When L.A. Dance Project leapt into the city's consciousness two years ago, it was choreographer Benjamin Millepied (and, indirectly, wife Natalie Portman) who initially soaked up most of the media focus. But it's Charlie Hodges who has since deservedly drawn major attention.
Hodges, 34, is a dancer's dancer, with a résumé that includes both classical ballet and contemporary dance. His breakout came during his fourth year dancing principal and soloist roles with Sacramento Ballet; there, he caught the eye of Twyla Tharp, which led to Broadway - and rave reviews for his dancing in the Tharp/Billy Joel musical, Moving Out.
He assisted in the creation of and performed in Tharp's next Broadway venture, the short-lived Bob Dylan musical, The Times They Are A-Changin'. When Tharp returned to Broadway with the Sinatra-infused Come Fly Away, Hodges' performance earned him the Fred Astaire Award for Broadway's Best Male Dancer.
Millepied's invitation to be part of the fledgling L.A. Dance Project, initially as a dancer, then as ballet master and rehearsal director, followed.
Hodges relishes life in Los Angeles. After 18 months, he already feels more integrated here than he did in New York after a decade. "I even like the traffic because I can sing in the car," he says, admitting, "Doing this on the subway prompted more looks than I was intending."
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But it's his dancing that's truly riveting. He does it all - gorgeous classical ballet technique, extraordinarily precise feet, clarity even in the quickest sections and an extension that few women, let alone men, possess. His turns spin like a top, and his jumps linger in the air in an unseen updraft. In contemporary dance, he can move as if he has no joints, shift from the air to the floor and back again effortlessly, then suddenly backspin in a breakdance move or an aerial back flip impressive enough to earn real money on the Venice Boardwalk.
Dressed in casual slacks and shirt at a recent Dance Project postperformance reception, Hodges exudes a calm that contrasts sharply with his electric onstage presence. Between accepting compliments, Hodges talks about the dance world roller coaster: There were four times that he tried to quit dance, but dance wouldn't quit him.
The first was in high school, where he studied at Massachusetts' respected Walnut Hill School for the Arts, ultimately graduating as valedictorian. He quit two more times after injuries and the last time after the critics savaged Tharp's Dylan musical.
"I tried to keep dancing, but I had pushed myself past the point of stability," he says. "I allowed myself to think that what people thought was more important than my own sense of self-worth. It was unhealthy, and I was out of focus." Hodges retreated to be with family in Seattle and studied architecture, earning a degree in two years.
"Instead of moving my body through space, architecture allowed me to move space around my body," Hodges explains. And that rekindled his original passion: "I realized I was meant to dance, but I had to figure out how to thrive in this environment so I can continue to dance for my family, my boyfriend and myself."
And now he does it joyfully.
"It's bliss to feel your body sweat and your heart race, to be blinded by the lights and drowned out by the noise," he says. "Dancing is the only time the world melts away and leaves me in the absolute present, completely aware of what it means to be alive on this planet. It is bliss."
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