Interview: Adrienne Lipson, Craig Black, Kevin Shannon
Edited by: 
Alicia Samson

Q: What has been your professional dance journey, and how did you come to dance with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago?

Craig: I grew up dancing on a dance team in high school, and was then accepted to The Juilliard School where I graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance. After that, I was hired to work with Aspen Santa Fe Ballet and danced there for six years. There, I got to work with lots of up and coming choreographers like Alejandro Cerrudo. During that time, I also met Kevin and we started dating long distance. We had been talking about what our next move was, whether he would come to Aspen, I would go to Chicago, or we would both try and go somewhere else. We eventually decided that I would move to Chicago and audition for Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. I got the job three years ago.

Kevin: My dance training began in Baltimore. I was encouraged to dance by my aunt. She had been a dancer as a young child but her parents were poor and she couldn't continue lessons. So, when she found out I loved to dance, she encouraged me to be a dancer. I had also seen movies and shows with dancers, like Gregory Hines, who became my inspiration. From there, I ended up auditing for the Baltimore School of the Arts high school. I was lucky because it was a free school. From there, I went to The Julliard School for four years. There, I learned from Alexandra Wells and had a great experience. James Vincent, who was the former director from Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, saw me in a performance and spoke to me about joining the company. I said I would love to join Hubbard, but I needed time. I worked as a freelancer in New York City for six months, working with all different artists. Then, I auditioned for Hubbard in Philadelphia. I was able to get a job and have been here since 2007.

Adrienne: I started dancing when I was 6. I am from London, Ontario in Canada and went to a studio that was anti-competition dance. I started doing modern, ballet, and a little bit of jazz with a unique focus on artistic qualities. Not the tricks, just appreciating dance as an art form. I did a lot of other things as well. I played piano and got into acting. I didn't take dance seriously until high school. From there, I auditioned for Ryerson University and I got in. I went to Ryerson and got my Bachelor of Fine Arts. I never imagined dancing in a company like Hubbard Street until I went to Jacob's Pillow summer program. There I met Lissa Smith, who just finished her apprenticeship with Hubbard Street II. I was so overwhelmed. I met so many new dancers from the United States and Lissa encouraged me to audition for the Hubbard Street Summer Intensive. That was the summer after I graduated college, and on the third day the director of the second company, Terry, said they were interested in me. So, I spent the whole summer sort of auditing for the second company. I was offered an apprenticeship and did two years in the second company before joining the main company. I have been here for four years.

Q: Do you have any mentors or important people in your life that have shaped the way you dance and or think about dance?

Craig: There are so many. The studio owner, Ashley Dean, helped fuel my love for dance and has always supported me by allowing me to teach when I go home, which is wonderful. I am inspired by so many faculty at Julliard. Alexandra Wells is a continuous inspiration. She is so intelligent and really pushed our artform forward. She has many programs and has been at Hubbard Street serving as Director of Artists Training. She also created Hubbard Street Pro out of thin air. Larry Rhodes was the director of the dance division at Julliard. He recently passed away, but his time there was so important. It was amazing for me to see how he changed the program and helped it grow. My first two directors at Santa Fe Ballet, Tom Mossbrucker and Jean-Philippe Malaty, have been huge inspirations to me. I feel, in a way, that they have taken me under their wing. I got to experience choreography by world class choreographers and got to dance in this amazing company. A huge reason why I wanted to come to Hubbard was all of the dancers here. I was in awe of them all. I was like a child watching a prima ballerina, I wanted to dance like them and dance with them.

