Interview with David Zambrano
by Marianne Valkenburg
Originally published by the Henny Jurriëns Foundation
“In the West there is too much emphasis on ‘Papa-Head’ and not enough on ‘Mama-Earth’”
The Venezuelan dancer, teacher, and choreographer, David Zambrano, has worked in North and South America, Europe, and in Asia. He likes best to teach in places like New York and Amsterdam where there is a mix of different cultures, and he dreams of living one day in a world without borders.
Q: You have written in your CV that you have dedicated your life to cultural exchange and to developing the creative process in a world without borders. Can you elaborate on this?
DZ: I have been traveling a lot since 1981, and since 1987 a lot in Europe. As a Latino, I had some problems with immigration everywhere, so I ended up thinking that it would be a great world if we simply had no borders. I have really always thought that way. This may be a dream in the real world, but not in the classroom. In the classroom I have my open borders. Especially in Amsterdam, where you have people from different countries in the same city, and all in the same classroom. Since Europe opened its borders in 1992, it is easier to travel through it. Before this I would go, for example from Spain to Germany, and immediately run into problems at the airport: ‘what are you coming to do here, how long are you staying,’ etc. And then I would have to leave these countries every 3 months or 90 days. Now it is a little easier, especially since I have my permission to live in Holland.
At a certain point (1984) I founded and directed a festival in Venezuela, and began to think about combining cultures, or making it a real cultural exchange festival. People would come teach whatever they had developed, and then perform. But not only perform — they came and got involved in cultural exchange with the different communities living in Venezuela. I was quite picky about the teachers — they had to be the kind of teachers that allowed the students to find also their own ways of expressing themselves. The people I selected were willing to share rather than simply come and dictate a specific form. This was a very exciting time, and it opened the door to other continents for me.
Q: Do you consider the dance world to be without borders?
DZ: I would say not yet. The dance world that you are talking about is the Western dance world. We have been influenced by only one side of the world so I still think that we can have more exchange. Sometimes I feel like we are quite behind in comparison to some martial arts people in Asia in many ways. What energy means for dancers, for example, is very different than what it means for masters in martial arts. While we (in dance pieces) really want to fly, to crawl into the ground, to jump from high places, etc., I think that in the West we often get lost in the theme of the choreography. The theme of a piece may be very clear in words, but the body still doesn’t quite understand it. There is then a gap; too much papa-head and not enough mama-earth. Yes, I think there is a gap.
Q: You write further in your CV that you believe in improvisation as an art form and in choreography as a way of developing it. What do you mean by this?
DZ: I don’t know you very well, but I believe that before talking to me, you read many books about how to speak, how to question things, etc. However, I don’t think that before this interview you read a specific book with a specific formula in order to ask a specific question. You have been using what you learned. This is the way I use choreography — as little books, or rather chapters in a big book. Sometimes I take a specific structure within which to work. I then set a movement vocabulary that can be repeated many times, and I call this then a choreography. You can repeat it over and over, you can teach it, you can express it at the moment. Then once you know these ‘words’ very well, you can repeat them and use them forever. Then in your life, whi ch is an improvisation, you can use them according to the needs of specific moments. When I go on stage and then need a specific chapter (depending on the moment, the public, the time, etc.) I open the book to the right place and say, yes, I can use this part right now. That’s why I say that I use choreography as a vehicle to further develop my way of expressing on stage.
Q: On the basis of what you have seen in different places in the world, do you have an idea of how dance will evolve?
DZ: I certainly have my wishes. I wish that many of these very important choreographers would be able to just get up and make a dance in front of one’s eyes. Some famous painters, you know, they just take the canvas and immediately do something — this is fantastic, and it takes 20 seconds. I would say to choreographers that they should just get up and make a dance in front of us, rather than using the situation of closing their doors, working for 6 months away from the world and then coming out with something.
Finally, I would love that we would be able to fully speak through the body, like how we are able to speak with words. I hope that in the future, maybe in ten years, that dancers will be able to write with their feet.