Throughout time, dance has been considered a universal language, a form of non-verbal communication between humans. A dance can transform a body into a book, a storyteller simply by the movements and the tone of the face and hands and by the movement of the body. It conveys passion, love, lust, hate, sadness, pleasure, pain, solitude and grace. The world of Flappers, Pin-ups and Showgirls has been graced by legends such as Anita Berber, Marion Benda, Joan Bennett, Caja Eric, and Gypsy Rose Lee, but in the world of Flamenco – One of my personal favorite styles of dance – we have had Farruco, Mario Maya, Carmen Amaya, Tibu la Tormenta, Manuela Carrasco Salazar and many, many more! The pin-up culture has been tied to several different types of dance through burlesque; flappers; tango; swing and flamenco not only through performances, but also depicted in the pin-up culture artwork.
Oak Tree Vintage was fortunate enough to catch up with Mari Sandoval, renowned choreographer/performer, and had the pleasure of asking a few questions regarding the care of a dancers body, her thought process when choreographing and the demands a dancer must meet in order to convey a story to the audience.
Mari Sandoval was trained in Ballet, Classical Spanish Dance, and Flamenco in Spain and the United States by such notables as Carmelita Maracci, Vladimir Lupov, Jonette Swider, Enrique “el cojo;, Carmen Mora, Inesita, Lupe del Rio, Nana Lorca, and Roberto Amaral. Mari performed with Roberto Amaral’s Ballet Expanol de los Angeles as a principal dancer and as the company’s Ballet mistress. She has performed in theaters such as the Lobero, Wilshire Ebell, Japan America, Fox Smother’s, The Center for Performing Arts at CSUN, as well as numerous other venues throughout the United States and Canada. She was a choreographer for the Bilingual Foundation of the Arts from 1987 to 2009 where she created choreographies for opera, zarzuelas and numerous plays with a special emphasis on creating works for the plays and poetry of Federico Garcia Lorca. She often performed in the same pieces she choreographed. Mari’s other credits include Musical Theater productions, and Dance Theater productions such as “Evita’, “Cats”, “The Cobbler’s Many Tales”, “While Beauty Slept” among numerous others. Recently Mari choreographed for LATA’s awesome summer program and is presently teaching Flamenco, Yoga and Zumba
Oak Tree Vintage: It’s always been apparent to me when I see your work performed there is a cohesion that’s so beautiful whether others are dancing your choreographed work or you are the one performing it yourself. What is your thought process when your choreographing one of your masterworks?
Mari Sandoval instructing students in one of her many dance classes
Marilyn Sandoval: My thought process, whether I am the performer or the choreographer, is to put myself within the play’s poetic imagery. For me, the poetic images suggested by the writer/poet, that are either accompanied by, or possibly enhanced by the music, are my guide. I have been known to choreograph in my head, while driving to the theater, simply by repeatedly listening to the music and by searching for the relationship between the two media. When working with the imagery of Garcia Lorca, I have often felt that he was guiding the movement. I let myself become his instrument to give life to his work. That has happened to me in the past, before working at the theater, when I created a piece for my mentor teacher, Carmelita Maracci. She made an assignment to dance with a fan. I chose the music of Igor Stravinsky, “Three Pieces for a String Quartet,” and it more or less created itself. I just listened to the poetry in the music, and it told me what to do. She went crazy for it! The beauty in movement comes from the words combined with the music and the ability/talent to, “go there,” by the actor.
Oak Tree Vintage: Your choreographic process often includes working with musical scores by great composers from the past. How do you pull inspiration from composers/musicians that have long been gone?
Marilyn Sandoval: Composers, like artists, come from distinct time periods. There are wonderfully stylistic things that identify the differences between one time to another. I was fortunate enough to have had a teacher, Carmelita Maracci, who demanded that we study music from multiple eras and to know something about what stylistically was going on during those diverse times I also have had many great opportunities to be immersed in culturally diverse music, poetry, and dance, which I believe contributed to my work.
Oak Tree Vintage: It can be said that both traditional and non-dance audiences are drawn to your work. In your opinion, what is it about your dances that attract non-dance audiences?
Marilyn Sandoval: It has been my goal, if the actor is “moving” within the framework of the play, to create movement that is not seen as, “dance” alone, but as a natural/organic aspect of the play’s design. Otherwise, if the dance segments are supposed to be “danced” I have striven to create entertaining, passionate, sensual, and “attractive” movement, so that the audience feels they are “there.” I always wanted the audience to feel something from what they were seeing. I rarely found out whether or not that happened.
Oak Tree Vintage: You have the virtue of making the worst dancer look good. How do you teach a performer to convey the passion, power and sensuality that a dancer must offer its audience?
Mari Sandoval choreographing the world premiere opera “Lorca, Child of the Moon”
Marilyn Sandoval: Actors who don’t “believe” they can move, need to be coxed into believing they can. The process of learning to move needs to be full of positive and non critical rehearsal time. Once the threads of the coordination appear, then more layers can be added. The actors understand the script’s demands and will supply the emotional aspects once the movement is achieved. Movement, like languages, can’t happen in an environment of doubt and criticism. I spent many years teaching students from all over the world to speak, read, and write English. I know that the process of learning to dance and to speak a new language is parallel.
Oak Tree Vintage: As a professional, your body goes through so much when you are choreographing and performing. How do you maintain your body and mind healthy, beautiful and strong?
Marilyn Sandoval: Anyone who dances knows that maintaining strength, flexibility, and endurance is of ultimate importance. As a choreographer, I have tried to be an example to the actors so that they could imitate the movement I was requiring them to produce. While people are learning, the choreographer must be involved in repetition and that’s where physical training comes into play. Classical Ballet, Yoga, Pilates, and Flamenco have always been my a part of my personal physical routine. That will keep you in shape!
Oak Tree Vintage: Legs, they go through so much on a daily basis as a dancer. They are the instrument, the voice and the storyteller. What would be your best advice on how to avoid injury on your feet and legs?
Marilyn Sandoval: The legs, feet, arms and hands are,along with the face, the most expressively articulate parts of the body. To keep those parts of the body from being injured excellent core training accompanied by work on strength, flexibility, and endurance should be anyone’s focus. It should be a life long focus, and must include a healthy diet and weight. There are so many beautiful ways to build and maintain the bodies expressive potential. I am in favor of multiple forms of training: Yoga for strength, flexibility and focus; Pilates for core strength; Classical Ballet for it’s amazing requirements for strength, flexibility, endurance and coordination, not to mention poetic expressiveness; Flamenco for endurance, coordination and it’s passionate expressiveness; Zumba for it’s fun fitness goals. Any form of movement that pushes and encourages an individual to keep growing is of maximum importance!