CONVERSACIONES: GUSTAVO RAMÍREZ SANSANO & Flabbergast

Celebrating over 45 years in bringing audiences and communities together to celebrate and explore the ever-changing diversity of Latino cultures, Ballet Hispánico returns to the Apollo Theater November 18-19, 2016 with Reshape / Reverse / Replay.  A trio of works by Belgo-Colombian Annabelle Lopez Ochoa (Línea Recta, World Premiere), Spaniard Gustavo Ramírez Sansano (Flabbergast) and Ballet Hispánico’s Cuban-American Artistic Director Eduardo Vilaro (Danzón) draw upon the innovation and versatility of one of the world’s premier dance companies to capture contemporary Latino culture through movement.

flabbergast_bh_paula_lobo-7083

Johan Rivera Mendez in FLABBERGAST (c) Paula Lobo

We caught up with choreographer Gustavo Ramírez Sansano to discuss his inspiration behind his fast-moving, colorful and spirited work, Flabbergast. Ramírez Sansano is no stranger to Ballet Hispánico  and has numerous works with the main company, including CARMEN.maquia (2012). Ramírez Sansano is the recipient of several awards and distinctions and has quickly established himself as a standout choreographic voice among New York audiences.

Flabbergast draws from Ramírez Sansano’s own personal experiences coming to the United States for the first time.  Set to the music of  Juan García Esquivel, Ramírez Sansano exposes with humor our stereotypes and preconceived ideas about new and foreign places.

How did the idea for Flabbergast come about? What influences drive the piece from concept to performance?

GUSTAVO RAMÍREZ SANSANO: Before I choreographed Flabbergast, I tried to get away from my culture. I grew up in Spain, and wanted to leave the country to see other things. So I went to Chicago, and it was there that I met Eduardo Vilaro, who had been the Artistic Director of Luna Negra Dance Theater. Eduardo had asked me: “Would you like to check out your heritage?” [For me], it was weird that somebody would ask a question like that! In a way, Eduardo provided a space for me to explore this side of myself. I remember one of the first things my mother had choreographed for me was set to the bayón—and I thought that this could be a connection for Flabbergast.

Have you returned to those same themes in other works which you’ve choreographed? And why?

RAMÍREZ SANSANO: Through Flabbergast, Eduardo opened a door that I didn’t—at that time—want to open. My Spanish heritage is a part of who I am. All of my pieces, whether they have a clear or unclear message about being Latino, reflect who I am. After all, it’s me choreographing, and I am a Latino person! In Flabbergast, it is obvious how my heritage has influenced my work. Sometimes, I am asked by others about the movement of the work. I am inspired by how my culture moves. It may not be in a typical way; maybe not in an obvious way.

flabbergast_bh_paula_lobo-6497

Martina Calcagno in FLABBERGAST (c) Paula Lobo

Flabbergast was originally commissioned in 2001 by Chicago’s Luna Negra Dance Theater, and has since been expanded and refined from its original version. In what ways has Flabbergast developed since its debut?

RAMÍREZ SANSANO: I believe Luna Negra had been in its second season. Flabbergast had developed around the first six-months into the season. I was one of the first guest choreographers at that time. A year later, Eduardo invited me back to make the piece a bit longer—over nine minutes. I had more time, and added the scene “Mucho/Muchacha”.

Then in Europe, a company had asked me to create a 20 minute piece around the music of Juan García Esquivel. I added two additional pieces which include sounds from 1950 and 60s movies. In that way, I thought the piece felt finished.

Flabbergast seems to reflect all those influences, and also started at a particular point in your life as an artist. I’m wondering that over time, has your piece begun to reflect how you feel about yourself, your heritage, your culture?

RAMÍREZ SANSANO: I have changed since then. A work can continue to change all of your life because it has to do with your tastes and who you are in that [given] moment. All of my pieces capture a moment in time….A moment in time which you’ve created for some really specific reason.

Whenever you resist an old work—and because you have seen it progress over time—you will always see differences. It’s because you have moved on from that [moment]. It’s like going to Paris with someone, and you’re walking, and you feel beautiful in that moment…that is the moment! Maybe you go back three years later, but you will not feel that same way.

