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22/04/2020 - 24/04/2020

COVID-19 Lockdown Festival 2020

Production Details

Broken Wings was choreographed by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa for English National Ballet’s Triple Bill ‘She Said’. The piece was inspired by the life of Frida Kahlo and premiered at Sadlers Wells, London in 2016.

As a choreographer, Ochoa has been feted for her strong sense of narrative and has been creating works for a long list of companies around the world since retiring as a dancer in 2003.

It is not only in dance that women’s voices are not always heard, which is why the subject of Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Broken Wings was such an extraordinary woman of her time.

“When I was approached by Tamara Rojo, the Artistic Director of English National Ballet, and asked to look for a female figure in history or literature she gave me a whole list to look at,” Ochoa remembers. “I said, ‘Great idea, love the idea, but the name that comes back to me every time is Frida Kahlo.’”

Mexican painter Kahlo was the perfect heroine for the Belgian-Colombian choreographer Ochoa, not least because of her own affinity with Latin American culture. “I love the colourfulness of her paintings, the Mexicanismo,” she says. “It’s very close to me, through my parents. I love that music, listening to those Rancheras.”

More than anything it was Kahlo’s own story, and tragic life, that made her such good subject matter. “She started painting portraits because she had an accident and was bedridden for a long time, so her mother gave her a mirror so she could paint herself,” explains Ochoa.

“Then later in life, because of the accident, she could not give birth and suffered three miscarriages. So her painting started to change and became more and more surrealist.”

This progression provides an opportunity for Ochoa’s choreography to follow suit. “Every painting is a little door that opens to go into a more abstract and surreal world,” she says. Director Nancy Meckler, whom Ochoa previously collaborated with on the award-winning A Streetcar Named Desire for Scottish Ballet, acted as dramaturg and helped Ochoa navigate between these abstract and narrative worlds.


Dieuweke van Reij is a prolific costume and set designer for opera, dance, theatre, comedy, musical and TV. She was invited by choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa to design her piece on the life and work of iconic artist Frida Kahlo.

Creating the designs started with a thorough research into Frida Kahlo’s work, her life and her artistic journey. Together with Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, director Nancy Meckler, composer Peter Salem and lighting designer Vinny Jones, we had a couple of intense meetings, discussing Frida as a character, deciding what parts of her work and life we found inspiring and wanted to include in the piece. What is Frida Kahlo all about, for us? That was the big question.

From that I started designing. The challenge for me was to capture the powerful energy of Frida Kahlo’s work without making exact copies of her paintings. Her work is so strong that I felt I had to find a translation of her personality and work for the designs. Trying to copy anything would never be as impressive as her own paintings.


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Turbulent tale of tortured artist

Review by Nicole Wilkie 26th Apr 2020

Broken Wings is a contemporary ballet work choreographed by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa as part of the She Said programme performed by the English National Ballet in 2016, featuring works by female choreographers. This work shares the life and legacy of Frida Kahlo, a Mexican painter whose artworks have been celebrated as symbolic of feminism and Mexican indigenous culture. The ballet shows the highs and lows of Frida’s life, finding and losing love, sustaining injury and illness, and expressing her anguish through the medium of art.

The costuming of the work is dazzling, with vibrant colours, body paint, and elaborate headdresses. The work begins with men dressed in black and white, reminiscent of what one might wear on Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), an annual day of celebration in Mexican culture. This is interrupted by a chorus of male dancers emerging, each adorned with a unique headdress and vividly coloured billowing skirts, perhaps a challenge to gender portrayal in dance. As the performance progresses and we see the surrealism depicted in Kahlo’s artworks seep into the movement, we are greeted by flocking birds doused in royal purple feathers, amongst other inhabitants of the fantasy forest.

The relationship between Frida (Tamara Rojo) and her estranged husband Diego (Irek Mukhamedov) is beautifully portrayed, with honesty and integrity. The pair dance together with chemistry, their contact partnering captivating with effortless lifts, and characterised by a seamless blend of contemporary and traditional movement. Rojo performs the principal character as an extension of herself, and skillfully transitions between the rigid, staccato dance of physical illness, and the joyous sweeping and gliding actions of celebration. She depicts the tumultuous landscape of Kahlo’s life with such authenticity that it is enthralling to watch.

