The World at Her Feet: Annabella Gonzalez celebrates 35th anniversary
by Adam Rathe
Despite being best known for her feet,Annabella Gonzalez first came to New
York City on a Greyhound bus.The Mexican-born founder of AnnabellaGonzalez Dance Theater, which is celebratingits 35th year with a weekend-longprogram March 16 and 17 at the ManhattanMovement and Arts Center, came to NewYork one summer ostensibly to study theater,but left-returning to the Universityof Minnesota to finish a degree in art history-with a new creative obsession.
"I was taking classes at HB Studiosand one of the theater classes was calledMovement for Actors," she said. "When Icame out of that class, I knew that I wasin the wrong school. I knew that what Iwanted was dance."After completing her undergraduatedegree, Gonzalez moved to New York towork on a master's degree in art history atColumbia and continued to study dance onthe side. Eventually, having a taste for theinternational, Gonzalez moved to Europe.
"I danced with a modern dance companyin Geneva-it was very interesting,"she explained.After nine years in Europe, Gonzalezmoved back to New York determined toform her very own dance company, dancingas well as choreographing."I've always wanted to choreographmore than dance," shesaid. "Dancing, for me technically,is a big challenge. But Ihear Mozart, who is my god, andI thought, do what you love. Dowhat comes easily rather thanauditioning all over the place."
Starting a brand-new company,however, was not a simpletask."It was really difficult,"
Gonzalez said with a sigh. "Ihad a couple of friends in a balletclass-most of my dancers
have strong ballet training-and in these classes I would dowhatever I could to ask these other dancersto work for nothing at first. I startedout wherever I could, in crummy little studiosthat I could afford. There were dozensof those studios. I also worked out ofmy apartment, which has a mini-studio."Gonzalez's tactics worked. She managedto cobble together a team thatworked for her until 1977, when she wasable to gain nonprofit status for the groupand began auditioning dancers and workingon fundraising.
"Our first series, in 1977, was reallythe beginning of solid work. And thenwe performed a great deal in schools andsenior centers and libraries-everywhere.We also tour nationally and we have beenperforming in Mexico for four years now."Since that initial performance,Gonzalez and her troupe, who are basedout of her Upper East Side home, havestayed active in New York, performingeverywhere from Lincoln Center's Out ofDoors Festival to Carnegie Hall and the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Gonzalezsays that developing relationships withher dancers has been the most rewardingpart of her job.
"I've gotten some into teaching dancein public schools, one because of herpresentation, [one who] joined Cirquedu Soleil. Another subsequently movedupstate and started a new company.Another named his only daughter in myhonor! Looking back, the human contacthas been the most rewarding."
To celebrate those relationships, theprogram Gonzalez is offering in celebrationof her company's anniversaryis fittingly unique, including a Gonzalezchoreographedpiece for six dancerscalled Pastoral Latino, a solo piece calledDays of Sunshine by guest artist MazineSteinman, a revival of Gonzalez' Adam andEve-themed piece, The Fall? and more.It's a program that the choreographerhopes encourages participationfrom longtime fans as well as new ones.
"I'm discouraged to see people stayinghome instead of attending live musicand dance," she said. "It's a challengeto attract young people and get them toenjoy live dance. That's really something Iwant to get involved with and overcome."
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