Speaking with dancer Erica Chipp-Adams, it’s easy to see why her effervescent presence will be missed at Smuin Contemporary Ballet. Following the 2017/18 season, Chipp-Adams will be hanging up her pointe shoes to take on an entirely new role inspiring generations of dancers to come.
Like many young students, Chipp-Adams’ fascination with ballet began from an early age after seeing a performance of The Nutcracker. “I saw the grace and the beauty that these women [onstage] had, and their strength,” the dancer recalled. “I wanted to be like that.” Like many dancers before her, Chipp-Adams left home at a young age in pursuit of more rigorous ballet training. Upon graduation from the renowned Harid Conservatory in Florida, Chipp-Adams joined Festival Ballet Providence. After several seasons there, she went in search of a new challenge, one that would take her away from the classical ballet roles she had been performing up until that point. “What Smuin was doing were the things I wanted to do, it was more exciting,” Chipp-Adams added. “I liked the idea of going back into my training where I was doing tap and jazz, and being able to utilize all of that well-rounded [technique] I was taught.”
Since Chipp-Adams began dancing with Smuin in 2010, her personal and professional growth has been immense. Joining the Company, she recounted, was a way of finding a place where she fit in well. In such a physically demanding line of work, being a part of a company that flaunted the athleticism of its dancers has helped her feel comfortable in her own skin. “I’ve never been asked to be anything other than myself—the strongest version of myself,” she elaborated. “I love that about this company. Smuin allowed me to explore how far I could take things—even beyond what I thought I was capable of doing,” she observed.
Chipp-Adams has spent the last eight years performing a wide variety of the Company’s repertory. From tap numbers, to tango, to even creating her own original works, one could say that she’s done it all. One of her favorite Michael Smuin works is Fly Me to the Moon. “Dancing Under My Skin is really hard, but really exciting! You get to play around with your partner and flirt a bit, but then break out some fouettés and have fun with the music,” she shared. Some of her most memorable moments with the Company come from dancing in world-renowned choreographer Jiří Kylián’s Return to a Strange Land. Despite being the “most nervous she’s ever been,” performing such a revered work was “a huge honor” for her. The work itself is an exercise in trust between partners, as she described it. “Some of the partnering that we did was so incredibly difficult and terrifying to do on stage because if it went wrong, it went really wrong,” she elaborated. “It takes such incredible precision and a lot of strength.”
Helen Pickett’s highly technical and exuberant Petal also stands as a landmark in the dancer’s career. During a particularly poignant moment in rehearsal the ballet’s restager, Sarah Hillmer, looked straight into her eyes and said, “‘You remind me of a cheetah because of your tactile dancing and your dynamism,’” Chipp-Adams recalled. “I love that imagery of being a cheetah, so I danced that piece with that in mind. I felt like that helped me grow as a dancer.” The spring of 2017 marked another favorite moment, as Smuin premiered Trey McIntyre’s work Be Here Now, which commemorated the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love. Being selected to perform a solo in the new work meant Chipp-Adams experienced the wonderful, but “very intense” creative process of the choreographer firsthand. “I felt like that was my chance to make a statement—to take his choreography and be authentic to what he wants and what he’s trying to say,” she added. Her final new work with the Company came from one of her favorite choreographers, Val Caniparoli. “When he choreographs on you, he allows you to explore the movement,” she noted.
After many years of dancing with Smuin Contemporary Ballet, Chipp-Adams and her husband Oliver-Paul Adams (and fellow Smuin dancer), have decided to take their expertise as dancers and pass it on to future generations. The pair are relocating to Chipp-Adams’ hometown near Lake Tahoe, Nevada, where they will be taking over as directors of their own studio. The couple will undoubtedly instill their students with what Chipp-Adams says is one of the many gifts her professional experience as has given her. “I think the number one thing,” Chipp-Adams said of her time as a dancer, “is the joy of doing something that you truly love, and then being able to share that with the audience and with the dancers on stage. When you’re backstage, you feel the love and support; you feel that your fellow company members want you to succeed” she recounted. “That is such a special part of this company—it doesn’t happen everywhere.”
“All of my fellow colleagues have been so incredibly inspiring,” Chipp-Adams beamed. “They amaze me every single day. I’m going to miss watching them perform, but I’ll be in the audience now.” She left us with a particularly special message for Smuin’s audiences: “I want to say thank you to the audience for being so wonderfully supportive and for coming back; for telling us how you feel, how you were moved and always coming back for more. I’ll always be a huge Smuin supporter, and Smuin will have a special place in my heart.”