Meet the Artist: Diego Carrasco Schoch

September 5, 2011 § 1 Comment

Rachel Silver, our Dance Project summer intern, chatted recently with North Carolina dancer/choreographer Deigo Carrasco Schoch about his training, his piece that will be touring with the NC Dance Festival, and his current work.  Interview: June 24, 2011

He will be teaching a free master class at Arts Together in Raleigh on Saturday, September 10 from 2-4 pm.  Don’t miss it!


Dance Project: Congratulations on being selected to tour with the 2011-2012 NC Dance Festival! First of all, give us some information about yourself and what it means to be a Chicano dance artist.

Diego Carrasco Schoch: Well let’s see, I am an alumnus of UNCSA, danced with NCDT (North Carolina Dance Theatre) in the late 80’s and found myself at Milwaukee Ballet for 12 years and became a principal dancer. I was never really a ballet dancer though, always known for my abilities as a contemporary modern dancer. As to being a Chicano…it means that my identity embodies a duality, both artistically and culturally. It means that as a choreographer I explore themes and ideas that to the careful viewer can be seen to be Latino themes or ideas.

DP: When and where did you first begin dancing?

DCS: I began dancing at 15 in southern California. My first teacher who just passed away, was from Argentina and danced with the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo. He knew Robert Lindgren and Duncan Noble and directed me to NCSA to go to college.

DP: How did you become interested in choreography?

DCS: My first piece was for NCDT at a time when the company was financially strapped and needed to resort to company dancers interested in choreographing. I made a 6 minute piece for that concert. From that point I remained interested and every time I encountered something new in my performing or technique I tried to incorporate that into my work. It took a long time to discover my voice, not ever receiving any formal training or direction until much later.

DP: The solo you will be performing in the Festival incorporates symbolism of La Virgen de Guadalupe. Can you tell us a little about her and what she means to Mexican heritage?

DCS: In the religious life of Mexico, she’s bigger than Jesus. She is not only the virgin mother – elements of the Aztec goddess Tonantzin were incorporated into her in the early days of conversion. Therefore she also represents what it means to be Mexican, or Mestizo, a mix of Indian and Spanish. The picture of her appearance to Juan Diego, a poor Indian farmer, is present in pretty much every Mexican or Mexican-American household. Let me clarify something..when the Indians were being converted they naturally brought some of their own beliefs into the mix, matching similar figures together in order to make sense of the new ones they were being forced or manipulated into believing. Thus the elements of the Aztec goddess mixed with the Virgin Mary.

DP: What inspired you to create a dance with her as the starting point?

DCS: It was music. I was searching for music and as an independent choreographer I have to find something I can afford and something I can legally use, preferably for free. I started listening to classical and baroque music and found a recording of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater and two of his settings of the Salve Regina. All of these are essentially prayers to the Virgin Mary. I began listening to these and that led me to start thinking about the link between this Western European ode to the virgin and the prominence of la Virgen in the Mexican-American culture. It started to seem like a good way to encompass my interests in duality and come up with a solo.

A little more clarity on that would be …it seemed natural that I could create a series of danced prayers mirroring the moods of the individual movements of the Salve Regina in F-minor. I also liked the idea that this setting is sung by a male contralto, which seems like a subtle transgression of gender lines, which is also a kind of duality, mixing the machismo of Latino male culture with this very delicate male voice singing to La Virgen.

DP: So when did you create the dance, and was it created specifically for the Festival?

DCS: I just started work on the dance. I’m actually creating two different versions, one that is longer and contains text to be projected between the movements for another venue in August; and a shorter “only-music” version that is for the NC Festival. Obviously there will have to be some differences in steps and transitions so I anticipate the two versions will be two very different experiences for audiences.

DP: You spent many years as a Principal Dancer at the Milwaukee Ballet. What was that like?

DCS: It was great. There were some highs and lows. There was not a lot of turn over in the company for about 9-10 years so we were all very close and knew each other sometimes more than we wished. In some ways it was very safe and predictable and allowed me to have a family, buy a house, and raise a daughter. The flip side of that is that I find myself learning at a late age how to be entrepreneurial. However, while I was there I had some great opportunities dancing. It was also one of the few ballet companies that had its own orchestra so everything was danced to live music in a big theater that sat 2000 people! That was fantastic! We also had really great medical care with physical therapists present and within easy reach. Moving from NCDT where we barely even had medical insurance to Milwaukee where I had that and access to physical therapists who worked on us and I didn’t have to pay – well that was incredible and allowed for a much longer career than I might otherwise would have had.

DP: How does your Ballet training influence your choreography today?

DCS: That’s a hard question to answer.  The flip answer is that I try to get away from it but find that difficult…let me see…I become very conscious about the vocabulary of my dances and I often work for great clarity……being trained first as a ballet dancer and then as a modern dancer, I think that my work tends to require the look of a trained dancer to make it work best. I’m working to discover new ways to be more “naturally” physical and energetic in my dances. In many ways the classical background shows as much in what I choose not to do as to what I choose to do. It’s pretty complex for me because I have always believed that I should have traveled the path of a modern dancer rather than a ballet dancer and my work, I think, tends to reflect that struggle of identity. It’s similar to growing up as a Chicano, of both worlds but having a hard time fitting fully into either.

DP: You were recently a member of the Contemporary Dance Faculty at UNC School of the Arts. After spending so many years with a Ballet company, how did you come across the opportunity to be a member of the Contemporary Dance Faculty?

DCS: As I implied above, I was always between two worlds as a dancer. In fact during my student days at (U)NCSA I almost changed from ballet to modern and found the work I was doing in modern classes to be incredibly fulfilling and I was recognized for that. While at Milwaukee I was essentially the modern guy in the company and found it necessary to continue my training as a modern dancer with some excellent teachers and figures in the Milwaukee area. I was actually teaching modern technique in the Milwaukee Ballet School. When I left Milwaukee to go to grad school I dropped ballet classes entirely. From that point I began to focus on those elements of my teaching and dancing. At UNCSA the position was originally proposed as a dual ballet/modern position which seemed like a great fit for me… so I applied and they ended up hiring me.

DP: You have created original dances for different groups. What differences do you find between creating dances for a group and creating a solo work?

DCS: They each have their challenges. I guess one of my answers would be… with a group the question for me is how to maintain cohesion and focus on an idea and not letting that idea get diluted in some way by the group and letting the piece become just so many steps between the members of the group. With a solo the question is how does one maintain cohesion and focus on a idea without repeating yourself and instead continue to give new information to the audience throughout the length of the solo and keep their attention and not bore them.

DP: Is one more challenging than the other?

DCS: No, it’s pretty equal in my mind. For both, I think it comes down to the the idea of information and managing how one communicates that information to the audience. Doris Humphrey wrote that all dances are too long.

DP: You have relocated to the Raleigh/Durham Area. What are your future goals?

DCS: The first goal is to just make myself known in the dance community there and figure out what the scene is. The next goal would be to carve out a place for myself in that community and be able to create and present my own work. From that point I’ll have to wait and see what happens in order to determine what my next move will be.

Many thanks to Diego for chatting with us!  Check the NCDF schedule of performances to catch Diego’s work in your area.  Visit his website for more information: http://www.diegocarrascoschoch.com/

Coming up: A special “extra” post this week–meet Talani Torres, who will be presenting work alongside the Festival touring artists in Raleigh!  Next week, meet the local Charlotte artists who will be performing in Charlotte on September 16-17.

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