5 Questions with Rigoberto Saura on his Art of Making Dance
What is is that makes Saura’s choreography a must see (or rather, a must experience)? It most definitely has to do with the language of movement he creates for each work — movement that is undeniably Rigoberto…
There are varying degrees of difficulty when it comes to making dance. It can be as simple as creating a short phrase of movement for a soloist, or as complex as crafting an evening length work on a professional company of dancers. Rehearsal periods can be as short as an hour or as extensive as a multi-year project. Then there is the element of space and production; a piece of choreography can be performed easily inside a dance studio or face the complexities of a fully functional theater. In any case, there is a method to the movement madness, and each choreographer finds their own unique way of bringing their ideas to life.
For choreographer and dancer Rigoberto Saura, the search for clarity in how he expresses his creative visions is an ongoing process. Over the years, his journey has taken him from his native Cuba to Ecuador, Chicago and most recently Los Angeles. In every city and with each opportunity to create, his experiences and discoveries continue to cultivate and clarify his approach to dance. Most recently, Saura’s work was selected for New Dances 2019 (produced by Thodos Dance Chicago and DanceWorks Chicago), was awarded third place at the 5th Annual Choreography Showcase and Competition at the College of DuPage and was performed in Los Angeles as part of LA Contemporary Dance Company’s Choreography Lab. These are just the tip of the iceberg of the choreographic journey that Saura began at age 11 in Cuba.
…there is something undeniably timeless, innovative and captivating about Saura’s creations that leaves the dancers he works with and audiences alike wanting more.
What is is that makes Saura’s choreography a must see (or rather, a must experience)? It most definitely has to do with the language of movement he creates for each work — movement that is undeniably Rigoberto, but is specifically crafted to hone in on a specific concept or emotion. It is also in the way he crafts each work; there is a certain humbleness and eagerness to learn that makes each experience compound with all others to enrich the process each and every time. Or maybe it is simply that his joy and passion in making dance are palpable with each work he creates. Regardless, there is something undeniably timeless, innovative and captivating about Saura’s creations that leaves the dancers he works with and audiences alike wanting more.
DancerMusic Dance Editor Kristi Licera recently had the chance to catch up with Rigoberto and learn more about the origins of his love of choreography, his ongoing journey and growth as a choreographer and his most recent projects. Here’s what he told us:
I think it’s fundamental to know where and how you start, and to recognize the effort you put in. This is not a simple job or career. This is a way of life.
Kristi Licera: Your affinity for movement was discovered at an early age, which eventually led to your audition for Havana’s Escuela Nacional de Cuba when you were 11 years old. It was for this audition that you created your first dance – a self-choreographed solo that earned your admission to the school. Can you tell us more about your days choreographing in your youth, and how your education at Escuela Nacional De Cuba supported your early dance-making?
Rigoberto Saura: My discovery of dance was a coincidence of fate. I was surrounded by arts very early in life. I watched theater performances as a child and participated in productions from ages 8-11. My first exam for admission to the national school was a small improvisation in the form of a phrase of movement. It was presented at the end of the physical examination portion. The night before the exam, I remember going to bed thinking about and analyzing each step and idea from my rehearsal the day before. This was my first taste of creating dance, and with that I also discovered that I could interpret movement. They were small steps – nothing complicated – but I had skills that were different from the other 11-year-old boys (who’s heads were filled with superheroes and exploring nature).
Later on, my dance composition classes contributed to my instinct to create. After being trained in the fundamental rules of choreography, the second work that I created emerged little by little. My instincts were more organized, and I began to articulate the wild ideas in my head into real life.
I think it’s fundamental to know where and how you start, and to recognize the effort you put in. This is not a simple job or career. This is a way of life. It is like your religion. This is how I approached it.
Throughout my life, my teachers saw the desire to achieve and create something larger than myself. They pushed me to master the physical and mental fortitude needed to achieve this.
