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:
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.
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!
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
Instituto Coreográfico, Ballet Hispanico’s choreography lab for artists, is an innovative program for both burgeoning choreographers and emerging filmmakers. Our latest installment of the program welcomed filmmaker Kendra Brisco to BH. Kendra is a recent graduate of DeSales University, receiving a B.A. in both Dance and TV/Film. She has interned with the American Dance Festival and Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival where she worked closely with professional companies from all over the world documenting their work. We asked Kendra to reflect back on her two week residency with us and she shared some fascinating insight–read below!
At a young age I realized that I had two very strong passions. Once I realized this, doing something else never crossed my mind. Even though I was the first student at my school to pursue this double major, I was convinced that these two art forms were meant to be combined.
Being a dancer, I understand not only the body and how it moves, but I have a special sensitivity to movement and I am able to react to it. Because of my familiarity with the choreographic process, I can easily pull out the choreographer’s main points and understand how they connect to the creation of the work.
When I film dancers, I feel myself dancing with them, and it is one of the best feelings in the world!
You’ve documented many dance rehearsals on film already–is there anything about this project with Miguel and Ballet Hispanico that stands out to you as being different?
What stood out to me the most was how open the dancers were to new exercises and new ways of thinking. I got to watch the gears turning in their heads and observe the external changes as well. They were constantly sharing insight into their internal experiences that added a whole new layer to the rehearsal process. Miguel’s methods for drawing emotions out of the dancers had me captivated the entire time. I never wanted to leave the studio!
When I film dancers, I feel myself dancing with them, and it is one of the best feelings in the world!
What guides you when you edit these short videos?
When I edit, the most important thing to me is that the feeling you get from watching the video is the same feeling as actually being in the studio. I try to stay as true to reality as possible.
Can you share with us your favorite bit of insight you heard throughout the residency, whether it was from Miguel, the dancers, your mentor Gerrit, or anyone else?
What really stuck with me was Miguel’s point about finding yourself and being yourself. So much of the time we are “acting” or “pretending,” instead of just being. I found that to be true of life outside the studio as well, and I think anyone would benefit from searching for his or her true self. This was an inspiring process that has definitely made me think about the world a bit differently now.
Thanks for all you’ve done for us, Kendra! Watch Kendra’s documentation of Instituto in the two videos below:
And check out her other work on her dance-film reel here.
For the latest installment of Instituto Coreográfico, Ballet Hispanico’s choreography lab for Latino artists, we welcome Mexico-based choreographer Miguel Mancillas to our studios to work with our dancers. We caught up with him recently for a quick chat on the experience, which will culminate tonight in a public showing. Here’s what he had to say on this collaborative process:
How have you approached working with the Ballet Hispanico dancers?
I find it really interesting the way dancers believe in their skills and training and what they know or understand about their own body. For me it’s really, really important to build communication with dancers so we can go farther together. It’s hard to build on their movement or ask for their own movement without them having trust in you. I love to respect that because I believe that they are all artists, not just people who can move.
Is it a challenge that you’re only spending 2 weeks with the dancers?
Not really, for me it’s more like a laboratory work process and at the same time I’m just trying to know them as much as possible, and also to see what they think about my ideas. For example, what is an animalistic thing or an instinct? What does it mean to own your body, if you really think that you make decisions for your body, or is it your mind, or is it society? We were working in different approaches to that.
For them, it has been a real challenge in that way, but at the same time they know how to do a lot of things—they are really good dancers. Some of them enjoy much more to challenge themselves. But I think it’s little things that I can say to them, like to be sure that they are are not lying to themselves, but not for me. To me, I would never know, but for them, they would know.
As a choreographer, what do you gain from a program like Instituto Coreográfico?
For me, I’m making them do things that I already do with my dancers, but I like to see where they feel more challenged and where they feel more fine, so they can take that movement and use it as their own. I make a lot of images in my mind and I work with that, but I also don’t just like to have them try to do something that is already in mind, something that I’ve predicted–it’s better to search together.
“I believe that they are all artists, not just people who can move.”
How would you describe your style of your choreography?
It’s really hard–I always say that each piece makes me be different. Sometimes I go really abstract, sometimes I go with storytelling. But, I have the same obsession: what makes us move? Sexuality, fears of being alone, and the vulnerabilities we have as a species. We are the weakest. We have a great brain but our body is really weak. And so, I feel like we build a lot of masks around that, and that is in all of my pieces.
Gracias, Miguel! We look forward to seeing your work!
If you’re a follower of the BH Facebook page, then you’ve probably seen one if not several gorgeous stage and rehearsal photos taken by Paula Lobo. Though we use many photographers throughout the season to shoot our dancers, Paula keeps coming back for more and knows the dancers so well that she can capture perfectly even the most subtle emotive moments in a work. She feels like part of the BH family! Today, Paula dropped by our studios to watch a run of Rosie Herrera’s work-in-progress as part of Instituto Coreográfico. We can’t wait to see the rehearsal shots she took, but until then, here are some glimpses of the photographer in action.
Today marks the second day of our latest installment of Instituto Coreográfico, Ballet Hispanico’s innovative choreography lab! This time around, Miami-based choreographer Rosie Herrera returns to develop her work with our female dancers. Check out these snapshots from the studios today, and stay tuned for more details as we follow the progress of this program. To learn more about Instituto Coreográfico, visit our website here.
During Instituto Coreográfico 2012 while the dancers, choreographers and filmmakers were all busy living in the moment, Ballet Hispanico Artistic Director Eduardo Vilaro took some time to reflect on the Instituto’s legacy and trajectory.
Watch this video to learn more about the Instituto’s mission, the vision for its future, and its relevance in today’s society.
Instituto Coreográfico may be over, but it has made a lasting impact on the choreographers, filmmakers, dancers and observers. The two performances last week were very well-received, and our filmmakers were there to capture the final days.
Below, watch Abdul Latif through the lens of filmmaker William Atwater. More to come soon on Rosie Herrera and everyone’s final reflections!