I realize that [my] works were meant to be in the moment where they are from. If I want to do something, I will do it now; something that is more me right now. Flabbergast was me in the past, and that’s the beauty of it. Each thing has its own time. I realize I should not change anything from this piece to preserve the feelings that were there.

This is the third work of yours that Ballet Hispánico has presented in New York. What makes Ballet Hispánico a good match for your choreography?

RAMÍREZ SANSANO: I’ve worked closely with Eduardo—he and I are friends. I know what Ballet Hispánico is looking for and who we are trying to reach. In that way, I understand what the company was looking for, and what Eduardo wanted to convey.

I think the Company and I are a good match because we have known each other for a long time.

Which choreographers have inspired you the most? What are some of the greatest things you’ve learned from them?

RAMÍREZ SANSANO: I’ve been inspired by choreographers who I’ve been lucky to work closely with. But for me, it’s not just about that.

Choreographers, dancers, colleagues who I used to dance with (especially dancers! You can propose anything to a dancer and they will show you the way). Everything in general: people on the subway, my family and friends; how they walk and talk; how they move their hands. People that I hate. People that I love. All of them are a part of my inspiration.They open a door when you least expect it.

When I was on a train in Madrid, I watched the people around me. They quickly moved their hands when they talked. Even though I couldn’t make out what they were saying, I could understand just by the way the person moved—how their hands and body moved.

My pieces are from the world…and for the world.

flabbergast_bh_paula_lobo-7160

Gustavo Ramírez Sansano’s FLABBERGAST (c) Paula Lobo

—————

BALLET HISPÁNICO

The Apollo Theater, 253 West 125th Street, NYC

November 18-19, 2016 at 8pm

Tickets start at $35  and are available for purchase in person at The Apollo Theater, by phone at 1-800-745-3000, or online at BalletHispanico.org


A Message from Eduardo Vilaro

fb-post-election

Lyvan Verdecia and Melissa Fernandez (c) Paula Lobo

Without a doubt, 2016 has been a trying year, and this past week especially reminds me of the importance of the work we do to support voices of color and gender in our curation. Long-term relationships with artists have been a hallmark of this company since Tina Ramirez’s founding. It continues to be an important value as we still struggle for recognition, equity, and visibility.
 

In order to change the cultural and critical lens, it is crucial to focus on those choreographers creating works that reshape, reverse, and at times, replay the essence of our culture. Artists such as Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, who has developed into a much sought-after choreographer in both the ballet and contemporary worlds of dance, or Gustavo Ramirez Sansano, another prodigious choreographer who continues to astound audiences with his masterful humor and humanity, are among that group.

“It is crucial to focus on those choreographers creating works that reshape, reverse, and at times, replay the essence of our culture.”

I have known and worked with these fine artists for over a decade and am honored to continue bringing their voices–different voices–to our audiences. This weekend, please join us at the Apollo Theater in coming together in the name of art, and unity.

eduardo-signature
Eduardo Vilaro
Artistic Director & CEO


Ballet Hispánico en Familia: BHdos, the second company

Did you know? In addition to receiving specialized dance training, the talented young dancers of second company BHdos have opportunities to perform on the mainstage for our wider audiences. After a successful run at the Apollo Theater this past fall, they’re sharing the stage with the main company again for the En Familia program of the company’s 45th Anniversary Season at the Joyce Theater.

BHdos dancers with Ballet Hispanico's Artistic Director, Eduardo Vilaro, at the Joyce Theater!

BHdos dancers with Ballet Hispanico’s Artistic Director, Eduardo Vilaro, at the Joyce Theater!

We decided to catch up with some of our second company dancers to get more insight into their experiences performing as part of BHdos:

You get to perform company works for our youngest fans year-round, which can be a very different experience from performing for adult audiences. What’s one thing that surprised you about dancing for younger fans?

Stefanie Roper Headshot - websiteSTEFANIE ROPER: The commentary they make throughout the dance–we can hear little comments on stage when we’re performing. It is so fun to hear their simple remarks from what they see, and their screams and applause are always THE BEST. They make you feel like you’re a celebrity!

 

 

N Nerup_sq(2)

NICOLE NERUP: I was pleasantly surprised and overjoyed to discover how enthusiastic the younger fans are about dance! I swear I have felt the closest I will ever feel to being Taylor Swift or the “Queen of Salsa” herself, Celia Cruz, at our performances for young people.

