CA: Alejandro, thank you for finding time to meet. I'd like to start by asking you about the story of your immigration to Canada.
AR: First of all, thank you for inviting me to speak with you – it was about time someone asked!
My story started in 1982, when I was in New York and I was training with Alvin Ailey and Madame [Gabriella] Darvash at the Conservatory of Dance in New York, taking class with Finis Jhung and others. It was the era in New York when everyone went to the Pineapple Studios and New York City Ballet. There was a big wave of dance, as is happening now; there were dance films coming out and dance became more popular. There was a lot of competition among people heading to New York and trying to get jobs.
I had a special relationship with Madame Darvash, who was a fantastic teacher.
Alejandro Ronceria's conversation with Carol Anderson took place Friday, May 18, 2012.
In Colombia I had already got my first job, at the National Ballet. I trained with Irina Breckner, a Varna gold medalist who was born in Kiev; she was very classically oriented. As a kid, I was roller-skating, and my teacher said, “I want to send you to this teacher to take some ballet classes; it will be good for your line.”
So I went to Irina Breckner; she had studied with Martha Graham, José Limón and Luigi. She was not only a magnificent trainer in classical ballet, she was amazing in these other dimensions too. I took classes and was exposed to all her knowledge, and I just loved it. She said, “I want to give you a scholarship, but you have to commit to your studies.”
I had another teacher who had started out with The Royal Ballet in England, named Priscilla Walton. These two ladies basically formed me.
The world of dance in Colombia has always been rich. We had many groups coming to Colombia – Pina Bausch, San Francisco Ballet, New York City Ballet, Alvin Ailey – all these major, major companies coming to the Teatro Colón [Teatro de Christóbal Colón, Bogota, Colombia]. I remember having a conversation at the stage door. I'd been to see Alvin Ailey's company, and I was hanging around, wanting to take classes with the company. There was a gentleman there, and we started chatting, and then talked and talked, me in my poor English and he in his poor Spanish … after talking for a while he said, “Wait a minute,” and brought me some books about contemporary dance in Mexico. I said, “Oh, thank you, it's so great to meet you; my name is Alejandro.” And he said, “I'm Alvin Ailey.”
I did have the opportunity to take classes with the company. Later on, my curiosity and love for dance drove me to New York to take classes to see what it was like. I'd already worked with one of the many editions of ballet companies in Colombia for a few years – it was a huge company, associated with the symphony orchestra. Maestro Hector Zaraspe, who worked with and trained Nureyev, came to teach and work with the dancers. This company was very Russian, hardcore classical. We also worked with a choreographer from New York, from Balanchine's company.
This ballet company toured a lot. Also, since the opera has a big season in Colombia, we worked as the corps de ballet. That was amazing because people from La Scala in Milano, from Frankfurt and Munich directed these operas. So I was exposed at an early age to these wonderful directors. I learned to love and appreciate the complexity and allure of the stage – I was in heaven!
I travelled to New York when I was nineteen years old. I took classes everywhere and then went back to Colombia. I went back and forth, trying to get my feet wet in the dance life there. Actually, early in my time there, I worked with a choreographer named Marilyn Davies, dancing some solos for her. She created very experimental, contemporary dance, always with difficult music – it was crazy but fantastic at the same time.
In Colombia, I also formed a company with my friend dancer/choreographer Carlo. We explored Colombian traditions in contemporary dance. At the same time, I was working on a university degree, and my major was music.
My whole aspiration was to be a conductor. The first time I saw a symphony orchestra, at seven years old, I wanted to be the guy with the baton – to have that power! I continued studying, following my love of music at the University of Colombia, and dancing. A group of friends and I started to research music in various communities, seeking answers to our questions. What was black music in Colombia? Mestizo music? Indigenous music? Contemporary music? We went to the many festivals around the country and saw the great diversity … it was a very rich experience!
I grew up with a background in indigenous Colombian dance, since I was exposed to traditional dance as a kid. I also had the opportunity to meet some of the great ones, legends, such as El Maestro Jacinto Jaramillo and Delia Zapata, who had the first black company in Colombia – it was traditional, but really serious work, really serious artists. Her work left an impression on me. I also had the opportunity to witness a great tradition of theatre in Colombia when I was hanging around La Candelaria, a famous district … Bohemia in Bogota! Hanging out with film people, soap opera stars, dancers, actors, writers and designers immersed me in an artistic circle with a chain of ideas flying around – it was a super-rich experience. My dream was to go to the Soviet Union to train one day – I heard so much about it. Irina [Breckner] was also responsible for this desire; she showed us a lot of films, with Nureyev, Baryshnikov, Makarova and others. I had a lot of exposure to dance traditions of the West. Witnessing wonderful artists was part of our training, so I saw work by John Neumeier, Maurice Béjart and many others – the exposure was huge. Theatre in Colombia is very rich – in the street, in the theatres – theatre is everywhere. We had open access to culture in Bogota. As a child I went to museums and galleries; I grew up looking at sculptures, and it was free … (next page)