influences, character, and personal contributions; the incomparable sights and sounds of the country; and the music and culture that seem to be such a part of every person I met. It all goes into a pot of creation and I hope what results is an honest memento of our shared experience.

Osnel Delgado: As I do [when working with Malpaso’s dancers], I come to the studio with some ideas, but these are only the start of the creative process. Audiences can expect to see our precision, passion, and commitment in the piece.

Robyn, when you’re working with a company in Chicago, you have much more immediate access to the dancers and artistic staff. What are some obstacles you’ve faced while creating this work for a company that is based in an entirely different country?

Robyn Mineko Williams: The most significant obstacle for me was overcoming the language barrier and figuring out how to most effectively communicate with the dancers. Although some of the dancers speak English, my Spanish is basically nonexistent and at times, I found it difficult to relay more detailed ideas about quality or nuance of movement without words. Luckily, the company showed great patience with my ineptitude to speak their language and eventually, together, we were able to get to the point by using a mix of translations, sound effects, and speaking with physicality. We made it work but I’m definitely going to study up in my Spanish workbook for my next visit!

Why do you think cross-cultural exchanges between United States-based companies like Hubbard Street and international companies like Malpaso are important?

Osnel Delgado: We belong to cultures that have much in common. It is not possible, for instance, to think about the Cuban dance tradition without thinking about its relation to American dance and its legacy. We deserve to enjoy each other. We need to reconnect the best of our cultures, despite whatever adverse circumstances and challenges. Beauty, dance, and admiration bring us together.

Robyn Mineko Williams: These cross-cultural exchanges unite us, fostering understanding, innovation, and connection through the transcendence of art.

— Interview by Lily Oberman
Photo by Todd Rosenberg

Hubbard Street Dance Company and Malpaso Dance Company perform on March 2+3! Click here to purchase your tickets.