Hey, Cool Mom! With Robyn Mineko Williams
A few weeks ago, I saw Hubbard Street Dance perform their spring series at the Auditorium Theater. It was my third time in the audience this year (thanks to my friend Dave’s involvement) and so it came as no surprise when I was, totally and completely, MOVED— chills, tears, the works. This time, it was the artistry of choreographer Robyn Mineko Williams that really got to me. The work felt so new but yet so familiar, like it was reminding me of some glorious thing I’d forgotten. I found myself thinking... “Ah, yes. That.” and then sighing out big shoulder heaps of feelings. You know... the full body response to beauty.
Robyn’s approach to choreography is all about being open to transformation. She listens to her dancers and lets the work develop as a dialogue between her initial inspiration and the connections they make along the way.
Here’s Robyn on one of her pieces from the evening, “Elemental,” which she created in collaboration with Cuban Dance Company, Malpaso:
Gosh, isn’t she brilliant? Also... graceful in every way.
Robyn was so kind to share a little about her life as a choreographer, a mom, and lifelong Prince-fan.
1. Tell us a little about yourself.
I’m a mama, lifelong Chicagoan, dance maker, music lover, baker.
2. Describe your family.
We’re a mini pack of three creative minded beings who like kitchen dance parties, traveling together, cheering on the Blackhawks, eating popcorn at Music Box Theatre, and spending time hanging with family and friends.
3. What do you do most days?
My schedule as a freelance choreographer is not the most regular or consistent. It can consist of taking ballet class, rehearsing with the dancers, meeting with collaborators, developing budgets and project management plans for new works, lectures or events relating to the pieces, or performances in the theatre. Each day is different dependent on what project is happening at the moment, where those projects are in development and where in the country they’re happening. There can be a lot of traveling in order to work with different companies which can be tricky when trying to maintain a “normal” life at home. But, I’m very lucky to be part of a family unit that not only understands my work but encourages me to pursue it.
4. Who/What is inspiring you these days?
I’m always inspired by my collaborators - all of the composers, designers, filmmakers and dancers I’m working with. They’re the ones that keep me moving forward. My son’s karate-like floor work, shadow boxing, dance moves are very inspiring. I’ve also been gravitating towards a lot of music lately that could live in a Twin Peaks-esque world as well as doo woppy stuff and then songs I used to listen to when I was 19 or so.
6. What books are you reading or wanting to read?
My habit of starting a book and only finishing two-thirds of it is a super flawed character trait that I hope to fix one day. Right now I’m in the "2/3 process" with A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan and The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness. I’d really like to revisit Just Kids by Patti Smith again soon which I fell in love with. I finished it in two days.
7. What’s your favorite song for 1) a dance party 2) feeling sad
1). Erotic City by Prince
Mustard midi skirt (I call it The Colonel Mustard)
10. Tell us a little about your process as a choreographer.
I think each piece varies in its initial motivation (being music, a photo, a poem, visual inspiration, etc.) but each work shares the intention of finding a collection of honest, heartfelt moments that are real and relatable. I like to create worlds for the dances to live in - oftentimes there is a mix of reality and dreams in play as well as themes of memory and time/space distortion. Usually, I don’t set out to tell a story but most of the time one presents itself by the end of the process. It’s not important to me that the story I see in the piece is the same as the audience’s story. I encourage audiences to feel freedom and excitement in seeing and experiencing in the way that makes sense to them. I love hearing their takes on what’s happening in the works.
11. How can we see more of your work?
Coming up next… a two week run of Undercover Episodes in Chicago late June/early July (some fun, summertime venues to be announced soon. Go to undercoverepisodes.com or follow us @undercoverepisodes for the low down), a new creation for Groundworks Dance Theatre premiering in Cleveland in July, and later this year, the premiere of a new work, tentatively titled Full Circle/The Claire Project, a piece inspired by founding member of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, my mentor and friend, Claire Bataille.*
Another reason I can’t wait for summer! Thank you so much Robyn. You got me thinking about...
1. Twin Peaks again. Found the soundtrack and could only listen to 3 seconds because I can’t handle scary stuff anymore.
2. Stealing this equally fun and hilarious concept of naming your clothes. I had a big green coat I called “turtle sweat lodge” once, but “Colonel Mustard” feels like an actual friend.
3. Taking listening seriously. Your work is such a beautiful reminder of the power of true collaboration.
P.S. Follow Robyn here.
*Claire Bataille was one of the founding members of Hubbard Street Dance. She passed away in Dec. 2018.