Victor Quijada explores the herd mentality in ’Gravity of Center’

January 18, 2012

Lewis Whittington
EDGE Contributor

Victor Quijada got the nickname "Rubberband" when he was breakdancing as a kid on the streets of Los Angeles. Years later (2002), he used that nickname as a moniker for his dance troupe - RUBBERBANDance Group. Between those dates, he danced with Twyla Tharp, Eliot Feld, and Ballet Tech; and as a soloist with the prestigious Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montreal.

This week he brings his RUBBERBANDance Group to Philadelphia with a new dance theater work "Gravity of Center," which he choreographed.

In the 75-minute ballet, Quijada tackles themes of survival instinct in a dilapidating global economy. It has also been adapted for the screen.

Tightening and transforming the piece

It’s been a busy January for Quijada and his troupe. They’ve just returned from a European tour in Germany, Belgium, Belarus and last week previewed excerpts of "Gravity of Center" at the Ice Storm showcase at APAP in New York.

"Coming back from the European tour, this piece feels really extraordinary," Quijada said, speaking over the weekend by phone from Montreal, where RBDG is based. "We premiered the piece last year in Montreal, but when you take a show on the road, digging into it, the piece transforms. I’m tightening, condensing. We also did some shows at APAP -- we did about 30 minutes -- in New York and the group seems very strong."

The impetus for "Gravity of Center" grew out of a response to the financial crisis of 2008. "The inspiration came when the financial crisis exploded. I started to think about the whole idea of scarcity; of having and not having; how do we act or react in this situation. How we follow -- our behavior as animals, herd mentality, pack mentality, the mob mentality of the stock market. The hierarchy of the alpha male and omega male, for instance, a study on behaviors and archetypes," Quijada explained.

"The piece became about the need of a group and the need to be a fulfilled individual: the conflicts of one person within a group. The audience could follow this as a narrative line, but not have to follow it as a story ballet," he said.

Variety of dance/music styles

The choreographer collaborated with composer Jasper Gahunia, a classically trained musician who has also worked as a premiere DJ on the international hip-hop circuit, on the score. What they agreed on as they worked was that the score would be different -- not just a blend of classical styles and hip-hop beats. Their creative process proved intuitive. "We started by sampling a cello note, or a harpsichord line, just these instrumental ideas. From that we built a composition."

Quijada uses a variety of dance and musical styles: he developed and synthesized hip-hop acrobatics, utilizes a capoeira (martial arts) lexicon in conjunction with contemporary classical dance. "Gravity of Center" also taps into primal, sensorial movement.

The artistic director said that he knew his style was becoming theatrically popular, but he didn’t anticipate that it would be as influential as it has become in contemporary ballet.

"I knew that what was happening in the clubs that I grew up in was so exciting and risky, the spatial structures, anti gravitational structures - what the body can do - was untapped in concert dance. I didn’t expect hip-hop, as a category of dance, B-boying funk style, urban dance umbrella - I didn’t expect how big it would become. I’ve tried to build a solid bridge between these styles and contemporary ballet."

RUBBERBANDance Group performs Center of Gravity from January 19 - 21, 2012 at the Zellerbach Theatre, Annenberg Center, Philadelphia, PA. For more information, visit the Annenberg Center website.