Conversation without Words

photo: Welcome to the Montgomery Experience, ‘Mes de Danza’ 2014. Teatro Alameda. Sevilla. / LUIS CASTILLA

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The components of the group ‘Welcome to the Montgomery Experience’ challenge the limits of music and dance, mixing their creative energies and different vital paths.

A TALL MAN WITH A BEARD and hair with a mind of its own slides across the stage of a dark, intimate venue. A woman of petite stature, with pronounced features, strikingly dark hair, and articulate control of her body sashays beside him. Mere inches away from them on the stage, is a trim, dignified man with suave hair and intense, mysterious eyes. He croons beautiful, almost indistinguishable, words into the microphone, as a buzzing beat builds. The dancing couple, Nando Pérez and Teresa Navarrete, continues their journey through the piece, titled Salón Otto. The man manipulates open the mouth of the woman, then lifts and shakes her as her limbs flail, trying to hold her, somehow still elegantly. Meanwhile, Miguel Marín, the singer, sways smoothly back and forth in front of his microphone, snapping along to the accompaniment. The three form part of a revolutionary project in the dance world of Seville.

Teresa Navarrete and Nando Pérez onstage, with Miguel Marín and his band, performing Welcome to The Montgomery Experience. Seville’s ‘Mes de Danza’ 2014 PHOTO: LUIS CASTILLAphoto: Teresa Navarrete and Nando Pérez onstage, with Miguel Marín and his band, performing Welcome to The Montgomery Experience. Seville’s ‘Mes de Danza’ 2014. / LUIS CASTILLA

Nando Pérez, born in 1976 in Vigo, Galicia, began his artistic career as an actor, working and performing in his hometown in the Teatro Ensalle, until his fateful meeting with Teresa. In 2005, her Barcelona-based company, Erre que Erre, came to perform at the theater where he worked. Nando had moved to Barcelona and it happened that the company was in need of extra performers. Recognizing a potential in his movement, Teresa invited Nando to fill one of these spaces. Without any formal dance training, he took a leap of faith and followed her back to Barcelona. “It was a radical change,” admits Nando about the move.

Furthermore, he relied on fewer training resources than most professional dancers, who spend their youth and early adulthood at prestigious conservatories. Nando’s training was less formal than that of other performers, combining his participation in workshops and courses offered by the companies that visited his theatre, in the drama school in which he studied, with stage design and production work for every show. One of these companies was Teresa’s. Thus, Nando acquired all of his dance knowledge over the course of about five years- an abnormally short time. “The training was very short, but extremely intense,” Nando explains.

On the other hand, “I started dancing… long ago,” laughs Teresa, “a long time ago.” Born in 1971, in Torreperojil, Jaén, “there were no schools, no conservatories, nor anything else in my small town,” she remembers. Teresa’s luck changed at ten, when a Spanish dance school popped up and offered classes. “At 17, I left for a conservatory in Córdoba, [‘La Escuela Superior de Arte Dramático y Danza de Córdoba’], where I was first exposed to contemporary dance,” Teresa continues. Her professional career began in Barcelona in 1998, with the renowned company, Erre que Erre, an innovative and powerful name in the dance world, often partnering with videodance.

The last three years of her total of 11 spent in Barcelona, Teresa worked closely with the musician and composer Miguel Marín, forming an ultimately life-changing relationship. Born in Seville in 1974, Miguel started playing drums and percussion at a mere nine years old. He created his first personal music project, Árbol, in January of 2002. He produced 5 albums under this name, including Dreams Made of Paper in 2005 and She Read the Wrong Book in 2012. Miguel’s haunting voice and otherworldly, electronic sound speak to an alternative crowd.

His works are now more focused in contemporary dance, collaborating with a myriad of creative minds in different companies, as well as in television, film and advertising. “It is a luxury to work with him,” asserts Teresa. “My work with Miguel has always flowed well. I have connected with his music and he has connected with my movement.”

Teresa and Nando moved to Seville in 2009, where Miguel would follow shortly after, and “we began to create our own project,” says Teresa, referring to her Teresa Navarrete Company. The trifecta of Teresa Navarrete Company includes Teresa, the choreographer and dancer, Miguel, the musician and composer, and Nando, the physical actor who wears many other hats, also working with design, management, and movement. “It was a surprise that [Nando] had so much potential,” admits Teresa. The group’s three pieces; Fragile (2010), Otra manera de encontrarse (2011), and Salón Otto (2013), have grown in content and depth through the years, mixing movement, music, words and video.

Salón Otto was recognized for its superior quality with the receipt of five PAD (The Association of Professionals and Companies for the Development of Dance in Andalusia) awards in 2014, including best direction, best choreography, and best soundscape design / original composition. A key message of the piece is “to value the little things,” explains Nando. In it, he plays and builds with a mound of earth, contemplating the world around him.

Teresa Navarrete and Nando Pérez perform Salon Otto.  PHOTO: LUIS CASTILLAphoto: Teresa Navarrete and Nando Pérez perform Salon Otto. / LUIS CASTILLA

“From Salón Otto, the Montgomery character was born,” says Nando. Miguel, who normally works alone, created the Montgomery band, began performing concerts, and later proposed this concert of music and dance to the coordinator of the October 2014 ‘Mes de la Danza’ in Seville. In its first showcase in the Alameda Theatre, it was discovered to be more so a “work in progress.” “We decided to continue elaborating the work a bit,” explains Teresa. The piece will be reborn at its premiere December 4th, 2015 in the Teatro Central in Seville. “There is a lot of expectation,” beams Nando with pride.

