Interview: Avatâra Ayuso - investigating movement

Friday 1 November 2013 by Laura Dodge

Avatara Ayuso. Photo:Ian Whalen

Spanish-born Avatâra Ayuso has created and showcased work across Europe, but although she’s London based, her choreography hasn’t often been seen in the UK – yet. As she celebrates the success of her first Arts Council England funding application and develops a brand new work for performance at Cloud Dance Festival (Sun 17 November), Laura Dodge speaks to the choreographer, dancer, teacher and self-described ‘movement investigator’…

Performing regularly with Shobana Jeyasingh Dance as well as running her own project-based company, life is busy for Avatâra. We meet via Skype which she describes as a “great tool. My latest work, Balikbayan, is being choreographed on Rambert dancer Estela Merlos. We’re both away on tour a lot so we sometimes talk via Skype and she tries out movement ideas in the living room!”

This latest work, which will be shown in draft stage at Cloud Dance Festival, explores ideas of migration and acculturation. “It’s the result of my migrant experience – leaving Spain and travelling the world for my artistic development. I’ve also met a lot of other women along the way who have migrated too – for a mixture of political, social and artistic reasons.

“I wanted someone who shared my experience, which is why I chose Estela. She’s Spanish-Filipino as her Filipino mother migrated to Spain in the 1970s, and she’s a great dancer and great at approaching new ideas. I am also collaborating with a dramaturg, costume designer and anthropologist. I’m constantly trying to integrate everyone’s ideas and experiences.”

As well as Balikbayan, Avatâra will also be showing her self-performed solo Dalcroze on 17 November. Created in 2012 as a commission for European Center for the Arts Hellerau in Dresden, it’s a short and intense exploration of rhythm inspired by the work of Émile Jaques-Dalcroze.

Do the pieces Avatâra is showing at Cloud Dance Festival represent her choreographic style? “I don’t like to use the word ‘style’. I much prefer the idea of a choreographic signature, which is the way I relate the dancers’ physicality to my ideas. I never think about style but instead about the people in front of me and how they relate to the space. What I create is all about who I work with. I need dancers who can collaborate, think and be creatively independent.”

Avatâra has choreographed across Europe but despite being based in London, rarely creates work in the UK. “There’s not much of a difference creatively between countries, but there is a big difference between the resources provided for artists to develop. In spite of the difficult economic situation, countries like Germany and the UK still support the arts. In other places like Spain, Italy and Greece, there is little funding for artists.

“I do love working in Germany as it’s a great place to experiment. I’m an associate artist at the European Center for the Arts Hellerau and I feel hugely inspired by the many incredible figures, such as Vaslav Nijinsky and Mary Wigman, who have created work there. But the UK feels like home. I have been based in London since 2007. I love working here.

“There are so many wonderful dancers around the world – I’m happy to work with anyone who’s a movement investigator and is generous with their ideas and able to collaborate. For a recent film I created for Akademi, I worked with women over 50 who had no dance experience. They were so surprised that I didn’t impose movement on them. For me, it’s all about giving tasks and working with the dancers to develop their ideas.”

How does Avatâra manage her hectic schedule, combining dancing, choreographing and teaching? “I love it all. I don’t want to give anything up. It does take lots of planning, but jumping from one activity to another gives me a rest and a chance to get re-inspired. I don’t get bored – tired, yes, but bored, never!

Shobana Jeyasingh is one of the best female choreographers in Europe and I feel very privileged to work with her. I’m inspired too by the choreographer William Forsythe and he is also an associate artist the Hellerau Centre, so he’s often working in the studio next door. I feel very lucky that I am constantly learning from all these different experiences and people.”

Avatâra took part in the D.A.N.C.E. programme in 2005 alongside Forsythe and three other top choreographers – Wayne McGregor, Frédéric Flamand and Angelin Preljocaj. How did this experience enhance her work? ““It was life changing. It gave me the great opportunity to work next to four wonderful artists across three different countries (Germany, France and Belgium). I learnt directly from their practice and it definitely helped me to grow as a dancer and also develop a choreographic eye, a sense of composition and rhythm. I will always be very grateful to Jason Beechey, the Executive Director of D.A.N.C.E., who trusted me from the beginning.”

Avatâra has just been selected as for Dance UK’s highly-competitive Dancers’ Mentoring Programme and earlier in the year she was awarded a Dance UK Business of Dance Bursary to develop her business skills. “I am so grateful to Dance UK for their support. They really help artists to strengthen our artistic and management skills.

“The business bursary developed my confidence and enabled me to work on my Arts Council funding application, which has been pivotal in expanding my work in the UK. I am thrilled now that I will be mentored by Morag Deyes, Artistic Director of Dance Base in Edinburgh. She’s one of the best artistic leaders I’ve ever met and it will be a great privilege to work with her.”

Where does Avatâra see herself in the future? “I want to keep on dancing, teaching and choreographing, hopefully with more regular funding support. I would like to develop my artistic practice by choreographing on more companies and working with new dancers. I want my company and my work to grow.”

Catch Avatâra Ayuso’s new work in Cloud Dance Festival’s Showtime at Bernie Grant Arts Centre, 17 November and see her dance in Shobana Jeyasingh’s 25th anniversary programme at Southbank Centre, 3 & 4 December

Laura Dodge writes for Dancing Times, Dance Today, Londonist, Bachtrack, amongst other publications. She is also Communications and Membership Officer at Dance UK and a freelance dance teacher.

Photo: Ian Whalen

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