Kristi Licera: After earning your degree in dance from the Instituto Superieur de Arte, you spent four years as a soloist with Danza Contemporanea de Cuba and served as a professor of dance at the National School of Contemporary Dance in Havana. It is common for professional company dancers to perform and teach dance at a studio or school; being a soloist in one of the nation’s premiere companies while being an educator at a national school is a rarity that requires incredible talent, passion and dedication. How did your education prepare you for each of these parts of your career, especially when it comes to doing both jobs simultaneously?
Rigoberto: Many graduates from the National School of Contemporary Dance perform in various companies throughout Cuba while teaching classes – much like graduate students in the United States do throughout their tenure at school. However, I did have a unique opportunity to teach basic through advanced technique classes as well as all levels of dance composition classes. I feel that this helped me fine tune my voice as a choreographer, as I was also taking in many unique voices from the students I taught and the faculty that I collaborated with.
My education and the support of my family and friends were the building blocks for my passion and desire to share my voice with my students and peers. Throughout my life, my teachers saw the desire to achieve and create something larger than myself. They pushed me to master the physical and mental fortitude needed to achieve this. I knew that thought my passion to create and push the limits and boundaries of dance was my calling, I could never forget that giving back to the dance community through teaching was part of what I was destined to do. I thank my teachers and family for creating such a strong passion for art, and for creating selflessness inside of me. Without that, it would not be possible to be where I am today.
Ecuador was my second “school of life.” For four years, I was able to go through each of the roles that the company offered: choreographic assistant, teacher, creator, dancer and director of one of the youngest groups at the Ecuadorian National Ballet.
Kristi: In 2013, you moved to Ecuador to dance as a soloist in the National Ballet of Ecuador. During that time, you also served as choreographic assistant to Pepe Hevia – an internationally recognized choreographer and founder of Pepe Hevia Dance Company (now in its 27th season). What were your duties as Hevia’s choreographic assistant, and how did your time with him affect your approach to choreography?
Rigoberto: Arriving in Ecuador as a Principal Assistant and dancer was an important step in my career. I knew that this position would change my life, and I wanted to absorb as much knowledge as possible from one of the most important choreographers in Cuba.
As an assistant, I had to take notes, make corrections, organize materials, carry out production tasks, work long rehearsal and creation sessions and dance in many of the projects. All of this simultaneous work as an assistant and dancer taught me to organize and optimize my time. I learned how to teach by example; I would demonstrate movement to other dancers, as well as introduce the ideas of the phrases related to the music/visual effects. This was all done under the supervision of Hevia. The opportunity to experience every aspect of the process at an early age was truly a unique experience.
Ecuador was my second “school of life.” For four years, I was able to go through each of the roles that the company offered: choreographic assistant, teacher, creator, dancer and director of one of the youngest groups at the Ecuadorian National Ballet. This was all thanks to the opportunities my teachers and mentors gave me, and I am so thankful to have had their trust and guidance.
In Chicago, you’re in action at a high level every hour of every day. I love that opportunities spring up in every corner of the city, and I can push myself as a dancer and choreographer both physically and artistically.
Kristi Licera: You currently live in Chicago and dance with Hedwig Dances, under the direction of Jan Bartoszek. Ideology and the community surrounding dance and choreography vary from country to country, and in some cases from city to city. What was it about Chicago that attracted you, and how has your time in the city allowed you to grow as a choreographer?
Rigoberto: After Ecuador, I wanted to come to America and pretty much change my entire life. I spent almost a year sabbatical in North Carolina, dancing in local groups but primarily living with my sister and her family while I worked. During that time, I would travel to Boston and New York in search of new opportunities. I discovered Chicago through the many friends I have from Cuba that reside there. They told me that the city gave artists a chance to grow, to invest time in the things they loved and to achieve their goals. These qualities made me feel that Chicago would be the perfect place to set and achieve new goals.
