Prologue Profiles Episode 014: Dance Choreographer Yara Travieso’s Passionate Cycle of Creation

“When I get invested in a project I can’t get out of it, so I tend to obsess over it and not be able to do anything else. It’s almost like you have some kind of wonderful virus but you gotta see it through and get it out of your system.” – Yara Travieso


Dan: Episode 14 of Prologue Profiles. I’m your host Dan Feld. My guest today is Yara Travieso.

Yara is a multimedia artist. Follow me here, she’s a Juilliard-trained dancer and choreographer who combines video and music to create avant-garde pieces which she directs and produces herself.

Through her uncanny ability to fundraise, her pieces have already been presented in Lincoln Center and in the new Frank Gehry building in her hometown of Miami.

We hear from an artist who admits she’s completely consumed by her work, her grand plans for her latest project, and how burning out is part of the process. She’s 26-years-old.

Yara: Hi, this is Yara Travieso, I’m a multimedia choreographer and you are listening to Prologue Profiles.

My parents are artists, visual artists and my brother is a visual artist. But I always had a lot of physical energy, I was always like running around, jumping around. My parents are like “Let’s get her tired [Laughs] and put her into some kind of dramatic arts where she can be physical and energetic. So I guess that kind of influence, going to ballet all of a sudden, I started ballet pretty late. That physicality in that nervous energy mixed with my house being such a visual palette, everyone was always creating something…

Dan: That had to have had an impact.

Yara: The line was just blurred because it was an invitation to anything, conversation, anything we wanted to make. And it was that kind of critical thought mixed with like a very wild creativity that made me feel free enough to feel like there is no dance, there is no visual art, there’s just this strange breathing idea that needs to form limbs. I don’t care how many limbs, I don’t care if they’re human or robotic limbs or tentacles but this thing that’s breathing will live.
Dan: For college you went to Juilliard where you studied dance. After graduation did you feel certain expectations to go down a certain road?

Yara: The pressure was really on at Juilliard to really get into the best dance company out there. That famous European company that everyone will die for, just like the movies. And I did not want that.

I knew that my dance career wasn’t over but I knew that the guts of it were going to stay in that building. I knew that I was going to continue dancing as a choreographer or someone creating work because that’s what I always wanted. I still wanted to create works that said something new. I wanted to be part of history, I didn’t want to…help history.

Dan: You combine choreography, cinema, directing, video, performance, theater, all in one?

Yara: [Laughs] Yeah I never tell everybody everything. Usually I just say I’m a choreographer…

Dan: And then what, you…

Yara: And then I hope that they see the work and get the point.

Dan: So what project are you working on now?

Yara: We’re creating a major opera, my composer and I, to premiere a year and a half from now.

Dan: So what is it, what does that mean? You are going to create an opera?

Yara: Yeah, [Laughs] I know right? What is that? We’re creating a very non-traditional opera about Japanese ghost stories.

Dan: And what’s your role on this creation?

Yara: I’m directing the project. Which means that there are elements of choreography, elements of video and obviously music is the other side of this whole thing.

I’m also working with my brother who’s an architect, who’s designing this almost cave-like space for the audience and the performers to exist together. Almost like an oral tradition storytelling, cave painting kind of environment but so different [Laughs] with like really crazy projection-mapping and the architecture moves.

Dan: So how much of the project has been created? 

Yara: It’s actually a really great time to get question asked about it because we are in the very preliminary phase one part of the project where we know it’s happening, we’ve already written the first round of grant applications and residencies and we know generally the stories that we’re choosing to build this piece on, and we’ve created kind of structure, a plan, of how we’re gonna fund it, how we’re gonna go about making the work. And we’ve sort of delineated a timeline that’s about a year and a half to two years.

Dan: This is all new and foreign to me. Tell me more about how the phasing works.

