Mexican-American dancer Victor Quijada has a strong penchant for narrative. “I’ve always connected to stories,” he says. “My natural intention is to be a storyteller.” To weave those stories, Quijada talks about “creating a new dance vocabulary.”
These words might seem strange coming from a dancer, but straddling worlds and identities is standard practice for Quijada, 34, who grew up in the predominantly Hispanic Baldwin Park neighborhood of Los Angeles but now lives in Montréal, Canada. And while he got his start break dancing on the streets in the 1980s, he also boasts a command of classical ballet and contemporary dance. Today, as the artistic director and choreographer for RUBBER-BANDance Group (RBDG), a Montréal-based company he founded in 2002, Quijada is melding all those experiences into a new dance form—a new language of movement.
Quijada’s dance journey—even the name of his troupe-—is rooted in his days as a “b-boy” (or break boy, for break dancing). His elastic style earned him the nickname “rubberband” at age eight. He later attended the L.A. County High School for the Arts, where he was introduced to formal art and dance and remembers being inspired by postmodernists like Picasso and Dalí. He also cites his peers as major influences. “I was around all these adolescents who really believed they could change the world,” he recalls. “It was an incredible awakening.”
Two years after graduating, Quijada joined the Twyla Tharp dance company in New York, and later Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal, where he mastered the techniques of classical ballet and became increasingly drawn to choreography. He also reconnected with hip-hop.
Quijada created the RUBBER-BANDance Group to develop techniques that bridge the urban and classical worlds. In particular, Quijada wanted to experiment with traditional notions of gravity, applying the horizontal and inverted forms of break dance to ballet. And he didn’t limit himself to ballet and hip-hop: RBDG’s choreography also incorporates movements from martial arts and yoga.
Despite his attention to dance theory, Quijada doesn’t think of his work as abstract or only for elite audiences. Rather, he wants to bring the immediacy and spontaneity of hip-hop into theatrical performance. “I first came to dance in a basement—there was no fourth wall,” he explains, referring to the imaginary wall of separation between performers and their audience. Quijada actively works to break down that barrier. In Punto Ciego, a piece created in 2008, characters speak directly to the audience and present a single story from multiple perspectives, compelling audiences to assemble the narrative themselves.
Another way Quijada connects with audiences is through storytelling. The company’s latest work, Gravity of Center, narrates the evolving relationships among five dancers as they are pulled between conflicting instincts to assimilate within a group and rebel as individuals.
Gravity of Center premiered in April 2011, at the Place des Arts in Montréal, where Quijada has been artist in residence for the past four years. RBDG will take it on tour to Europe in fall 2011 and to the U.S. after that. A short-film version of the piece is also currently being produced, and will premiere at film festivals and on the Canadian cable television arts channel Bravo! this fall.