Pieces of Eight Choreographer Highlight: Samuel Hobbs
Given the safety protocols put in place to prevent the spread of Covid-19, our junior company, OBT2, has adapted to the prevailing challenges by adding new projects and programming. These young dancers are approaching their work with a determination and commitment to dance and train no matter the challenges. This year in addition to a daily ballet technique class and supplemental classical training, our young OBT2 pre-professional dancers experienced working with an exciting group of accomplished choreographers to develop innovative work for our Pieces of Eight project.
We are connecting with all of the choreographers working with OBT2 to get a closer look at how the pandemic has affected their process and influenced their pieces. Please enjoy our interview with choreographer Samuel Hobbs, the Founder and Artistic Director of the contemporary dance company push/FOLD. Samuel has danced leading roles in both contemporary dance and ballet works across the globe. His athletic and momentum-based choreography is set to his own original sound scores.
OBT: Has your choreographic process changed during the pandemic and if so, how?
SAMUEL: Lots more hand sanitizer! I kid. In all honesty, there is a different sense of urgency than with a normal production deadline. Right now, we know we might not see each other for the next few months because of the ever-looming next shutdown, so it can feel a bit like stop-n-go traffic. I feel very fortunate to be working with incredibly dedicated and professional dancers with our company push/FOLD, and with the OBT2 dancers!
For the Pieces of Eight work, I choreographed the piece in less than nine hours on our company dancers before setting it on the OBT2 dancers (which was the first time push/FOLD returned to the studio since quarantine started). OBT2 digested our movement language and the choreography very quickly over a week. I knew I had about two to three days to release the movement into their bodies so that we could spend the latter few days workshopping concepts and finding power. It was all sorts of beautiful and inspiring to literally watch them change in front of my eyes. Finding more potent methods to translate movement language into English over Zoom and only working with four to five dancers in the space at one time was also a notable change in process, in addition to the condensed time.
OBT: With all the limitations imposed by the Phase 1 guidelines on spacing, partnering, and wearing masks, what is it like teaching the dancers during this time?
SAMUEL: I love teaching dancers right now! They need it. We need it. We all need to move, and there is a hunger for movement that I believe quarantine has exposed for many of us. As for masks…I basically inhale mine while teaching.
I must say that Phase 1 guidelines have been the most firmly held choreographic constraint I’ve had to manage to date. My work is typically partnering intensive. However, in my initial talk with (OBT School Director) Marion Tonner, she asked me to set a solo on all of the OBT2 dancers, which simplified many logistics.
Watching the OBT2 dancers try to remain evenly spaced while rehearsing this work reminds me of my piece called Wolf. It is also in the realm of contemporary ballet and is a 16-minute duet in full unison. There is a power to unison and a force we can observe in the learning process — like neurons working together to connect. Yes, quarantine isn’t ideal. It also challenges us to learn and grow, and that is always a good thing when we have the capacity to do it in a healthy way. I am thankful to everyone in our dance community who is working hard to make that happen.
OBT: Can you tell us about the piece you’re working on with OBT2?
SAMUEL: I love abstract storytelling, so I don’t wish to dive too far into parsing out meaning in short form. But, my days as an athlete carried into choreography, and I am always interested in seeing the power of a person moving. The music rides a solemn air, and the dancers achieve a level of athleticism within the space that delivers a sense of mental grace and strength — a peace you might find after recovering from a significant personal loss. As with any choreographic work, its true meaning reveals itself through dialogue with others.
I think, just like us of all in quarantine, the title of this work is waiting to be determined. It was created specifically for the OBT2 dancers and is my 2020 quarantine dance! The music and the movement are intimately entwined as a duet with a single Viola and a solo. Multiple dancers may perform the solo simultaneously, which I think is fully in the spirit of this work.
OBT: What music have you selected, and what drew you to it for this piece?
SAMUEL: “Until Next Time” by Kenji Bunch. When I was brought in to choreograph for OBT2, I was asked to create a 5-minute solo. I am a composer and choreographer, and I have composed all of the music for my work since 2014, which is an intense process and usually takes a fair amount of time. This was foremost on my mind. However, in early quarantine, the Portland composer and musician Kenji Bunch shared this beautiful and heartfelt viola piece via social media. The stars aligned at that moment because he and I were not linked on social media at all, and I have no idea why his video popped up on my feed. I was struck. His work transported me to the mind-space where I start to hear movement and see music, and I knew I had to reach out. He mentioned this being the first work he was inspired to play after recovering from being sick (unsure if he had COVID). Fast forward a few months to when I was asked to choreograph for OBT2 and I knew Kenji’s “Until Next Time” would be a perfect fit. It does feel foreign to use another person’s music as a composer myself. But we receive and let go with an open palm, and the music is just plain captivating. It was a nice opportunity to focus on just the movement and explore the musical space someone else created.
We will continue sharing insight into each choreographer contributing to Pieces of Eight. Keep an eye out for blog features on, OBT founder & choreographer James Canfield, New York choreographer Tamisha Guy, OBT principal Peter Franc, OBT company artist Makino Hayashi, and OBT School faculty Phillip Carman and LeeWei Chao. Along with surprise pop-up events this fall and winter, Pieces of Eight will be performed in full during ACT II this spring as part of OBT2 RAW.
Photography credit: Jingzi Zhao