1. What are the ways to start the process of creating a performance according to your experience?

A starting point can be inspired by an idea or concept. For example, when I wanted to work with time as a concept [in a performance], I carried out a lot of research before I started dancing. Another example was to start from the idea of challenging myself. It was my Bachelor final performance, so I wanted to try out things I hadn’t done before. As a contemporary dance choreographer, it is important to find your own [artistic] code, as opposed to classical dance, where this code is more rigid. Through a solo, one can achieve this language very well, because you explore and present yourself in the most loyal and honest way possible. Another highly important starting point for me are the performers and their bodies. I work a lot by suggesting physical guidelines that are reflected on the bodies in a peculiar way. Depending on the first answer I get from the performer, I shape the creative process.


2. What kind of guidelines do you give to the performers?

They are very physical. For example: “we are going to work on the supporting points in your body when standing on all fours, and we can’t get up from that level”. They are normally not related to intentions or emotions. Later in the process, the performer includes a certain intention or presence, and this builds something that is complex. This doesn’t need to be perceived by the public as similar to the initial physical guideline. However, the beginning is mainly very physical. 


3. At which point in the process do terms like ‘structure’ or ‘concept’ appear?

As you said, you can start at any place. In my project about time, I read a lot of philosophy and poetry, whatever possible to fill my mind with the concept. From there, I began doing exercises with the other dancer with whom I was doing the project. Through this, we shaped more specific guidelines, therefore giving structure to the piece and slowly arriving at the result I wanted. Usually, the way I arrive at the structure is never in any specific order. I start drawing smaller ideas or ‘scenes’. After the body has gone through these proposals, the scenes start coming together. The order of the scenes is based on different options: they can be how the body feels about this specific order, or how these proposals contrast each other. I would describe my way of deciding the order as almost casual. If I see something in a rehearsal that fits, it stays that way. Another important factor in this structure that helps a lot is my idea of how it begins and how it ends. The idea can be a specific scene or an image. 


4. What do you base this structure on? Is it more a story or a succession of events?

There are creators within the modern dance world who do want to tell a story. They have a clear idea about the structure and this is the thread they follow in the process. For example, [name?], she usually shaped the whole story and the structure beforehand, and all the physical work was based on this story. The dramaturg she worked with, in fact, had a theatre training. However, most of the modern dance performers and choreographers don’t do that. They work from other places that are not so narrative.


5. How present is the public in the creation?

Unless the targeted public is very specific, for me it is very important that the public doesn’t exist as a concrete part of the process, because otherwise I can’t convey what I want to express in an honest way. First I have to find what I want to say and what I want to convey during one hour on stage. To achieve this, I have to find myself and the people who are working with me.

However, it is true that there is a moment where the public enters the process. This moment is mainly when the formal structure is clear in terms of durations and the scenes that form the performance. This moment in the process, which depends on the artist, is where this encounter with the public has to happen. At this moment, the creative and investigative processes turn into a real performance.

One of the factors that determine when the public is included in a piece is related to how secure or insecure the process is. Maybe you are very sure about where you want to take the process you are carrying out, or maybe you don’t really know at that moment. In the second case, introducing the idea of the public can be very problematic.

One case that can relate to the second example is a choreographer I work with, whose name is Lucía. She is very insecure in the sense that she ‘doesn’t know what is happening’. She works very intuitively, so she introduces the concept of public later in the process, and this public substantially changes the view of the process. 

These different approaches are very important for the creator. The creator has to decide when to focus on these components, when to widen the scope, when to introduce the concept of the public, etc.


6. How do you treat the expression (the images or emotions that are conveyed)? When a specific expression originates, would you work from this result to achieve it again or would you go back to the beginning?

It depends. Sometimes you have a clear image in a creative process and sometimes the process leads to an image. It is pretty flexible. I feel comfortable in both and I have also experienced the same with other collaborators who also work like that. 

When the expression is very close to the initial proposal, it is easy to repeat it. However, if the result has been spontaneous or casual, it is more complicated to revive the expression. If a certain action or scene leads to one specific expression, I would not work from the result. For example, when I worked on the piece about time, there was a scene that originated from me and the other dancer slapping each others’ faces. After working on it, we realised that what was actually shocking was the duration of this action. We didn’t move and we couldn’t refuse the slap, and after some time, our faces turned red from the hits. If I were to repeat this and achieve the tension the scene generated, I wouldn’t work from the tension, but going through the same process again. It is true that, after rehearsing a series of actions, your body gets used to them. However, the director should know the path that has led to this expression.