The 11 characters involved in Welcome to the Montgomery Experience are of the extremely occupied variety. “Everyone is extraordinarily hardworking,” reinforces Nando, proud of his colleagues and friends for their dedicated long nights in rehearsal. Each with conflicting obligations to individual projects, the times they can all be together are rare. The group must be flexible to accommodate such difficult schedules. The performers demonstrated their skill to “make it work” in any situation on a recent trip to South Korea, in October, 2015, for the Performing Arts Market in Seoul.

“We went [to South Korea] with fewer people,” recalls Nando, “and it was a bit crazy.” In a short amount of time, the piece was re-imagined in a traditional theater space and rearranged considering the missing cast members. Teresa was among the absentees, due to her strict teaching schedule, and for their duet Nando was thrown into the arms of a new partner, Laura. “We still had great chemistry and success,” reveals Nando, despite the limited adjustment period.

In South Korea, Nando discovered “the sensation that Montgomery has created a family.” He explains that they never take notice of the age range from 22 to 45. “The coexistence is very good,” continues Nando, “on a human level and in relation to the stage.”

 Miguel Marín during the performance of Salón Otto . PHOTO: LUIS CASTILLAphoto: Miguel Marín during the performance of Salón Otto. / LUIS CASTILLA

“Miguel is the true director,” explains Teresa, but he works closely in direction and creation with her and María M. Cabeza de Vaca, another renowned dancer and choreographer of Seville. The two women also dance with Silvia Balvín, Greta García, Laura Morales, and Nando Pérez. The Montgomery band is responsible for music, with Miguel Marín (voice, keyboard, percussion, and electronics), Miriam Blanch (bass and chorus), Amanda Palma (drums and chorus), and Jesús Bascón (guitar and keyboard). On the technical side, there are three more group members.

They describe Welcome to the Montgomery Experience as a celebration; a concert performed by a 4-musician band that share space with 6 guests, 6 dancers, exposing concerns, relationships and bare-chested yearnings, indulging in an extravagance of feelings and a diverse repertoire of movements and presences. Nando and Teresa swiftly agree. “Montgomery is a party… it’s a concert and its invitees,” says Nando. In essence, it is “to party, to dance, and to have a good time.” The movement is not focused on highlighting the dancers’ technical talent, but more so on creating an energy that engages the audience.

“We intentionally want to create a space like a runway,” explains Teresa. “We need the public to be with us, not far away.” The band is placed close to the dancers, and the audience surrounds the stage sitting on three sides. Everyone is together, involved in the process. Nando adds, “traditionally formatted stages create a wall between the spectators and performers, and we wish to break down and remove these walls.” Audience members were so inspired by this environment that at the end of the show in the 2014 ‘Mes de Danza’, an impromptu dance party ensued. The Montgomery band played an encore and spectators of every variety swung and spun each other around the stage.

Teresa and Nando met in spite of their contrasting backgrounds. “In fact, he is more dancer than actor,” laughs Teresa, supportive of Nando’s career change. He recognizes his unique aesthetic and describes himself in a less traditional way. “I am a ‘mover’. I communicate with my body.” This is something essential that the couple shares: the expression of feelings, thoughts, stories, and other worlds without saying a single word. “I can converse better dancing than talking,” Teresa agrees. “On a movement level I try to be as organic as possible for my body and brain,” she adds. “Above all, I try to have a good time. Above all I try to be happy.”

Touching on her relationship with Nando, Teresa recalls, “we have been growing on a creative level with the company. With every new show it emerges richer. On the other hand, we have also been growing as an emotional, romantic couple.” The artistic life that Nando and Teresa live, together with their 3-year-old son, Otto, is at times difficult, but the couple has thrived professionally and personally.

“At an economic level it is difficult to maintain,” laments Teresa, “at times it is a bit precarious.” Nando agrees, “there is no economic structure.” Additionally, Nando describes his son’s birth, “I wanted to focus completely on him, and it was very stressful to have so many other things going on at the same time.”

According to the annual research by SGAE of the Performing Arts, Musicals and Audiovisuals, from 2008 to 2014, the number of dance functions, the amount of spectators, and the revenue from entrance fees in Spain have all dropped by between 45% and 55%. Despite a grave economic situation, and the fact that dancers in other countries receive better recognition, “I think that if you enjoy it, there are no sacrifices,” states Teresa.

To help with the more tumultuous life of a choreographer and dancer, Teresa has also worked at the Dance Conservatory of Seville for 4 years, teaching two classes within the contemporary dance specialty. “I am happy in the conservatory,” Teresa expresses, “I am still always learning,” from her students and from the different set of skills it takes to create lesson plans and structure classes. It is very gratifying to work there, and the salary is desirable, but Teresa also struggles with the difficulty of balancing her roles as professor, mother, choreographer and dancer. Her teaching schedule is not very flexible, limiting her possible involvement in other projects. “It is tiring,” she admits, but “for now I have the energy to try and follow both paths.” She recognizes that she could never give up the non-professor part of her life. “Above all, I need to keep dancing and creating.”

Teresa and company never cease to maintain optimism and unwavering strength. “Last year, Miguel and I did a little something at a tiny venue in the center of Seville, the Microteatro,” recounts Teresa, “and absolutely nobody showed up.” That did not stop the show from carrying on, however, and she laughs at a situation that could tear down the confidence or resolve of a less-seasoned dancer.

The performers of Welcome to the Montgomery Experience are eagerly anticipating their next projects. “We have already started to talk, and there will be a duet with me and Miguel,” explains Teresa. Nando also wants to dance solo, and has been collaborating with Miguel. “I want to do something but I don’t know exactly how,” muses Nando. “Everything is still very much in the air.” What he does know is that he “wants to investigate movement and word,” using his own tools in a very organic manner. “I am looking forward to it,” beams Nando. •