A year and a half ago, José Navas generously gave me his lunch hour for an interview and I am finally writing about it now. I didn’t want to admit this here to expose my tardiness. However, it is more important that I do, to point out the timelessness of Mr. Navas’ words. When I replayed the recording, it didn’t just refresh my memory, but I actually have a new perspective on what was said. It resonates more deeply, coloured by my life experiences between then and now. In a self-proving way, it demonstrates one of Mr. Navas’ points in the interview, the importance of what the audience brings into the experience of art.
Mr. Navas wants your emotional baggage, your memories and thoughts. When the audience brings this into the experience of a performance, it creates that ephemeral present moment. Mr. Navas explains that dance which does not follow a linear narrative, also considered ‘abstract’, forces us to bring more of ourselves to the interpretation.
Mr. Navas is typically associated with contemporary dance, having studied under Merce Cunningham, an influential American dancer-choreographer. However, as Resident Choreographer of Ballet BC, Mr. Navas creates ballets – pieces within the structure and language of ballet, as Twyla Tharp had done with the American Ballet Theatre. He finds similarities in this with his experience choreographing a piece in the Bharatanatyam style, a traditional Indian dance, and he is fascinated by the figurative language in this and other traditional dances.
“Solo performances,” Mr. Navas says, “are like blind dates; if an audience doesn’t like you within the first 15 minutes, it can be a long evening”. He says that when performing, “you are exposing yourself to the audience night after night, giving them permission to inspect you for an hour, then, you go back to the hotel and do it again tomorrow”. What keeps him going is that insatiable appetite to create and his dedication to offer as much as he can to his audience.
His advice to choreographers, originally given by George Balanchine to Twyla Tharp, is to “make sure you use beautiful music, because at least people can leave the theatre saying, that was a beautiful piece of music”.
Finally, his most recent inspiration is how death amplifies the value of the moments we share with each other. Mr. Navas emphasizes that “each moment could be the last chance we have to be kind to that person.”
Well said, Mr. Navas. I’m grateful for the inspired moments in our conversation, which was not just a dialogue, but a piece of art which I continue to reflect upon.