Close Up: RUBBERBANDance Group

Photo by Tim Forbes

Later this month, RUBBERBANDance Group (RBDG) will bring Empirical Quotient to Connecticut, amidst a tour throughout Canada, and to Europe (including stops in Belgium and Serbia). Empirical Quotient utilizes the company’s signature RUBBERBAND method to explore human relationships. It weaves together situations of dependence, rejection, empathy, and acceptance, within a complex display of athleticism and precision. Empirical Quotient  plays at the University of Connecticut’s Jorgensen Center for the Performing Arts (Storrs, CT) on Wednesday, March 23rd at 7:30pm.

Choreographer and performer Victor Quijada founded RBDG as a vehicle to manifest his unique choreographic identity which combines the spontaneity, fearlessness, and risk-taking of street performance with the refinement, and choreographic maturity of the professional ballet or contemporary dancer. In addition to the company’s stage and film creations, co-Artistic Directors, Quijada and Anne Plamondon have developed a training technique: the RUBBERBAND Method.

We spoke with Mr. Quijada this week, about his first impulses to combine street performance and concert dance, the company’s birth and development, as well as what’s coming up as RBDG celebrates its 15th Anniversary.

As someone who had a background in hip-hop and street performance, what initially brought you to classical training? When did these two opposing forms begin to merge?

VQ: I think it’s important to say that I was also very interested in theater. Without an interest in theater, I probably wouldn’t have ended up at Los Angeles County High School for the Arts where I began my formal training.

Throughout high school, the training was still taking a backseat to what I was experiencing at the hip hop parties, backyard parties, and dance circles that I would frequent with friends. But by my late teens, the two opposing forms of hip hop culture, and the high art I was being exposed to at arts high school, were beginning to coalesce. This collision led me to start questioning my practice. What was hip hop? What could it be? And what was the line/was there a line delineating what hip-hop is and what it isn’t? Was my whole practice considered hip-hop because I was raised in hip-hop culture? Where was the limit?

You went on to work as a concert dancer in New York, focusing on mastering the classical form. And it was when you moved to Montreal to work with Les Grand Ballets that you reconnected with hip-hop. What was the push that led you to create RUBBERBANDance Group?

VQ: When I arrived in Montreal, hip hop was in the air. Hip hop culture was pulsating. I picked up where I had left off in Los Angeles. From 9:30 am to 6 pm, I was in the ballet studio, and from 10 pm until 4 am, I was at the hip-hop spots. I wanted to find a space where I could reconcile what had become a splintered identity. RBDG was created as a laboratory to figure this out. It was always very clear to me that it would not be valid to just make solos. It would only be valid if I could take this form, and see the movement in a body that didn’t have my history.

What kinds of dancers were you working with initially?

VQ: When I had been showing pieces in New York, I had been working with a lot of ballet dancers. But when I started Rubberband, I was working with b-boys, and classically trained dancers who had a history outside of the studio- like club dancers, house dancers. I needed to get away from the company experience.

But then, shortly thereafter is when I met Anne Plamondon (RBDG’s co-Artistic Director). And she was a highly trained dancer, and right off the bat, she articulated, “I’m learning the movement. I’m doing it. But not like you are. There’s something that you’re doing differently. You need to figure out what it is that you do and you need to explain it to me. I need that information.”

And that challenge from Anne led me to create the RUBBERBAND Method. A method with its own distinct principles and through-line. The method is a bridge between different styles. A b-boy will not necessarily become a ballerina, but he is given access to that information. It allows different dancers from different backgrounds to be able to communicate with each other.

Your new repertory program Vic’s Mix will revisit pieces that you have created both for RBDG, as well as for other companies. With RBDG celebrating its 15th Anniversary in 2017, what other projects do you have in development?

VQ: The Walking Piece (working title) is a roaming piece that takes over the entire indoor and outdoor terrain of Montreal’s Place des Arts. 2017 is RBDG’s 15th Anniversary, but it is also Montreal’s 375th Anniversary so this piece will be part of the programming in the city for that. It will be presented as a partnership with Place des Arts, and the two dance conservatories in Montreal. So there will be thirty students from these schools performing the piece with the company. We are also partnering with Anagraph- a Montreal-based technology company- to create software that will affect the musical landscape of the piece, catering it to each audience member’s journey. There will also be a film component so there are a lot of different organizations involved in the creation which is very exciting. This piece will be a love letter To Montreal, and to the people of the city.

You can learn more about Victor Quijada and RUBBERBANDance Group here.

Photo of Empirical Quotient © Tim Forbes

* Victor Quijada’s answers have been edited.