Yara: So part of this timeline is like okay, so we delineated these many months for a sort of soft workshop premier. Which means we’ll probably only do only two stories, it’ll be a quarter of the time that it’s really gonna be and we’ll show it to, we’ll have an opening showing for presenters and different people that might be interested in helping us fund part three, four, five of this project. So really it’s like taking one step at a time. So how do we fund part one? And part one, what is the budget for part one? And the budget for part one is these many months of living time, this much creative energy, these many musicians, these many dancers, this many cameras. That’s what we are funding right now.

Dan: You’re seeking funding?

Yara: Yeah, we’re seeking funding for phase one.


Dan: What ballpark are we looking for?

Yara: Really conservative budget is a $150,000 and then a more realistic budget is over that [Laughs]. Like $250,000. And this is like $150,000 for a long-running show. It’s not up-on-a-weekend kind of thing.

Dan: So where do you plan on showing this opera?

Yara: The performance, the live performance, we’re hoping to do it somewhere in Holland. Right now that’s the sort of goal.

Dan: Why Holland?

Yara: In New York it’s easier to get a major, major work like this to tour after Holland has opened their arms to it. The European scene is a lot more open to avant-garde work, really extreme work. And something that needs the kind of level productions that this project is, we need to initially do it in a place where it will embrace the ideas faster, and also we’ll feel more creative and open to create whatever we need to say. And just logistically, in New York they’ll be more open to then not only bring it here, but then we can probably find some kind of touring presenter.

Dan: And how psyched are you to get this out there?

Yara: Oh my god. It’s scary because I don’t want to get too excited. I feel myself so excited about this piece and even today I was walking here and I thought of this amazing idea!

Dan: What’s this idea you thought today?

Yara: Oh it’s really crazy. [Laughs] I want to make a whole room of these panels or mirrors and the room spins, and the room is spinning to the same rhythm as the music. So imagine like piano or something. And the panels of mirrors are just spinning to the same exact rhythm of the room. And all of a sudden we start seeing our figure, our subject, our character that the singer is talking about sort of start peaking through the tunnel of mirrors.

Because when you have a room of mirrors spinning, all you see is more mirror, more mirror. You just see tunnels but you see panels of tunnels so it’s a really overwhelming image. But then when you start seeing at the end of those panels of tunnels the subject, the ghost, the spirit world sort of appear inside this bizarre dimension already, we’ve cross the fifth, sixth we’re like in the eight dimension of the spirit world.

So I kind of want to create that environment and we’re going to project it 360 degree cave around the audience. So the audience is going to be very much inside the work. It’s almost like they are on the stage as opposed to like in this very flat, passive environment. So that’s the idea. [Laughs]

Dan: So what’s your day to day like, is it what you imagined it would be?

Yara: I never really thought I would be sitting, editing, a ginormous piece at the same time going back to the dance studio and choreographing something for that same piece and then combining all those elements together. I mean, that’s just like a really bizarre way of living your life. Half the time in front of the computer, meticulously cutting together video footage and shooting stuff and then the other half of the time the extreme opposite. Where you’re going from your brain, very little physical energy is needed to all of a sudden the dance studio where your whole body is involved and you’re sweating and you’re creating in a very instinctual place, and those two things are really different.
Dan: When you decided to go out on your own and not join a company, were there people saying no you shouldn’t do this?  

Yara: I think there was more people saying no but the fact that they were saying an adamant no, meant something. It wasn’t just like “Oh whatever do your thing”. It was an adamant “No. You have to stop.” And that at first felt really hard, it crushed me. Especially in school, I got that a lot at Juilliard. I got “no” a lot.

You know I was always succeeding, I was a good kid and all of a sudden here I’m the bad kid. And then eventually became something that I owned. I was like “Yeah, I’m this kid” and a lot of the work sort of revolves itself around it and it became less fearful. It was fearless because I could do no wrong. I was already doing wrong, so why not just go for that crazy idea you had?

