Interview: Abdiel Figueroa Reyes
Edited by: 
Johanna Kepler

Q: How did you begin dancing?

I was born and raised in Puerto Rico. I come from an artistic family - my mom and aunt were ballerinas in Puerto Rico. I grew up around it. My dad tried to get me into sports and it didn't work. Eventually my mom got me into dance and opened her own dance studio in our hometown in Puerto Rico. I trained there until 2009. My aunt and uncle, who were also dancers, got hired for Cirque du Soleil in Las Vegas, Nevada and my family followed them. We knew there were more dance opportunities in the U.S. Once I got to Vegas I trained in the competition world and went to a performing arts school, Los Vegas Academy of the Arts. After I graduated I danced with a local dance company. In 2017 I went to Axis Connect, which was a new summer intensive, where I had the privilege to meet Alexandra Wells. From there I learned about HS Pro [Hubbard Street Professional Program] and I joined at the very last minute. I trained with HS Pro for a year and after my first year in the program I did a sort of double major spending half of my time in HS Pro and half as a company apprentice. I was fortunate enough a little over a year ago to become a full time company member which was mind blowing to me.

Q: What other interests and passions do you have outside of dance? Or what is something that inspires you to do your craft?

I am a fan of nature. I like to be outside and connect to nature. I love astrology. I am an extroverted person so being isolated has been a challenge. Luckily I do have two great roommates. Something that inspires me to grow as an artist has been the spaces I am in. I am young and new to the dance world and over the past couple of years I have been in spaces that have been comfortable for me and I have had a lot of support. I also like to see myself in the studio as a person, not just a dancer or an artist. Our careers and processes and the way we establish the energy in our room is through our interactions. We are able to create a sensitive space with each other but right now that is troubling for us because we just can't have that in quarantine. Also just being empathetic and kind and having humility towards what you do.

Q: What have been some challenges in your pre professional and professional career?

I would say to begin with, the big transition I had from leaving home and beginning my career on my own. I was fortunate to be in a program that was very nurturing and it was a space that was personal and intimate and there was a lot of trust in that space. Many artists may not have that and for me it was very encouraging and I got to find my own voice in my career and what influences me and how I give back. When you start to build a career and future on your own just the independence of it all. Also with that I haven't been in places that have been very diverse and I also have been in spaces it has been diverse. And I see more of that now - a push for diversity and change and how we can bend those structures we have of previous generations. I think that was a challenge for me being an immigrant in this career, being of color. You can encounter different relationships and experiences that are not all positive or encouraging. I think I found that when I really got involved in my professional career.

Q: Do you believe dance can be a platform for social justice topics? If so, how? and/or Have you used your art form to make a difference?

Yes, absolutely. I think dance has been. As I have been more in my professional career I have been around artists who have been in their careers for so long and I can be a sponge and learn about how dance is influential and how we strive to reach audiences. For example, when I was in my time at Hubbard I did processes (to create a dance piece) with Peter Chu, Rena Butler, and Kyle Abraham and a lot of their topics are about social justice. Peter’s was about broken systems and breaking those cycles. Rena and Kyle talk about diversity and community in their work as well. With Kyle, the process was very deep and the piece was heavy. He was aiming to talk about the African American culture in the states and assimilation and I related to that as an immigrant. Rena also had a process where we used different languages and musics. We all jumped offstage at the end and it was about code switching and how we break the normative guidelines we have. Kyle’s process was really eye opening for me, seeing the truth in it was powerful. I think Rena’s was a clear message to the audience as well. I think dance itself is a very diverse community on its own and I think we have the flexibility and the sensibility to play with that. Dance is something everyone knows and it is a language that is easy to use to approach social justice issues.

Q: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected you as a performing artist?

Personally, I have been doing better since it started. It was something that chased me and the company down. We were in Italy and had to cancel the tour and leave Europe. It was a very heavy thing at first and we were in the middle of performing “Decadance.” I remember thinking there is the possibility all the shows would be cancelled. We were pushing to do the show and the day of the show we were told it was cancelled. It was such a heartbreaking thing. I think in general artists know the work we put into the show is blood sweat and tears but it is so rewarding when we can show the work to the people and that was taken away. The first couple of days were not easy for me and I think that is something we all were experiencing. The days started to merge and everything felt like deja vu. I think slowly I have been getting used to it and a lot of us are keeping busy or still have a lot of friends and colleagues who say this can be a time to focus on yourself or gain new perspective. I just know we are all in the same place but we are all coming together even as we are apart.