Kevin: I have different inspirational influences from different times. There were a few people at the beginning of my training that guided me in how I want to be an artist. Lester Homes, who ran a studio in Maryland where I started. He was very influential in the sense that it wasn't a competition studio. It was more about the art form. Clean, clear artistic training and supporting that within the community. These were also things that my aunt instilled in me. Gorgine Berody, my aunt, was also influential in the beginning of my career. Lester got a group of male dancers together. And that was important as a young boy, to have other young boys to work with. Daniel Madoff, who danced with Cunningham, was one of the dancers that I used to dance with. Those are two people at the beginning, and my aunt was very influential, who instilled this passion and this fire to always continue forward. My aunt had Lou Gehrig's disease, and even though this illness took her life, in the end she was super positive and built a foundation to help others with this disease. Her philosophy in life was, you take care of those you love and the artists, and you don't take advantage of people. That is how I try to go through my career as a dancer. You can have the passion, but never take advantage of others. Another person that influenced me was Linda-Denise Fisher-Harrell. She encouraged me to continue dancing. As an artist, she was super influential and I will never forget her passion and drive. I think she was also very young at the time. Her teacher was Stephanie Powell, who was also a teacher for Kyle Abraham. There was this team of incredible teachers at the time at the Baltimore School for the Arts. At Julliard, Alexandra Wells has been a continued mentor of mine since I was 18 years old. I was a part of Springboard in its earlier years. To have that professional experience and to have her influence on what it means to be a dancer was very important. She taught me how to put your life into this career, and how to think about technique and training. She has such a specific way of teaching that and she continues to be a huge influence on my life. Many others outside of dance, like my great friends who work at the Art Institute, expose me to other art forms outside of dance. Also, the dancers at Hubbard. Just watching them and the inspirations they have. That is one of the most important things.

Adrienne: The first person I would say is my first dance teacher at my studio in Canada, Jennifer Swan. She is an amazing and intense person. She would have all of us in our class crying, bonding, and talking about the arts and integrity. I remember always thinking how she made dance not just this extra curricular activity, but this place where we were learning how to be better people. Then, I would say a man named Kenny Pearl. He was my modern teacher in college but was also such a mentor, and a person who really supports the community. He is also one of the few people I know from my community in Canada, who dances in the United States. He danced for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater for a while. Once I moved to Chicago, it was nice having him as a friend. He was someone with whom I could share what I was going through, who understood where I was coming from. I guess all of the people that have been friends and support me. Terry Marling, who hired me to Hubbard Street II (HSII) as an apprentice. You often see people left to the side, but he was really great about helping me integrate myself into the Hubbard Street world. Working on my technique and building my confidence. I think in a similar way, Robin Mineko Williams. More than anything, I am inspired by and see her as a role model. I see myself in her, in a way, and feel very connected to her. She is one of the first people I worked with outside of Hubbard. The most learning I have had has been from the dancers I've been next to in the studio. From being an apprentice and learning so much from other dancers, it was about just watching them for me.

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?

Craig: I do believe dance is a definite platform for social justice. Really, what we are doing is telling a story and communicating through our bodies. That is almost the same as talking. So, I believe that if someone has an opinion they want to state, dance is definitely a platform to be used. With the situation now, dances for film are a great way to show your point of view.

Adrienne: Sometimes I think the power dance can have in this way may not be as obvious as a TED talk, but I feel like dance can affect people in a way they may not even realize. I feel like really good dance and visceral experiences, you take them into your body and it can affect you for a long time. It may not even be conscious, but the transformation it can have on audience members, even the audience having that process can teach you how to treat people. It can be very literal or abstract. Also, as our world becomes more socially conscious, even if a choreographer doesn't use their work in a social justice way, I think everything is political. The choice to not have a message is saying something in itself. You as a viewer could see a lack of awareness or choice to have a message. Anyone who has a platform has a responsibility to represent their impact.

