Zambrano began dancing in the villages of Venezuela to pop music in the local discos and dance halls. But none of his pursuits were serious in this vein as after finishing military school, Zambrano went to study computer science.
After four years, Zambrano decided to train professionally in dance. But this knowledge of mathematics stayed with him. Unconsciously he has trained himself on learning how to measure while improvising. He has found that there is a natural logic for doing, acting, and measuring the amount of time and space necessary for continual creation. It is an instinctive logic that after 20 years is arriving into his consciousness. This previously subconscious feeling is what Zambrano refers to as one of the secrets to improvisation.
Born in Venezuela, Zambrano spent 15 years in New York City as a major player in the downtown scene. He now lives in Amsterdam but continues to perform and teach worldwide. Listed below are his major works, but Zambrano has worked with hundreds of musicians creating spontaneous in the moment performances never to be repeated again. At times he was so busy, Zambrano would arrive at one theater, perform a 20-minute improvisation, leave the theater and perform somewhere else. This is the life of a calculated improviser.
While still in college Zambrano made his first solo, Para Carmen, in homage to his mother. After missing her funeral in Venezuela, Zambrano went directly from the airport to the studio of a neighboring college and danced for hours. The result was Para Carmen. Para Carmen has since been performed in 10 countries around the world.
Once he arrived in New York he began working with Pooh Kaye in 1985. Next he joined Simone Forti’s ensemble in 1986 and joined into a collaboration that Zambrano would consider to be one of his most influential. He has frequently referred to Simone Forti as his mentor.
In 1986, Zambrano continued performing with Simone Forti, but also began to establish his own name in performance and choreography. He made No Basta Rezar, Tap the Feet, Volando Voy, and Apretaditos. No Basta Rezar (Praying is Not Enough) is a very serious solo that included a set of graffiti art with music by Soledad Bravo that premiered at PS 122 in New York. Tap the Feet was a duet improvisation with tap dancer Jackie Shue. The music was by G. Miller and had its inspiration from the stamping feet of folklore dance in Venezuela. Movement Research’s Presenting Series gave Tap the Feet its premier and it was subsequently performed at PS 122. Volando Voy (I Fly There) was a solo improvisation to music by Soledad Bravo, again premiering at Movement Research’s Presenting Series. Rounding out 1986 comes Apretaditos (Very Tight), which was a contact improvisational duet that characterized two old men. Daniel Lepkoff joined Zambrano on this project as both a dancer as well as contributing the original music. Apretaditos was premiered at Movement Research’s Presenting Series.
In 1987, Zambrano collaborated with dancers Linda Mancini, Jackie Shue, and Eva Gueke and the musician Guy Yarden to make Fabula de Tres Mujeres (Fables of Three Women). Zambrano directed this trio improvisation that premiered at Danspace Project.
Later that year, Zambrano returned to Venezuela to premier Fetiche (Fetish). After staying up all night with an injured friend, Zambrano made Fetiche in one day. He combined a series of visual art paintings from Venezuelan designer Lucia Padilla and the music of Venezuelan composer Miguel Noya. Fetiche is a solo dance based on the mysterious energy that is used by the black population of the Venezuelan costal villages to improvise their unique folklore. The performance was held at Teatro Cadafe in Caracas. This solo improvisation got its New York premiere at Dance Theater Workshop and was selected to tour with Tour de Fuerza: Nuevo Latino Dance and Performance. Tour de Fuerza toured the United States and Latin America and presented other Latino artists including Merian Soto and Carmelita Tropicana.
In 1988, Zambrano made two new pieces: Hecho en Venezuela (Made in Venezuela) and Rifle which both premiered on the same evening of work at PS 122. Rifle was choreographed in collaboration with Donald Fleming, Sasha Waltz, and Jose Navas with music by Miguel Noya. In making Rifle, Zambrano began to research how humans use their hands and how energy is directed out of our digits, like little explosions out of a rifle. Rifle was not an improvisation, but a set piece of choreography that resulted from this movement research. Hecho en Venezuela was a solo improvisation in which Zambrano played with complete silence instead of working with one of his usual collaborators. In 1988 he also collaborated with Donald Fleming to create Double Blind, which performed at Dance Theater Workshop.
In 1989 Zambrano collaborated with Donald Fleming and Jill Becker with the tour of Undertow. Undertow was an improvisational collaboration of four pieces. Zambrano performed his solo Para Carmen, a duet with Fleming, and the trio piece Undertow included all three performers. This tour traveled during the summers of 1989 and 1990.
