Joffrey Ballet dancer Hyuma Kiyosawa on set during the shoot for Interim Avoidance. Michael Kettenbeil, Courtesy Action Lines.

Action Lines' Digital Art Installation, Starring Joffrey Dancers, Brings Virtual Ballet to the Chicago Public

This past year, dance has taken a flying leap into the world of virtual performance, with dancer-led enterprises emerging along the way. Laptops and television screens have hence erupted as leading performance venues. But for the new Chicago-based production company Action Lines, co-founded by Joffrey Ballet artists Xavier "Xavi" Núñez and Dylan Gutierrez, and film producer Eric Grant, dance has found another home: a 3,300-square-foot media-installation wall in downtown Chicago.

Now through April 30, 150 Media Stream, a digital art installation platform housed in the lobby of the 150 North Riverside skyscraper, hosts Action Lines' Interim Avoidance, a new project featuring six dancers from The Joffrey Ballet. Dylan Gutierrez, Hyuma Kiyosawa, Dara Holmes, Olivia Duryea, Edson Barbosa and Jeraldine Mendoza pirouette, saut de chat and cabriole across the building's lobby in this massive, seven-minute looping media stream. Designed as a reflection on dance in divided space, Interim Avoidance marks Action Lines' first step into curated work.

We spoke with Núñez, Gutierrez and Grant about their first commission.

In the glass lobby of a building, a panel of LED blades stretches along the wall and features a film showing the images of four female dancers from the waist up.

Joffrey Ballet dancers Dara Holmes and Jeraldine Mendoza in Interim Avoidance on the 150 Media Stream installation in downtown Chicago.

Olivia Duryea, Courtesy Action Lines

Action Lines is a very new company. How did you get started?

Xavier Núñez: It was about a year in the making. The three of us got together and decided to make a short film; it was more nonchalant—this was all before the pandemic. We realized then in making our first video, "Circles," that we worked really well together. Then once quarantine hit, we found ourselves still wanting to make things.

Dylan Gutierrez: When we all sat down together in the middle of summer, we felt that it was the perfect time to start it.

XN: Action Lines officially became a company in early November, and then a week later we were contracted to do the 150 Media Stream project. We jumped right into it!

That's a quick transition! How did Action Lines get involved with 150 Media Stream?

DG: I was introduced to the curator of 150 Media Stream, Yuge Zhou, by a mutual friend. We began discussing our new company and how we wanted to get started on some projects. We pitched the idea that [virtual performances] are where dance is going to exist this year because the Joffrey had had to cancel its winter program. Once she heard the idea, she bought it right away, and we got to work.

The pandemic has affected the way we all work as artists. What was your creative process like for this project?

Eric Grant: Where Xavi and Dylan have a keen eye for visuals and dance in storytelling, I bring the visual language of film. In a lot of our meetings, they come in with a certain set of skills and I say, "Okay, how can we take what you want to do and make it make sense for a viewer of a film, rather than a stage production?"

DG: What's great is that Eric will give us a suggestion movement-wise, and it will be something absolutely valid. While it may not have been something Xavi and I might have thought of, I think that adds to our creativity as a whole.

XN: There was a lot of pre-production planning that went into this. Initially, the stream was just going to be dancers in slow motion in a black void, but then it evolved. We added color to it because we knew it would be the dead of winter, and we wanted to do something really bright so it would pop. We filmed in Joffrey's Gerald Arpino studio, which is basically a black-box theater, so we had complete control of the lighting. We also outsourced our director of photography with a company called Big Foot Media. Tim Whalen and Michael Kettenbeil handled the videography portion. Because we knew the dancers, we were then able to direct them and say, "This is the kind of angle we're looking for here."

Jeraldine Mendoza, wearing a brown bra-top and briefs and pointe shoes, stands in tendu devant en face on her left leg. Her arms reach straight down with flexed hands as light from above pools around her on the darkened stage.

Jeraldine Mendoza performs a section of Interim Avoidance while a cameraman shoots from the side.

Michale Kettenbeil, Courtesy Action Lines.

How did you navigate filming during the pandemic?

XN: The Joffrey has really strict pandemic rules within the studios, so each dancer had to be filmed independently of each other.

DG: Each of them had a 45-minute block, then there'd be a 15-minute airing-out period. Then the next person had to start on the dot. It was really scheduled.

EG: I was so impressed with Joffrey's COVID restrictions. They already knew how the airflow was going to work, and it influenced how we constructed the story. We said, "How do we now create a story where we're filming everybody individually and cutting it to make it look like they're together again?"

