Featured Choreographer June 2021: Daniela Cardim

14 Jun 2021

Image credit: Lachlan Monaghan

Tell us about yourself, where you are based and your practice?

I am a freelance choreographer based in London.

I was born in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where I did all my dance training. I studied in a local private ballet school and I was just lucky this school turned out to be excellent. My teacher, Eliana Karin, danced in the Mariinsky Ballet (Kirov at the time) and had this incredible knowledge of the Vaganova method.

At 17 I got a scholarship for the Princesse Grace Dance Academy in Monaco. I then went back to Brazil and joined Ballet of Municipal Theatre in Rio de Janeiro where I danced for five years. In 1999 I joined the Dutch National Ballet where I danced for 11 years. There I had the opportunity to work with incredible choreographers and started choreographing myself every year for the company’s choreographic workshop.

I am also very interested in all aspects of what makes a dance company successful. I moved to the UK in 2010 to attend a BA course in Arts Management and went into working as Company Manager with New English Ballet Theatre, while also working as a freelance choreographer.

How would you describe your choreographic voice and process, and how has this developed over time?

I come from a classical ballet background and ballet is still the foundation of my work. I am interested in exploring how audiences can relate to ballet in this day and age. How we can remain current and expand movement language without crossing over to contemporary dance completely.

In terms of process, when I started choreographing, I used to create material in advance and bring it to the studio. Now I work in a much more collaborative way with the dancers and tend to use improvisation as a starting point for creating material. I know a lot of contemporary choreographers work this way, but it is not that common in ballet companies.

What’s the most important thing to you as a choreographer?

There isn’t one most important thing for me. I consider a project successful when different aspects of the creation work well. During the creation process is it important for me to work with a creative team I trust, and it is crucial to build a good working relationship with the dancers. Once the work is on stage, the most important thing for me is that the work touches the audience. That they feel inspired or that they can connect with the work emotionally on some level.

Can you share with us some highlights of your choreographic career and/or your current engagements?

The piece I made for the company in Rio de Janeiro in 2016 was definitely a highlight. Going back to where I started as a dancer many years ago, now as a choreographer, was an honour. And it was a beautiful project with a theme linked to Brazilian folklore and the Amazon Forest, with music by Heitor Villa-Lobos.

Another highlight was ‘What Got You Here’, a work I made for Dutch National Ballet Junior Company in 2019 which was performed in Amsterdam, toured the Netherlands and was then on the Linbury Theatre at the Royal Opera House. This work was preceded by a 3-week choreography Lab where I had lots of time with the dancers in the studio to play with ideas. I experimented with dancing to text, which was completely new to me and a risk I wouldn’t normally take if I had just the usual amount of time given for a creation. The piece was very well received, and I felt I grew as a choreographer during the creative process.

Currently I am creating a work for Birmingham Royal Ballet which premieres in June. The piece was supposed to premiere in 2020 but was postponed by a year due to the pandemic. Working with BRB dancers has been incredibly inspiring, especially as we started rehearsals right after the last lockdown. We all feel grateful for being able to work and perform again. Moreover, the large scale of this project has been challenging but also fulfilling, as I have had the opportunity to collaborate with a larger team of creatives including a composer, a dramaturg and an assistant choreographer.

What areas of choreography are you currently most interested in exploring? (This can be dance genres, work contexts, themes etc.)

I tend to create abstract works but lately I have been more inspired by current events. My piece for BRB is inspired by climate change and the need to act while there is still a window of opportunity. I am also creating a work for Images Ballet Company which is inspired by the impact of the Covid crisis. The pandemic has forced us all to reflect on our personal lives as well as on our society. These thoughts are very present in my head, and I am looking for ways to express them through my practice.

What do you think are some of the main challenges choreographers are faced with today?

I think it is the lack of space to take risks and sometimes get it wrong. There is constant pressure to deliver successful work which doesn’t leave much room for experimentation. If you look at some of the great choreographers of the 20th century, you will see that they made a huge amount of works and not all of them were successful. Companies were more willing to give them the space to explore risky ideas and didn’t give up on them just because one work didn’t go as well as predicted. Nowadays, box office figures and the opinions of critics influence decision making much more. So, as a choreographer, it is tempting to ‘play safe’ and use a formula you know works.

What advice would you offer to aspiring and emerging choreographers?

Take the time to experiment with all kinds of different ideas and movement styles before you choose your path. Try to find some projects where you don’t have the pressure to deliver a final result. These are where you can learn and grow.

How have you adapted over the last 12 months?

I was about to start rehearsals at BRB last year when Covid happened, and everything was postponed until further notice. I spent several months unemployed for the first time in my life which was very hard. However, the extra time gave me the opportunity to learn new things. I worked in a dance film project, which was something completely new to me. I collaborated with fellow choreographer Peter Leung who has a lot more knowledge in this area and learned a lot from this experience.

Also, thanks to an Arts Council DYCP grant, I worked with dramaturg Lou Cope on ideas for several new creations which I am excited to bring to life in the near future.

Do you have any upcoming or future plans?

I will create a short new work for New English Ballet Theatre and also have a couple of exciting projects coming up but cannot announce them yet!

Find out more about Daniela’s work: