The Grey Dog is one of my favorite food spots in NYC because of one thing: it’s coated from floor to ceiling in Michigan paraphernalia. Welcome home to me!
Its 2pm and the space is crowded and noisy with post-lunch diners. I’m lucky and snag a front corner table as a couple is leaving. Settling in, I do a little work as I wait for Cesar. Engrossed, I don’t notice him until he leans down and said softly says, “Hello Natalia!”
“Cesar!” I jump up and give him a big hug.
It’s been a few months since I’ve seen Cesar and I am always a little shocked at how mature he looks. I know him from our days at Peridance, when he was in his early twenties and could barely grow a beard. These days Cesar’s face has not only begun to take shape, his artistic voice has too.
He is, and always has been, an extremely talented dancer. Able to pick up complicated choreography faster than anyone else in the room while also embracing his own quirky vocabulary with fearless passion. When he creates — whether its movement, photography, video or installation — Cesar’s maturity abounds. In recent months its clear that his quirky, wirely, child-like personality has become infused with the grounded patience and grace of his artistry. Cesar has become a formidable combination of playful and sage. We sit, I pull out my phone, press record and the interview begins.
“You’ve done everything from modeling and musical theater to photography and videography. What’s your favorite medium?”
“It’s always going to be live performance. I love film and photo because you can capture other things, but you can never quite capture something “alive”. That’s why I only photograph humans — I connect to humans and life. I like live work because you experience it in that second and you cannot go back”
“What first drew you to photography?”
“I started exploring photography at the same time as dance — 16. I wanted to know what it was like to be on the other side of the camera. I realized I loved that moment of capturing and creating something. I have never taken a photography class and everything I’ve learned is from experience. Sometimes I don’t know what I am doing… but that doesn’t stop me from saying, “Let’s do this idea”. There’s no rules, which is why I love creating. I think I used to be more fearless… But you grow up. I am trying to figure out how I can still have this freedom as I grow. I’m learning there are some rules you cannot break… but I love breaking rules.”
“What attracts you to film as a medium for dance?”
Contemporary dance can be hard for people to connect to. But if you add film, or something that they are more used to, its easier for them to connect.
“Who are you inspired by?”
“I am really inspired by the photographer Gerardo Vizmanos. He was a lawyer all of his life and then, one day, he decided to be a photographer. He’s now one of the most amazing photographers I know and he started studying at 40 years old, he is such an inspiration to me and my work and a close friend”
“Sidra Bell is such an inspiration because of the way she manages everything. When you create work in NYC you have to produce as well as choreograph. She does it all.”
“Alexandra Wells, the director of Springboard. She told me one day, “you just have to get up out of bed and put your feet on the ground. You just have to start. And maybe the only thing you did today was cook breakfast.” NYC pressures you to create 10 films, go take class and then create the piece that will change a million people’s lives today. Give in to the pressure and you will drive yourself insane.
Olga Dobrowolska such an inspiration not only as a close friend but also as an artist, activist and spiritual mentor.
And overall all my friends and family have inspired me all my life.
“All These people inspire me because they’re not scared of trying new things or going for it. I don’t want to be scared anymore.”
“Are you conflicted about dancing for other people vs dancing and creating for yourself?”
“Auditioning and dancing for other people… you are always trying to fit. You have to curate what you do in order to get the job. That’s why I quit dancing for a lot of the people i use to dance for […] I am doing projects that allow me to be me or bring myself to them.”
“There’s something about our generation. Things are changing. There’s something in our ear — we have this eagerness. We don’t want to dance for other people, we want to help the ourselves and the world. “
“Tell me about creating Levantandonos”
“There was a horrible earthquake in Mexico City (where I am from) while I was here in NYC. A lot of natural disasters happen all over the world but once its close to home, close to your friends, you question what you’re doing. There’s this amazing activist and human being: Daisy Bugarin. When the earthquake happened I turned to her and asked, “Can we do something from NYC: a campaign, a film, something… Let’s make something to help right now.” I mobilized quickly, send out a Facebook post asking for Mexican dancers in NYC. I collected 15 Mexican dancers in NYC who did not know each other, I connect with Camila Arroyo— and we co-choreographed and directed this film. It was so beautiful to see how you could connect a community and create a support system within another country.”
“It took us one day of rehearsal, one day of filming. This is another thing I love. If you really want something to happen, you can make it happen and it can happen fast.”
“We were able to interview with NBC and raise a lot of money to help. People usually focus on big cities, but this earthquake affected some of the smaller cities more. We partnered with the CNI in order to help the smaller indigenous cities.”
“We did the first film in September in NYC “Dejame Abrazarte Mexico” and the second in December. “Levantandonos.”
“I went to teach at this amazing intensive called DOMO. Jesus Velasco Mondragon was the director. For one week we immersed ourselves, created, and taught what we knew. We were in one of the most affected areas by the earthquake, so we did a community performance. We walked around giving away tickets and people came! It was beautiful to create not only amazing and meaningful dance, but to offer it to people whoneeded it. We got to talk to people and they just needed a break from what’s happening. From the daily work of reconstructing a house.”
“I directed the film, Jesus and I co-choreographed and it was filmed by the Sena brothers. It was dangerous, but the dancers still wanted to do it. I was directing it and one point, at 7am, when they were dead I said to them, “Look at where you are. Just take a second and look”. Dance is really repetitive and people forget why they are doing it, but we were filming in one of the most affected areas by the earthquake. After I said that, everything changed. Its something bigger than us.”
Curious about Cesar’s work?