XN: We're used to filming one video at a time. Because of the epic size of this installation, it was more like filming four separate videos into one and having the shots interact with each other. There are times when they're layered over each other, and it makes it seem like the dancers are in the same room together.

DG: The editing was so involved. But that's why the project looks so incredible. Especially with the slow motion, you actually have time to see everything that's happening.

Hyuma Kiyosawa wears nude booty shorts and stands in front of a pink backdrop with his arms crossed at his bare chest. He watches Xavier N\u00fa\u00f1ez, who is in front of him in street clothes and lunges ardently onto his left leg. He has a camera looped around his chest and looks over his right shoulder towards Kiyosawa.

Xavier Núñez (right) offers direction to Hyuma Kiyosawa during the shoot.

Courtesy Action Lines

What is the concept behind the piece?

DG: We're using the media wall as if it's a living thing⁠—like it's the only place these dancers can exist. At first they're kind of confused why they're there, but then they realize that it's their space to dance. Then they disappear before it repeats again. It's this looping dream…the only place we can do what we want to do at the moment.

How did this process differ from working on a choreographic project designed for the theater?

XN: There was a lot we didn't know about planning and logistics. As dancers, we rarely think about how many people are involved in making something happen—from the crew to PR and marketing. It's really opened our eyes to be able to see the full picture, as opposed to just the art itself.

Looking to the future, do you have any plans or visions for where you'd like Action Lines to go?

XN: Once I'm done dancing, I want to be able to say that we have something we can transition into full-time—something that we all love to do.

DG: I think we're in a really privileged position to be able to start this right now, because the opportunity to do good work is huge when you're starting out. We have a fresh perspective, but also one that's relatable beyond dancers. We want everyone to see themselves in our work. I see big things for us in the future.

For more information and access to an adapted online version of Interim Avoidance, check out the 150 Media Stream website.

Related Articles Around the Web

Latest Posts

Eighteen-year-old Sarah Patterson (foreground), with her classmates at New Ballet School. She's decided to stay home this summer to take advantage of outdoor, in-person classes. Courtesy New Ballet School.

Why Planning Summer Study This Year Is More Complicated Than Ever

When it comes to navigating summer intensives, 2021 may be more complicated for ballet students than last year. On the heels of the COVID-19 pandemic's spring spike in 2020, summer programs went all-virtual or had very limited capacity. This year is more of a mixed bag, with regulations and restrictions varying widely across state and county lines and changing week by week.

Between vaccines and variants, can students aim for a full calendar of intensive training at local and national summer programs?

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Chris Hardy, Courtesy LINES

Check Out These 2021 Summer Intensives Especially for Adults

After a year of shuttered studios, virtual-only classes, and waving to ballet buddies over Zoom, summer intensives are back. For adult students, packing up for a few days of intensive training might seem like a pipe dream, as many of us spent the last year trying to fit in ballet classes while juggling work and, for those of us with kids, remote learning. With the country opening up again, let's start planning (safely!) for workshops that allow us to jump into technique, conditioning and, of course, high-elbowing some new friends.

For in-person intensives, please check the studio's website for detailed health and safety guidelines, including policies on masks, cleaning/hygiene, social distancing, and the policy on having to cancel in-person programs due to COVID-19 restrictions.


Alonzo King LINES Ballet Adult Dance Intensive (virtual only, via Zoom)

May 28–31, San Francisco

Immerse yourself in the celebrated home of Alonzo King, the artistic visionary who created LINES 39 years ago. Now in its second year as a virtual offering, this four-day workshop includes ballet, yoga, Pilates, choreography and contemporary. Students also have the option to drop in to class if they can't commit to all four days.


Lexington Ballet Adult Ballet Intensive

July 12–16, Lexington

Why should thoroughbreds have all the fun of training in the horse capital of the world? Reach new heights in your training at Lexington Ballet's Adult Ballet Intensive. Join school directors Luis and Nancy Dominguez and principal instructor Ayoko Lloyd for a five-day workshop that includes conditioning, Pilates, technique and repertoire. All classes are held in the evenings, and the program welcomes beginning through advanced students.

A group of eight smiling adult ballet students\u2014seven women and one man in the middle\u2014pose in a line and stand on their right leg in tendu crois\u00e9 devant.

A group of dancers pose at a past Lexington Ballet Adult Dance Intensive.

Ayoko Lloyd, Courtesy Lexington Ballet

Louisville Ballet Adult Summer Intensive

May 31–June 4, Louisville

Polish off a glass of sweet tea (or two), and then work up a sweet sweat at Louisville Ballet's Adult Summer Intensive. Geared towards beginning through advanced levels, students ages 18+ can take part in half- or full days of training. Classes offered include technique, pointe and jump strengthening, modern, Pilates and yoga. Students will also perform in a livestreamed performance on the final day.


