all photos by Bill Hebert
by Kat Richter for The Dance Journal
Whether you’re a longtime fan on BalletX or a more recent convert, chances are you’ve seen something of Annabelle Lopez Ochoa. This is because the Columbo-Belgian choreographer set her first piece, Still@Life, on the company in 2008. In 2011, she created Castrati and Bare, both of which were featured in company’s recent 10th Anniversary Retrospective. Next month, she’ll premiere Bonzi, a new work inspired by the work of Belgian surrealist Rene Magritte. And like BalletX’s co-founder Matthew Neenan, with whom she’ll share the bill for the company’s summer series, Ochoa is working with the virtual artists of Klip Collective to bring her vision to life.
“I believe in the power and beauty of pure movement but I’m a storyteller before being a choreographer,” notes Ochoa. “I like visuals: the movement, the costumes, the lighting, that combination. I’m always trying to see how can I have these themes be infused with movement so that these different forms help each other?”
This approach to choreography has garnered her commissions around the world and she’ll complete her first for New York City Ballet next year. In Europe, she’s created work based on artist Frida Kahlo and a full length ballet version of A Streetcar Named Desire. Here in Philadelphia, her past works for BalletX have drawn inspiration from a variety sources, from fruit-filled still life paintings to now-illegal Italian operatic traditions. This time she’ll be tackling the world of Rene Magritte, from the perspective of a man stuck inside of it.
“Since 2012, I started doing more narrative work. As an artist, you challenge yourself and ask yourself questions. I was wondering if I could come up with a story, if I could write my own story instead of using a known story.”
Ochoa goes on to explain that the work’s title character, Bonzi, is a man who “comes into this world. He’s lonely and depressed, disillusioned and his work is that he goes door to do trying to sell products. Usually the only answer he gets is the closed door but that day, for some reason, when he rings the bell of the door, the door doesn’t open but a door on wheels passes him by. There are hands behind these doors that invite him into a world of colors and creativity, of art, and surrealism, and wit.”
Unbeknownst to her until she attended an exhibit of Magritte’s work a few years ago, Ochoa grew up in the same neighborhood as the famed Belgian artist. She considers Belgium to be “kind of a gray country” and notes it penchant for melancholy but also says the country’s simplicity endows it with a certain “strength and humor” that’s very dry.
To bring this dry wit to the stage, she’s filling the stage with a series of rolling doors. Costume designer Danielle Truss, with whom Ochoa worked previously on Dangerous Liaisons for Grand Rapids Ballet, will be lending her expertise to create abstract, wood grain-patterned costumes. Klip Collective will be helping to bring the invisible elements of Magritte’s work to life.
“[Magritte] had these paintings where you see a man in the bowler hat but the face isn’t there,” Ochoa explains. Because Bonzi is already so chock-full of props (nine doors on wheels, hats, and a number of other surprises), Klip’s contribution will be minimalist by design: projection of a corner of a room and the like.
Previously, Klip has created commissions for clients ranging from the Philadelphia Flower Show to Longwood Gardens and even Redbull; although Ochoa’s subject matter for the summer program differs greatly from Matthew Neenan’s (which pays tribute to the late Toni Hamilton, a long time supporter of BalletX who lost her life to Alzheimer’s disease), she credits the collective with giving them both a “common denominator” that she herself is very curious to see.
When asked about her experiences in working with the dancers of BalletX, Ochoa is quick to note how the company has grown since she first began working with them, both in terms of numbers and maturity. “When I came the first time, there was sort of chemistry, and their artists seemed to appreciate my work. It was a bit quirky, not just a beautiful dance— I think I’d be very bad at just making beautiful dances!
“I have a lot of respect for Christine [Cox] for keeping a small independent company, alive,” she continues, “for making it grow, because when I first worked with the company, there were only eight or nine dancers at the time, and now there are ten people and they do 3 or 4 programs each year.”
As for the dancers themselves? “They are very fast,” Ochoa says happily. “We did 25 minutes of choreography in the first week. They’re very concentrated. They’re very good dancers and I can feel that they’ve gelled together as a company so that’s beautiful to see.”
BalletX Summer Series
Wednesday, July 6, 8:00PM
Thursday, July 7, 8:00PM
Friday, July 8, 8:00PM
Saturday, July 9, 8:00PM
Wednesday, July 13, 8:00PM
Thursday, July 14, 8:00PM
Friday, July 15, 8:00PM
Saturday, July 16, 2:00PM
Saturday, July 16, 8:00PM
Sunday, July 17, 2:00PM
The Wilma Theater, 265 South Broad Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107
Tickets and Information: www.balletx.org
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