In Chicago, you’re in action at a high level every hour of every day. I love that opportunities spring up in every corner of the city, and I can push myself as a dancer and choreographer both physically and artistically. Hedwig Dances has provided me with opportunities that have been instrumental to my growth as a choreographer. The company has given me support and space for creation, and their unique approach to creating new works has been challenging, stimulating and exciting. When making new works at Hedwig, there is open studio space for dancers to create, dance and collaborate with each other and the choreographer. This format inspired me, and I began to create small phrases of movement. I showed these phrases to everyone who came through the studio for their feedback and opinions.
My voice as a creator is quite different than others, and at first, I was not sure if that was good or bad. But I have come to embrace those feelings as part of the experience that has made me the artist I am.
Rigoberto: Then, a great challenge and a great opportunity merged. Jan Bartoszek, Founding Artistic Director of Hedwig Dances, trusted me to create a large work for the company, which premiered in March of this year at the Ruth Page Center for the Arts. That project was Flowering Mechanisms – a huge-undertaking that ended up being a 30-minute work. It was accompanied by an original score, titled “Alternative Energy” by Mason Bates (former composer in residence for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra). The entire project became sort of an addiction for me: always recording videos, collaborating with Bates, taking notes home, creating pages of rehearsal notes and new ideas. The process was a very short, intense month and a half, and it truly pushed me to create a piece larger than what I thought was possible. The experience of creating Flowering Mechanisms was a fundamental step in my development as a choreographer. Chicago, Hedwig Dances and Ruth Page Center for the Arts have been the driving force behind taking the next steps in my career as a creator.
I have lived in Cuba, Ecuador and now, Chicago. Each place has given me a socio-cultural experience rich in nuances that have helped me make sense of everything I have learned and experienced. I think we are a reflection of what we learn, process and create. I am beginning to see that more and more in my choreography. My voice as a creator is quite different than others, and at first, I was not sure if that was good or bad. But I have come to embrace those feelings as part of the experience that has made me the artist I am. I cannot wait to see what happens next.
I felt that this piece had desperation and an emotional center. Working with my mentors really brought that to the final product.
Kristi: Most recently, you completed a new work in Southern California with LA Contemporary Dance Company (LACDC) as part of their Choreography Lab, which gives choreographers ages 20+ the opportunity to create work with the company’s dancers in a week-long intensive process. In addition, lab artists are given studio space and mentorship from LACDC Artistic Director Genevieve Carson and choreographer Rebecca Lemme. Can you tell us about this latest choreographic work and more about its process of creation?
Rigoberto: It was a brief but intense process that helped me perfect certain methods of creation and new ways of projecting my creative world – of exposing my ideas both written and orally. In this choreographic laboratory, I navigated between two seas, the theoretical and the practical, which are both important for the exhibition and interpretation of my work (especially as the dancers begin to dive into my process). LACDC’s Choreography Lab is in its infancy, and I am more than honored to have been one of the first to be a part of it.
For this experience, my choreographic work was related to survival – how we navigate situations and how we survive them. My initial inspiration for this process was a real situation that occurred in Cuba in 1994 called Mariel, where hundreds of people left their families behind and threw themselves into the sea in search of a new coast full of opportunities.
…this experience helped my creative voice flow down a single stream of thought, which I was able to navigate throughout the process of creation.
Rigoberto: I arrived at LACDC’s Choreography Lab with a wide range of ideas and forms of interpretation/ Thanks to my research and the brilliant creative process led by Genevieve Carson and my choreographic mentor Rebecca Lemme, I managed to centralize my ideas. I felt that this piece had desperation and an emotional center. Working with my mentors really brought that to the final product. For me, this experience helped my creative voice flow down a single stream of thought, which I was able to navigate throughout the process of creation.
I had the pleasure of working with two young movement interpreters, JM Rodriguez and Angel Tyson. These two individuals are dancers at LACDC, and they knew how to capture the essence of the work, adapt and collaborate on choreography in an incredible way. I am truly grateful for the mentors and dancers that I worked with in this process and hope to visit LA again to work with them. I made some great friends along the way and expanded my creative horizons.