How do you have a conversation about “enoughness” in a city that is constantly hustling to create the latest million-dollar app?

San Francisco-based Buddhist choreographer Claudia Anata Hubiak’s latest work, Point of Dissolve, contemplates the tension between effort and ease and counters the idea that working harder leads to greater self-worth.

Hubiak’s dance company, The Anata Project, is a hybrid of Buddhist principles and contemporary movement arts, rooted in mindfulness, groundlessness, and embodiment.

At her company’s core is the concept of anatta, a Pali word that translates as not-self or egolessness. It also happens to be Hubiak’s middle name, given to her by the renowned Buddhist teacher Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, whom her parents studied with.

Point of Dissolve “addresses the cultivation of joy within a continuum of effort and ease,” examining the existential question of what it means to be “good enough,” to relax into what is without constantly striving.

The new work features an original score by two composers, Jonas Leuenberger and Ben Juodvalkis, and runs for three nights. The set design is aesthetically stark, modern and clean, emphasizing contrast.

The Anata Project’s latest production is the opposite of the notoriously insatiable Silicon Valley work ethic, in which entrepreneurial millennials sleep in their vans, live at the office, and work around the clock. That this piece was birthed in the same urban context where Google and Facebook reign supreme is not a coincidence.

Hubiak choreographs in a city that is profoundly different from the one she first moved to 12 years ago; a real estate mecca where dancers rent out their apartments for rehearsals because they can’t afford studio space and where $10 juice is sold in a mason jar. The once-bohemian paradise is now too expensive for most artists to survive.

At a time when creatives are fleeing San Francisco, Hubiak has consciously chosen to stay. Her goal is to pay the company’s quintet of dancers a living wage.

“San Francisco has taught me everything I know about the ins and outs of running a company. The city houses a tremendous number of resilient and inspiring working artists, resources, and very importantly, people who want to support the arts,” Hubiak said.

Hubiak’s Buddhist background is inextricable from her work. She was raised a “dharma brat” in Boulder, Colorado as the eldest of two daughters. Her parents met at Karme Choling Shambhala Meditation Center in Vermont and moved to Colorado, where they studied with Trungpa Rinpoche, and were married by the famous Buddhist teacher himself. When Hubiak was 16, she took refuge in the dharma with Pema Chödrön, and though that was the moment her Buddhist practice became official, “it’s been at the lifelong heart” of her identity.  

Hubiak, who struggled with anxiety growing up, was encouraged to watch and witness her emotions from an early age, and started studying gymnastics. This early embodiment practice eventually turned into a bachelor of fine arts in dance at the University of Santa Barbara (UCSB), followed by a master in fine arts in performance and choreography at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.

Hubiak nods gratefully to another influential lineage—her many dance teachers—in particular UCSB’s Nancy Colahan and NYU’s Phyllis Lamhurt, who opened her “eyes to the power of choreography, its transformative process, and its central elements of space and time.”

She founded The Anata Project in New York in 2010 and moved to San Francisco shortly thereafter, where the company is now in its seventh season.

Hubiak aims for her work to align with the goals of Buddhist practice, “showing up every day to whatever arises.”

“We use it in the dance, stitching together our moment-to-moment experience to show the full range of the human experience, a space where it’s safe to fall apart and put ourselves back together in new, ever-evolving versions,” Hubiak said.

As artistic director, she begins each rehearsal with a meditation and holds a beginner’s Shambhala training at the onset of each season. Hubiak talks about embodiment, breath, coming back to the present moment, and the ways in which that can be a practice in daily life, in rehearsal, and on stage.

Collaboration with local composers and visual artists is a key ongoing element of her choreography, “aiming for an honest sense of vulnerability, the notion that dance is embodying a real human life in all its joy and chaos.”

Hubiak also oversees the Anata Wellness Outreach Program, which offers mindful movement seminars for students in the San Francisco community and public school system, focusing on dance technique, meditation, and somatic practices.

Point of Dissolve runs at San Francisco’s ODC Theater on October 19, 20, and 21 at 8 p.m.

Claudia Anata Hubiak | Photo by Jamie Day Fleck

Hubiak speaks more about her practice and new show below:

How does this particular show fit into the spirit of the moment?
I am drawn to our human reactions when things get challenging, the subtlety and shift of the human state of mind. Through dance and meditation, we can translate both the hard edge and the gentle touch through the body, woven through pure physicality, to show raw tenderness, gentle hesitation, numbness, and rage.

When looking for a sense of tenderness or letting go, for example, I ask the dancers to explore movements of unraveling, peeling open, releasing, and melting. In order to do this, they must also explore the other side—to sharpen, harden, work with precision and specificity.

We can really examine how we relate to ourselves in these huge waves of turmoil in the world, and therefore how we relate to our neighbors. We can think before we act, feel things deeply and not turn away. We can let our extremes exist without too much power, because we know they’re not the whole story. We have the capacity to hold it all, knowing that our basic goodness pervades.

What makes modern dance “modern dance”?
Modern dance’s pedestrian qualities—its grounded techniques, curves of the spine, and decided lack of ballet shoes—shatter the restraints of ballet. The emphasis on contraction, fall, and release allow for more fluidity and abstraction. Modern dance encompasses the whole story of the human being: the good, the bad, the ugly. It’s not necessarily about the final product; so much of it is process-oriented, which feels inherently Buddhist to me.

Why do you practice meditation?
Meditation keeps me honest, integrated, and compels me to be kind. It reminds me of who I am, that this identity can dissolve at any time, and helps me to practice tenderness with anger and impatience.

As a choreographer, it allows a space where people can be authentic. The studio becomes a place where the present moment is precious, a training space for embodiment.

What does a person whose only experience of dance is watching “So You Think You Can Dance” get out of one of your performances?
Shock. [Laughs.] No, seriously; I don’t think that my dances are made for anyone in particular. They’re not made for Buddhist modern dancers. Because my work is so universal and abstract, everyone can witness the story they need to see. I hope that people will come and watch our dancers like they would go to a museum and look at abstract art; that it might be a human experience without expectation, a willingness to sit with the edginess, the beauty, the grit, and the full emotional experience of being alive.

What are the greatest lessons you’ve learned in the seven years since you founded the company?That I still love this work more than ever, and cultivating patience for that highly ambitious part of myself, as well as for the process. And how to be an artistic director who is clear, organized, willing to be gentle, vulnerable, and kind. We are always a work in progress.

 

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