Ten years later, Quijada is back in Scotland, choreographing the perfectly named Second Coming, which Scottish Dance Theatre will tour this spring. Seeing him work with the dancers, it’s as if he’s never been away. Relaxed and assured, Quijada looks very much at home in their studio at Dundee Rep Theatre.
A decade ago, he was still a fledgling choreographer, trying to find his place in the dance world. The Darrell award gave Quijada the boost he needed, and he hasn’t looked back.
“It was like a signpost,” he says. “Sometimes you don’t know if you’re going in the right direction, but that award said to me, you’re on the right path – you should dedicate, devote and commit to this. I was given a key to come and work with Scottish Dance Theatre, and it was a really wonderful experience.”
Quijada’s 2003 work, Self Observation Without Judgement, stretched the dancers, both physically and emotionally. But according to Quijada, he has even more to offer this time around.
“It was my first commission and I was just shooting stuff out. Now there’s a technical approach to my work that I didn’t have before.”
The approach he speaks of was born out of a myriad of experiences, dating back to the early 1980s, when Quijada was growing up in Los Angeles. As an eight-year-old boy, he discovered the intoxicating world of hip hop, learning his craft on the streets and in breakdance battles.
“All the older guys in the neighbourhood were breaking, and the little guys like me wanted to be like them. I grew up and became a man through hip hop culture, that’s how I learned about creativity and courage.”
But before anyone jumps to conclusions about the kind of work Quijada is producing today, those formative years were just the start. From there he talks of having his eyes opened at Los Angeles County High School for the Arts, where he discovered “how theatre, music and visual art has changed the world”. He then danced with pioneers of American modern dance, Twyla Tharp and Rudy Perez, before moving into classical ballet at Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montreal.
All of which resulted in Quijada creating what he terms “a new language”. Watching him rehearse Second Coming, I see elements of breakdance, ballet, contemporary, dance theatre – and a fluidity between them that is all his own.
Quijada is, he says, the product of “the culture I grew up in, the respect and wonder I have for art, the professional career I had in those high calibre classical and contemporary dance companies, and the interface between those places”. No single aspect is more important than the other and, as he says: “If one of those things had been missing, it wouldn’t have led me here.”
Along with a world premiere by Norwegian choreographer Jo Strømgren, Second Coming will be the first outing for Scottish Dance Theatre since the appointment of new artistic director Fleur Darkin. It’s too soon to tell what impact her arrival has had on the company, but finding innovative ways to engage audiences is high on Darkin’s agenda. This is something she shares with Quijada, whose interest in the relationship between those sitting in the auditorium and those performing on stage is palpable in Second Coming.
Unafraid to explore the sadder side of human existence, he’s no stranger to humour either. Freely admitting he finds some contemporary dance shows boring, Quijada also shies away from what he calls the “stereotypes or clichés of breakdance”. There’s an interesting complexity to the man, which is reflected in his work. For him, being entertaining and dumbing down needn’t go hand in hand.
“From the very beginning, I wanted to make work that was intelligent enough for the small group of my peers or elitists who were in the audience, and also the large group of people who just wanted to see something good. And I knew that art had the potential to really do something for all of those people. I’ve always felt that art can be a medicine, but we can put it inside some candy and make it ‘artertainment’. It doesn’t have to be one or the other, it can be intelligent and engaging. And I think I did that with this new piece.”
Scottish Dance Theatre, Dundee Rep Theatre, 20–23 February. Edinburgh Festival Theatre, 19 March. www.scottishdancetheatre.com