Contemporary dancer Casia Vengoechea tells us about strength, hardships, balance, and the things that matter.
It is the day before her surgery. 25-year-old Casia Vengoechea walks towards the stage entrance of the Royal Swedish Opera. She stretches and bends her neck, clicks her elbow, and releases a soft smile to greet us. She is forgoing this morning’s ballet class to talk with us on strength, hardships, balance, and the things that matter.
Casia is young, born 1990. Acclaimed early on in her career, she is regarded as one of the most talented contemporary dancers in the scene. She could have gone to Harvard University, but decided against. For now. Instead she decided to pursue her dance career before she “cannot do it anymore”. From Juilliard in New York to The Hague, and now Stockholm, she follows a necessity to explore the expressive potentials of the human body - her body. Her physiognomy is archetypical of classical ballet dancers: tall, excessively flexible, and possessing extraordinary strength. She would be the perfect cast for a classical piece. However, Casia’s work diverts from the uniformity of classical ballet with its conventional lines, shapes, and musical patterns; modern dance focuses on the dancer and the body, the physicality of weight and geometry. Modern dance takes a given vocabulary, and extends it, deliberately violating its original syntax: it creates new meanings, new ways of expression.
To find out more, we follow Casia through a make of narrow corridors and climb into a cramped lift to enter the Opera’s rooftop gym on the top floor of the Opera. There we sit down on the floor and start the interview:
After high school, you decided against Harvard to pursue dance. Why?
I was looking for a balanced intellectual and physical stimulation. And I needed a release, which I found by moving and flexing my body. It’s a physical release, which comes along with an intellectual one. Improvisation is challenging and requires a balance of mind and body, e. g. when you’re breaking musical patterns, you try to break habits. And I am constantly fighting my habit of falling into old habits (smiles). Another reason why I went with dance was, that I had to do it before my body wears out.
What you do is intense, greatly affecting joints and limbs. You risk injuries, pain. However, you are still doing it.
My work is transient and fleeting. I have bruises on my legs and body, which outline my physical boundaries to me. And I can’t do this forever. So that’s why I decided to do it now, while I can. But mostly, it’s because I love to dance.
Some professionals work even when they’re injured. Do you think this might be regarded as a form of strength?
When you’re young, you might think that. And everyone has done it for various reasons. But there’s ways to work around that. I wouldn’t push through certain things.
Because I want to be able to run around with my kids one day, to play with them and to climb a tree without pain. I have danced with THIS (points towards her leg), but I understand that I need to be responsible and think long-term to continue doing what I love.
Which is why you are having surgery tomorrow?
Yes, I could have postponed it and gone on tour with the ballet, but I want to get well.
Tell us about the everyday routine. And how you deal with it.
I enjoy this routine. Going to class, sweating, and being tired after a long day working. You get that happy exhaustion, when you’re feeling sore after practice.
How do you know when you’ve achieved something?
It can be executing a planned but challenging step. Then there is the “achievement” of touching someone. Reaching someone. Speaking to someone. That’s worth so much more.
For example …
I was in Mexico working with children who have only ever done ballet, giving them a taste of something different. After a week I could see how that shaped the way they see themselves in dance, outside the boundaries of a ballet class. You can unlock these things in children by supporting them and celebrating their own way of doing things.
Can we reach this freedom?
Just be open to failing. It’s not that easy, when you think you have something to lose. It’s easier to not do anything. Because outside of the comfort zone is an unknown, you have no idea of what it has in stock for you.