After working in New York for 5 years, Zambrano received a New York Foundation for the Arts Grant which allowed him to spend three months in the studio. Here he researched and truly refined his now famous Flying-Low technique. This workshop focuses mainly on the dancer’s relationship with the floor. The class utilizes simple movement patterns that involve breathing, speed and the release of energy throughout the body in order to activate the relationship between the center and the joints, moving in and out of the ground more efficiently by maintaining a centered state. There is a focus on the skeletal structure that helps improve the dancers physical perception and alertness. This training yielded an effect that has become a trademark for Zambrano, that many times his work seems to fly.
After working at his technique, Zambrano brought several of his fellow New York artists back home to Venezuela to teach some classes. Due to an overwhelming response, Zambrano decided to build a festival around improvisational movement workshops, culminating in performances by both teachers and students. After founding the Festival de Danza Postmoderna: Taller Internacional de Danza Experimental, Zambrano directed it from 1989 until 1993. The festival received support from the Venezuelan Council for the Arts, Dance Theater Workshop’s Suitcase Fund, and the Rockefeller Foundation. The festival brought hundreds of students and teachers together over the years to explore the art of improvisation. Eventually Zambrano made the decision to stop producing the festival and concentrate on his own work in performance and education. But his legacy lives on with numerous contemporary dance festivals in Venezuela.
Even though Zambrano was producing the festival in Venezuela, he continued to make new work in New York. Sabana (Savannah) in 1990 continued his work on the movement research he began with Rifle. Sabana was a duet with Alexis Eupierre and Zambrano, with music by Miguel Noya. This set choreography took images from the flatlands, specifically a pair of horses and had its premiere at PS 122. With Segunda Puerta (Second Door), also a duet with Alexis Eupierre, this time with music by Yuval Gabay, Zambrano opened up the same movement vocabulary from Sabana into an improvisational structure. Movement Research’s Presenting Series gave Segunda Puerta its premiere. Celestina was an improvised solo that Zambrano again showed his talent for creation in only one day. This time at PS 122 with music by Max Nagl.
Zambrano once again collaborated with Donald Fleming in 1990’s Los que se Fueron (The One Who Left). Los que se Fueron was made in memory of friends lost to the AIDS epidemic which was first hitting the world during this time. The piece was structured, with a pair of opening improvised solos and finishing with a set duet. The music for Los que se Fueron was by Bizet and Miguel Noya.
In 1991, Zambrano created Bolinga, an improvisation for five male dancers and two drummers. Bolinga premiered at the Judson Church in New York but then toured Germany and Holland in 1992. In Bolinga, Zambrano investigated the softer and sensual side of the male dancer, moving away from the more masculine approach. By working with five dancers from different countries (Alexis Eupierre, Jordi Cortez, David Beadle, Bo Madvig and himself), Zambrano was able to build upon his need for cultural exchange through dance. Yuval Gabay once again collaborated on the music.
Zambrano was invited by two Venezuelan companies to set new pieces for them in 1992. Desde el Valle (From the Valley) was commissioned by Taller de Danza Contemporanea de Caracas and Tra-ka-ta (guttural sounds for an epiphany in the local dialect of Venezuela) by Espacio Alterno. In Desde el Valle, Zambrano used the songs of Prince and for Tra-ka-ta he chose gypsy music from Hungary by Kalyi Jag. Both experiences were dreams come true for Zambrano as he grew up knowing these companies.
In 1993, Zambrano made Agua Fuerte (Strong Water or Waterfall) at his festival in Venezuela. A waterfall nearby inspired Agua Fuerte. Created in collaboration with the dancers Jeremy Nelson, Bo Madvig and Osmany Tellez and musician Yuval Gabay, Agua Fuerte was a partnering piece that took vocabulary inspired from the body’s climbing of a tree. This vocabulary was developed as a tool for the improvisation used in the piece.
Upon returning to New York, Zambrano made Cancion de Diente (Song of a Tooth). A Cuban singer he met that had only one tooth inspired this piece. Using the music of Janis Joplin, Zambrano improvised this solo to tell the story of his life. The structure was set, but he improvised inside of that structure and expressed his body like the voice of Joplin. Also in 1993, Zambrano collaborated with Mark Tompkins in a duet titled La Vie en Rose (The Pink Life) to the beautiful music of Edith Piaf and Grace Jones. This spontaneous improvisation had no structure and performed in Caracas, Paris, and Germany.
