Two dancers in red (on lying on the floor on the left, the other crouched right, play with yellow ropes entangled around them.
LightPlay, a piece that premiered in April at Hedwig Dances as part of the program Field Theory. Credit: Vin Reed

On an architectural tour last year, Rigoberto Saura settled into the concrete forms of the buildings overlooking the Chicago River. Wrapping around the water, tall brutalist buildings push into the skyline. It was on this tour that Saura heard the phrase “raw concrete.” The piece he created for Hedwig Dances as part of their April program uses that phrase for its title. 

Saura began with Hedwig Dances in 2017 as a dancer, instructor, and choreographer. The company is currently in its 37th season under the direction of founder Jan Bartoszek. Hedwig Dances will be performing LightPlay, which Bartoszek created, and Saura’s Raw Concrete under the collective name Field Theory at Ruth Page Center for the Arts on April 8 and 9.

In 1985, Bartoszek directed annual concerts and outreach under the auspices of Urban Gateways, which she formalized to found Hedwig Dances. Bartoszek cultivates an interdisciplinary company, including visual components and original music. The dancers come from diverse cultural and movement backgrounds and are the main collaborators in the creation process of the company’s repertory. With Bartoszek and the choreographers’ guidance, dancers engage with the materials of the piece, such as objects and music, as points of access. 

Explains Saura: “Hedwig has its own life there; you can come and touch it and feel like you are part of something . . . here we are equal together and we follow guidance, but we can speak freely and be creative and be artists, which is sometimes more important than just having a body and dancing.” 

This agency attracted Saura to Hedwig Dances. He was born and raised in Cuba. After attending the National University of the Arts in Havana, he was a soloist with Danza Contemporánea of Cuba. Flashes of his life on the island spark in moments in his works. Kaos (2020) was a video-synchronous hybrid piece that he directed virtually around the onset of the pandemic, fingering the pulse of that time. Saura references the situation Cuba has been in for years, which necessitates quick adaptation and solutions, ways to heat water or make food. 

“I feel like at some point in all of my pieces you can feel that, like fast, you can’t breathe, and you’re overwhelmed, because I grew up in that situation sometimes, so I kind of unintentionally have been seeing that already.” 

For Raw Concrete, Saura explains that in the brutalist style, all the architecture is easy to build but difficult to take down. That idea captivated him, and the affective physicalities of this architectural construction formed the starting point of his research. The creation process with the four dancers, Saura recalls, reflects how “time is very brutal in the situation you see yourself sometimes . . . to experience the moment you’re living; it sometimes feels very heavy.” These principles translate to bodies carrying the weight of others; rigorous and flighty movements also hold a certain gravity. 

Field Theory
Fri-Sat 4/8-4/9, 7:30 PM, Ruth Page Center for the Arts, 1016 N. Dearborn, 312-291-8196,, $20-$45.

Bartoszek similarly developed LightPlay from architectural principles. Following Futura (2018), the piece is Bartoszek’s second in a three-part series of works to be inspired by László Moholy-Nagy, who formed “The New Bauhaus,” presently the IIT Institute of Design in Chicago. LightPlay reflects Bartoszek’s interest in using objects. 

“I found that I really like having to play with something as a part of the work because I feel like in doing so, I can create these metaphors between the human body and the object,” she explains. LightPlay is in the intersection between movement, light, and shadow. An overhead projector overlays the dancers as they move around the space, and walls skew their images. There is a live-feed birds-eye video camera, and screens lit from behind by a flashlight. The third piece, Meta-mor-phos, will premiere September 2 and 4 at Bauhaus Dessau in Germany. The company will perform Meta-mor-phos in Chicago later in the year. 

Maray Gutierrez Ramis, currently an artistic associate of Hedwig, and her husband Victor Alexander, who choreographs for the company, were the first Cuban dancers to join Hedwig. Like Saura, they were former dancers of Danza Contemporánea of Cuba. Other dancers from Cuba who knew Ramis and Alexander have since moved to Chicago and joined the company. 

Over the years, Hedwig’s cohort has included dancers from Taiwan, Australia, Mongolia, Japan, and the Philippines, “but for the past 20 years there has been a very strong Cuban connection,” says Bartoszek. “Initially, I knew the dancers but didn’t know their history in Cuba, so when it became possible to travel to Cuba, we decided to create a dance tour.” Ramis, Alexander, and Hedwig Dances worked with Art Encounter, a nonprofit travel organization, and Copperbridge Foundation, a nonprofit arts organization in Miami. 

Hedwig developed a partnership with Danza Abierta, which is now called Mi Compania, through recurring patron visits to Cuba beginning in 2012. Bartoszek and Danza Abierta’s artistic director, Susana Pous, formed a lasting connection that has culminated in collaborative performances in both Cuba and the U.S., including the evening-length piece Trade Winds (2014). Hedwig dancers traveled between Chicago and Cuba to rehearse. The piece premiered in October of 2014 at the Dance Center at Columbia College, and in January of 2015 at the Teatro Nacional de Cuba Sala Avellaneda (National Theatre of Cuba). The ensemble for Field Theory (Jacob Buerger, Holly Lehnertz, Hannah Marcus, Hanna Swartz, Richard Echevarria, Jessie Gutierrez, and Saura) allows Bartoszek to continue the company’s focus on perspectives of “dancers from different backgrounds with different experiences,” Bartoszek says, which in turn “adds to the physical conversation that we have. All of those perspectives add to the wholeness of the work.”