Instituto Coreográfico 2017: Q&A with Carlos Pons Guerra, Part 1

For the latest installment of Instituto Coreográfico, Ballet Hispanico’s choreography lab for Latino artists, we welcome Spanish choreographer Carlos Pons Guerra to our studios to work with our dancers. We caught up with him recently for a reflection on his experience, which will culminate tonight in a public showing. Here’s Part 1 of what he had to say on this collaborative process:

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Carlos in process with the dancers. (c) Johan Rivera

What has your approach been for working with the Ballet Hispánico dancers?

We have been having a great and productive time in the studio with Ballet Hispánico! It has been a very interesting dialogue. For the first couple of days, I taught the dancers sequences of my movement, sequences that to me represented the raw essence of the piece. That way they also got to know me a little. I then would give the dancers assignments to do with my movement, which I call ‘dramatic tasks’ as they have a certain sense of narrative. For instance, in couples, I asked them to perform my sequence but that any moment, one of their body parts had to totally give up dancing–so we created duets that had an idea of giving up, of abandon, but also of support. It’s a really interesting two-way approach, where I give information and the dancers constantly feed back. We have also spent time researching telenovelas together–Latino soap operas have really influenced the aesthetic of the piece–and exchanging observations on the heightened sense of drama and performance you find in them.

“Being here now, and being able to explore my Hispanic themes with dancers who are so committed to them, who get you from the start, and who can really enrich your exploration through their own heritage and cultural experiences–wow, it’s super special.”

 

Before you got to meet them, what was your perception of the Ballet Hispánico Company?

I first saw Ballet Hispánico at the International Ballet Festival of Havana in 2014. I fell in love then, and that hasn’t changed–except perhaps that I am more full of #BHamor than ever! My perception then was that they were beautiful dancers with great skill, technique, and articulate bodies, but above that, a very honest and explosive sense of projection and presence. Another thing that really struck me was their commitment and passion to exploring and celebrating Latino culture, which is the main thing that made me start choreographing six years ago. So being here now, and being able to explore my Hispanic themes with dancers who are so committed to them, who get you from the start, and who can really enrich your exploration through their own heritage and cultural experiences–wow, it’s super special.

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L to R: Shelby Colona, Gabrielle Sprauve, Jenna Marie, Nick Fearon, Dandara Veiga (c) Johan Rivera

Is there anything that has surprised you so far about the process, about our dancers, or just the experience in general?

Something really surprising for me, and which is really driving the process, is this love and need to dance. It may sound funny as I work only in dance, but in some other contexts, I have sensed a certain kind of lethargy. But Ballet Hispánico dancers need to move, and they do it beautifully and with such energy and speed. It’s contagious and it makes my job happen much faster and with drive.  I’m very happy because the work is developing into something very dynamic and it feels very alive.

A key element is the drama. My work is generally a bit comical, very physical but also heavily character based. The dancers have a lot of personality and are very generous in offering it to the choreography—they’ve understood me really quickly and with hardly any direction and they are giving me full telenovela realness! I watch some sections and I feel I’m in a scene from La Usurpadora or Maria la del Barrio—it’s amazing and I love it!

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Carlos Pons Guerra working with Eila Valls and Jared Bogart (c) Johan Rivera

What is inspiring the movement you’re working on right now at Ballet Hispánico?

There are two main sources of inspiration for this work: 1) Federico Garcia Lorca’s The House of Bernarda Alba and 2) the genre of Latin soap operas, telenovelas. The overall themes of these are the fight against repression, unfair gender impositions, the need to express oneself, and the tensions and aggression that can happen when people are not allowed to fully realize their identity and voice. Light stuff! But we are trying to make a comedy out of it, so we can hopefully both entertain people while making them reflect.

“Ballet Hispánico dancers need to move, and they do it beautifully and with such energy and speed.”

The movement we are developing has the heightened sense of melodrama, the absurdity, the over-the-top quality and stylized character of the telenovela, married to marching, processional-like movements of strict imposed tradition, a feeling of weight and boredom, sibling tension, and an internal conflict to release oneself, which are what I took from Lorca’s play.

Thanks for chatting, Carlos! New York-area fans can come see a sneak-peek showing of Carlos’ work-in-progress tonight, October 5th, at Ballet Hispánico at 7:00 pm. RSVP: bit.ly/2xOEOFN

 

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Meet the Dancer: Jenna Marie

We took a moment to catch up with one of our newest Ballet Hispánico Company dancers for the 16-17 season: Jenna Marie! Get to know more about her below, and what her reaction was when she found it she was joining Ballet Hispánico….

Jenna Marie

Jenna Marie (c) Mario Ismael Espinoza

 

Name: Jenna Marie

Age: 24

Hometown: Philadelphia, PA

How long you’ve been living in NYC: 5 years

What’s your favorite food? pasta, rice and beans, mochi

When you’re not dancing, you are… Traveling! I love to travel and explore new places!