Zambrano collaborated first in 1993, then subsequently in 1994 and 1995 with Mark Tompkins, Sasha Waltz and Frans Poelstra to make the Click-Klick series. This improvisational performance routine brought the artists to the venue, and in the same day they would set a simple structure in which to openly improvise. Click-Klick appeared in Berlin, Paris, New York, and Antwerp.
Zambrano’s earlier interest in folklore continued to manifest itself in his work with the 1994 Proyecto: Z (Project Z). This exploration led him to ask what is folklore? What is folk dance? How did someone make those steps many years ago and how did they stick around for so long? This international cast marked his first collaboration with performer, designer and partner, Mat Voorter of Holland. The other collaborators included dancers Thomas Hauert, Tim Feldmann, Paco Macia, and Alexis Eupierre with music by M. Theodorakis. Proyecto: Z was inspired by the film Zorba the Greek from which Zambrano used the music. Proyecto: Z premiered at Danspace Project.
Later that year, Zambrano developed Red Blink, a solo improvisation that was performed at Dance Theater Workshop and in Barcelona. Red Blink played with the machismo identity of Latino men. With music by La Lupe, the movement vocabulary focused on a fractionality of the movements of the body. This was also the first time Zambrano dressed up in drag, donning a wig and dress.
In 1995, Zambrano began a long process to move out of New York. He traveled all over the world for years, performing in various venues and making pieces upon his arrival. He also began to work on his next group piece, Ballroom. While on one of these trips to Berlin, Zambrano made Frosting. Frosting was inspired by a small sculpture of Beethoven that was in his hotel room. The sculpture was white and reminded him of the frosting of a cake. Zambrano was also interested in the fascist history of Germany. At one point during the improvisation, he made reference to the fascism by playing music by Beethoven, crushing the figurine, and strutting across the stage in a militaristic fashion. Frosting is an example of how Zambrano can create work instantaneously, drawing from the energy of an environment.
With Ballroom (1996), Zambrano returned to his life experience of salsa dancing. He remembered the beauty in the conversations of hands, the exchanging of rhythmical steps, big band music and the passion for dancing with another person. He took this history of partner dancing and redefined it as something that could be more appropriate for the modern era, following the influence of contact improvisation, shifting gender and sexual roles and focusing on broader rights for all races. The collaborators worked off and on for a full year, creating specific movement vocabulary based on games with very strict physical limitations. Zambrano adjusted the dynamics of traditional partner dancing by adding the element of spontaneity as the piece was both set and improvised. The music choices came from recorded big bands including Thelonious Monk, Tito Puente, Duke Ellington, and X-legged Sally. Dancers were Mat Voorter, Thomas Hauert, Astrud Angarita, and Akos Hargitai, and Zambrano himself. With both Proyecto: Z and Ballroom, Zambrano found the experiences immediately influencing his performance and teaching.
In 1997, Zambrano was invited to create Aux.muted (No Sound) as a set piece for the German dancers Stina K. Bollmann, Birgit Feitag, Helge Loschmann, Eckard Muller, and Andrea Warzner. He worked with the dancers for eight weeks to create the vocabulary to formulate a set piece. The vocabulary was inspired by imagining that the dancers hands and feet are cars running along the body. Aux.muted toured throughout Germany and Switzerland. Zambrano was also commissioned in 1997 to create The Twist Story for the final year dance students at a dance school in Germany. The students worked together with Zambrano to create the movement vocabulary for this set piece. The Twist Story toured cities in Germany, Switzerland, and Austria.
Con-moto became one of Zambrano’s favorite collaborations. Begun in 1997, Con-moto continues today as a yearly meeting of multi-disciplinary artists working in film, music, dance and poetry. Gunter Christmann directs the ensemble, choosing both the dancers and musicians for each event.
After spending three years orchestrating a move to Amsterdam as well as performing and teaching in the United States, Vienna, Japan and others, 1999 brought a new solo from Zambrano – Acme. In this improvisational solo with a set structure, Zambrano researched his vocabulary using eye imagery. He imagined eyes all over his body, in his joints, along his skin, everywhere, and experimented with how his whole body sees the world. The title took its inspiration from the Warner Brother Cartoons with a variety of musical influences from Edward Ratliff to Japanese Cartoons. Acme was made for a festival in Glasgow and subsequently toured to Greece and Barcelona.
In 2000, the photographer Anja Hitzenberger collaborated with musician Edward Ratliff to do a 48-hour photo shoot of Zambrano and Voorter as they traveled into and out of Barcelona. Hitzenberger, a longtime dance photographer and collaborator with Zambrano, edited these images and set them to a score written by Ratliff to create the film, Barcelona in 48 Hours. After making the rounds at several film festivals, the film was shown at Dance Theater Workshop in 2004 with live musicians and improvised dance from Zambrano and Voorter.
