Choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa Shares Her Typical Daily Routine
Choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa is always on the move. She most recently created a new ballet about Maria Callas at the Teatro Municipal de Santiago in Chile. And earlier in 2023 she choreographed new works for Houston Ballet, Hong Kong Ballet, Whim W’Him, Pacific Northwest Ballet, and Alberta Ballet; set the Frida Kahlo–inspired Broken Wings on San Francisco Ballet and its full-length version, FRIDA, on Dutch National Ballet; and oversaw the staging of her production of A Streetcar Named Desire on Scottish Ballet, Estonian National Ballet, and Orlando Ballet.
“I don’t have an agent,” she says, “so I ought to be very disciplined about communication.” How does Lopez Ochoa have time for all of her projects? Below, she takes us through a typical day in her creation process.
6 am: Wake up. “I set my alarm for 8 am but usually wake up at 6—my mind is ready to work,” says Lopez Ochoa. She enjoys long mornings with three cups of black coffee and two eggs. “I indulge in reading the news on different outlets for about 45 minutes. Then, I answer all the emails in my inbox.”
8 am: “I start preparing for rehearsals by staring at the schedule and visualizing the number of minutes [of choreography] I want to achieve that day.” Although she doesn’t prepare the steps ahead of time, Lopez Ochoa focuses on which parts of the story she is telling in the ballet she’s working on.
10 am: After a quick shower, Lopez Ochoa hits the gym. “Wherever I am in the world, I enroll in a gym,” she says. She does cardio, Pilates abdominal exercises, light weights, and stretching for a total of 35 minutes. “I do it all while listening to podcasts about politics—I’m a politics junkie.”
11 am: Arrive at the studio. “It’s a roller coaster of answering scheduling questions, passing by the costume department, and marketing people asking for either my availability or interviews,” she says. Once it’s time for rehearsal to start, Lopez Ochoa takes time to drink lots of water and collect her thoughts. “I like to stare at the emptiness of the studio. I really need that alone and quiet meditation time before the creation process starts.”
Lunch break: “I usually get a short lunch break at some point during the day, but it often gets taken over by the other departments: marketing, costumes, props, etc.”
6 pm: Rehearsals end. Lopez Ochoa walks back to her hotel and then answers urgent emails and communicates any necessary scheduling changes. “Schedule changes and new ideas need to be given [to most companies] 48 hours in advance, which doesn’t allow a creative to be completely in the moment. You have to speculate the future—it is really hard.” Afterwards, she will pour a glass of wine and make dinner while checking social media and calling either her husband or her best friend. “I try not to reflect too much about the choreography I made that day, otherwise it would make my mind too active,” she says. She also enjoys watching old documentaries on YouTube or reruns of “Seinfeld.”
11 pm: Bedtime.
At the Theater
“Tech week is the most nerve-racking period of the creation process,” Lopez Ochoa says. Usually, her first task is finalizing the lighting design, “which we always try to do in the mornings before the dancers arrive, but we’re always short on time, so we never manage.” Then, Lopez Ochoa works with the dancers onstage to make sure the choreography and transitions are smooth. “I always warn my dancers to be ready for changes,” she says.
A typical tech rehearsal day runs from about 9 am to 10 pm, depending on which company Lopez Ochoa is working with. After rehearsals conclude, she will go out to dinner with other members of her team. “A lot of artistic decisions are made during that downtime with the artistic team.”
Lopez Ochoa laughs when asked about how she spends her free time: “I have to be disciplined and prepare for future projects. I do about five new works and five reprises a year.” She typically spends days off communicating with répétiteurs of her work, companies performing her choreography, and media outlets. “I indulge in listening to more podcasts, and I try to read a couple pages of the book on my nightstand,” she says. Right now she’s reading Tim Schwab’s The Bill Gates Problem.
On Sundays, she tries to leave time to visualize and prepare for the week ahead and beyond. “It takes months of research to prepare for a full-length narrative and to get the artistic team with their noses in the same direction,” Lopez Ochoa says. “But I realize I have the most beautiful job in the world, and I am grateful for it every day.”