I had the pleasure of interviewing Mario Bermudez, an international student at Steps on Broadway. Mr. Bermudez is from Andalucia, in southern Spain, and more specifically from the town of Vilches in the province of Jaen. He came to New York to experience a diverse range of styles and learning opportunities, many of which are not available in his home country. He has had the opportunity to be an apprentice with three companies: Alpha Omega, Jennifer Muller | The Works and Story Dance. This interview was conducted in two sessions, on December 10, 2010 and March 18, 2011, in both English and Spanish, with translation by Violeta Tellez and Mariana Cardenas.
Robert Abrams: Why did you start dancing?
Mario Bermudez: I felt something inside. My body told me I needed to dance.
RA: What dance training have you had?
MB: I started with hip hop and jazz, and then contemporary and ballet.
RA: Who did you study with?
MB: Pilar Perez, Fernando Utaro, among others. I studied both in Málaga and in Sevilla.
RA: Who has inspired you as a dancer?
MB: Before I was inspired by any dancer, I just knew I had to dance: I felt it inside me. Later, certain choreographers inspired me: Johan Inger, and Fernando Utaro. They have inspired me to look for my own way of dancing.
RA: I understand you have danced with Alpha Omega, Jennifer Muller | The Works, and Leda Meredith/Story Dance. How would you describe Alpha Omega?
MB: The Alpha Omega style is more like Alvin Ailey, more contemporary, more African-Caribbean. I had never seen that before. Spain uses more release technique. It is more technical at Alpha Omega. There are more technical lines, from ballet, in Alpha Omega. Spain is looser, because there is a lot of floor work. In Spain, there are not exact positions: your arm doesn't have to be an exact place. It is more improvisation. The choreographer guides you to do something in Spain: they give you an outline you can fill in with your movement, as opposed to the choreographer showing each shape. I have also seen, when studying with other teachers, the release technique and the technical technique together. In this case, you have to have the technique and then you can use it, but not in Spain. Dance in Spain is just based on release technique.
RA: What do you mean by "technical"?
MB: Both release and technical are techniques. Technical style has more of a foundation, and requires more training. When you create a movement that is technical, you find the shape within yourself. It has structure. There are positions or shapes, whereas in the release technique you are motivated by impulses, but not definite shapes. Technical dance has similarities to ballet technique.
RA: What aspects of Jennifer Muller's choreography speak to you the most?
MB: I like that the public understands what Ms. Muller's dancers are doing. I like that in Ms. Muller's choreography, in The White Room, for example, the dancers tell a story.
RA: Please comment on how dancers performing Ms. Muller's choreography move?
MB: You have to have a lot of emotional expression.
RA: To the extent you have experienced them, what are the essential differences between Jennifer Muller's choreography and the styles of dance you have performed in the past?
MB: I think that what I have danced before is more experimental, and with Jennifer Muller it is more technical and emotional.
RA: Please elaborate on what you mean by "experimental" and "technical".
MB: Experimental is looking for a different kind of movement. It does not have the usual dance vocabulary. There are not dance steps like arabesques. It is more inside your body. Experimental is looking for a kind of movement that doesn't have to do with a dance technique. Technical is working with technical dance steps to create a dance.
RA: How can we get more people interested in supporting dance?
MB: Spain and here in New York are different. In Spain dance is not promoted. In New York, it is promoted. I see advertisements for dance companies all over the place. I think that there are many people in dance who do not feel the movement inside them. Dancers should really feel the movement.. If the dancers really feel it on the inside, the people in the audience would have a greater interest in them and in dance.
RA: What was your experience with Leda Meredith/Story Dance like?
MB: I enjoyed it very much. It was very enjoyable choreography. It had comedic timing. I learned that you can be theatrical and funny while coming into the technical steps. Leda has her own personal style. She wanted to transmit that to me.
RA: What questions does Jennifer Muller's choreography make you ask yourself?
MB: It [this question] is very hard. How can she retain all that information in her head? She is very intelligent. I wonder about this — the way of creating choreography so that a piece makes sense.