Kevin: I think that dance has a lot of work to do in the sense of always having a social justice aspect of the work. In the history of dance, there have been artists that push social justice within their work but I would not say that is always the voice of every choreographer. I think that if you look at the history of ballet, it is a little different than modern. Ballet came from a wealthy world, how it originated in the courts of France, and you see how modern is a reaction to that. If you look at early modern dance, it was a political statement saying “we will not be part of this elite ballet world.” Now, I think the contemporary dancers have a lot to do to go forward with that. The presenters in our community are not always open to political works. Artists struggle with that. So, a lot of artists that have that voice are not always shown or presented, and I think our community needs to wake up to that. As a whole world, we have a long way to go. Dance is a way to speak out and make change. Each artist is trying to navigate their way in doing that, I hope. I mean, it is also about making art accessible. Not just having a show to perform for people who see dance normally, but it is also about how we make it accessible to those that don't have the opportunity. I think dance has a great ability to do that because you don't need to be able to speak. You have a physical language that you can share and take with you wherever you go. You can take your body anywhere. Especially with the times that we are in now, it can be a platform. But it really is just changing how we think about it and how our community is thinking about it.

Q: What inspires you and drives you forward as an artist and a person?

Adrienne: Sometimes, I am so driven by the need to be better and my self criticism. I find that on one hand, it’s a struggle. And on another, that the drive is a fire that burns to better myself or dive deeper and see how far I can go in the art form. With the pandemic, being at home, and not knowing what the future holds, I think about why we do this work. And I think it is making this a harder question at the moment which is sad. I wish I had a more overarching, grand, beautiful thing to say, but I do question why we dance. It is also inspiring to take a class online with 700 people. Sometimes, I feel like all we do is the show and I think, “what are we even here for when it is cancelled?” Having everything stop has reminded me that I am a member of this community, and taking other people's classes has made me think less about myself and more about supporting other artists. That part has been really nice despite the quarantine.

Craig: I feel lucky to have had the opportunities that I have had, and people have really helped me along the way. So, I want to bring and give help to those who I can. I love teaching in general, and I want to give resources to the youth that will be dancing in the coming generations. I want to be a resource to them and to continuously challenge and grow our artform. I want to keep dance alive. I want to keep dance present so it is not forgotten, especially in contemporary dance. A lot of contemporary dance companies have a hard time with funding. Ballet companies, funding wise, have more money. For me, I want to help the younger generation have a voice.

Kevin: It is really important for me that artists develop a voice, even within a repertory company like Hubbard Street. It is important to keep sharing through our community. It is something that is part of what we do, yet as a dancer our voices are sometimes not heard. We are so trained to do what we are told to do and do it a specific way. It’s been done this way for so long and it's just what we do. It inspires me to see that change, even to see it in Hubbard. I’ve always questioned throughout my whole career, “why am I doing this?” What we do is so hard. I'm not making money from it, really. And the biggest reason I do it is that I believe in my voice and the voices of others. And through teaching, I ask my students how they want to make change as a dancer and as a person. I want to inspire people to speak up and validate their voice. As a professional dancer, I have the power to inspire others and I can validate the voice of younger artists. I wouldn't be doing this if I couldn't inspire, and it gets me in trouble sometimes. When you speak up, sometimes people look down on you. That is why I am still a part of this, and I hope change continues in the contemporary world. I hope I can be an influence to other artists. I am so inspired by the artists, their voices, and making sure that they own up to their voices. Taking class online has been inspiring during this time. Sometimes, I feel like our company becomes isolated from the rest of the community. We are so focused on what we are doing, we forget about all of the other things that are out there. We are so lucky to have these internet classes that have helped me connect to a community beyond Hubbard Street.

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

Adrienne: We are very lucky. At the moment, we are being supported by Hubbard and are still getting paid. The first week we were in quarantine, we were on our own. But now we take online company class. Figuring out what working from home looks like for a dancer is a process, but we are some of the luckier people. Before this happened, I already felt that society spent too much time on their phones. Now that we have to move online, it is okay for the time being, but this is not the way I want to live my life. To think that this could be the reality for a while and how it changes the landscape of dance, makes me question how we want to live. Also, it has made me think about home and being locked into one place. By the nature of what we do, we do have connections all over the world. My boyfriend is in Spain and I was in a position where I was taking travel for granted. That was a very privileged place to come from, thinking you can just hop on a plane. Will there be the same kind of travel? Will people go overseas as much? If you have to be in one spot, where do you spend it? What do you do with family everywhere? How do you commit to one place when we haven't had to before?

