Annabella Q GONZALEZ
May 23, 1941 – November 24, 2019
Obituary: Annabella Gonzalez, 1941—2019 Annabella Gonzalez, the choreographer Founder and Director of Annabella Gonzalez Dance Theater (AGDT), the New York-based modern dance company continuously active since 1976, died on Sunday, November 24th at Mt. Sinai Hospital, Manhattan. Her husband, Richard Grimm, said she died of complications from a longstanding lung disease (COPD) possibly originating with childhood tuberculosis. Ms. Gonzalez’s dance career spanned fifty-five years. She studied with several of the greats, including Martha Graham and Vladimir Dougadovsky. She developed a spare, intimate wellcrafted style combining a sometimes quirky ballet and modern vocabulary linked to carefully selected classical, modern classical and contemporary music. Jennifer Dunning of the New York Times said “Annabella Gonzalez approaches the artifacts of everyday life in somewhat the way that Paul Klee looked at machines.” Her scores of dances, while largely in the New York and European modern dance traditions, sometimes reflected her Mexican roots, such as her take on the folk dance “Los Viejitos” and “Pastoral Latino.” Ms. Gonzalez usually steered clear of “message” pieces, but recently did a prideful celebration of Mexico and Mexican-Americans in “Tribute”, set to classic Mariachi songs, and earlier created “To the Victims of Hiroshima.” Her sly comedic pieces included “White Rug,” a disastrous picnic set to Mozart. Among the smaller dance companies in New York, she stood out for the long tenure of her AGDT dancers and other collaborators. She collaborated over the years with noted composers such as Stefania de Kennesey and Max Lifschitz. Company members, several serving for over ten years and often contributing creatively, included Dominique Weibel, Juan Echazarreta, Marcos de Jesus, Heather Pannikar, Lucia Campoy, Jenna Parker, Shannon Maynor, Esteban Arana, Leticia Pliego, Christopher Amato, Carolina Santos Read, Kendra Dushak and Joel Levy, among many others. Ms. Gonzalez also collaborated with guest performer/choreographers such as Maxine Steinman, Mr. Amato, Ms. Parker, Sara Joel, Esteban Arana and Leticia Pliego. Annabella Gonzalez Quintanilla had a multi-faceted identity reflecting her exotic international background. She was born in Mexico City on May 23, 1941. Her mother, Lutecia Quintanilla del Valle, was the grand daughter of the reformist President of Mexico, Sebastian Lerdo de Tejada. Her father, Enrique Gonzalez Aparicio, was the progressive labor leader and celebrated founder of the Faculty of Economics of UNAM, the national university of Mexico, who died just before Annabella was born. Her grandfather, Luis Quintanilla, was in Paris as ambassador to France for many years, and the colorful family, when back in Mexico, commonly spoke French. Her uncle Luis Quintanilla helped found the United Nations and was ambassador to the United States and Russia and was Mexican interior minister. In Mexico, Annabella attended a French Lycée and met a number of interesting people who knew her family such as Frida Kahlo and Fidel Castro. Annabella’s mother Lutecia remarried Kelly Wehnes, an American Marine visiting Cuernavaca who had a Distinguished Flying Cross from The Battle of Okinawa. He took the family to Minneapolis in the 1950s. There, Annabella graduated from Minnetonka High School and the University of Minnesota with an art history degree, an area she continued at Columbia University as a grad student. Later, in the 1990s she obtained a Columbia M.A. in dance education and taught a class there in traditional Mexican dance. From the late 1960s, using her fluent French, she earned language and interpreting degrees at the University of Geneva, Switzerland. Over her nine years there, her interpreting supported her initial modern dance career with the Ballet Jeunes de Geneve and the Dance Theater Workshop of Geneva. Ever adventurous, she crossed the Sahara with Baron Thilo von Trotha, who remained a good friend. Back in New York, sometimes interpreting in three languages at the United Nations, Ms. Gonzalez founded AGDT in 1976. In addition to performances at venues such as Lincoln Center Outdoors, Carnegie Hall, Central Park Festival, Manhattan Movement & Arts Center, and Brooklyn Academy of Music, AGDT has mounted hundreds of productions at schools, colleges, libraries and cultural centers in the New York area —many enabling underserved audiences to discover modern dance. It has had several residencies including at the Harkness Foundation for Dance and the National Dance Museum at Saratoga Springs. AGDT’s Spring Series has been presented every year for forty-two years, with most choreographies by Ms. Gonzalez. Her Mexican performances were at UNAM in Mexico City, the University of Colima and appearances in festivals in Chihuahua and San Luis Potasi. AGDT has enjoyed consistent support from organizations such as the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, the Harkness Foundation for Dance, the Mexican Cultural Institute and the Nicotra Foundation. Ms. Gonzalez was planning AGDT activities until two days before she died. She is survived by her husband of thirty-nine years, Richard Grimm, and son Henry Gonzalez Grimm of New York; also her sister Lutecia Gonzalez Quintanilla of Milwaukee, brother Jose Wehnes Quintanilla of Madrid and brother Antonio Wehnes Quintanilla of Austin, Texas, as well as the many family members in Mexico, Spain and the U.S. with whom she had fond ties. Should persons wish to remember Annabella by making a donation to a worthy cause, the American Lung Association has an active COPD research program. Mr. Grimm said that a gathering will be planned for early in the year to memorialize Annabella.