Vamanos! Dexandro Montalvo Springs Out Of The Pandemic And Into ODC's Dance Downtown
February 28, 2022—Emerging from the seemingly endless pandemic lockdown, choreographer Dexandro Montalvo is excited to get back on the floor with dancers and create his art. To express his relief and pent-up creativity, Montalvo is choreographing his new world premiere Vamonos, Spanish for "we're leaving," that is, leaving the isolation of the pandemic. Vamanos is one of the works in ODC's upcoming Dance Downtown opening next month.
"The way that I'm sort of looking at the title of the piece," he explains, "it isn't so much the name of the piece as it's me speaking to the audience that we're leaving the pandemic behind, and I want to celebrate the things that I personally love and have missed."
Late in the afternoon of this last day of February, Montalvo is leading all eleven ODC dancers through a rehearsal in ODC Commons Studio B. Several of the dancers are wearing masks, evidence that we're not quite out of the pandemic woods yet. But we are far enough along that, with everyone else on this planet, Montalvo is irrepressibly bursting to get back to doing what he loves doing. "I want to see good ol' sweaty dancers on the stage again," he laughs. "I really wanted to spend a long amount of time trying to make just touching another human look really interesting," he says, "I tried to spend a lot of time just sort of seeing how, in different ways, when we touch each other it can feel like a beautiful dance."
The physical touching in Vamanos is a departure from his usual choreographic style and dance training in ballet and hip hop. "It was honestly a little scary," he admits, "committing to full sections of a dance not necessarily grounded in the techniques that I worked in and created in, just making gestures and touching each other and hand-to-hand movements in a whole dance. But I'm happy with how it came out."
A native New Yorker, Montalvo's extensive ballet background benefits from teachers from ABT and NYCB. He was a professional dancer with companies such as Robert Moses Kin, and his choreographic commissions have included work for ODC, LINES, Liss Fain, San Francisco Ballet School, and several other dance companies. He is a past Artistic Director of the Dance Theatre of San Francisco, during which time DTSF received two Isadora Duncan award nominations, including Outstanding Choreography for his ballet Pent. Among other honors, his work Art Behind Bars won an Izzie Award in 2014 for his choreography. He also has what he describes as a strong background in hip-hop.
Vamanos expresses the profound effect that the pandemic isolation has had on Montalvo and his need to reunite with other creative people to achieve his creative goals. "It feels like I'm a different human walking out of the pandemic," he explains. "Do I like the human that I've become?" he laughs. "I want to do things that have the integrity to be the kind of human I want to be."
Although he "did not enjoy" the pandemic, the lockdown has had its silver lining. "I think it was nice for everyone to slow down and realize what's important," he muses. "What does it feel like to be forced to be with the very few people who matter, and what does it feel like to have to be by yourself."
Among the people who matter to Montalvo are the artists he works with, the dancers and the lighting designers. He values their perspective and tries to accommodate their needs and suggestions. "If dancers feel most comfortable in pointe shoes," he explains, "I am definitely happy to create something for them on pointe." He doesn't try to manage so much as collaborate. "I love working with artists," he declares. "I generally tend to think that when I'm making work, with any collaborator, I put a very strong pole of my aesthetic right in the center of the earth. Then all of the artists I work with, I ask to gradually come toward that. But I don't want them to meet me 100%." He prefers to be cohesive rather than stop artists from doing their best. "That's one of the most exciting parts about being a choreographer," he states.
For the music to Vamanos, Montalvo is working with an array of electronic composers, including Machiuchi Sakamoto, Cliff Martinez, and Traversable Wormhole. He describes an "endless playlist" that he compiled during the pandemic. "They all sound a little different, but I think they work well next to each other," he says.
His preference for collaborating extends to the blending of his experience in both ballet and hip-hop, rather than "acclimating" to one audience or the other. In his previous work for other companies, "I made sure my ballet background was just as prominent as my hip-hop background," he says. "I feel that it's an important part of who I am, and I try not to make it a bystander to what it is I'm trying to create." He describes his previous piece Navigating Coexistence as having a balletic feel to it, but with a lot of hip-hop intricacies, such as arm placement. However, his previous works that were commissioned for the classical genre, such as for San Francisco Ballet School, "honors" their classical tradition, but has his "spin" on it.
Vamanos began evolving as a collaborative work as soon as the dancers stepped onto the floor. "The work I was planning on doing changed as soon as I got into the room with these dancers," he explains. The individual dancers' movements helped shape the work he had in mind. Sometimes he finds the result is, "more wonderful than anything I could have imagined by myself," and then he'll work in that direction. "They're phenomenal!" he says about the ODC dancers. "They're absolutely phenomenal," adding that the ODC organization prioritizes and respects the artists.
"This is a work that I feel genuinely excited about. I'm so proud of the product I made with these beautiful dancers. They're incredible people, and it's wonderful watching incredible people do incredible things. I'm excited to work with them."
In addition to Vamanos, Dance Downtown includes works by Brenda Way and Amy Seiwert and runs from March 31st through April 10th at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. For more information, see ODCdance.