Once established in Amsterdam, Zambrano used a new piece to introduce himself and his thoughts on dance to the Amsterdam movement community. In 2000, David Zambrano Invites… presented collaborators, colleagues, and teachers that had influenced him or were influenced by his work. In a single evening, Zambrano would invite a fellow mover onstage with a musician and the two would improvise for half the program and then chat in a talk show format for the second half of the evening. The idea was so popular that the concept left Amsterdam and toured to Vienna, Prague, and Oslo. Over 22 artists took part including Simone Forti, Jennifer Monson, Hisako Horikawa, Thomas Hauert, Anne Teresa De Keersmaker, Jordi Cortez, Meg Stuart, Osmani Tellez, Sasha Waltz, Palle Dyrval, Frans Poelstra,
Mark Tompkins, John Jasperse, Akram Kahn, Ko Morobuchi, Tom Plishke, Jose Navas, Hooman Sharifi, Siri Jontvedt, Maria-Clara Villalobos. Musicians included Michael Moore, Michael Vatcher, Nuno Rebelo, Misha Mengelberg, Wilbert De Joode, Tristan Honsinger, and Ab Baars.
Zambrano made his next group piece in 2002. Mandraking combined the two concepts of male drag kings (an opposite take on both female drag kings and male drag queens) and the influence of Mandrake the Magician. Growing up in Venezuela, Zambrano remembered Mandrake as a very famous personality. The style of Mandrake with his mustaches and hats influenced the costuming of Mandraking. For the movement vocabulary, Zambrano worked with the physical actions of sewing. He imagined that every part of the body could be made with thread and pulled or led in a specific direction, like marionettes. But marionettes go from the joints; here the dancers could be moved from every point possible. The collaborators played with sewing and being sewn with visible and invisible characters. Hugging was also a useful gesture for Mandraking. Zambrano experimented with the rhythms of moving into and out of hugs. Using all of this influence, Zambrano added a final rule that the dancers could only concentrate on very specific parts of the body – only moving a forehead or an eye – and the rest of the body was off. The piece was a spontaneous improvisation, broken up by a showcase of performances, solos and duets. Zambrano chose the melodramatic music of the 1960s, music from Liza Minelli and the scary music of Alfred Hitchcock films.
In 2003, Zambrano created the Rabbit Project. He invited 17 dancers from 13 different countries to Amsterdam for 6 weeks. The dancers were collected from years of teaching. Zambrano’s philosophy with the Rabbit Project was to award his best students with a free intensive training program. He invited them all to spend the time in Amsterdam as a present to the international dance community. The only thing he asked for in return was that the dancers took what they learned in Amsterdam, returned to their home countries and shared it. The group was young, most under 26 years old. Every day they would research improvisational work in the studio and in the evening, gather at Zambrano’s home for dinner, always cooked by Voorter. This experience was beneficial both to the students and to Zambrano who took the opportunity to continue to hone his improvisational techniques working in the context of large groups.
Research from the Rabbit Project yielded a new aspect to Zambrano’s teaching repertoire: the Dance Web. In the making of this new movement composition, Zambrano focuses on creating and developing the dynamics for complex systems to present leadership in the form of a group web. Through the exercises of the dance web, the group of improvisers creates dynamics that will be flexible and complex, enabling the group to fit into a tight ensemble, yet always-keeping doors open for the unpredictable. The group moves constantly, transforming the environment of the dance. Students learn to instantly connect with their environment and become more spontaneous in the making of choices as an improviser, choreographer or dancing in someone else’s work.
Zambrano’s newest project aims to put the dance web onstage for performance. 12 Flies Went Out at Noon will premiere in Amsterdam in January of 2005. Zambrano will focus on the body movements of 16 performers including him in a collaborative improvisation. The concept of this piece comes from the infinite highways that flies seem to travel in. Zambrano aims to recreate this for his dancers, an infinite system of curved highways in the finite environment of a performance space. The same philosophy of leader and follower accompany this piece’s dynamics, yielding a very good example of how the research in Zambrano’s teaching methods influences his performance on the stage.
For over 20 years, David Zambrano has been a monumental figure in the international dance community. As a performer, teacher, and choreographer Zambrano inspires both students and audiences alike. His views on cultural exchange continue to influence his work. The consummate improviser, David Zambrano helps to lead international dance into an exciting future.