By Laura Cappelle
31 July 2020
“Can you caress the wall?,” Annabelle Lopez Ochoa said, frowning to get a better sense of the dancers’ living room on her screen. It was April, and the contemporary ballet choreographer was trying something new. Together with two dancers from the Norwegian National Ballet, Julie Gardette and François Rousseau, she was creating a piece entirely over Zoom—the first of what she now calls “a video diary of what dancers do inside.”
What was originally a one-off celebration for Rousseau, whose stage farewell was cancelled due to the pandemic, has turned into a larger creative project for Ochoa. Since then, from her house in Amsterdam, she has taken to creating dance films, all three to five minutes in length, with performers around the world. Dancers from Tulsa Ballet, Joffrey Ballet, Dutch National Ballet and more have already taken part, with others scheduled in the coming months.
Ochoa had to rush to fly out of Tulsa in March, where she had been re-staging her ballet Vendetta, just before international travel was banned. Being stuck at home instead of going from commission to commission prompted some soul-searching. “We’re all forced to go back to point zero. It made me reflect not just on the pieces that I’ve made, but on the artist that I am,” she says. Working with dancers again proved energizing. “What do I like in choreography? I noticed, being on Zoom, that it’s the interaction.”
The early sessions were bumpy. Gardette and Rousseau had to alternate between leaning in close to their screen to see corrections and dancing from enough distance for Ochoa to see the bigger picture. The music proved the biggest hurdle, however. “It was delayed, so I would hear 1, 2, 3, and they would hear pause… 1, 2, 3,” the choreographer says.
She figured out a way to share music that causes less delay (although Ochoa says synchronization is still an issue). One hour on Zoom is now enough for her to craft one minute of choreography, and the dancers she asked to participate generally jumped at the chance to do more than staying in shape while sheltering in place. “It’s not the same just doing ballet class at home: you don’t have that collaboration energy of learning choreography,” Maine Kawashima, a soloist with Tulsa Ballet, says.
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