Los Angeles-born Victor Quijada might not appreciate the following analogy, but one of the bigger breaks in his dance career echoed a scene in the movie Flashdance.
In 1995, Quijada earned a spot in a then-new troupe from renowned choreographer Twyla Tharp with an audition consisting primarily of street or hip-hop dance.
Tharp is known for breaking down barriers between ballet and modern dance and Quijada is becoming known for breaking down barriers between ballet and hip-hop dance.
His Montreal-based troupe, RUBBERBANDance, will perform Saturday at Arts United Center.
Quijada says he was the only member of Tharp’s troupe with no classical dance training.
It was a young company, he says. Most of them had graduated from places like Julliard and had already been dancing with classical companies. I was way out of my league. I didn’t have the type of training, the type of baggage, these people had.
Like any under-prepared student, Quijada had to take remedial classes in addition to his regular coursework.
I was basically trying to catch up with everyone else, he says.
Quijada spent three years with Tharp’s company and later joined Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montreal.
He says his steep climb toward the acme of ballet prowess culminated in his performance of a difficult piece by chorographer George Balanchine.
I had this checklist of things I wanted to accomplish here in Montreal, he says. When I walked off stage, I felt like I had done it. I felt this distinct shift from wanting to become a better dancer to wanting to become a choreographer.
This may seem surprising to some, but Quijada says Montreal has a vibrant hip-hop scene that reminded him where he first learned to love dance: on the streets of Southern California.
It felt like the whole city had a hip-hop smell to it, he says. It was on the walls and in the clubs. It reconnected me to when I was back in L.A.
In 2002, he launched RUBBERBANDance, a hip-hop/ballet hybrid, with seven street dancers and classically trained ones.
He admits he was a little naive at first.
Sometimes, being naive is a good thing, he says. When I started this, I had no money to pay dancers. I was basically paying dancers with pasta. I cooked dinner for people.
There’s something really wonderful about naiveté, Quijada says. We were doing it because we were all so interested in seeing what was going to happen next.
Quijada’s goal with his dancers has never been to turn them into something they are not.
The fact is, I have never tried turn a ballerina into a b-girl or a b-boy into a ballet boy, he says. What I have tried to do with my Rubberband dancers is build a bridge between two worlds. Each (dance form) has its own world and has its own vocabulary. I have tried to find a place where we all can coexist.
Ten years later, Quijada says he has learned how to transmit this information into other bodies.
Quijada is the son of Mexican immigrants and says his parents understand well certain bedrock aspects of what he has chosen to do with his life.
I moved away, he says. I emigrated as well to Canada. I am making it. My parents are hard-working people. They came to America and lived the American dream. I am following in their footsteps in a way. They’re not artists but they’re hard workers. And so am I.