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Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State

Ballet Hispanico choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa instills ‘strong character’ into her works

By Heather Longley

If Annabelle Lopez Ochoa were a literary artist, she might be a poet. But because she’s a world-renowned contemporary dance choreographer, she portrays her modern narrative scenes in abstract and concise episodes of movement.

The Colombian-Belgian choreographer blends her wide-ranging dance training with a love of visual art and music. The nature of art means she isn’t beholden to tradition, to the expectations of dance, or to choreographers who are women. In an interview with Dance Magazine, Lopez Ochoa says she is inspired by other artists “because with each work, I also try to expand my limits.”

Lopez Ochoa emerged from a ballerina mold to become an award-winning dance creator. She relates to Crosscut.com the story of a Scarpino Ballet artistic director finally acknowledging her intent to create a dance. “You’re so serious about it. I’m going to give you the chance to make a work for the company,” she recalls him saying.

Her first piece for Ballet Hispánico, 2009’s Locked Up Laura, examines the struggle of a dancer’s identity. “Laura dances with sensuous surrender in [her partner’s] arms until he dresses her forcibly in a tutu; then her movements become stiff and staccato,” writes dance reviewer Tresca Weinstein about the piece.” She’s a woman backstage, a wind-up ballerina onstage—though in the last few moments, she appears to have found a path toward integrating the two.”

Lopez Ochoa has created works for more than fifty companies, and her accolades span from competitions to dance industry publications worldwide. On October 17, Ballet Hispánico will present 2016’s Linea Recta, Lopez Ochoa’s third work for the company under Artistic Director Eduardo Vilaro.

Linea Recta is a direct reaction to the conspicuous absence of physical touch in flamenco,” Lopez Ochoa says in an interview with the Center for the Performing Arts. “Linea recta is a French expression, which means ‘straight to the point.’ I’m a direct person, hence the expression relates to my personality.”

Lopez Ochoa on how cultural and gender identity has come into play with works commissioned by new companies:

I always put facets of my personality into my work, including my Colombian roots, my Belgian roots, my knowledge in the Vaganova classical technique, hip-hop, jazz, and flamenco. I find it hard to define what female means. I have a strong character, and my female dancers are always strong and rarely romantic. I enjoy the unknown, and I find it extra exciting to create works on companies I’ve never worked with before. I guess what attracts companies to me is that I’m adaptable in different styles of dance.

On the misleading notion that there are fewer women choreographers in the dance profession:

There are many female choreographers in the contemporary dance world, but less so in the classical ballet companies due to the archaic structure of such companies ruled by hierarchy.

On the importance of the inclusion of women behind the scenes in the arts:

I do believe that more women choreographers should get opportunities to create new story ballets. A female perspective on a female character or on a particular subject or situation is essential in the times we’re living.

On the importance of being viewed as a woman choreographer versus a choreographer:

I would hope that I get new commissions for what my work represents and what it has to offer to a company than for the fact that I’m a woman. I’ve been lucky that I’ve never been without work since the moment I decided to dedicate myself entirely to choreography fifteen years ago.

On the perceived differences between women and men choreographers:

I would say that the difference between a male colleague and me is that I’ve developed more slowly than my counterparts. No complaints about that. I prefer to be a mature, well-rounded red wine than a Beaujolais nouveau.

Ballet Hispánico’s appearance at Penn State is part of the Center for the Performing Arts Diversity and Inclusion Collaborative.

Heather Longley is a Center for the Performing Arts communications specialist.