Dallas — Over the last decade Jessica Hendricks has made a name for herself in the commercial dance world with her bubbly personality, fierce work ethic and unique contemporary dance style, which marries high-octane movements with subtle gesturing and unexpected clarity for an unforgettable performance. These traits have made her quite successful in her dance career, which has included a stint as dance captain on the tour for Hair, performing in movies such as Living Out Loud and Between the Sheets, and dancing at the premieres of Moulin Rouge and The Great Gatsby. You can also catch Hendricks’ work in commercial ads for Godiva, L’Oréal, Reebok, Toys “R” US, Universal Studios, Volkswagen and Warner Brothers. She has also performed or assisted in choreography for the Elan Awards, Bob Fosse Awards and Ms. America Pageant. Her talent has also taken her overseas where she has taught at universities and festivals throughout Canada, Costa Rica, Cyprus, France, Italy, Japan, South Korea and Norway.
Today Hendricks splits her time between New York City, where she lives and works as an adjunct professor at Pace University, and teaching and choreographing in cities across the nation, including Dallas, where she is on staff at Dance Industry Performing Arts Center in Plano. She is also the founder of the Dallas-based charity Dancers Give Back Dallas, which raises money for cancer research. (More information about the charity can be found at http://www.dancersgivebackdallas.com)
You can check out Hendricks’ work, a restaging of her 2015 piece Shedding Skin, for yourself at Wanderlust Dance Project this Sunday at the Majestic Theatre in downtown Dallas. Created by local dancer and choreographer Addison Holmes, Wanderlust Dance Project was born out of a need for artists of different companies to come together during their off-season. This year’s event features more than 50 pre-professional and 15 professional dancers performing alongside one another in works by various local and national choreographers including, Hendricks, Samuel Asher Kunzman, Boston Ballet’s Kevin Jenkins, Southern Methodist University alum Tenley Dorrill, Arizona-based Dana Metz, Point Park University alum Kevin Pajarillaga and Dallas-based Bombshell Dance Project, just to name a few. New this year, Wanderlust Dance Project has developed an Emerging Choreographer program with the first recipient being Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts alum Madison Hicks.
TheaterJones catches up with Jessica Hendricks on the road to talk about her Dallas dance ties, how she got started in the industry and what she has in store for audiences at Wanderlust Dance Project.
TheaterJones.com: How did you hear about Wanderlust Dance Project?
Jessica Hendricks: A couple of my students in Dallas participated in Wanderlust last year and had a great time. They told me about it. I asked questions and was happy to hear that I knew those involved— Addison, Brian and Terrill. I was glad when Brian asked me to consider setting work this year for the project. Dallas is like a second home to me so I like being as involved as I can in the area. I happily accepted.
How does this event differ from other similar project's you have been a part of?
It's intimate. It happens quickly. And it supports and is important for the Dallas community. Two of the other choreographers have been students of mine along the way so that makes this project unique as well.
What was the motivation behind the piece you created?
In the past several years I have watched how the grief of a child has affected two parents differently and that is where the motivation came from. Considering how quickly a parent breaks his or her bond with their child who has passed, how quickly they return to their still existing living environment around them, if they even ever do, and how quickly they form a new way of connecting with their child who has passed. The circumstances surrounding the death of a child also directly affects how two parents grieve. In this particular instance the child was sick for a period of time. The work is not obvious, but there is an overtone or recognizable behavior that does take place.
How many pre-professional and professional dancers are you using in the work?
My cast is a total of 16 dancers, about half and half. Half working professionally, half still finishing school and a couple headed to college in the Fall.
What music did you decide to use and why?
I used three great pieces of music. First piece is by Ezio Bosso, my favorite Italian composer. Second piece is by Gidon Kremer and Kremerata Baltica, one of the most thrilling pieces of music I have ever been applied to use. Third piece is Ludovico Einaudi, a sad but hopeful piece of repetitive music that seems perfect for my ending. I have used this artist for years. He is very popular in the contemporary scene.
What were your expectations for the dancers?
Very little. I ask that they arrive on time and participate throughout the entire process. Energy and intent is everything to me. I ask that they recognize their own movement style and habits and inspire them to acquire new ones through the work that I am giving them which hopefully allows for a balance of what I like to see, but with their personalized approach. I ask that the movement also acts as an experience versus just a series of steps or shapes sequenced together.
The commercial dance world is extremely competitive. How did you get your start and what advice do you have for the next generation of commercial dancers?
Always wanting to be a concert dancer. I actually started my career in Los Angeles as a commercial dancer, went back to finish college and then transitioned back into concert work. Then transitioned into musical theater, then back into commercial and concert. I see and can attest to the fact why it is good for dancers to be well-versed in everything. My career has dabbled in everything and I am thankful for that.
Someone said to me once that success is going from one failure to the next without a loss of enthusiasm. If you can keep that enthusiasm after being rejected over and over, you will be just fine. Work ethic is everything. Being on time is key, if not early. Body language, effort, energy, attitude, preparation and passion about what you do is the kicker.
The definition of contemporary dance is constantly evolving. How has you own style of contemporary dance evolved over the last couple of years?
I have tried to be consistent in what I personally like to offer in my work: stamina, theatricality, clarity in focus, gestural intention, detailed pedestrian movements and musicality. However, within that framework I think my work has evolved with the times a bit. I love challenging the dancer but I love challenging myself just as much. This contemporary world does keep you on your toes, hopefully, because for one reason only, it's oversaturated. I will always ask for technical proficiency in my work, but yet offer an experience rather than just the movement. You have to continue to broaden the boundaries of dance and traditional choreography, broaden the language and education of dance and support any new possibilities along the way.
What inspired you to start Dancers Give Back Dallas?
In December of 2010, a student of mine in Dallas was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukemia. In August of the following year she passed. Just shortly after that I had met a mother and daughter from Buffalo, N.Y. that had experienced a similar loss to a close friend of theirs. They started an organization called Dancers Give Back. I was in need of doing something in honor of Micaela and this felt right. So with their permission I started Dancers Give Back Dallas. We are a non-profit organization that donates 100 percent of our proceeds to Micaela's Army Foundation. Micaela's Army Foundation, which I sit on the board for, donates their money for cancer research in pediatric, adolescent and young adult cancers and helps support cancer patients and their families through the donation we give them from our event.
» Katie Dravenstott is a freelance writer and dance instructor in Dallas. Visit her blog at www.kddance.wordpress.com