7. Could you talk about the experiences you have had with musicians?

A very concrete experience was a project I did when I was studying at the Conservatory. It was a collaboration between the music and dance conservatories in Madrid, and we had to work on an existing composition. I was in a duo with a saxophone player. It was beautiful, because I had never worked in that way. My idea was not only to dance to this existing music, a music which didn’t have to do with my body and to which I had to adapt, but to try to include both the musician’s and my bodies on stage. It was complicated because we didn’t have a lot of time, but the musician surrendered to the process and it was beautiful. As I heard from them, the classical academic music environment in Madrid didn’t allow much experimentation with other disciplines. 

For the performance about time, I got in contact with Jorge González, a member of the Spanish indie rock group Vetusta Morla, and Pedro López, a classically trained composer. Pedro composed a very beautiful piano piece, and Jorge created the electronic music. We worked a lot in distance because of our agendas and the fact that we lived in different cities. What we did was to have phone conversations after I sent videos to them. It was a very parallel way of working. Sometimes I sent them videos with isolated ideas, which sometimes didn’t have any structure. Then they would create the music, they would send it to me and then I would develop the performance with the music as a substantial component, not as background music. I was also present when Jorge would edit the pieces. I think the three of us were very satisfied, because it was the first time we would work in this inclusive way.

Another way with which I have experience working is to hire a musician who writes the music. This person comes to the rehearsals and bases the music on them. It’s a more direct way of working than what I was mentioning before. While you work on your dance, he starts introducing music. At that moment, we can see what fits and what doesn’t. Later on, the music links up with your body and creates this place you have to be in for the performance.

Generally, it is important for disciplines like contemporary dance that there is freedom. This style of dance has this freedom within itself. We can dance with the music, without the music, reflecting it on our bodies, or not… We have plenty of possibilities and the beautiful thing is that it is open. 

Then there is a third way with which I have experience, and it’s when the musicians are also on stage. Currently I am collaborating with the renowned Madrid-based choreographer Elena Córdoba. All the performers she chose for this piece are present since the beginning. The person in charge of the music or the visuals are as important as the rest of the performers. Everyone attends the rehearsals and everyone can initiate an idea. Elena is working with the violinist Luz Prado, who is wonderful. She has the freedom to experiment with whatever she comes up with, either by deviating from her academic training, or improvising something inspired by what is happening in the rehearsal. Although the performance will be presented in the program as a dance piece, it is not a dance piece where Luz has just composed the music, but a piece where Luz is a performer and active participant in the process.

Something that is very beautiful is when one forgets about the disciplines, like when you don’t know if what you are witnessing is music or dance. In this project, there is a moment where Luz plays, while a dancer lays on the floor and speaks. You see the body of a dancer who is talking, even if he is not an actor. Luz plays, but not as a soloist. A scene is created where what matters is not the discipline that is being employed, but the way in which we arrive to the result. It is what many others and I call ‘collaboration’: we have a common idea and we work together from any place we feel like, without being concerned about which discipline I am using. When this mix of freedom and involvement happens, I think it is when it becomes interesting.


8. Which tools have you used to work on the interaction in these kinds of groups?

Sometimes you jump into something you have never done, and sometimes you perform exercises beforehand to be able to work on something you are not used to. What is being formed in the group is important, especially when you are dealing with more delicate things that put you in a vulnerable place. 

Mar López

photo by Javier Marquerie Bueno

Interview with dancer and choreographer Mar López

Mar López is a choreographer, dancer, dance manager, and pedagogue based in Madrid. Her training includes studies at the Carmen Senra Dance School and the Bachelor Degree at the Dance Conservatory in Madrid. She has participated in numerous dance companies like La ligne folle, 10&10 danza, Arrieritos Flamenco, among others, and has collaborated with dancers and choreographers like Carmen Werner, Chevy Muraday, Mateo Feijoó or Elena Córdoba. Currently, she teaches Composition and Dramaturgy at the Carmen Senra Dance School. In addition, she has also worked as assistant of production, programmer in dance festivals, with artists like Cecilia Molano, Elena Córdoba and Lucía Marote.