Stefan Pildes, President of Groovehoops, teaches a weekly Hoop class in New York City and a few months ago Sufjan Stevens attended one of his classes. “He was in the midst of researching a piece commissioned by The Next Wave festival entitled The BQE, an experimental film and orchestral suite about one of Brooklyn’s most beleaguered highways. Sufjan saw the hoop as a metaphor for movement, a symbol of the age in which the BQE was created and a visual representation of the circular movement of both his music and the automobile. He wanted the hoop and hoop dance to be part of his commissioned work. Five hoopers were picked to perform at the Brooklyn Academy of Music on November 1st, 2nd & 3rd. It was exciting.” I asked him for more insight into the process of bringing this work to the stage and he was happy to share with me the details.
Stefan explained, “On September 29th we had our first rehearsal and the group was composed of myself and another Groovehoops teacher, Matt Kruger, as well as three advanced hoopers: Elaine Tian, Lindsay Brickel, and Anastasia-Dyan Pridlides. After we all signed non-disclosure agreements regarding talking about the scope of this project, we listened to the extremely complex music for the first time. The movements we were to be hooping to were arranged in 14-count time and there were tons of off beats, musical instruments and down beats that only became apparent upon multiple listens. We came up with some basic choreography to start things off and called it a day.”
He continued, “On October 14th Sufjan joined us at this rehearsal and we got a better idea of what he was looking for. Our parts were during the 3rd, 4th and 7th movement of the pieces, for a total of 14 minutes hooping on stage. He wanted the piece to be about the hoops themselves and not the hoopers. We were a metaphor, the live representation of movement. Consequently we eliminated some of the more showy choreography and started to develop a language for how this was to come together. We gave each of our moves names, some from the GrooveHoops text book, as well as adding new ones in. Sufjan was very hands on and very vocal about what fit and what was extraneous.”
The rehearsals continued. “On October 21st we had another rehearsal with Sufjan. We had a structure; we had our moves and needed to rework certain parts so that it did not seem stale or done before. At this rehearsal, Elaine, told me that we were a part of what had become this fastest show to sell out its full run in Brooklyn Academy of Music history. On the 28th we met the stage manager, the costume designer, and the lighting director, which is when we found out that we would be having a costume change during the show and that the final piece, movement #7, would be hooped with brand new PSI hoops that were ordered just for the show. The project just kept getting bigger and bigger and the lighting director was very interested in the PSI hoops and making the most out of their brilliance.”
The first technical rehearsal took place on October 29th. Stefan explained, “Up until this point I was thinking that the show was a big deal, but it wasn’t until I walked out on that stage and saw 2,800 empty seats in the Grand Opera Hall that I understood the magnitude of the event. We are the “Next Wave” and this is “High Art” and while I’ve performed as part of GrooveHoops for 6 years now in every capacity from go-go boy to prestigious dance theaters, I had never been part of such a high concept piece with such a public stage until now. And to be getting paid well to be a part of it, it was incredible.”
The first dress rehearsal, which was open to the press, took place on October 30th. Stefan comments, “Matt and I had our own changing room and the girl hoopers had their own as well. We were all a little nervous because there were some last minute changes made to the choreography for the 7th movement, but the dress rehearsal went extremely well and I left the building feeling confident that we were going to look great come performance day. There was another technical rehearsal for the Lighting and Stage Manager on Halloween, and on November 1, 2007 the BQE was about to have its world premiere.”
He continues, sharing more about the first performance day. “Our call to the theater was 1pm and the Show wasn’t starting until 8pm so we ran through the whole piece a few times. I’ve performed to lots of different types of music, but never to a 36-piece orchestra & a full band blasting us with their sonic power. The music was challenging to follow taking in everything from discordant guitar rifts to a cartoon soundtrack, from Debussy influences to Philip Glass moments. The lighting was wild, LEDs, strobing lights to disco balls to blacklight. This was a huge production. At 8:00 pm, all made up and in our costumes, we were ready to take the stage and we all grabbed each other’s hands taking a deep breath and then head on out there. Our performance goes very well, no major mess-ups and the audience loves us. As we first walk out there is a gasp, a giggle and a lot of people unsure of what is about to happen, but eleven minutes later, our first set over, we walk off stage to an amazed audience offering us their thunderous applause.
The show continued. “We walked out in darkness for our 2nd set and when we turned on our PSI hoops in unison the audience let out an “ohhhhhhh” of excitement. The 2nd set goes equally well and I am very pleased with our performance this evening. We all watched Sufjan’s 2nd set from the stage right box and really, for the first time, I get his tender falsetto music and the emotional weight that it carries. Later that night there was a wonderful after party for the event and we revelled in our accomplishments with the musicians and Brooklyn Academy of Music folks.”
How were the remaining shows? Stefan explains, “The November 2nd show was fun because we all invited friends and family to come see us, although it was probably our sloppiest performance of the three. Most of the problems were things only another hooper would notice though and I’d guess that ninety-five percent of the audience had never seen hoop dance before. The final show on November 3rd with the first night’s pressures off and no known friends in the audience like the night before, my performance was flawless. I nailed it! Every move, every transition. The applause was the loudest and strongest of all three nights and I left the Brooklyn Academy of Music with a tremendous sense of accomplishment, being a part of taking hooping to a new level. I was honored to be chosen and to work with such a talented set of musicians, support staff and hoopers. Hooping has brought me to yet another great artistic height in my life and I am proud to continue navigating this amazing path the hoop has taken me on.”
According to Stefan there isn’t a plan that he is aware of for The BQE to be presented again. “Due to the large amount of production, I don’t think we will be performing it again,” he said. For more information about Stefan and the GrooveHoops crew and The BQE please visit the links below.
The Stefan Pildes Hooping Interview
Sufjan Stevens’ BQE: A Hooping Extravaganza
Sufjan Stevens on The BQE and Hooping