 

 

 

Ashley Anduiza - websiteASHLEY ANDUIZA: I am constantly surprised by how much detail our younger fans observe. Their curiosity and questions excite me and open another perspective that I enjoy exploring and that are just as valid as any others.

 

 

 

 

What motivates you to dance?

image1NICK FEARON: The thrill of being on stage is what keeps me going, and so is my mom. She has worked so hard for me to be where I am today that all I want to do is be the best dancer I can be for myself and also for her.

 

 

 

Christopher Wilson HeadshotCHRISTOPHER R. WILSON: My motivation to dance stems from the sheer fact that I know I wouldn’t be happy doing anything else!

 

 

 

 

Iosu_Headshot - websiteIOSU BASCARAN: Getting to learn new choreography and also getting to work with an incredibly talented and motivated group of dancers!

 

 

 

 

What’s it like sharing the stage with the main company dancers?

Criss Rodriguez - websiteCRISS RODRIGUEZ: Just having them around is inspiring and a boost of confidence and joy. To have their help is great. Makes me feel like a part of the family, always trying to find ways to improve. It’s a great feeling of energy. They are always looking out for each other, which is amazing.

 

 

ASHLEY: Being able to see, hear and even work together through certain steps with company members that have performed the same roles in the past gives us such valuable information that enhances our experience and delivery.

STEFANIE: I can feel their energy and support in dancing as a group! I know that we all support each other and want all of us to succeed–that is rare. The main company dancers are so approachable and they always have great tips and tricks how to accent or fulfill certain movement that you are struggling with.

 

What’s the best question you’ve heard during a Q&A?

IOSU: How do you change costumes so fast?

STEFANIE: Why are you all so pretty?

NICK: The best question I’ve heard would have to be when a kid asked me about my hair and who cuts it. It was a great plug for my hairdresser Richard.

 

Any pre-show rituals or lucky charms?

HannahHeadshot02 - websiteHANNAH JEW: I like to do my four minute plank series and eat a banana and drink a bottle of Gatorade. I also have some cards with encouraging words from my mentor that I keep in my makeup box.

 

 

 

NICK: While I’m waiting in the wings I have to shake out my whole body and pop my toe knuckles.

NICOLE: Before every show I always do the same pre-class warm up that I have been doing every day for the past 4 years. Sometimes I shorten or vary it, but the elements are the same. This ritual not only prepares my body but also centers me–reminding of my younger self, how much I have grown, and why I love what I do.

CHRISTOPHER: I listen to a playlist I created called “Let’s Werk.”

 

If you weren’t a dancer, you would be a:

HANNAH: Gifted education specialist in a school system.

STEFANIE: School teacher or a full-time mom.

CHRISTOPHER: Finance/marketing advisor of an arts organization.

IOSU: I’m currently studying finance and mathematics, so possibly something having to do with that.

NICOLE: Writer, choreographer, or lawyer.

CRISS: Veterinarian, or marine biologist.

NICK: Wildlife veterinarian.

ASHLEY: Veterinarian! My career has never come close to going down this path but I believe that my passion for nurturing animals runs at the same level as my passion for dance.

 

Merde to our dancers on their Joyce Theater debut! Get a taste of the Ballet Hispanico En Familia experience in this video below:

 

 


Catching up with the Company: Eila Valls

Eila Valls (c) Mario Ismael Espinoza

Name: Eila Valls

Age: 24

Hometown: Gandia (Valencia), Spain

What are you most looking forward to about this Joyce season?

This will be my first season both at the Joyce  and with Ballet Hispanico and it’s a special moment for me. I’m really looking forward to sharing my art with everyone whose support and love for dance have helped me be where I am now.

What motivates you to dance?

The immense feeling of freedom I experience every time I get to reinvent myself to become a new character in a piece. That, and the strong connections we share everyday in rehearsals and even more in performances.

BURY ME STANDING by Ramón Oller (c) Bicking Photography

If you could describe BURY ME STANDING in one word, what would it be and why?

Passion. This piece is a portrait of the gypsies. It opens a window to their intense traditions, feelings, and culture.

“I always make sure I hug my partners for a little while before going on stage. It’s an exchange of energy, like a way of saying I trust you, we’re together in this.”

Do you have any pre or post-performance rituals? Lucky charms?

