Last weekend I attended the Westside Dance Project weekend-long summer intensive in Laguna Hills. The intensive consisted of two different, three-hour-long classes each day. One of the teachers who taught was Norbert De La Cruz III, whom I was particularly impressed with.
Norbert’s resume is impressive, beginning with his education. He studied at Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, American Ballet Theater in New York City, San Francisco Ballet, Miami City Ballet, LINES Ballet, Northwest Professional Dacnce Project, Netherlands Dance Theater Summer Course, and graduate from Juilliard with a BFA in dance in 2010. He danced professionally with the Metropolitan Opera House, Azure Barton & Artists, Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, Complexions Contemporary Ballet, and many, many others. Lastly, he is an emerging force in the choreography world and has created original pieces for Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, The Juilliard School, Hubbard Street Dance II, and Tulsa Ballet II, among others.
Yes, that is a mouthful. But more important than Norbert’s long list of accomplishments (and he’s only in his twenties!) is not nearly as important as the way he teaches and approaches dance. His choreography is a wonderful display of his understanding of the human body and how it naturally and unnaturally moves. Though based in ballet, I was impressed with the unique ways he broke down those classical walls. This is something that all contemporary ballet choreographers do, but I found his work more experimental especially when it came to the nuances in footwork and hand placement.
One part of Norbert’s class particularly stood out to me:
He had us focus on the parallels that exist within the human body. A person’s arm is parallel to their leg, their ankle is parallel to their wrist, and their fingers are parallel to their toes. He had us perform an improvisation exercise across the floor, where we maintained an awareness of these parallels. Therefore, when I bent my elbow, I had to bend my knee as well.
This exercise accomplished several things. Firstly, it made me aware of every parallel in my body, and there are many more than one would think. It awakened a curiosity inside me—I ended up moving parts of my body that I was not previously aware I had. In the end, this made my improv infinitely more versatile and unique.
Secondly, it made improvisation a thoughtful process. Generally, when dancers are asked to improvise, they either whip out some quintuple pirouettes and kick-your-face battements or they flail their limbs across the floor, adding an accent here and there to look “fierce”. This exercise took the randomness out of improv because you had to think about every movement you made. Moving your leg became a conscious, intellectual decision because you had to maintain enough control and understanding to move your arm in a parallel fashion.
Norbert is definitely a choreographer to watch in the evolving dance world, and if you get the chance to work with him, consider yourself lucky!
Norbert’s website: http://www.norbertdelacruziii.com