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.
Every new year always brings exciting changes to Ballet Hispanico, and this year is no different. Members of our School of Dance community may have noticed a familiar face in a new role around the studios lately. Flamenco Program Advisor Kiri Avelar recently joined the School of Dance’s administrative team as the new Associate School Director.
We’re thrilled to have Kiri in this new position and caught up with her to learn more about herself, to see how the transition has been, and to hear what plans she has for the new school year:
Many people might just know you as one of our flamenco instructors, but you have quite a varied background in dance, both in styles and geographic locations. Could you share with us just a summary of your journey with dance, and how you came to find Ballet Hispanico?
I started my training in ballet. The older I got the more varied our curriculum became. Studying at the Boston Ballet School at age 14, I was introduced to Spanish dance in a class taught by Ramon de los Reyes. I didn’t care much for other styles at that age, and I was so focused on ballet that was all I cared about. I later received my B.A. in Dance in New Mexico. Flamenco and Spanish dance are huge there, and because of my ballet and Spanish dance base I easily assimilated into that community; I had an immediate in-road. I eventually fell in love with the art form of Flamenco, but never let go of my respect for ballet and modern dance. Looking back I can see how all of the pieces of my life’s puzzle fit together, now bringing me to Ballet Hispanico in New York.
Give us a sample of what your daily tasks look like now as an administrator for the School:
You can find me either in the classroom teaching, observing other faculty members teach, walking through the building to make sure kids get to class on time, or greeting families. The hours I spend behind the desk are dedicated to processing scholarships, working closely with School leadership and our advisors, and checking in with our marketing team.
What is it like to balance being both an administrator and a faculty member and advisor in the School?
I love my job. I am so at home in the studio, and yet there is a side of me that is fascinated by the arts administration that it takes to support that work – I get to work in the best of both worlds! I am able to see both sides of the coin, and I feel my work in one area informs my work in the other.
What’s one goal you have for the School of Dance this year?
To provide enrichment opportunities (performances, workshops, lectures, etc.) for our students that will further support their learning inside the classroom.
In an alternate life, if you weren’t dancing, what would you be doing right now?
Thanks for catching up with us, Kiri! Keep an eye on our blog for our next School Spotlight Q&A.
We’re happy to see our dancers back in the studios for the new season–but have you ever wondered what they do in their off time? We caught up with some of our company dancers to see how they spent their summers. Click on a dancer to hear from them!
After what has certainly been a packed touring schedule, our dancers finally had some time off to rest and relax and enjoy some summer! We love that so many of them still spend their off time with their fellow company dancers–can’t get enough of that #BHamor! We caught up with Lauren Alzamora, who recently spent time in Ecuador with Martina Calcagno:
I traveled to Ecuador for the first time 8 years ago, to visit my family and the birthplace of my father (Quito, Ecuador). I knew he hadn’t visited since he was 14, and he celebrated his 60th birthday this past February – I thought it would be a perfect excuse to plan a return trip, and now here we are together (along with some other family from the US). I invited my dear friend and fellow BH dancer Martina Calcagno and she has been fully initiated into the Alzamora family.
So far we have had two family reunions, represented BH at Mitad del Mundo (the equatorial line) and admired the beautiful buildings and churches of Quito Colonial. We observed the lush vegetation and colorful hummingbirds of Mindo, the rainforest. We took a long day trip to Otavalo for the famous artisan market and ate the typical food of the Andes. Still on the agenda: a trip to the majestic volcano Cotopáxi and a ride on the Teleférifo to view Quito from above. Luckily for us, in the midst of relishing all the local food and drinks of Ecuador, we have managed to locate a fully equipped Pilates studio to stay in shape 🙂 Not to mention, the Alzamora cousins will be taking us out for salsa dancing at a discoteca before we leave…. This vacation has been a wholly enriching experience and I can hardly wait to plan our next trip to Ecuador!
Thanks for sharing, Lauren–can’t wait to have you girls both back in the studios!
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!
In addition to an exciting line-up that includes one World Premiere and live music, our upcoming New York Season at the Joyce Theater is especially noteworthy as we pay tribute to our beloved company dancer Vanessa Valecillos, who will be retiring later this year. Vanessa has played a huge role with the company since Artistic Director Eduardo Vilaro came on board at Ballet Hispanico, but her journey with Eduardo started long ago in Chicago when the two first met. Eduardo himself offered this thoughtful reflection on this very special dancer:
I met Vanessa Valecillos in 1997 on a Fourth of July weekend by the waters of Lake Michigan. We were meant to meet. We began to work together as I found that her amazing technique and dramatic instincts were rare to me. No other dancer I had worked with previously could drum up the very soul of Latin passion while subtly fusing it with classical line and modern sensibilities. We made duets together, we danced together, she discovered my choreographic idiosyncrasies and molded them for me to catalog in my mind. In essence, she became my muse. Yet there was more to her than just artistic inspiration, with an uncanny ability to bring others into the folds of a vision–she began to collect people for our work. Audience members, supporters, friends and donors all gave in to her magic. Seventeen years later, we continue the work.
This Joyce season we will pay tribute to my first muse with a devoted performance that demonstrates her talent and abilities to inspire. Please join us on Sunday, April 27th, as we honor Vanessa’s lifetime work as an artist. An unforgettable evening for such a remarkable woman.
– Eduardo Vilaro, Artistic Director
“No other dancer I had worked with previously could drum up the very soul of Latin passion…”
Program D of the Joyce Season, which takes the stage on April 27th at 2 pm, has been specially programmed to celebrate Vanessa’s departure and features Edwaard Liang’s moving duet, A Verme. Vanessa and fellow dancer Jamal Rashann Callender debuted this work at the Fire Island Dance Festival in 2012 and are looking forward to performing the work again in light of this special, personal moment for the pair. Vanessa and Jamal gave their thoughts on A Verme here:
A VERME at the 2012 Fire Island Dance Festival. (c) Rosalie O’Connor
A Verme is a rare and special treat for me because I have the opportunity to perform with Vanessa. As it will be performed in program D of the Joyce season, I am delighted to have our moment together on stage. It’s a perfect piece to perform because like our friendship and partnership, our connection will never go away. The duets speaks exactly to that matter. Two beings who always find one another in different life times. Though she is moving on, we will always find each other and dance together. This is for you Vanessa. Thank you for everything you have taught me. It has been an honor and extreme privilege.
A Verme. I am very grateful to perform this beautiful work by Edwaard Liang. The music and movement speak for itself. For me, it is about souls- those souls that I have touched and the ones that have touched me, wherever they may be. I am very excited to perform it with a very special person from the last 3 years of my career, Jamal Callender.
The work reminds me of a quote from one of Pablo Neruda’s poem “Pero hacia donde vaya llevare tu mirada, y hacia donde camines llevaras mi dolor.”
Thank you, Vanessa, for all that you have done for Ballet Hispanico! We have loved watching every moment of you lighting up the stage. Mil gracias!