Annabelle Lopez Ochoa

is warm, intense, precise.

Quick and brimming with energy in the studio, she is a very physical, literally hands-on choreographer, sometimes composing one knee-twist at a time, sometimes proposing a whole sweep of movement.

Each of Annabelle’s pieces has some autobiographical seed.
This one, for Whim W’Him’s next program, grew from a moment on a crowded train in Holland, when she received a phone call: a marvelous dancer, friend, and subject of her choreography, had died, suddenly,at 33 years old, apparently healthy and strong, perhaps of a heart attack…
The small thread of that large event informs her piece for Whim W’Him in many ways. This new work does not yet have a name, though its title may include the phrase, “The endless continuity of…”. As Annabelle told me during the first week of rehearsals, it will be a dance of strong feeling, “but not emotional, weepy—more conceptual”. There also is, “necessarily, a building up, not just an idea”. She pauses, then smiles. “Also a bit of theatre. The intuition of the phone call— what it did to me, how it left me speechless— will guide me.”

Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, born in Belgium of Belgian/Colombian parents, has lived and worked in the Netherlands for 17 years. She is highly regarded, the recipient of many awards and commissions, but does not belong to any company: “I am very happy being a freelance choreographer. It gives me opportunities to meet new people and new cultures. That, already, is a big source of inspiration, that I wouldn’t want to miss on.”

The genesis of Annabelle’s collaboration with Whim W’Him is unusual. Company Director Olivier Wevers saw a piece she did in LA. She wasn’t there at the time, but he liked it very much and contacted her on Facebook. She doesn’t usually accept people as Facebook friends unless she knows them, but, among other things, Olivier went to the same primary school in Belgium, and her brother was in his year (though they didn’t know each other). There was a connection. One month later, they had decided to work together, but still had never met in person until she stepped off the plane early this summer in Seattle, the Saturday before a Monday start of rehearsals. Each workday for two weeks, Annabelle made a video of the final run-through of the various sections, then that evening reviewed the DVD and got ideas about what to change or develop or scrap next day in the studio.

Two weeks of creative time with the dancers in June, another week in October, then final preparations before the premiere in January 2011 at Seattle’s Intiman Theatre (along with a new solo and duet by Olivier plus a new piece by Mark Haim). It’s an interrupted work-process, but allows for gestation and ripening between times.

For Annabelle, this Whim W’Him project is a very uncommon undertaking in one respect, the first piece she has choreographed without knowing the music ahead of time. The score is only now being written, is only partially completed. Its Belgian composer, David Van Bouwel, “is in an early music band. He has been very busy traveling this spring and summer. He also just sold his house and is moving, so things are going a bit slower than expected”. Keep in mind that this whole project really just got underway in March.

For Annabelle, it is a wonderful, if scary challenge. “Music can be a corset. Without it,” she says, with her engaging grin, “I am totally there—with my childish imagination”. Since the music isn’t ready yet, during the June rehearsals she worked against the background of a continuous loop of music in the mood of the piece she is inventing, “maybe even some of what will be used”. The loop incorporates part of a soundscape of Van Bouwel, some of the Beethoven Moonlight Sonata, and the beautiful piano Adagio from the Bach Concerto in D Minor, after Alessandro Marcello (BWV 974), as played by Glenn Gould. This method of choreographing will need more specific requirements than normally she would exact of the composer. It also affects the dancers.

But for them, unlike in last winter’s 3Seasons, where the choreography had been faithfully set to the Vivaldi score—and they had to cope with surprise substitutions of Byron Au Yong’s just-composed and exceedingly different music—Annabelle’s sound loop has been present throughout the process so far.

Along with learning the movements, they have learned to modify the spirit of what they are doing to fit whatever particular music is being played at the moment—new or old, fast or slow, harsh and angular or gentle and smooth—so that each musical/choreographic iteration adds a layer of what is possible.

In the next few days, look for more posts, on Annabelle’s piece, rehearsal of a new Olivier work, and *preparations for Bastille Day at the Triple Door…


*already up!

All photos by La Vie Photography, except the first, from Annabelle’s own website: