by Angelina Perino | photography by Jordan Jones
“The moment on stage when you are truly alive is why we do it. At times, it’s unexplainable.” –Dylan
Chicago is a city that is known for its arts scene; since 1995, the Joffrey Ballet has called Chicago home. Over the last two decades, it has become a hugely beloved and popular aspect of this city’s culture. I was lucky enough to go inside the studio with two of Joffrey’s most beloved dancers — Jeraldine Mendoza and Dylan Gutierrez — and get to know who they are off the stage. I met up with the artistic couple and their adorable Boston Terrier, Kahlua, at Joffrey Tower in Chicago’s Loop over the weekend. Read their amazing interview below and enjoy the multitude of stunning photos from their shoot.
Huge thank you’s to Dylan, Jeraldine, and Kahlua for the inspiration, as well as Jordan Jones for the incredible photography. Hope you guys enjoy!
A: Let’s start with the basics. How old are you guys?
A: Where are the two of you originally from? How long have you been in Chicago?
J: I’m originally from San Francisco. I’ve been in Chicago with the Joffrey Ballet for six years.
D: I grew up in Los Angeles. I have been in Chicago for eight years, dancing with The Joffrey Ballet.
A: I’m curious as to how the city of Chicago compares to the West Coast for you guys. Having lived in both San Francisco and Chicago, I’d have to say they are extremely different.
J: I love Chicago. Its architectural beauty, its warm-hearted people, its history—Chicago has so much character, so much pride. Also, the Joffrey gets a lot of love here from Chicago audiences, who are extremely supportive and open-minded. Obviously, SF is still my first love, and I’ll always return to SF with excitement.
D: I try not to compare the two cities anymore. In my earlier years here, I didn’t understand the identity of Chicago as much as I understood the Bay. I always miss California, but Chicago is home. It is one of the greatest places to live; the longer I have lived here, the more it has proven that to me.
A: What was the journey like to get to the artistic level you are at now as a professional dancer?
J: Challenging. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. I am motivated by the challenges, and I grow from them. Yeah, it’s pretty draining…but it’s also fun. I learn something new everyday, and I take what I learn from each role to the next.
D: It’s definitely a journey, and it never stops. It takes a lot of mistakes, a lot of feeling down, wrong or even bad at what you do. It takes sacrifice at a young age. I knew I wanted to be a professional dancer when I was eleven years old. I spoke it into existence and made it happen. It was really hard, but when I look back, so worth it.
A: How do you deal with the various aspects of the dance world that really test how deep your love is for the art?
J: When I look back, I try to imagine what else I would be doing at this point in my life—nothing. That’s how I still know I truly love being a ballet dancer.
D: There are definitely difficult moments along the way, for some more than others. I think you deal with it if you truly love it. I deal with the hard times by believing in what got me here in the first place, and I will use that until there is nothing left.
A: What would your advice be to younger dancers trying to emerge into the professional world?
J: Give it all you’ve got. Corny, I know, but I’m serious. Whether it’s in an audition or your first year in a company, you have to commit.
D: Be versatile…there is no room anymore for people who only do one style of dance. The best ballet companies in the world do such a wide range of repertoire that you have to be malleable. At the Joffrey Ballet, one week I will be dancing something purely classical, and the next week I have to turn around, go barefoot, and improv.
A: What drew the two of you to the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago?
J: Actually, I was taking an open class at my home studio, City Ballet School of SF. Yuri Possokhov was teaching and told me to send my stuff to Joffrey because they were doing his Don Quixote the following season. I sent my stuff, flew to Chicago, took class with the company, and was offered a contract. When I met Ashley Wheater, I realized that it was a good fit and I wanted to work for him.
D: At the time I got hired at The Joffrey Ballet, it was still in a big transition. What drew me to it was its artistic director, Ashley Wheater. He had a vision that was going to take the company to the next level, and I wanted to be a part of it. Years later, I can look back and say ‘wow I was here for all of that,’ and that’s historic.
A: From what do you draw your inspiration as artists?
J: Other artists, especially friends of mine, who are excelling in whatever art form they’re in. Also, a simple act of kindness truly warms my heart and inspires me to be a better person.
D: Music inspires me a lot. I love to listen to music, and it accompanies me through my day. Also, when I see a friend of mine accomplishing something big, it’s really exciting, and I try to let it push me to do better as well.
A: You both seem to love fashion. Where do the two of you get your inspiration for your personal styles?
J: Instagram and Dylan.
D: I get a lot of my inspiration for what I wear from Los Angeles, which is where I’m from. It’s so diverse, and there is so much to draw inspiration from, culturally.
A: What is a normal day off like for you guys? Those rare days when you are not in the studio or performing?
J: Chillin’ with our doggy, Kahlua. Also, Dylan and I are somewhat foodies and love to eat out for dinner. So we usually get dinner and drinks in the West Loop and catch a screening at SoHo House.
D: She and I love to veg out. Usually, I’ll make a run over to Cafe Tola for some empanadas, make us some coffee, and we’ll eat and watch something on Netflix. Later in the day, I might put together some music with my Machine 2.0 by Native Instruments. I like making hip-hop beats.
A: What is it like to perform side by side with each other? I have had the privilege of seeing the two of you perform and there is clear chemistry between you two on stage.
J: I love dancing with Dylan. I feel safe with him by my side. I get nervous sometimes and seeing Dylan with me on stage really calms me down. We’ve actually partnered a lot together this year and to be able to experience these roles with your love is an experience cherished.
D: We feel lucky that we get to experience the success of a performance together. It gets tough when we feel it didn’t go the way we wanted it to go, but her and I communicate pretty well, so it’s never too big of a deal.
A: If you could live anywhere in the world, where would that be?
J & D: California.
A: What advice would you offer to your younger selves?
J: Don’t be shy.
D: Keep going – it’s going to work out. Don’t take things so personally, and try to get rid of the chip on your shoulder.
A: Lastly, I would love to know your thoughts on this quote by Cunningham:
“You have to love dancing to stick to it. It gives you nothing back, no manuscripts to store away, no paintings to show on walls and maybe hang in museums, no poems to be printed and sold, nothing but that single fleeting moment when you feel alive.” – Merce Cunningham
J: On stage, especially in a piece I whole-heartedly believe in, I try and give all that I have. There are no re-dos or take-backs, just that one moment on stage when you forget everything else and feel something truly right.
D: Cunningham was a visionary, and he had a deep understanding of what it’s like to be a dancer; that quote couldn’t be more true. I have always felt that. The moment on stage when you are truly alive is why we do it. At times, it’s unexplainable.
Check out more by our photographer for this shoot, Jordan Jones: @jordan_terell
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