It’s the magic of the unknown that inspires artists of the '10x10 Crossbody Collaborations' to connect and create

In two separate Zoom calls I briefly got to know two pairs of artists as part of a new and ongoing series by Hubbard Street Dance Chicago (HSDC) and Chicago Dancemakers Forum (CDF). My conversations with Jumaane Taylor (a 2017 CDF Lab Artist) and Adam McGaw (HSDC company member since 2019), and Anjal Chande (2019 CDF Lab Artist) and Craig Black (HSDC company member since 2017) left me feeling full—with a hopeful glimmer for the future of dance during year two of the pandemic and for the ability of what often feel like isolated groups of the dance community to work together.

Following the close of the first group of collaborative explorations among five pairs of artists, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and Chicago Dancemakers Forum initiate the second cohort of the “10x10 Crossbody Collaborations” on Feb 8.  Five company members of Hubbard Street are paired with five former CDF awardees to engage in a six-week process meant to further community, experimentation and collaborative artmaking between the two organizations. The project provides open-ended support for anything the artists need creatively right now. That can be time to create movement together, have sincere discussions, create visuals or media related to specific inquiries—or engage in any other medium for connection among the artists. At the root of these six weeks is a low-risk artistic process, where pairs are encouraged to experiment, fail artistically and try something new, without pressure from an audience or demand for a performance or product.

The second group of pairings are: Anjal Chande and Craig Black; Jumaane Taylor and Adam McGaw; Catherine Sullivan and Jacqueline Burnett; Jenn Freeman aka Po’Chop and Elliot Hammans; and Vershawn Sanders-Ward and Andrew Murdock. Meida McNeal and Tara Aisha Willis act as guides or resonators to both cohorts of artists. 

Artists were paired together through a virtual speed-dating process where they answered a Mad Libs style questionnaire with quirky questions like “If you were a basketball player, what would your walk-out music be?” before having 10-minute breakout sessions with each other and submitting their top pairing choices to the leadership team who made the final decisions. Many of the artists—including McGaw, Taylor, Black and Chande—had never met before the speed dating process.

Each pair has a different approach to the start of the process and what they anticipate to discover by the end. Black, a contemporary dancer who got his start dancing in the competition world growing up, and Chande, an experimental artist with a philosophical and improvisational approach to movement based in bharatanatyam, have begun with conversation around their dance roots and the effects on colonialism on their artistic practices today. They hope this will lead them into a movement practice, potentially using writing and other mediums of expression as well.

McGaw shared music with Taylor that sparked a stream of initial brainstorming, potentially leading to the first nuggets of movement. With improvisation playing a significant role in McGaw’s contemporary dance practice and Taylor’s tap dance practice, the two have floated the idea of a score of improvised piano as a background for both improvised and choreographed movement between the two artists. The bounds to which this pair will experiment seems to be endless.

“I want to see how our two worlds can blend and mix and coexist and how we can feed off each other. I may even want to try putting on my old tap shoes and see what comes of that. Maybe I want to get Jumaane to take his tap shoes off and put on some socks and slide around on the floor with me,” said McGaw. “I really just want to see what the possibilities are for what maybe seem like two genres of dance that are far apart. I think they’re a lot closer than we probably realize, and I want to see where those connections exist.”

Despite the eager brainstorming among these pairs—before their session has even begun—an emphasis remains on the autonomy the artists have to change their course of exploration and make creative decisions on the spot as they get deeper into the process. In the name of providing a safe environment for experimentation and creative failure, the 10x10 project is seemingly private. The six-week period of process (concluding March 19) will formally end with an invitation-only Circle Share in April where artists will discuss their experiences to an intimate Zoom audience of close friends and some leaders of art institutions and presenting organizations. Artists are encouraged to share pieces of their process to social media, specifically Instagram, with the hashtags #10x10 and #CrossbodyCollaborations. However, with the project designed to allow the artists to have full control over their experience, it is unclear how much of this process will actually be documented publicly. There’s no schedule or outline for when pairs will hold public discussions or post pieces of their process to social media. And understandably so, the artists I spoke with are hesitant to commit to any promise of social media posting while there’s still so much unknown about what they will uncover over the next six weeks.