We were all on a European tour with Hubbard Street. After coming back we were working on the Deca Dance program. We got up until tech at the theater and we were going to perform that night and everything was cancelled. We had to cancel the rest of the touring season. David McDermott closed the Lou Conte Dance Studio a few days ago and it has been really hard for all of us.

We were touring in Germany during the cancellations. We did performances there and were supposed to goto Italy. By that point when we were ready to perform on a Sunday we were supposed to go to this little city in Italy and the whole city was out on lock down. So we all met up in Moulin together. We were seeing if we could do the last two cities in Italy but as things got worse by the hour, Abby (Company Manager) and Glen (Artistic Director) decided it was best for us to go home. We got on a flight two days later and we left.

Kevin: We are lucky we can dance together, the three of us here. And that we have the space to participate in classes online. We have been trying to take class throughout the week. I took my first Graham class in a very long time. I have been taking this time to connect to all of these things that were in my life before Hubbard. That has been interesting to navigate. It has been very hard, the closing of Lou Conte studios. We are all together as a community, but this will be very hard on all these artists that are freelancers. All the Broadway people, everyone all over the world, like FLOCK, all the works are cancelled. As artists, we start to think, “how can we support these people?” And “is what we do sustainable?” We are lucky to get paid, but our contracts end in June and we don't know when we will come back to doing what we do. That is very scary. And then you see Lou Conte disappear. A lot of things that were not financially successful but were so important to the community are starting to go away, and that is very sad. Hubbard Street is considered a large institution in Chicago, but in the eyes of arts institutions it doesn't have the support and it makes me nervous. It is interesting. This can also be a way to look at our art and figure our new ways to create. We have friends who may not survive as small restaurant owners. It is this great unknown. I have been thinking about how, virtually, it is not fair for everyone. We live in a very unequal society. Some people can do what we do in our company, taking class online at home, but not everyone has the technological capacity or space to move. That is a problem for me. We have to be aware that we can't have the same expectations for everyone. As innovative as we are trying to be within dance, it is a huge undertaking. This is great for social influencers. This is awesome for them because they can connect, but there are many that don't have that opportunity. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Craig: I agree with Kevin in the fact that the three of us are lucky we came together. For me, it was necessary. Part of the best thing about what we do is that we get to work in the same space with these amazing people. The fact you are with your community and your people. It has been a challenge for me to not be in the studio. I feel stuck right now. But I agree with Kevin that this is a time for us to take a step back and see what we can do. Continue to make art and do all the things that interest and inspire us. It could be a really great thing. This could be what helps us when things do get back to normal, to jump start and do things differently. It is scary and it is affecting so many people. So many are affected by the virus. People are dying and others are in critical condition. But it also affects everyone else in so many ways. Many of us artists, arts organizations, and small businesses are going to change drastically. It is affecting everyone.

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.)

Kevin: I can imagine the dance world where people who didn't have a voice before, are able to have a voice in our community. I hope this will bring an opportunity to reach those on a bigger level, those who believe in diversity. I hope that after this, people come out and say “look how unequal our world is” and maybe go make a dance about how that is. Now that there is a big virtual platform that everyone all over the world has, we can use that platform to say those things, speak through dance, and make change. I think it is all those things, a lot of things need to change. Like presenters presenting political work and people going to see that work. That is what I want to see, that people come together. Not in a selfish way, but as a community and say, “we need to make changes and what has been happening in the dance world is not good enough.” I would also say diversity. The leaders for each company are the people making things happen. They have the vision and I want more diversity. I want those people to be women, to be leaders, to be different than just white men. I want to have diversity and have the leaders know the platform that they have and how they can change and affect our world and dance globally.

Adrienne: I would like to see the dance world be easily accessible and able to touch as many people as sports. Maybe this will help having so much online.

Craig: It has been great to have access to pieces online that you’ve never seen before and to sit in your home and watch these works. I wish these works would be more accessible. Not everyone can afford to go to a theater.

Transcription courtesy of