From the Choreographer: Rena Butler

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November 14, 2018

From the Choreographer: Rena Butler's III. Third

Hubbard Street Choreographic Fellow, Rena Butler, takes us inside her choreograph process for not only her world premiere for danc(e)volve next month, but also for two other pieces that she is currently creating to form a three-part series about identity. We sat down with Rena to hear more about her choreographic process and what these works mean to her.

Tell us the concept behind III.Third?

III. Third is the final piece of a three-work series I'm creating that explores themes of identity through gender and sexuality choreographed for Loyola University, race choreographed for SUNY Purchase Conservatory of Dance, and culture/customs choreographed here at Hubbard Street Dance Chicago.Amidst all of the turmoil that we're bombarded with through news sources, and social media you begin to question yourself in relation to what’s happening around you; politically, culturally, and personally. I wanted to create an opportunity for myself and my dancers to explore what that is, explore our identities in the mix of it all.


Hubbard Street dancers in rehearsal for Rena Butler's III. Third. Photo by Henry Trinh.

Tell us about the other two works in this three part episodic and how they relate to III.Third?

Self and relativity is the common thread for all three parts of this episodic.

I. First is centered around gender and sexuality. I wanted to highlight the fact that I am in this state of “boldness.” I’m starting to let a lot of things that made me feel insecure go and I wanted to impart that on the students of Loyola and give them the opportunity to explore what that means to them.

II. Second for SUNY Purchase is centered around race. Purchase is great because it is such a diverse program, and I knew the idea of race wouldn’t be taboo there. We are really pushing the boundaries with that piece, asking how we can put people of different races and genders in front of people and change the narrative of what is “normal.”

Tell us about the music for III. Third and the inspiration behind that?

The name for the playlist for this piece would be “Rena’s Survival Guide.” The piece starts with Frank Ocean’s “Solo (Reprise)” featuring Andre 3000 and it’s just Andre 3000 in a stream of consciousness rap based on his position in the world and I felt like it was the perfect piece of music to begin with. Then we move into Lil Wayne’s “Uproar,” which has a sense of abandonment. It’s also a popular song right now and one of the big concepts I’m working with is how social media has a role in the way that we all relate to the world and what we see because we are bombarded with all of it all the time. Lil Wayne has had a bunch of fans send in videos of themselves dancing in their own style to the song and I thought why not take that challenge on.

Then we move to Daryl Joseph’s sound, a composer that I have been working with. The sound is just as important as the music to me and I wanted to bring Daryl’s full artistic self and identity to it. He is also a black artist and I was looking for an urban, R&B, hip-hop, instrumental kind of thing but still very abstracted and fragmented. I gave him this idea of a violent maelstrom. I told him I wanted the image of a boat leaving the harbor but already you know that there’s going to be this huge storm ahead and it’s going to lead to a devastating shipwreck.

The fourth artist is H.E.R. I didn’t hear a female voice in any of the artists I had chosen so H.E.R. is this new up-and-coming R&B artist who has an intelligent mind, is a beautiful lyricist, with a sound that is very indie and capturing.

Choreographer Rena Butler

Hubbard Street Apprentice Gaby Diaz in rehearsal for Rena Butler's III. Third.
Photo by Henry Trinh. 

What is it like to choreograph on your fellow company members for this work?

I really wanted to do a true collaboration because it is about identity and relativity so I wanted to make material that the dancers could then flip on its head and inject themselves into. I would tell the dancers to do a phrase but only the parts that they identified with or like the most. I would still shape it and mold it but I didn’t want to change it too much because I want everyone to enjoy it and have a personal investigation in the process. I wanted to make the piece not just about me, but also make it about them.

You are originally from Chicago, how do your experiences as a native Chicagoan inform these works?

The structure of these pieces are parallel to my life. Two of the three works are premiering here in Chicago and the second part is being premiered at my alma mater, SUNY Purchase. The piece for SUNY Purchase reflects the middle of my career in New York and I spent a lot of that time touring, and trying to find myself through travel. I feel like all of those influences go so well in III. Third because I’m pulling in all of those cultures but with this sense of excitement in coming home and being able to share those experiences and find ways to make them relevant in the work that I’m doing now. I never really felt that I had roots in Chicago until I left, and I feel so blessed to be able to share my work with my family and new community here in my hometown.

Hubbard Street dancers in rehearsal for Rena Butler's III. Third.  Photo by Henry Trinh. 

To learn more about danc(e)volve and all the new works being premiered by our talented choreographers and dancers and to purchase your tickets, visit the danc(e)volve webpage. Check back next week for a look inside Florian Lochner’s new work Das Feld.

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