Name: Melissa Fernandez
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.”
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.
Catch Melissa on stage at the Joyce Theater during our 45th Anniversary Season April 5-10! More info here: bit.ly/1kG2Kfu
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.
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.
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.
Click through the image to see this interview with Artistic Director Eduardo Vilaro and company dancer Kimberly Van Woesik!
The two recently spoke with NBC’s Cozi-TV station about the company’s two-day appearance at the Kupferberg Center for the Arts at Queens College, coming up on February 8th and 9th.
“Dance, as in all art, is that breaker of all fear. It allows you to commune, so not only Latinos can talk about their culture but other people from other cultures can enjoy, and be immersed in those cultures.”
-Artistic Director Eduardo Vilaro on BH’s creative philosophy
For tickets to the shows, click HERE.
Our BH dancers just had a spectacular two nights at the John F. Kennedy Center–and don’t just take our word for it! The Washington Post praised their performance as a “cutting-edge crowd pleaser” and we couldn’t be more thrilled. For Artistic Director Eduardo Vilaro, the company’s return to the D.C. venue was particularly special and prompted feelings of nostalgia for his time as a company dancer in the same venue:
The first time I walked on the Eisenhower stage at the Kennedy Center was as a dancer with Ballet Hispanico back in 1992. It was an amazing moment for me as a young dancer and an immigrant. Performing in our nation’s national theater was a major reflection of my American dream and the truth of determination. As I walked onto that same stage last weekend, now as the artistic director of Ballet Hispanico, I was once again reminded of the immensity of possibilities we find ourselves in because of this great nation and am grateful that I am in a position with BH where I can inspire, nurture and help develop young people so that they too might find themselves in awe.
“Performing in our nation’s national theater was a major reflection of my American dream.”
Mexican choreographer Edgar Zendejas speaks about his new work for Ballet Hispanico, Umbral. Inspired by Dia de los Muertos, the work is a seductive and imaginative take on the holiday and will be premiering at the Apollo Theater on November 23rd.
For more info on the performance, visit: http://www.ballethispanico.org/performances/Apollo
The dancers of BHdos wowed audiences last Saturday at Bailando Por Una Causa 2013, an annual dance benefit hosted by Baila Society. The performance was held at El Museo del Barrio, with proceeds supporting the Latino Commission on AIDS. BHdos performed the Bolero excerpt from Club Havana, where they got to dress up in glitzy costumes as they glided across the stage doing effortless lifts and partnering moves. Here they are backstage before the show!