RA: If someone is seeing Jennifer Muller's choreography for the second time, what should they be on the lookout for in order to deepen their experience?
MB: In certain pieces, they will see a story. It is like reading a book. You can understand the beginning more clearly by seeing how it develops in the end.
RA: What other dance companies have you seen in New York?
MB: I am basing my comments on the Washington Dance Company at APAP. It was extremely different from what I was used to, very technical, a lot of lines and turns. I also saw the Pascal Rioult Dance Company's Bolero. I have heard the music many times. I didn't like the spin that the Rioult company took on it. It was very dry for my tastes.
RA: Have you seen other "Boleros" in Spain?
MB: I saw a "Bolero" by Johan Inger from Switzerland, who is now in Spain. I was absolutely fascinated by this piece. I loved the scenery: everything was wood with wooden doors. The dancers would open and close the doors. They would struggle with the doorway. It was very physical and brutal, intense. But technical at the same time. But then it had the opposing element of being very fluid and it told you a story. There was something behind the movement. There was a moment where all of the men would jump on to the wood, hang on and then fall. I thought that was astonishing. Because I first saw that piece with Bolero, so then I was disappointed with Rioult's, because I was so astonished with Inger's.
RA: This just shows that two people can have very different reactions to exactly the same dance. I have written that I thought that Rioult's Bolero was "as perfect an example of a tight, mathematical modern dance work as it is humanly possible to create." Perhaps someone should organize a Bolero festival so that we could compare the creations of different choreographers set to the same music. It sounds like you prefer emotionally based work.
MB: I enjoy performing both, but I enjoy dance that has meaning behind the steps more.
RA: Do you have plans to broaden your experience even further?
MB: I have a lot on my mind. I have started choreographing. I have learned that I love to choreograph, and to find my own voice in the dance world. In the future, I would love to start my own company. I enjoy creating. I love to do both. I can enjoy what I am doing, which is dance, but also performing my own movement. And to see my idea of what I want to be danced through other bodies. I know that it is very difficult to start a company, but it is a dream and I am willing to work hard at it.
RA How did you learn you like to choreograph?
MB: When I first started dancing, I was also teaching aerobics. And because I was teaching aerobics, I found I liked doing my own styles of aerobics, not just what other teachers taught. I found I was very creative. So when I first started taking dance classes, they also had choreography classes. I had to find a story in the newspaper and create a dance based upon it. I found I enjoyed getting ideas in my head and then moving. And then the audience had to see the story. I had to see if the audience got what I had read in the newspaper. And when Jennifer came to teach, I learned that the audience has to see what the story is.
RA: What advice would you give other dancers coming to New York to study?
MB: First and foremost, to enjoy your experience. And to take the opportunity to really absorb it all, knowing you are in NYC where there are so many different styles. Take as many classes as you can. Don't limit yourself, but decide what path you want to take in choreography or whichever style of dance you want to pursue.
I would definitely recommend other dancers to come to NYC, because it is so stylistically different from what I was used to in Europe. A choreographer told me in Spain that all good choreographers have to come through NYC at some point. I was told this right before I came to NYC, so I thought this was a good opportunity. Now the choreographer is in Chicago.
RA: There is plenty of great dance in Chicago too. If you were asked to put together your perfect program for an evening of dance, what dances would be on the program?
MB: I like Jennifer Muller's work very much. In my perfect program, I would suggest Bench, The White Room, and I would include another company, Batsheva Dance Company's Three.
RA: What would be one of your dream projects as a dancer?
MB: I want to keep on training in large companies until I can absorb the most I can. I would like, in my dreams, to create a company.
RA (postscript): It is clear to me from my conversation with Mr. Bermudez that he is an intelligent and perceptive dancer. For instance, his discussion of the use of emotion in Jennifer Muller's choreography helped me to clarify why I have been drawn to JMTW's work over the years. Even in New York City, a place that many New Yorkers like to think of as the world capital of dance, we need more dancers like Mr. Bermudez. And should Ms. Muller or Ms. Meredith decide to present Mr. Bermudez's perfect program, might I suggest that it be presented as a tablao?