IKOUII SPOTLIGHT: Vanessa Hernández Cruz

Vanessa Hernández Cruz is an emerging Chicana disabled dancer, choreographer, filmmaker, poet & activist. She was born and raised in Los Angeles, California. She received her Associates Degree in Dance from Santa Monica College. She recently graduated from California State University Long Beach with her Bachelor of Arts in Dance Science.

In 2020, her dance film “Nycto-Eternity” won The Dance Cinema Award from Frostbite International Film Festival and was recently screened for The Midnight Film Festival in New York. In 2018, She won first place in the Global Citizenship Research Symposium: Dance & Disability in Santa Monica College for her dance film “Grey City”. Vanessa’s choreographic work has received the award for Cultural Diplomacy for Innovation in Choreography from Ballet Beyond Borders in 2019. Her lifetime aspirations are to continue to perform, choreograph, create, and to continue to pave an easier path for future disabled artists through her activism.

Take us through your process for starting each project?

My creation process varies depending on what kind of choreographic work I am diving into, but it almost starts with a singular concept or an image that comes to my mind. I rely on emotional indicators that helps me generate material. I enjoy my process as it tends to be unstructured or unplanned. I love exploring nuances that may arise as I generate phrase-work and this is also true for my mixed media artwork.

What are some of your influences?

I am heavily influenced by horror. Not only movies but also books. I gravitate towards the aesthetics and vibes from that genre. Honestly, anything that I consume if its art, movies, books, memories; they become a potential influence into my choreographic work, dance films, dancing, and artwork.

What’s the significance of the materials you use?

Dance has always been my medium to create art. It has allowed me to understand my instrument which is my disabled body and all the curves and aches it comes with. It has informed me on how I allow emotions to flow effortlessly without hesitation. That’s where my abandonment quality comes from when I dance. Over time, I found that I love expressing myself beyond dance and that’s through mixed media work and poetry. It has been an exciting journey to nurture that side of my artistic expression. I found that I love having texture manifest throughout all these mediums; literally and figuratively.

These mediums have allowed me to articulate deeper concepts that can provide multiple meaning for audiences. This brings me to my next medium that is still evolving. I am continuously learning how to make my work as accessible as possible for the disability community. This goes beyond checking off boxes. I have been incorporating accessibility components as a medium in my dance films & choreography that allows for an immersive experience for those who have a variety of access needs. The beauty of all this is that as I continue to evolve and learn more from our disability community, the greater the possibilities of generating different ways to make my work more accessible.

“Static, Void, Distortion” (2020) –     Audio Described Version: https://vimeo.com/573705268

What do you hope viewers gain from seeing your work?

For DNA: Disability Not Ability, I want audiences to leave with the idea that disability is an identity that can be fully reclaimed and celebrated. For this particular piece I took a part my dance journey and captured the essence of my journey to create something that could be relatable in so many ways for the audience. That’s how it is for most of my dance work. Creating abstractions of different themes, emotions, and energies helps my creative process. It’s definitely challenging and invigorating diving into this process.

Is there a work that you felt was the most challenging to create? If so, why?

DNA was a challenge in so many ways. The biggest challenge was transforming my tiny space into different worlds. I am thankful that I got to work with Kianna Peppers on this project. She is a phenomenal emerging graphic artist. I went to her first with my extremely rough ideas about this work. She did the amazing title image along with chapter titles (Decoy, Glitch, & Roots) in my film. Simply getting to unravel my ideas with her helped me generate those distinct settings. It took a good two months crafting all the canvases that are sprinkled around in the film.   This filming part was fun but also challenging. I had specific shots that I wanted, but some of them didn’t work out the way I wanted it to, so I had to improvise. That’s what I love about my methods, I allow room for “things not to go as planned” as it provides a conduit to even better outcomes.

How do you think art has influenced you as a person, and one with a disability?

My disability is a part of my whole personhood. I think art in a broad sense has allowed me to connect with my own disabled body. Specifically dance, I have found out all the amazing ways my body can move plus discovering innovate ways to bring my walker alive while I dance. As a choreographer, I love incorporating my walker, her name is Pluto, in such a way that it brings a whole new character to life. I think I would be a whole different person without art. It’s difficult to imagine not to be immersed in this world that is so vibrant and free.

Has being an artist impacted how you cope with challenges as a person with a disability?

The most difficult aspect of being a disabled artist was and is continuing to finding opportunities that non-disabled folx have more privileges in obtaining and also having to find adequate dance training. It was a difficult decision to choose this career path because of the ableism that is deeply rooted in the dance world. I had to enter spaces that weren’t always welcoming and I have been around folx who weren’t necessarily comfortable being around a disabled person. But in all honesty, it was the best decision I made and I hope to continue to open more doors for future disabled artists who may want to pursue dance.

“What You Fear In Me is My Revolution” (2021) – Audio Described Version: https://vimeo.com/572909916

Where do you see yourself going as an artist, long term?

These times have definitely proved that life can change in an instant. I am currently open to any opportunities that come my way in the near future. I know I want to continue to develop dance films to preserve my work. I am also interesting in being in a dance company in about a year or so depending how things go with what’s going on today.

Where do you see your work existing long term?

Dance film and collage work is something I want to continue to merge, I think there is power in implementing different mediums in dance. I would love to eventually have a website dedicated to all my dance films. I am also interested in finding ways to exhibit my dance films in different environmental settings that goes beyond the traditional ways of viewing dance films. I also want to continue pushing for an equitable experience for disabled folx to enjoy my work.

Tell us about your next project/exhibition/etc?

I am planning to release some of my work from 2020 with audio described versions throughout the rest of this year. I have about 3 dance films that I am developing audio description for. One of them is a world premiere called. “Lest We Remain Forgotten”. This dance piece was filmed right before the pandemic. This piece is about the abstractions of war and the  emotional weight it carries amongst the world.  Potential release date is early December. I am also brewing some other ideas, so definitely stay tuned!

Anything else you would like to add?

I would love to thank my amazing family for being so supportive, especially since I have had to film at home so many times. I love my mom and sister so much! I would love to give thanks to all my amazing supporters who have donated, shared my work, and/or who have cheered me on. I’d like to give a shoutout to my fellow Patrons: Barbara Sasena, Molly Kiefer, & Nic Hartmann! Thank you for your continual support! 

A special thank you to the amazing graphic artist Kianna Peppers. Her work is phenomenal, and I am excited to continue to collaborate with her in the near future!
Last but not least, a huge thank you to everyone who has viewed my work, I am humbled, and I deeply appreciate you all! Thank you IKOUII for this amazing opportunity to exhibit my work and for the Honorable Mention Award; it means the world!!

Ways to Connect & Support:

Photos Courtesy of the Artist, Vanessa Cruz