“You know when you have a recipe, you have a really good feeling that it’s going to taste good and you can tell that you’re going to want to share it with people? We don’t know what’s going to happen over the next few weeks, but I have a feeling that if we begin our process in a way where pressure is low and we aren’t artificially trying to post to social media, we’ll discover how we want to engage with each other. The fruit of that may be something that we do want to share intentionally to the public,” Chande said.

I’m left from my conversations with Chande, Black, Taylor and McGaw feeling a surge of inspiration. How wonderful to be surrounded by such positivity and zest for human connection, artistic friendship and creative exploration—heightened by the unique support that these artists are receiving from Chicago Dancemakers Forum and Hubbard Street. But what does all of this matter to the average onlookers or artists who don’t have the opportunity to step inside this process with the 10x10 cohort?

For HSDC artistic liaison Jonathan Alsberry, as a true process-driven experience, the appeal of 10x10 isn’t in the instant gratification of the initial six-week period, but looking a year or so from now at future works to come.

“It’s funny, in the beginning we did have very detailed hopes that artists would post on Instagram or Instagram Live or IGTV. We even talked about collecting all of the materials in a Dropbox or a drive that created some sort of webpage that was a scrapbook for all the things that were going on during the process. It quickly became obvious that this is a longer process, that the importance of the 10x10 project is the longevity, ” said Alsberry. “My hope for the future of this is to see a collaboration that ultimately transforms the field in some way by elevating a brand new way of working or brand new idiom or medium.”

Alsberry also noted how “10x10 Crossbody Collaborations” is transforming Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, a contemporary repertory company, from the inside out. Hubbard Street has dabbled in experimenting with various types of choreography and mediums of presentation in the past few years, and it’s not the first time that members of the company have stepped into the larger community to engage in an experimental choreographic process. However, Black notes the 10x10 project as a significant shift in mentality among the company members: breaking the cycle of rehearse, perform, repeat, where he felt dancers were so busy that they held themselves back from connecting with the greater dance community. Already in his preliminary chats with Chande, Black feels a kinship in the partnership that is unlikely to have happened if the leadership at CDF and HSDC hadn’t brought them together.

For those of you still wanting a glimpse of what’s to come over the next six weeks, there seems to be a desire to create something, even a work-in-progress, from some of the artists. Taylor and McGaw both expressed interest in creating some type of movement product over their time together, with the possibility of it blooming into a larger project.

“I’m trying to come with a product. I’m sorry, but it’s dramatic in the tap world. We can talk about the process all day, but we need the inspiration of an artistic product to keep us all going, to keep us moving forward,” said Taylor. “We have the opportunity to work with a community of people supporting us where big presenters and people with money are able to witness what we’re working on. I want to be a proper representation of the tappers and the tap dance community and the folks who also believe in that practice and presentation.”

And for Chande, the value of the 10x10 collaborations is the example it can provide to Chicago artists and audiences to step outside their comfort zones when looking for collaborators or when buying tickets to a performance. 

“There's not just one community, there are many dance communities in Chicago and to have friends in different pockets and to have friendships with other artists is really important,” said Chande. “We can always benefit from reminders to engage with people who we wouldn’t automatically engage with. Why do I imagine my dance career in a certain way? Why do I assume that there will be certain kinds of collaborations that I will always undertake? For me the 10x10 project is already stretching my imagination, and I think the wider dance community can benefit from thinking outside of the box of who are the natural pairs or collaborators. And I think enough cannot be said about process, about devoting time to that murky territory.”

Follow the artists individually on social media, along with #CrossbodyCollaborations, for the best chance of staying updated on the 10 artists involved in the spring 10x10 project—and what may come of their collaborations in the future.