When Alejandro Cerrudo leads rehearsals at Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s West Loop studios, there’s an almost primal language between the choreographer and his dancers. Cerrudo offers few spoken instructions, favoring instead breathy murmurs, quiet grunts, and feathery movements. It all translates to directions for the eight dancers featured in his new work, Still in Motion, which premieres on June 11 as the centerpiece of Hubbard Street’s Summer Series, this year celebrating Cerrudo’s decadelong relationship with the company.
At 34, Cerrudo has performed in more than 30 pieces with Hubbard Street and created another 13. He’s widely considered one of the city’s most in-demand choreographers, known for his supple, affecting movements that are deceptively muscular. “He’s always been eclectic, with an innate ability to morph from one piece to another,” says Hubbard Street’s artistic director, Glenn Edgerton. “I credit that to his openness.”
Ginger Farley, the executive director of the prominent arts organization Chicago Dancemakers Forum, says: “Alejandro represents a beautiful part of Chicago’s contemporary dance landscape. He has brought focus and awareness to the city, which is enormously powerful.”
The Spanish-born Cerrudo trained at the noted Real Conservatorio Professional de Danza in Madrid, an unusual choice in a country where most young men veer toward futbol rather than footwork. But to him, the mechanics aren’t dissimilar. “It’s like any sport,” says Cerrudo, whose mustache and goatee resemble those of some of his homeland’s most famous romantic poets. “When you get to know the rules and the players and the history of the game, it’s easier.”
When Cerrudo joined Hubbard Street in 2005, it was his first professional dance job in the United States. A year later, he created his first work for the company, titled Lickety Split. In 2009, Edgerton tapped him to be the company’s first resident choreographer. “There’s a human quality to his work,” Edgerton says. “There’s something sensual, even. You can feel the sensitivity built into the movement.”
Though the young choreographer created ten new dances early in residency, it was 2012’s One Thousand Pieces, an abstract homage to the artist Marc Chagall, that cemented his reputation as a formidable talent. The work featured a series of duets, a form that Cerrudo often explores. “I really like the possibilities that come with two dancers onstage,” he says. “That is one of my strengths.” There’s no better example of Cerrudo’s passion for pairs than his partnership with Hubbard Street dancer Ana Lopez, who serves as his muse.
She’s featured in his new work (Cerrudo rarely dances in his own creations) and is often the focal point at busy rehearsals. In the studio, Cerrudo repeats the word “do-si-do,” instructing the small ensemble to circle around one another in a fluid series of angular arm movements and gliding steps. “My choreography is very organic,” says Cerrudo. “When the dancers are enjoying the movement, they create that connection themselves.”
The connections may be organic, but Cerrudo famously tweaks them up until opening night. That’s why he’s reluctant to give many details about the new piece. It’s also the reason most of his dances don’t have titles until the programs are sent to the printer.
However, the rehearsals make clear that in contrast to his busier works, two of which will also be featured in the June performance, Cerrudo’s latest is a lesson in restraint. The stage is bare, and the soundtrack is a pastiche of minimal, experimental music. “The idea is purity and simplicity,” Cerrudo says. “The other pieces have more character-driven costumes and choreography.”
Though Cerrudo intends to scale back on dancing this year, he has no plans to slow. He’s got two new commissions in progress and two years left on his Hubbard Street contract. “When I started choreographing, I wanted to learn how to be on the other side of the room,” says Cerrudo. “But it’s been a process. I’m still learning.”
GO The Summer Series runs June 11 to 14 at the Harris Theater. $25–$99. hubbardstreetdance.com