I have been keeping up with my family since Italy because they knew I was abroad and worried about my safety. Once it started to get to the U.S. I was in touch with my mom a lot about what would happen and she was worried and we didn't know the scale it would be. My family when it comes to things like this they are quick to act so my family was taking it very seriously from the start. Once it started to affect the east coast and Chicago had to enforce social distance rules I think states like Nevada were initiating a lock down and that was when we were just starting to social distance. I think the quarantine restricted me from going back home. I looked to see if it would get better and I didnt so I didn't take the chance to go home. I know that my family was prepared even before I was.

Q: What other interests have you delved deeper into during this time? What types of things have you been doing during quarantine?

I have been drawing, journaling, and reading. We have been taking company class a few days of the week and a few have been open to the public. I have taken Gaga classes. My roommate told me about Dance Church that is an aerobic dance class. In the class you are dancing and moving a lot and we have done it for cardio and it is really funny to liven up the energy when it feels so closed off. I have been improving a lot. I think it is a good time to get more indepth in ourselves. For dancers we now have a comfortable and safe place to improv and we now have this safe space to get in deeper touch with ourselves. Just recording ourselves to see how we move and gain more trust within yourself. A lot of watching TV as well. I have watched Westworld and Breaking Bad. I have also been cooking a lot and spending time with my roommates who are also dancers. Aso going on walks when it is nice outside and having a lot of virtual talks, too.

Q: What social changes and responsibilities have you seen people making during the pandemic? Do you think the pandemic will make us a more socially conscious society?

I have been surprised by the serious take on social distancing. There are people who are not doing that but it has been surprising to see most people are. Yesterday I looked at the weather in Chicago and the air quality was so good and it's never like that. It mesmerizes me that there is such a huge change even in a few weeks. I think there has been responsibility in taking this seriously even though the US did not react quickly.

With the dance community I have seen a lot of us are very supportive. Something that sparked right in the beginning, I think our community and our leaders were quick to react. For example, what you are doing with the interviews and aiding people to have all these resources. I think it is fascinating how quick to respond the people were and how teachers, dancers, and choreographers have been supporting each other and a huge example of that is the online classes. Hubbard has been doing that. Companies have also been sharing repertory and organizations like ours feel like we can still give something and be present in our community. The aspect of not performing has been such a big impact and we have seen a lot of groups being impacted but even then people figure out how to aid themselves and their community and I think that is definitely showing. I think this is a fragile situation for us and who knows how long companies and organizations will take to heal from this.

Q: Using the idea of “worldmaking” how do you imagine the performing arts world after the pandemic? (Worldmaking: How you can re-imagine the world in your own terms, the way you want it to be. Using this tool one can construct new worlds and write themselves into narratives that have excluded them and systems that have disabled them.)

I want to see the government fund the arts and have a larger support for the arts in general. Our organization has been going through struggles and I think we have been doing a good job of figuring it out. I think that this has been eye opening. I would like to see more support from people who are able to support our arts. I will say that sometimes it scares me that our careers can be disrupted by the business aspect and financial aspect of things. That affects us a lot because we are essentially the faces of our career and all these great organizations. I think when there is a lack of resources it is interesting to see how we take the responsibility to push forward and heal ourselves when the larger parts of our organizations are disrupted. It is interesting because we can say so much and we have so much passion if you ask a dancer what they want to do, I just say it is in my DNA and my essence but it is also amazing to give it back. I like learning and growing with dance and being with people who enjoy being vulnerable. Sometimes it's hard to be sensitive as an artist when the essence of our foundation is not strong and we can only do so much. There are larger and louder voices that can help us. I think transparency also helps a lot not just within organizations but ourselves to the general public. That way we can not just be virtuosic and be cinematic but just connect on a human level.

Transcription courtesy of