Your reaction when you heard you got into the company?

I was in shock and I just remember crying and feeling a huge weight lifted from my shoulders. I finally found a home.

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Jenna Marie in FLABBERGAST (c) Paula Lobo

In one word, what does ‘dance’ mean to you? Limitless

Ballet Hispánico has a unique cultural lens as an artistic organization–tell us more about why that appeals to you:

As a professional dancer of Puerto Rican descent it is appealing to be able to grow and learn more about all Latino influences.  Growing up with a multicultural background, I wasn’t always able to explore my Latino culture. Ballet Hispánico has given me the opportunity to get back to my roots and learn what it means to be a Latina in today’s world.

What company repertory piece have you always wanted to learn/are you looking forward to learning? 

I am a huge fan of Pedro Ruiz’s work and choreography. It has always been a pleasure watching Club Havana. It’s quite the classic and when we got to learn a snippet during the audition I was so excited.  His work just always feels good!

“Growing up with a multicultural background, I wasn’t always able to explore my Latino culture. Ballet Hispánico has given me the opportunity to get back to my roots and learn what it means to be a Latina in today’s world.”

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Jenna Marie in DANZÓN (c) Paula Lobo

Now that you’ve all spent a lot of time with the Company dancers–how would you describe their dynamic both on and off the stage?

Ballet Hispánico is by far the most welcoming group of talented and beautiful artists I have had the pleasure to come across. Not only are they gorgeous on stage but they are all humble, willing and so generous off the marley. It has truly been so inspiring to be accepted into this organization with open and loving arms. I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to grow with!

Catch Jenna and the rest of the Company on stage during our NY Season at the Joyce Theater, April 18-23! Tickets and details: http://bit.ly/2mmLwNd

 


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!

 

 

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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

 


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.


Behind CARMEN.maquia: Christopher Bloom as DON JOSÉ

Chris as Don Jose in a dramatic moment of CARMEN.maquia (c) Joshua Preston

Chris as Don José in a run-through of CARMEN.maquia (c) Joshua Preston

Despite the name of the work, CARMEN.maquia is actually a story about Don José, whom you portray. As this is Ballet Hispanico’s first story ballet, can you talk us through what it’s been like taking on a character role, what working with Gustavo is like, and what you hope to accomplish on stage at the Apollo for this one-night-only NYC premiere?

At the outset, CARMEN.maquia‘s narrative form isn’t wholly different from the majority of work we do at Ballet Hispanico. To me, dance always contains narrative and in each work of the BH rep I am always asking myself who I am and what I want at different moments. Some pieces are a series of very short stories, some have a unified through line. Some don’t. The constant is the desire to communicate an idea. The mechanism for that communication is intent within movement. Each piece becomes a series of intents, motivations, and actions. To me, that is story.

CARMEN.maquia takes this process a step further in two main ways. The first is that the story is told over the course of somewhere around 65 minutes. This allows for a great deal of narrative detail. The second step is that this story is specific and set.

“Dancers do not have the benefit of words.”

When Bizet created the opera he told his story using words. My experience with words is that they are the form of communication that offers the most potential for specificity of meaning. Dancers do not have the benefit of words. This makes every single movement crucial to the audience’s understanding of the narrative. It also leaves the interpreters (i.e. the dancers)  with a great deal of agency in deciding how the story will be told. I imagine that Bizet’s poetry gives singers a huge amount of information about how they should play their characters–I do not have that information.

Choreographer Gustavo Ramírez Sansano is guiding me in my portrayal of Don José, but he is not making decisions for me. He has offered me the freedom to remake Bizet’s protagonist in an image of my choosing. Don José’s actions are my landmarks. The brunt of every tragedy is the fall from grace. In CARMEN.maquia, Don José commits three great transgressions that drag him into the dirt. My work in developing this character is deciding how I arrive at each of these watershed moments. I know that Don José falls in love with a meritless woman, I know this leads him to abandon his brothers in arms and I know that, unable to cope with Carmen’s rejection, Don José murders the woman he loves.

But how does a military officer, a principled man justly proud of his position and moral character, fall so far; fully abandoning the values on which his life has been built? That question is the source of my portrayal of Don José.

“It is an exciting place where people move fast, no one hides who they are, and people bleed blue.”

My hope for the performance at the Apollo on Nov. 22 is to be able to bring the audience into the world of CARMEN.maquia that Gustavo has built. It is a different world from the one in which we live. It is an exciting place where people move fast, no one hides who they are, and people bleed blue. When standing on the Apollo stage, facing those three towering tiers of people, what I want is to give every audience member an intimate experience. I want each of them to walk away feeling like we danced solely for them.

-Chris Bloom

Thanks for your insight, Chris! Click here for more details and to purchase tickets for this one-night-only Apollo performance on Saturday, November 22, and follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more about #CarmenInHarlem.