The New York-based dancer, choreographer, and educator tells Document about joining Alvin Ailey and confronting his fear of improvisation
You should follow Chalvar Monteiro on Instagram. Or, search his name on YouTube. Maybe watch him dance in 5 Moncler Craig Green, right here on Document Journal. By whatever means necessary, you should find a way to see Monteiro in motion. The New York based dancer, choreographer, and Alvin Ailey artist has an uncommon grace, characterized by the type of free flowing movement that would seem effortless, if we didn’t know it to be impossibly exacting.
I had the chance to ask Monteiro a few questions about his work—as a contemporary dance and ballet performer, as an educator at NYU Tisch, and as a dog parent and model. Here, he discusses international performance, his affinity for freestyle dance, and how he might use a day off.
Morgan Becker: A lot of the work you share online is improvisational. What’s your relationship with freestyle dance? In what ways does it differ or relate to choreography?
Chalvar Monteiro: Improvisation was something I was very intimidated by. There was something very exposing about revealing the stream of consciousness that belongs to you and no one else. After joining [Alvin Ailey], where there’s a focus on collaboration, I found myself needing to rely on the skill of freestyling with or without structure. Choreography allows me the space to capture my artistic voice in a more definitive way than improvisation. It creates a necessary pressure to define ideas that start off as an experience specific to me and over time become more universal or codified.
Morgan: Has teaching dance changed your approach to it?
Chalvar: I feel that I’ve become more informed as an artist and person since having a more consistent teaching practice. I’ve learned what I truly value and prioritize as excellence while discovering how to best serve the goals and needs of the students I have the opportunity to share with. Choreography and teaching are definitely in my future. I enjoy witnessing the development of leadership skills and creativity as a performer and dance maker that I feel are necessary for a fulfilling and well-rounded career in dance.
Morgan: Would you say that social media has solidified your individual identity as a dancer, outside of any company?
Chalvar: I think social media has been a way for me to share my growth and interests as an artist. It’s allowed me the space to amplify the mission of whatever company or project I’m part of without sacrificing who I’ve worked to become. Social media has proven to be an effective tool for connecting with other movers and shakers, as well as branding oneself to keep making waves in any industry of your choosing.
Morgan: What has it been like to dance internationally, after a formal training solely on the East Coast? Are the types of dance you’ve been trained in relatively universal?
Chalvar: Performing internationally is one of my favorite things about being a performer. The ability to observe and participate in other cultures while connecting the dots of humanity through dance is irreplaceable. What’s better is speaking a language of dance that most people can connect with at first glance. In my experience, most people know classical and contemporary dance without much exposure, which I find to be so powerful.
Morgan: Can you describe your personal style? Has it been impacted by costume?
Chalvar: Because a lot of the costumes I’ve worn in recent years have been vibrant and loud, or just strong statements overall, I’ve adopted a very simple sense of style. I wear a lot of neutral colors, a pop of color or a pattern here and there. It’s long overdue that I treat myself to something nice.
Morgan: How much free time do you have? How do you use it?
Chalvar: Now that the weather is warming up a bit, I’ve been spending more time outside with my puppy exploring parts of my neighborhood I hadn’t taken the time to appreciate before. I keep an active journal, make playlists, play video games, and stay to myself for the most part.
Morgan: You said the following in an earlier interview: “I want to be myself without imposing myself on the work.” Is this desire always possible, considering the precision that must go into professional dance? What form is your self-expression allowed to take?
Chalvar: There will always be the effort to bring your truest self into a choreographic process while honoring the goal of the choreographer. Depending on how abstract or literal the works are, this can be fairly easy to tackle. The precision of the movement is just one part of the job. The real work begins when you start to find qualities of movement to play with—lyricism, virtuosity, storytelling, seamlessness. I think artists come alive when they start to find pockets of space where risk and identity do a little dance of their own.
Production Director Madeleine Kiersztan at Ms4 Production.