I always make sure I hug my partners for a little while before going on stage. It’s an exchange of energy, like a way of saying I trust you, we’re together in this. The whole company also makes a circle of energy on stage, and finishes by  kissing the stage floor a few minutes before the show starts.

Think back to your first day (ever) with the Ballet Hispanico company. How’d you feel? How do you feel now?

I felt so grateful, inspired and welcome, it was a dream come true. The great thing is that I still feel the same excitement of the first day, every time I go to rehearsal, but without the uncontrollable nerves…

If you weren’t a dancer, you would be a: 

Psychologist.

Eila in rehearsal (c) Madeline Campisano

Catch Eila on stage at the Joyce Theater during our 45th Anniversary Season April 5-10! More info here: bit.ly/1kG2Kfu


Catching up With the Company: Melissa Fernandez

Photo (c) Paula Lobo

Melissa Fernandez (c) Paula Lobo

 

Name: Melissa Fernandez

Age: 26

Hometown: Miami, Florida

What are you most looking forward to about this Joyce season?

I’m looking forward to managing the various roles and characters that I have to portray. This season, the pieces being presented are incredibly diverse in both theme and genre and that challenge excites me as an artist. Developing and cultivating a character in rehearsal and then onstage is a magical experience.

Who’s your biggest dance fan?

Hands down: my mother. She has been beside from the very first moment and I appreciate her constructive criticism even though by no means is she a ” dance mom.”

Melissa in rehearsal for Pedro Ruiz’s CLUB HAVANA © Jackeline Montalvo

Melissa in rehearsal for Pedro Ruiz’s CLUB HAVANA © Jackeline Montalvo

If you could describe CLUB HAVANA in one word, what would it be and why?

Seduction. Partially because of the character I play but also because as a Cuban American, all that has to do with our culture is purely seductive. Whether it’s the Cuban rhythms or sensuous moves–they all lure you in and seduce you in a very elegant yet sensual way.

“Developing and cultivating a character in rehearsal and then onstage is a magical experience.”

Do you have any pre or post-performance rituals? Lucky charms?

Aside from the typical warm up exercises and the energy filled company group circle, I like to pray in private for my fellow artists so that we may have an incredible performance.

Think back to your first day (ever) with the Ballet Hispanico company. How’d you feel? How do you feel now?

Wow, day one! That was 4 years ago and I remember being terrified and thrilled all at once. It was my very first professional job as a dancer right out of college and I was the youngest dancer as an apprentice. Nowadays I’m one of the oldest and I feel a great pride for this organization–a kind of respect and pride that takes maturity and years of lessons and moments of hardship and success. Ballet Hispanico has been and I believe will be one of the most brilliant and fulfilling parts of my professional and personal life.

If you weren’t a dancer, you would be a: 

A doctor, a journalist or a dolphin trainer.

Melissa in CLUB HAVANA. We’re pretty glad she didn’t pick dolphin training! © Paula Lobo

Melissa in CLUB HAVANA. We’re pretty glad she didn’t pick dolphin training! © Paula Lobo

Catch Melissa on stage at the Joyce Theater during our 45th Anniversary Season April 5-10! More info here: bit.ly/1kG2Kfu

 


Ballet Hispanico Unveils a New Look

Ballet Hispanico is proud to celebrate 45 years of sharing and reflecting the diversity of Latino cultures with the launch of a new brand that will propel the organization into its next 45 years.

bh_vert copy 1

Previous brand

BHlogo2016full

New brand

Artistic Director & CEO Eduardo Vilaro, who brought a fiercely contemporary aesthetic to the organization six years ago, sought a design that embodies the bold, inspiring and uniquely Latino qualities that characterize Ballet Hispanico’s professional dance company, School of Dance and community engagement programs.

10_13_15_Madeline_Campisano_Photography_Ballet_Hispanico_Ribbon_Cutting.jpg

Banners displayed on Ballet Hispanico’s recently renovated facade. (c) Madeline Campisano

“Given the ever-increasing influence of Latinos on the cultural landscape of this country, it felt like the right time to re-introduce Ballet Hispanico as the new expression of American contemporary dance,” said Eduardo Vilaro. “Founder Tina Ramirez’s mission of celebrating the beauty of Latino culture through dance remains unchanged—but we now push every day to challenge, through our work, people’s notions of what it means to be Latino in 2016 and beyond. The new brand strikes a beautiful balance between honoring the organization’s roots and embracing our forward-thinking spirit.”

