Annabelle Lopez Ochoa.  Photo © Marc von Borstel

Annabelle Lopez Ochoa.
Photo © Marc von Borstel

In mid-May, CriticalDance’s Dean Speer met up with Whim W’Him’s busy and itinerant guest choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa between shows.

CD: Tell us a little bit about your upbringing and how you discovered dance and your journey into choreography…

ALO: I was a tomboy and dance was not my first love. I went to my first ballet class at the age of 8 and didn’t like it! Rather than the exercises, I did like telling stories. Apparently I had talent – was flexible, etc., but didn’t like tutus. I trained at the Royal Ballet of Flanders for seven years but chose modern dance instead. I wanted to create my own dances – it’s the best game ever. I kept choreographing throughout schooling. I always said “yes!” to those who asked me to be in their pieces and to any choreographic opportunities.

At the age of 27, the Scapino Ballet in Rotterdam gave me my first chance to choreograph for the company. Then the Dutch National Ballet for which I choreographed a duet that was a study on partner work.

Olivier [Wevers] saw that duet, “Before After” and introduced himself via the Internet.

Most choreographers have a certain ‘DNA’ to their work that makes it recognizable as ‘theirs’. What characterizes your pieces? Do you have a choreographic DNA?

I’m into globalization and dance theatre. I’m interested in how to tell stories. No DNA.

Who are some of the creative voices that inspire you?

I like Kylián and Forsythe. They push their own envelopes and use new tools and find new ways to use the old ones. Here at Whim W’Him, I was asked by the artistic director to make a piece for four women. As I already had created many pieces for women my main goal was to try not to repeat myself. To me, having a new adventure is more enticing than the fear of failure.

Interesting…How do you gauge or measure ‘success?’ Is it possible to define?

Success is the process, culminating into a presentation. Failure is when no-one gives you the opportunity.

I recently adapted a piece for Grand Rapids Ballet from an earlier version – it keeps the piece fresh. I like to give dancers a voice in the process. I’m not making a piece for the choreographer only.

What is your process?

It’s more collaborative with contemporary dances. I’m always looking for what the end of a piece should be – this is very important.

I’m reminded of what Doris Humphrey wrote about “Never leave the ending to the end!”

Yes. And this may shift during the process. I like to show steps full out and want to know what the dancers experience. Allowing dancers to make mistakes is part of this process and is sometimes useful – you discover things you end up keeping in.

Have you ever made a piece to no music or would you consider doing so?

I would like to make a piece without music. The idea of silence and using the breath as the flow of music is very appealing.

Both the Dutch National Ballet and Scapino Ballet gave me some of my first opportunities by the age of 30. It’s always a risk to take a chance on new choreography – and how many ‘names’ are female? Too few…

I like to test whether the audience is following the piece – does it communicate?

Does the final on-stage product surprise you?

The translation from studio to stage – what you want the audience to focus on – can shift and I’ve found that lighting can help bring out the intent of the piece.

What do you like to do for fun or for a hobby?

Fun for me is escaping to the indoors – I like museums and enjoy seeing other dance performances and seeing what is around me locally, Dutch National Ballet and Nederlands Dans Theater.

What is on the horizon professionally?

I’ve got several commissions lined up including a small chamber company in Moscow, a contemporary company in Chile, Cuba, Manila, the Joffrey, Cincinnati and Grand Rapids again.

Sounds like you may need someone to help you restage your works…

Restaging sounds like work! My primary interest lies in making new pieces and the process and joy of discovery.