Also the extreme no, to me is a great yes. I mean, I think when someone says no, it really means that someone else that I like better is saying yes.[Laughs]

And then when there’s a sort of like lukewarm reaction to things, that’s when I need to worry. That’s when I need to be like, what I’m I doing wrong, I’m not trusting my work and I’m not taking chances.

Dan: Clearly you have to raise a lot of money to get your project out off the ground. And that involves a lot of fundraising. How do you maintain your artistic drive when you have to spend your energy fundraising as well?

Yara: I keep making it. I don’t stop. I can’t just put an idea to the side and say “All right, let me fund this.” I have to talk to whomever I’m trying to fund it. I have to talk about it. And usually when I’m talking about it it’s going to bring up a whole new idea for it. And it’s kind of like killing two birds with one stone where it’s like I’m convincing myself of the idea and someone else too. Because I’m talking about it more and more and more and I’m finding its weird voice and I’m finding its texture every time I’m talking about it.

Dan: And how do you stay focused?

Yara: I’m not a very focused person but I am a very invested person. When I get invested in a project I can’t get out of it so I tend to obsess over it. And not be able to do anything else, it’s almost like you have some kind of wonderful virus but you’ve got to like see it through and get it out of your system.

Dan: So Yara, talk to me now about fears. What fears do you have?

Yara: I live in fear. [Laughs] Just this innate anxiety I always have inside of me that I haven’t been able to control yet. But I think that same anxiety, it’s just like this ball of energy that sometimes becomes a really distractive thing for me and my body. But most of the time its running its fuel. It’s disguised as creative fuel.

Dan: How do you control it?

Yara: Soon as I’m in the anxiety, I know I’m about to get out of it. So that’s the only, like looking forward to surfacing I guess. Knowing that I’m in it now, but it’s never lasted forever.

Dan: How do you avoid to run out with so much on your plate?

Yara: I don’t, I get burned out all the time which is really unhealthy but I found that that’s a very real cycle for me. Where I’ll work just continuously until I can’t stop and when I do stop I’ll get this really, really, really dark, dark really heavy place.

Dan: Can you give an example?

Yara: The worst one I had was last summer where I finished the big project we did at Frank Gehry Theatre. It was hard because it was going back home and was seeing a lot of the things that triggered the piece. So I came back to New York and I think I felt like there was no reason for what I was doing. And I felt like this kind of emptiness at the end because I had removed it, I had removed the reason. I had shown it. It was done. And then I felt like “What am I doing? There’s no reason for any of this. Why am I working so hard and burning myself out?” And then I ended up just kind of releasing all that energy in a very creative way. I mean, I was meeting a lot of people, I was seeing a lot of work but I was going on a very strange adventures [Laughs] with interesting characters and…

Dan: …What do you mean by that?

Yara: I would meet a very interesting person. I would allow myself to sort of dive into their world for a little while and take a break from mine.

At one point this piece came to me that was really what pulled me out of that place so it rescued me in a way and it was, it’s a really close project. Now I’m actually making it, I can’t believe that this is actually happening, but that piece that I dreamt of while I was in that place came from such a natural organic state. And it became something that I became obsessed with. So the energy came back and, so I knowing that it’s always going to happen, this is a cycle, I know that I can’t escape. I can escape for a little while but in the end it’s still there.

Dan: What advice can you give to someone who wants to go out and make their own stuff?

Yara: The first couple of years that you’ve decided to do your own thing, everything must be done. Burning out will happen, but you need to go through that first stage of “everything, burning out” to understand if you can come back from burning out, first of all, if you’re okay with that being something in your life. And also why and what works for you. And what is your voice?

You can’t not make work because it’s scary and because there is no place for you to show it. That’s never an excuse. Always making work, always thinking, putting it on paper and focusing on that project and not going crazy with a million of them. And bringing that project to friends and people that you’ve met, people that you respect not just anybody, and asking them what they think and how you can put this somewhere. That will open some many doors. That really will, that’s it. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

This post originally appeared on PROLOGUE PROFILES.

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