Woman in Blue Softly Breathing An Interview with Lina Cruz
Interview by Makeda Davis
Image credit: Pablo Picasso’s ‘La Buveuse Assoupie’, 1902, oil on canvas.
This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.
Inspired by a Picasso painting that she witnessed in Switzerland in 1994, Lina Cruz choreographed Woman in Blue Softly Breathing; an expressive dance piece that explores the inner psyche of a woman who lives in a routine, remaining stagnant in life. While her life is repetitive, she is content with the cyclical nature of the life that she has created for herself. With the use of props and the physical language of storytelling through dance, Woman in Blue Softly Breathing has left audience members astonished, as each person viewing the piece was able to take away something different from their viewing experience. I got the chance to chat with Lina Cruz over the phone and pick her brain on Woman in Blue Softly Breathing, and the steps it took to create such an enthralling piece of dance.
Could you introduce yourself?
My name is Lina Cruz, and I am a choreographer.
Woman in Blue Softly Breathing is an interesting piece of dance; it is one that is quite expressive and relies on the use of props. What emotions did you, as the choreographer, want the dancer to showcase, and how do those props come into play?
The props assist in composing the interior world of the character; [the props] are transparent and made of plexiglass and for me, they represent being imaginary or inexistent. The plexiglass is used in the piece as a path that leads the character, and at other times, as part of a space in a home. Everything is happening in her head. There is a point when she uses [the props] almost as if it were a sofa, then there’s another point where she uses it as a bathtub, as a playground, and then ultimately making [the props] into a bar high table with a stool at the end of the piece, with a chandelier made of empty bottles. The props assist with creating that interior world.
As far as the emotions, for me, it was important that because it is based on the image of a drunk woman in a bar or a café, I did not want it to be a tragedy. I wanted her to express comfort and the wellbeing that she looks for when she gets drunk. I think that’s what people look for. My intention was not to judge, there’s no real opinion on whether people should get drunk or not – I don’t want to encourage it either – but the painting was not judgmental, the painting was just an image of something really beautiful. That was important for me to fight against this tragical proposition, by just showing wellbeing and a certain lightness, and a certain joy.
With the props, where words fail, they come in to fill in the gaps of the story.
You did view one of Picasso’s paintings which is the inspiration behind Woman in Blue Softly Breathing. What was that like and how did viewing that painting inspire this dance piece?
[The painting] is from the Blue Period, but it’s really just that particular painting that inspired me and it’s called La Buveuse Assoupie, which means the mellowed down drinker. She’s almost asleep; she’s still sitting but she’s totally gone, and it’s such a beautiful painting. The given title in English is the Absinthe Drinker, but I don’t think it translates well. I think the original title is influential; it means more like half asleep drinker. I saw [the painting] in 1994 and it was at the Paul Klee Museum in Bern, Switzerland. I had the luck of being alone in the museum, and I was there to see Paul Klee because the whole museum is just Paul Klee – except for this painting! I walked in and saw this painting and I was just totally speechless. It’s just the beauty of the lines of the body and the face, it was very moving and that is what was communicated to me; that she’s well. My god, she’s so well! That stayed with me and so I thought that someday, I might use this impression in a piece, and then it happened in 2019.
I think that really shows how impactful the painting was.
It was amazing but it depends on the person and whatever I was living at the time, because our reciprocity also changes depending on what we’re living.
This is a long piece with a run time of 30 minutes. How do you see the journey or development of the character in this piece and are there any milestones that the character reaches throughout the dance?
There are no milestones at all. I think what happens in the piece is really happening inside of the head of the character as it is in the painting. The painting doesn’t move, doesn’t evolve, doesn’t change, it just contains something. I didn’t see it as the character has to change, will change, or will get somewhere. It’s contained in the painting, it’s contained in the head of the character, and it’s also contained in the perception of the person who’s viewing the painting – in this case me; it’s more like a cycle.
She goes through a cycle, a routine, so there is no real change. She’s the same when she starts as when she ends, but we can see her space through her cycle. I think the type of character we see in that painting is not just somebody being drunk once every two months, it’s somebody who does that very frequently – that’s how I saw it. For me it was more about the cycle because in my head, it’s something that is very constant in her life.
She goes through a routine and that’s why there’s a path. The path is her routine and it’s the path that she walks every day, and in that path, she has a life, and that life is being at home singing, it is taking a bath, it is playing with the things around her, and even playing with the bottles, laughing, remembering things, and ultimately just allowing herself to float. To float at the bar – even if she’s drinking at home – but in her head, she’s at the bar. There’s no real change. When she starts, she has a bottle in her hand and when she ends, she has more bottles in her hand, but they were already empty from the beginning.
I think that’s interesting because I read a lot of books, and there is always this expectation – especially for a main character – to go through some sort of change. People are always searching for the character development, what did they learn, what did they go through, so I think it’s intriguing that she’s going through this cycle and she remains stagnant but it’s not necessarily a good or bad thing.
But it’s not dead either. I think because it was a painting, I was ready to go in and imagine what she’s living – it’s a liberty that I took. But I didn’t want to say that she’s going to change or she’s going to become something else.
How has dance, choreography, and the dance community shaped your life?
I was dancer, and then later on a choreographer and still dancing. I’m still dancing but now I’m mostly choregraphing. I’ve been dancing since 1975 so that’s a long time, and that was in mainly in Spain, then I went to Europe, New York, and I’ve been [in Canada] for 32 years. Dance communities are different, not much because dance professionals behave mostly the same way everywhere we go, but times have changed. So all of those things have obviously shaped my life; the people I’ve worked with, the different countries, and the different generations because things change.
Contemporary dance has changed a lot and has gained a little bit more support and popularity. It’s been an essential part of my life, and what I’ve done since I was 16-years-old. Being creative is important to me, that I know for many reasons. Before I danced, I was very much into writing and drawing, and then when I started dancing, I think it all went into dance. Using the body as a creative tool allows for the awareness of our body, but in a way that is important intellectually because we are contained in this vessel, and when you use every single part of your body to be creative, then you have an awareness about life and how you live inside that body is particular. It’s not the same for example – I believe – as a sports person who also has a strong awareness of the body, but what they live through their body is not necessarily being creative, expressing emotions. It’s just different.
You really have to be in tune, I feel, with your mind, your body, and your emotions to be able to dance and tell a story through dance because there’s no words. There’s nothing telling you exactly what’s happening, so you as the dancer have to be able to convey that to the audience.
Exactly, like you said, you said story but often there is no story, but there is something happening and it’s very abstract. The ability to connect to something abstract I think is a privilege because we live in such a concrete world.
Conversely, how has your life shaped how you approach dance?
My approach to life is to face hardships directly with the belief that I will surmount them. I see problems clearly and then I have the ability to be as positive as possible and to surmount it, without denying the problems or the darker side of life; just believing that there is something better after.
My dance is therefore playful, joyful, celebratory, but it still conveys glimpses of precisely the darker side of life. I think that’s the link between how I approach life and how I approach work. The reason why I like to be playful is because I want to surmount problems. I mean life is tough, and I’m not going to deny it, but we can dream, we can play, we can celebrate, and we can find solutions.
You’re essentially not going to let yourself be the thief of your own joy. Thank you so much for your time I really appreciate it.