“The new brand strikes a beautiful balance between honoring the organization’s roots and embracing our forward-thinking spirit.”

Ballet Hispanico’s thanks go to branding firm Project 2050, led by its founder and Ballet Hispanico Board member Phil Colón along with designer Daniel Arenas, for capturing the future of Ballet Hispanico with their design; to the Board of Ballet Hispanico for their unwavering support; and to Ballet Hispanico’s marketing team for their key input.

BalletHispanico_SNP-79

Studio banner reflecting new look (c) Stephanie Naru

Please share your thoughts on our new look with the hashtag #45yearsnew!

 


Behind CARMEN.maquia: Kimberly Van Woesik as CARMEN

Kimberly Van Woesik (c) Paula Lobo

Kimberly Van Woesik (c) Paula Lobo

We caught up with company dancer Kimberly Van Woesik, who will be dancing the role of Carmen in our upcoming NYC premiere of Gustavo Ramírez Sansano’s “CARMEN.maquia” at the Apollo Theater. Here’s what she had to say:

What was your reaction when you were cast as Carmen?

When I found out I would be playing the role of Carmen, I was extremely excited and humbled at the opportunity to take on the responsibility of a main character in this story. I feel very fortunate to have this experience be a milestone in my career as I’ve never done a full-length story ballet. I have always been enamored with Gustavo’s unique and athletic movement language; to be playing Carmen in his work is truly a dream come true. It has been the most fulfilling work I’ve ever done mentally, physically, and artistically.

How familiar were you with the classic story of Carmen before you started working on this piece?

I have never actually seen the story of Carmen performed live, as an opera or ballet, but only in online videos. I know that Carmen is a woman with a carefree, selfish attitude, who does what she wants when she wants. She always seems in control regardless of the circumstances she finds herself in. When I found out we would be doing this work by Gustavo I immediately went to YouTube to find a clip of it [premiered with Luna Negra Dance Theater in 2012], and was instantly captivated by how the nuances of his movement brought  each character alive. Without words being used as in song, Gustavo tells the story of Carmen by marrying the choreographic movements to the qualities and intricacies of the music.

How did Gustavo prep you to get into character for CARMEN.maquia?

Each day Gustavo gives me more insight into who Carmen is. At first we learned movement and partnering, then put it to music, and then started working more on character development within each scene. What I appreciate most about Gustavo’s process is that he himself demonstrates a very clear idea of how to physically move in order to portray an emotion or state of being. When I see him do the movement with the intention he’s asking for, it’s so clear that I’m able to grow from what he has shown me. As a very visual learner, I watch him and study how he moves and use it as inspiration for my character. He also allows for my own personal qualities to come through. He encourages the dancers to not have to “act” or “show” the audience how we are feeling or what we are thinking, but to simply just be in the story with each other, interact with the people around you and respond. By having clear intentions with each other, the audience will be able to come into our world, instead of trying to show them a story.

“Carmen is a woman with a carefree, selfish attitude, who does what she wants when she wants.”

How is working on a story ballet different from the other works you’ve done for Ballet Hispanico?

Each work that we do with Ballet Hispanico always has a clear through line of what the intention of the piece is. With CARMEN.maquia we have a very in-depth story with complex, visceral characters. In an evening-length work we are challenged with having our characters evolve throughout the entire story, not just in a short 20 minute piece. Because we are used to doing shorter works, one of the biggest challenges for me is to not feel like I have to reveal all of who Carmen is right away. While the choreography clearly lends itself to do the storytelling,  I have to let my internal dialogue constantly change throughout the work in order to reflect the emotion of what is happening in each scene, while still remaining authentic to the intention and clarity of the movement.

What do you hope to accomplish on stage at the Apollo the night of the NYC premiere?

At opening night at the Apollo I hope to create an intimate space on stage that allows the audience to be captivated by the world that Gustavo has created. I hope for the audience to feel and get lost in our story with us.

-Kimberly Van Woesik

Thanks for your insight, Kim! See Kim and the rest of the company retell the story of Carmen on the Apollo stage on Saturday, November 22. Click here for more details and follow us at #CarmenInHarlem on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.