Annabelle Lopez Ochoa makes sleek and stylish dances that are unabashedly virtuosic. Dancers deepen their technical prowess in pursuit of her aesthetic vision. When performing her works, they seem to lift their legs higher, turn faster, slice more precisely, tilt farther, explode with greater ease, and sail through the air. All with confidence that appears effortless. As a freelance artist, Lopez Ochoa makes work for dance companies of different sizes, scales, and styles, from contemporary ballet to jazz, from companies with long pedigrees to young start-ups. It is unusual for any choreographer to move across the dance spectrum the way she does, and altogether rare for a woman choreographer.
Lopez Ochoa, half-Colombian and half-Belgian, danced with a jazz dance company and Scapino Ballet Rotterdam in the Netherlands before focusing her attention on choreography. The companies that dance her works reflect her diverse background.
In an interview with Laura Kumin for Dance Magazine, Lopez Ochoa stated some of her influences: “the freedom of jazz music, the sharpness of hip hop moves, the visionary dance theater of Pina Bausch, Belgian choreographer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’s eye for detail, video artist Bill Viola for his take on time, the work of fashion designers such as Alexander McQueen, Hussein Chalayan, Viktor & Rolf—not for their fashion statements but for how they think out of the box each time. I admire them for that, because with each work I also try to expand my limits!”
Locked Up Laura
Ballet Hispanico first performed Lopez Ochoa’s work in 2009 with the world premiere of Locked Up Laura (2009). The duet is a tour de force that explores the identity of a female dancer. As dance writer Tresca Weinstein said, “She’s a woman backstage, a wind-up ballerina onstage.” Albany Times Union, June 30, 2010
In 2010, two very different companies, Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal and the project-based company called Jacoby & Pronk and Dancers, performed two of her works.
As their name suggests, the dancers of Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal (BJM) showcased Lopez Ochoa’s own history as a dancer, in jazz and ballet. They also danced Locked Up Laura (2009).
Zip Zap Zoom
The second work, Zip Zap Zoom (2009), drew on the world of video games as inspiration. The stage space is filled with design elements that suggest a virtual reality game, and Lopez Ochoa challenges the dancers to move with speed and accuracy, as they physically respond to computer commands, first as avatars and then increasingly as individuals.
While Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal had an established pedigree, her work with Jacoby & Pronk began on a much smaller scale. Drew Jacoby had danced with Alonzo King/LINES Ballet and Pacific Northwest Ballet before moving to New York to become a freelance ballet dancer. Rubinald Pronk danced with the Dutch National Ballet and Complexions Contemporary Ballet Company. They decided to dance together as a duo, commissioning new works and performing established repertory. They make a striking pair, on stage and in photographs.
For their 2010 season at the Pillow, Jacoby and Pronk became Jacoby & Pronk and Dancers. As Pillow Szporer noted in his PillowNote, One (2009) was originally created for Jacoby and Pronk as a duet, “focus[ing] on the phenomenal dancers’ chemistry.”
A New Solo
For the Pillow performances, Lopez Ochoa expanded it into a quartet. The second work was L’Effleuré, a solo made for Pronk. As Szporer noted in his PillowNote, the French title meant, “’the slightly touched one’ or ‘the hyper sensitive one’ recalling at the same time a flower’s powerful beauty and sensitivity.”
While her dances are often non-narrative, Lopez Ochoa works with the dancers to convey emotion and hint at narrative. In an interview with Wendy Perron for Dance Magazine, Lopez Ochoa explained, “I work a lot with actors and—though my pieces are becoming more and more abstract—I like to see dancers look at each other in the eyes. Though I use the abstract form, I tell them always a very definite story.” An example of that could be seen in Pacific Northwest Ballet’s performance of the melancholic Before After (2002) at the Pillow in 2014. The duet according to Lopez Ochoa “delineates the last moments of a relationship.” With bittersweet, slippery movements and quick weight shifts, the dancing suggested the instability of the couple.
In 2015, Lopez Ochoa created a stunning work for American Ballet Theatre principal dancer Daniil Simkin and his collaborating dancers for INTENSIO, a Jacob’s Pillow co-commission. Islands of Memories featured seven dancers, video projections made in real time, and large suspended mirrors for an overall visual and kinesthetic feast. As Siobhan Burke noted in the New York Times, “it’s hard to take your eyes off these dancers.” She went on to say, “Ochoa’s partnering, in which two or three or four bodies smartly leverage one another’s momentum, can be thrilling.”
Her appetite for dancemaking is voracious and wide ranging, as demonstrated by various projects at Jacob’s Pillow. After working with world-famous ballet dancers in INTENSIO, in 2016, Lopez Ochoa returned to the Pillow to create a work-in-progress for the students in the contemporary program at The School at Jacob’s Pillow. In a 2012 interview with solucionesmagazine.com, Lopez Ochoa said, “Dance for me is the language that is closest to me. I speak five languages (French, Dutch, English, Spanish, German) and I find myself in situations that none of these languages perfectly expresses my state of mind. With dance I always seem to get to the point.” An itinerant choreographer, she is at home in the world.