Choreographing mentorship

Annabelle Lopez Ochoa and guiding the next generation of dancers

3 minute read
A black and white portrait headshot of Ochoa, a brick wall serves as the backdrop.
Annabelle Lopez Ochoa mentors BalletX's choreographic fellow Tsai Hsi Hung. (Photo courtesy of BalletX.)

When choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa and I first chatted, she was preparing the premiere of her now-beloved The Little Prince for BalletX. So it was a joy to reconnect and find out about her experience as a mentor in BalletX’s choreographic fellowship program. Happily, even a pandemic hasn’t slowed her down. She quickly pivoted to Zoom and film, and then, as theaters reopened, she returned to the studio. When I caught up with her, she had just restaged The Little Prince for BalletX in North Carolina and was preparing pieces at two different companies for the City Center Dance Festival in New York. Her next stop was Philly for a new piece to premiere in May.

She seemed busier than ever, so I wondered why she agreed to be a mentor to this year’s choreographic fellow, Tsai Hsi Hung. To understand, Ochoa said, you have to go back to 2019. “I was asked by Jacob's Pillow Festival to be the program director of the contemporary classical summer course.” Working with so many companies, seeing young dancers who thrived and some who didn’t, she asked herself, “What are they missing? What could I bring?”

Passing the torch

BalletX artistic director Christine Cox heard Ochoa was teaching and asked if she felt ready to mentor a young choreographer, and if the time was right. “At a certain age,” she said, “it’s not so much about you anymore. It’s about what do you leave behind? What is your legacy? How can you help as opposed to how can I succeed?”

For Ochoa, mentoring is about giving the fellow tools and ways of thinking about their work, to “ask them questions, so they start asking themselves those questions,” she said. You want it to help them as an artist throughout their career. Over a meal with Hung in New York, she asked “What does she expect from a mentorship?" These fellows are adults and they apply for it because they have expectations. She encouraged Hung to be as extreme as possible and said, “You have to do pieces I would not do. I would just tell you my observations.”

Much of Ochoa’s advice sounded like the sort given to young writers: “Don’t be afraid of changing things. And, what I always say in the theater world, kill your darlings. Maybe this is an amazing moment, but what if it doesn’t serve the piece? So try things out, don’t be afraid.” Some of her advice was more specific to dance. Hung is a contemporary choreographer and Cox asked her to do a piece for pointe shoes. Ochoa told her to stay true to her voice and her own vision, but, “if you’re interested, it could open many doors. BalletX and this fellowship is a protected environment, so go for it.” The important thing for Hung was to express herself as an artist.

During an audience discussion event at the BalletX studio, Hung said that she applied for the fellowship because she missed having teachers in her professional life, so it seemed to be a match made in heaven. Audiences will have a chance to see Hung’s final results when BalletX performs its spring series at Glen Foerd. Ochoa’s piece will premiere in May at the Mann Music Center.

What, When, Where

BalletX at Glen Foerd. Choreography by Tsai Hsi Hung and incubator choreographers Nicole Caruana and Tommie-Waheed Evans. BalletX. $65-$70. April 19-21, 2022, at the Glen Foerd Mansion, 5001 Grant Avenue, Philadelphia. ​​(215) 225-5389 x250 or

All guests 5 years of age or older will be required to show proof of full Covid-19 vaccination prior to entry. Masks are not required.


Glen Foerd Mansion is not a wheelchair-accessible venue.

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