‘I wanted the ballet to stay close to my Latino roots’
Choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa about Frida
Text: Rosalie Overing
A colourful journey through the life of the famous Mexican artist Frida Kahlo; that is Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s ballet Frida. Following its successful premiere three years ago, this season Dutch National Ballet is dancing Frida, not only in Amsterdam, but also in Los Angeles.
During the first performance series of Frida, the media often underlined the fact that Lopez Ochoa was ‘the first female choreographer to create a full-length ballet for Dutch National Ballet in over thirty years’. However, the choreographer herself paid little attention to this fact. Lopez Ochoa says, “I think the reason Ted (Brandsen – ed.) asked me to make a piece was not because he was looking for a female choreographer, but that he wanted a choreographer who enjoys telling stories.”
In Frida, Lopez Ochoa tells the life story of Frida Kahlo (1907-1954). From the moment she saw a film about Kahlo’s life, fifteen years ago, the Colombian-Flemish choreographer was inspired by the artist. “Frida is such a power woman! She had a difficult life, with a lot of pain. But rather than wasting away, she used her situation as a source of inspiration for her art. At the same time, painting was Frida’s way of taking her mind off the pain for a while. It’s so special that I can share the story of this impressive and – like me – Latin-American woman with Dutch and American audiences.” Frida, however, is not an explicitly biographical ballet. “I didn’t want the piece to be too anecdotal. Instead, I chose to tell the story through Frida’s fantasy world. So I kept looking for which paintings were based on the various events in her life, and brought those paintings and their characters to life.”
Lopez Ochoa also took inspiration for Frida from the style that Kahlo used in her paintings: Mexicanismo. “The Mexicanismo style is characterised by its indigenous origins, and works painted in this style are often two-dimensional”, explains Lopez Ochoa. “This is also reflected in the ballet. My choreography for some of the characters is angular and frontal, in order to illustrate Mexicanismo.” Besides artistic reasons, there were personal reasons for this choice too. “My father is Colombian and we had paintings in Mexicanismo style hanging on the walls at home. I never used to understand them – in my eyes the portraits were very flat and the people in them looked just like hieroglyphs – but my parents were always so proud of them! So it was even more important to me that Mexicanismo was clearly recognisable in Frida. I wanted the ballet to stay close to my Latino roots.”
‘The story is told through Frida’s fantasy world’
This season, Lopez Ochoa is returning to the ballet studio to rehearse Frida with the dancers of Dutch National Ballet. “I’m so grateful that this company is open to ballets like Frida, which tell new stories and are not totally classical. For example, some roles, including that of Frida, are not danced on pointe. By presenting productions like this, Dutch National Ballet shows that there are ballets that tell stories in other ways and have a different sort of beauty to what people in the West are used to
Annabelle Lopez Ochoa
The Colombian Flemish Annabelle Lopez Ochoa is an award-winning and sought-after choreographer. She has created pieces for over 75 companies all over the world and works both within the dance field and for theatre, opera and musical theatre.