Broken Wings Tells Frida Kahlo’s Story
Choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa Breaks Down Her Inspiration
SAN FRANCISCO BALLET: What motivated you to create a ballet about Frieda Kahlo?
ANNABELLE LOPEZ OCHOA: In 2015, I was invited by Tamara Rojo at English National Ballet to create a one-act narrative work about a woman that’s damned and doomed. And the name Frida Kahlo was kept as a ghost in my mind. I wasn’t sure that the English audience was willing to see that, but Tamara was very enthusiastic about it. And so that’s why I decided to make a piece about her.
SFB: How well did you know Frida before this? Were you a fan of hers for a while?
LOPEZ OCHOA: I was a fan of her. I had seen the movie 20 years ago with Salma Hayek, and I thought, what a woman, what a life. There is a story there. And it was very easy to tell her story because she painted her life. So I decided to use 7 to 8 paintings of hers, which function like a mosaic about who Frida Kahlo is.
SFB: Is this ballet a narrative? Do we delve into the abstract story somewhere in between?
LOPEZ OCHOA: I think the ballet is definitely narrative, but it draws upon symbolism, like the paintings of Frida and visual poetry. I’m using a lot of surrealism, like her painting. And there are only three characters that are actually human. The rest are creations out of her mind. But yes, it’s definitely narrative. You can definitely follow it.
SFB: What is it about her personality and her story that makes her an interesting character?
LOPEZ OCHOA: I was really inspired by her because I find it very admirable that she transformed her pain into art and that she was very direct and unapologetic about what she wanted to talk about and how she wanted to paint it. She was an artist, and yet she was an advocate of the rights of the Mexican people who were under the influence of the Spaniards…That’s what I like about her, and that’s what inspires me as a woman and as an artist. To accept yourself and your roots and to expose them and therefore start to love them more and make them more accepted by everybody.
SFB: Why was it important for you to include Diego when telling Frida’s story?
LOPEZ OCHOA: I don’t think you can talk about Frida without talking about Diego. He’s an integral part of her love life, but also her creativity. They were inspired by each other. They were obsessed with each other. They were too close to each other and drove each other crazy. She said:” I had two accidents. One was with a trolley, the other one was meeting Diego Rivera.” So, for me, he had to be there.
SFB: How do you capture Frida’s artistry through the movement and the choreography? Can you tell us a bit about the 12 male Fridas we see onstage?
LOPEZ OCHOA: I really felt I wanted one moment where you see the painting move, where the painting comes to life. So that’s when the idea came to have her self-portrait appear on stage. She made 55 self-portraits of the 143 paintings that she made in her life. She was a precursor of the selfie…she made herself the subject and the theme of her paintings.
I decided to have male dancers dancing her portraits for two reasons. One, I think that she’s very masculine, the way she carries herself. She’s very direct, very grounded. She knows what she wants. And two, I wanted the paintings to be bigger than her. I remember visiting the Casa Azul (in Mexico City), and some of her portraits are very small and you see the price is $4 million. I thought, how has the art become bigger than the woman herself?! Because at that time when she was alive…she thought the painter in their marriage was Diego. She didn’t know that after their death, it would change and she would become more iconic. So that’s why I felt that these paintings should be danced by men.
It gives them the opportunity to channel their inner Frida. There are a lot of drums in the music for that section, and that’s why I wanted them to be indigenous because she came from the indigenous part of Mexico. So that’s what I wanted to be represented in that dance.
SFB: What about Broken Wings are you excited for our Bay Area audiences to get to see?
LOPEZ OCHOA: I’m definitely excited for the San Francisco audiences to discover [this ballet], to remember who Frida was and what she stands for. And to maybe think, “Okay, let’s go look at an exhibit or that mural from Diego here in the city.” But mostly I’m excited because I’m a Latina woman giving something back to the Latin culture, and the Latin people of San Francisco who will feel represented in a ballet.
Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Broken Wings will have its North American premiere in Dos Mujeres, April 4–14.