Welcome to Episode 20 with my guest Annabelle Lopez Ochoa. This is the first repeat guest for the podcast. Why a repeat? Well, it’s Women’s History Month, she has a new full-length ballet based on the life historical political figure Eva Perón which is making its Chicago debut this weekend, she’s a badass female choreographer, and honestly, I just love talking with her. You can listen to her interview on Episode 9 here. Ticket for the performances of Ballet Hispánico in Doña Perón at the Auditorium Theatre (March 26 & 27) are available here.
Annabelle has been choreographing since 2003 following a 12-year career in various contemporary dance companies throughout Europe. She has created works for 60 dance companies worldwide. In 2012, her first full-length work, A Streetcar Named Desire, originally created for the Scottish Ballet, received the Critics’ Circle National Dance Award for “Best Classical Choreography” and was nominated for a prestigious Olivier Award for “Best New Dance Production” the following year. Annabelle was the recipient of the Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award in 2019. You can read her full bio here.
Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, the Columbian-Belgian choreographer of international acclaim, brings her talents back to Chicago – virtually, of course. It Was All A Dream is the fifth in a series of video collaborations meant to give artists around the world a way to express themselves during the pandemic when most are confined close to or within their homes. “I wanted to make a diary…what are the artists doing?” said Lopez Ochoa. “These short videos give a stage to the dancers who have been ripped off their stages.”
For the most recent video (released today), Lopez Ochoa teamed up with some of our hometown favorites from The Joffrey Ballet. Jeraldine Mendoza and Dylan Gutierrez, along with their pup Kahlua, are featured in the video. Gutierrez also composed the music, and Xavier Núñez (another Joffrey dancer) edited the video. “The movie is about two dancers dreaming that they go outside,” Lopez Ochoa said. “Hopefully when we all look back at 2020, it will be like a distant, bad dream.”
“Even though it’s about the pandemic, it’s not sad,” said Mendoza. “It’s still light and hopeful.” Gutierrez agrees, “It’s meant to uplift and be fun. It’s a three-minute break.” While all are proud of the final product, the process of creating a short work via Zoom was a bit of a challenge, but one everybody was ready to overcome. Lopez Ochoa had some practice having worked with other artists on videos previously. Her first foray into filmmaking was a learning experience. She obtained a mentor – a Dutch cameraman – who was not impressed by her first effort. He told her to broaden her vision and think 360 degrees around the dancers.
Lopez Ochoa met Mendoza and Gutierrez in 2015 while in Chicago creating the world premiere Mammatus for the Joffrey. They suggested bringing Núñez on board and the process began in May. “At the point when she asked us, we hadn’t been doing anything,” Mendoza said. “We were obviously excited to work with Annabelle, but also excited to have a schedule and something to work towards.” Described by the choreographer as “contemporary classical with a pedestrian touch,” it really creates the feel of a day in the life of the couple. And aside from the cameos of Kahlua, the real star of the video is the city of Chicago.
The connecting of choreography, music, and video editing make it a true collaboration. One facet does not overtake the others. Gutierrez had worked with Lopez Ochoa previously on music for her piece Delicious Pesticides and their process was refined for this project. With Núñez coming on to edit, it was more of a journey. “I knew from editing the other films that you always have to translate,” Lopez Ochoa said. “He was very respectful of the choreography, but I told him that once you put it on video, it becomes something else. You have to remake the choreography. This is just material for you to play with.” Núñez accepted the challenge and the team worked together on the final product (which was changing up to the last minute). “It was evolving the whole time,” Gutierrez said. “We weren’t sure if the order should stay the same as how it was choreographed. It really speaks to Xavi’s creativity to take something he’d already finished and completely mix it up. It’s so cool and so hard to deconstruct something and make it better.”
Technical artistry aside, the real upside to the project was dancing…actually dancing. Like most companies, the Joffrey has been “off” since mid-March. There are daily classes offered, but that can get redundant and how many battements can you do holding on to your kitchen counter before you go crazy? (Can someone do this experiment? I’d really like to know.) “It was really nice,” said Mendoza. “The motivating factor was Annabelle watching us. To have someone watch us, direct us, tell us what to do, what intention we should have behind the steps…it keeps you going. You get lost in the moment. It was really reminiscent of going back to work.” Lopez Ochoa adds,”The most interesting part as a choreographer in the studio or on Zoom, is not making steps, but talking about intentions and seeing dancers transform and commit to the character or the situation they are playing. That’s when they can lose themselves. It’s beautiful to watch.” Well, watch for yourself.