David Zambrano is the kind of choreographer who inspires his audiences to trade their day jobs for a life of dancing, and his acclaimed workshops and performances have been presented around the world. Along the way, he has collected an international group of performers from Mozambique, Slovenia, Greece, Slovakia, the U.S. ,and Venezuela. Soul Project, his newest work, draws out the diverse cultures imprinted on their bodies.
On May 17th and 18th, Miami Light Project will be hosting Zambrano at the Lightbox. It’s a perfect space for Soul Project, which completely dissolves the line between artist and audience. As MLP’s Rebekah Lengel put it, “you can have an interactive piece, but with someone like David, people kind of explode into it — it becomes an all-consuming experience.” We recently caught up with Zambrano to find out more.
Can you give us an overview of Soul Project?
Soul Project is made of solos. The audience and the performers share the same space and the performers do solo after solo to soul music. Mostly United States soul singers, but there are also some Latin singers and there is also an Italian singer. The performers present their imaginations through their bodies as the voice of the soul singers.
You seem to have a strong connection to music.
I always loved music, and I grew up in a country where music is part of life. Venezuela is a dance culture. We dance all the time in any kind of celebration. Parties, reunions et cetera, in the street, in the taxi, everywhere. So my relationship with music has always been there in all of my pieces.
In the beginning of this Soul Project piece, we worked on keeping our feet very well planted on the floor, on the ground, to interconnect with the earth as strongly as possible. By doing that, the sole of our feet gets expanded, and then it’s like our soul gets much fuller and more expressive.
So you feel like soul music has that kind of rooted feeling?
Oh yeah. A lot of soul music is like gospel and blues, so it has some kind of hell and heaven passing through each other and sometimes we have the earth and the sky, and then ourselves.
You have an international cast. What does that bring to the performance?
I am constantly exchanging information with other cultures inside the dance studio. For this Soul Project, I selected a cast of people from different countries. All of the performers were selected from the workshops that I gave in those countries. I like very much to see how the information that I transmit to a dancer is digested by people from Mozambique, and then also from Slovakia, Slovenia, some people from South Korea. Most of the dancers that I select, they are thinking bodies. They can teach, perform, and they can also choreograph. So I like the internationality.
Sometimes when I am in the studio, I think of what could be the United Nations in the future. And I see all these dancers from different countries including myself to go under, over and around each other, really passing through each other. I feel like wow, this is one of the best things I could do in my life as a person, to help this world to get more interconnected and be more respectful of each other.
It’s nice to get perspective from someone who’s seen so many different communities. When you’re just in one city, it’s a question, what’s going on out there in the world. You live in Amsterdam now, right?
I live between Amsterdam and Brussels. We have two houses now. One is subsidized by the government, and it’s in Amsterdam. And the other one we just bought. It’s in Brussels.
Brussels is a great city. What’s the dance scene like there?
Well, it reminds me of New York City, especially the East Village in the ‘80s. The dance community is growing more and more, and you always run into different layers of contemporary dance. You have the people that just started, that are just arriving in the city looking for jobs. You have the people that are doing small projects. You have people that work for the big companies, you have the big ballet and the opera. And all of them relate to each other so that’s very nice.
How about Amsterdam?
Amsterdam is more hierarchical. If you do ballet, you deal only with the ballet. It’s like Manhattan uptown. If you are in that company, you are only in that company. The people don’t relate with each other so much. It’s not like you find a café or a bar where the dancers are there and you exchange information. It’s not like that, and it’s a lot of competition. The whole country is very academic, neoclassical. Which is nice if people like neoclassical. In Europe, the dance scene is in Berlin and in Brussels. The two B’s.
What’s going on in Berlin?
In Berlin, more and more, there is support from the city for the arts, and just a few years ago the dance scene got fantastic studios to do many kinds of activities there, from research to Masters degrees to productions for young choreographers. And then performances. So it’s a nice situation. There are interesting people who like to work together as a community.
What kind of commonalities do you see in dancers around the world?
One thing that is really in common is the body. Some people from Japan, for example, will teach us a way of expressing through the body that we don’t know, but that we have. Because we never experienced it before. Because of our rules, our structures or programs that we learn from our parents and then from the society that we grow up with. We learn it from the influence of religion and politics and financials, et cetera. So you go through all these cultures, observing the expressions of the bodies.
Many times academia domesticates us. We are supposed to be very eloquent and very clear with our voice, but the body doesn’t express itself so much. Sometimes when you go to some African countries where many people still don’t go to university, you see these bodies moving or just talking on the telephone, in comparison with somebody talking on the telephone from Scandinavia. And then you realize this is a fantastic learning experience, just to observe. And if the person from Scandinavia is open to it, then it would be a fantastic learning experience to realize, yes, my body can also express that and we all have that potential.
We think that martial arts are only from Asia. Then you bring it into the United States and all of a sudden, if people are open to it and they accept it, it’s possible. Because it’s the body. And all our bodies have that potential. It’s just that we don’t have that connection with it. We don’t have somebody to guide us to do it. Many times we have people to say “don’t do it, it’s too much.” So yes, in common, we have the body. And then by observation we learn a lot of our own potential.
David Zambrano’s Soul Project”comes to town for three performances at the Light Box at Goldman Warehouse, 404 N.W. 26th St., Miami; on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 8:00 p.m.; tickets cost $25 ($15 students and seniors); www.miamilightproject.com.
Photo: David Zambrano, by Anya Hitzenberger
A version of this interview appears online at Miami New Times.