The choreography throughout this work is rich with motifs of limbs posed in right angles and gestures of the hands, juxtaposed against the ballet-inspired movement.  The composition of the space is clear, and the dancers permeate it, giving themselves over to telling the story of a remarkable woman. Ochoa’s casting of her dancers is deliberate and they dance her stunning choreography with raw emotion.

Broken Wings is, in essence, a celebration of the turbulent life of a woman whose impact on the world was only truly felt after her death, when her artwork gained the most recognition. With thoughtful choreography and a cast of adept, versatile dancers, the storytelling is striking and easy to immerse oneself in. In the current unprecedented times of widespread pandemic and mandatory physical distancing, this feels like an appropriate memoir to share with the world, of a woman who faced extreme adversity yet continued to create art that challenged and inspired in her wake.


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An explosion of colour and imagination

Review by Caitlin Halmarick 24th Apr 2020

English National Ballet (ENB) has joined the online live-streaming space during this time of quarantine by starting ‘Wednesday Watch Parties’, where each week there is a ballet made available to the public free-of-charge for 48 hours. This week’s addition is choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Broken Wings inspired by the tortured life of the enigmatic artist, Frida Kahlo. Leaning into Kahlo’s artistic expression of surrealism, this ballet is an explosion of colour and imagination, yet tempered with the struggles of Frida Kahlo’s harsh life.

The broadcast starts with an address from ENB Artistic Director Tamara Rojo. As this is English National Ballet’s 70th year anniversary, Rojo states ENB’s commitment to providing accessible art to a worldwide community, especially during this time, wishes us and our loved one’s health and safety, and politely appeals for a donation to ENB to assist them during this time. This speech is a lovely, heartfelt way for an Artistic Director to reach out and connect with their company’s audience and support during this time of disconnect regarding live performances.

The ballet itself has a warm, inviting focus on the richness of character and artistry, and Mexican-inspired art, design, and colour palettes. A focus, I am sure, that would have been approved of by Frida Kahlo herself. The colourful costumes of men in long colourful skirts with nature-inspired headdresses, and women in dream-like depictions of deer, birds, and other animals, firmly place the audience with an insight into the imagination of Frida Kahlo. The role of Frida Kahlo is danced by Tamara Rojo. A very well experienced dancer, it might be excused to expect that she is past her prime physically, but Rojo leaves no doubts about her physical prowess in this role. Rojo hypnotizingly physicalises Frida Kahlo’s strength of spirit, and rightfully brings wisdom and life experience to such a characteristically strong role. Again, Irek Mukhamedov, an older dancer who plays Frida Kahlo’s husband Diego Rivera, demonstrates a focus on character and artistic control of the body, rather than the brute force of athleticism, a finesse that is often sorely missing in today’s showy performance of ballet, yet is rightfully and unmistakeably present in Broken Wings. Broken Wings is a beautiful exploration of technicolour, surrealism, and the emotion of Frida Kahlo’s experience in this world.

Broken Wings is a look into Frida Kahlo’s imagination that is often stimulated to express itself when she experiences pain in her life. It is a beautiful glimpse into how this incredible artist saw the world, and how the practice and presentation of art can save a person from despair. Choreographically there is clear, effective physicalisation of the physical pain that Kahlo endured, and all emotions are expressed very clearly. This is quite impressive when regarding the amount of Kahlo’s life that is covered in this relatively short 50-minute piece, from her road accident, marriage, miscarriage, and experiences of infidelity. Broken Wings is a fascinating exploration of the events of Frida Kahlo’s life and how those events impacted her artistic expression through scenes guided by her imagination.

The focus of Broken Wings is not Frida Kahlo’s artistic legacy, but in the very human life she lived, and how her art saved her from the despair that was inevitably brought forth from her pain. This gives the audience a glimpse into the experiences and imagination that made Frida Kahlo the star that she is and inspires us to take the pains in our own lives and create something that comforts that pain. A sentiment that is truly relevant now, just as it was for Frida.


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