Brookline Ballet School Adult Summer Ballet Intensive

June 23–27, Brookline

The Red Sox and New England Patriots may get a bulk of the glory in Beantown, but the city is also a mecca for ballet. At Brookline Ballet School's Adult Summer Ballet Intensive, students (beginner or intermediate level) will spend three weeknights and two weekend mornings in technique and repertoire classes, wrapping up with an informal performance on Sunday afternoon.


Kat Wildish Presents (virtual, via Zoom)

June 14–25 and July 12–23

Join master ballet teacher Kat Wildish in a virtual intensive that aims to take your training to the next level. Each day, in one-hour classes, Kat will lead students of all levels from basic to advanced in various ballet exercises. The group will be limited to 20 dancers, so each person will get personal attention.

A group of older adult ballet students in leotards, tights or leggings, stand in two lines with their left foot in B+ position and holding hands, as if rehearsing a ballet.

Kat Wildish (far left) working with adult students at Peridance Capezio Center

Matthew Venanzi, Courtesy Kat Wildish


artÉmotion Adult Ballet Summer Workshop

June 14–19, Cleveland

Head to the Buckeye State for a week of training under the tutelage of Ballet West first soloist Allison DeBona and principal Rex Tilton. In this Adult Ballet Summer Workshop, beginner and intermediate/advanced students will fine-tune their skills in two classes every morning: a 90-minute technique class followed by a one-hour class in one of the following disciplines: pointe/pre-pointe, acting, men's and women's variations, conditioning.


Amy Novinski

May 24–28 and June 28–July 2, Philadelphia

Those interested in the Vaganova technique may want to check out Amy Novinski's Adult Workshops. For the five-day May workshop, newbie dancers can look forward to classes devoted to ballet, jazz and yoga. For those more advanced, the June workshop offers more rigorous technique, contemporary ballet, pre-pointe/beginner pointe and jazz.


Ballet Academy of Charleston Adult Summer Intensive

July 26–30 and August 2–6, Charleston

Embrace the low-country charm in historic Charleston, where a weeklong Adult Summer Intensive at the Ballet Academy of Charleston invites beginning through advanced students to take classes in technique, stretching/Pilates/yoga, pre-pointe or pointe (for advanced students), variations, jazz, modern, contemporary and choreography. You may choose the half-day or full-day program.


Houston Ballet Adult Intensive

June 1–5, Houston

For intermediate/advanced students with at least three years of ballet training, Houston Ballet's Adult Intensive might be the perfect place to hone your skills. The school has two-, three- or five-day options, and includes ballet technique, variations, yoga and Zumba.


May 31–June 5, Salt Lake City

Ballet West welcomes students of all levels to artÉmotion's one-week Adult Ballet Summer Intensive. Classes include ballet, contemporary, pointe, jazz, modern, acting, and men and women's variations. Available in full-day or half-day options, those dancing only in the morning will take two 90-minute technique classes. The full-day experience offers the opportunity to be choreographed on for an in-studio performance on Saturday, June 5. All students will also have a professional dance photo shoot with Logan Sorenson.

A group of four men in dance practicewear face the right corner of the room and raise their arm as if beckoning someone. Three of the men stand in parallel, which the man in the middle sits in a wheelchair.

A men's class at artÉmotion Adult Summer Ballet Intensive

Logan Sorenson, Courtesy artÉmotion


The August Ballet Retreat in Leeds

August 28–30, Leeds, UK

The three-day August Ballet Retreat in Leeds offers classes for students of all abilities. The mornings are devoted to technique, and in the afternoon, students will focus on repertoire. In the past, The Ballet Retreat has taught solos from Sleeping Beauty, Romeo and Juliet and Giselle. One detail is still tentative: If the retreat is unable to take place in person due to the pandemic, it will be offered virtually over Zoom.

Morlaix International Adult Ballet Camp

July 2–10, Morlaix, France

The Morlaix International Adult Ballet Camp is in the heart of France's Brittany region. In this full-day intensive, intermediate through advanced-level students will be led by an international faculty. Dancers can look forward to morning ballet classes and rehearsals in the afternoon. The week of training wraps up with a performance of Bournonville's Napoli at a nearby theater. Please contact the school for information about room and board.

Still shot by cinematographer Benjamin Tarquin, Courtesy Post:ballet

10 Online Ballet Performances to Catch in April

Spring is in full bloom with another round of exciting digital dance offerings. This month, companies across the country are releasing world premieres, season finales, artistic collaborations and more. We've rounded up some highlights below.

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks