Internationally renowned choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa is, in her own words, passionate about “creating new realities.” A simple class exercise at the age of 11 sparked the beginnings of what would later become a thriving choreographic career. While Lopez Ochoa couldn’t quite comprehend the gravity of that moment; she knew that when her “teacher put [her] there with the pianist for one hour to create a dance,” it was “the best hour of [her] life.”
Lopez Ochoa’s passion for storytelling is evident in her ballet Requiem for a Rose. Inspired by a bouquet of red roses she received, the ballet examines the contrast between the ephemeral nature of romance and the enduring devotion of love. After meticulously displaying her bouquet in a collection of glasses throughout her room, they wilted and died. Unceremoniously throwing those flowers away left a distinct impression on the choreographer. “I thought it was a beautiful metaphor for what romance is— it is very beautiful and elegant, but at one point it stops existing,” Lopez Ochoa notes. “We all hope that it transforms itself into something doable and everlasting. That is all our dream.”
In addition to the core theme, distinct visuals are an important aspect of Lopez Ochoa’s work. With Requiem for a Rose she “put two different characters, one very elegant and romantic, and one raw and angular, together in [one] piece.” The ballet’s “requiem” for fleeting romance consists of 12 dancers clad in petal-like skirts, standing in stark contrast to the single archetypal character of Venus. Colloquially known as “the Rose,” Venus “represents the rawness and the purity” of love, “devoid of any elegance” or embellishment.
For Lopez Ochoa, dance is a mutually beneficial art. A choreographer can only control the dance to a certain point before “surrendering” it to the dancers. Though this loss of control can be frightening at times, it’s a necessary and rewarding part of the process. “I love the moment when I disappear, and it looks like the dancers have come up with the piece,” Lopez Ochoa attests. “That’s a present that dancers sometimes can give to a choreographer.”
The joy of choreography, however, isn’t only relegated to creating new works. “For a choreographer, the most exciting [part of the process] is to rework a piece, not just stage it and set the movements,” Lopez Ochoa affirms. Revisiting a piece allows her not only to reflect on her past creative decisions, but to see her personal and artistic growth as she works with a new group of dancers. “Each piece will always change. In the beginning, I come in and teach the steps, and when I start to get to know the dancers, that’s when I start adapting [the work] and seeing how it evolves.”
“I think art is always, or should be, a reflection of our society and what is happening in the world and what is happening in different art forms,” Lopez Ochoa says. “Dance is, in one aspect, very direct because it’s movement,” the choreographer reveals. “We don’t need language [to communicate]. At the same time, it’s very open to interpretation.” Lopez Ochoa emphasizes the importance of each dancer grasping the ballet’s message with “ultimate concentration and commitment to the moment.” Those moments of concentration can sometimes be elusive. After many years of dancing professionally herself, Lopez Ochoa fully understands the challenges dancers can encounter from day to day. She considers connecting with her dancers a crucial aspect of her work. “Part of being a choreographer is trying to reach that moment with your dancers,” she explains. “Don’t be afraid! Don’t think of other things! Just be.” And if a work evolves differently from what she first imagined? “Well,” she says matter-of-factly, “I didn’t make it for me, I made it for them.”