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.

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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.

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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.

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Gustavo Ramírez Sansano’s FLABBERGAST (c) Paula Lobo

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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

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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.

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Eduardo Vilaro
Artistic Director & CEO


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.

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Previous brand

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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.

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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.

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Studio banner reflecting new look (c) Stephanie Naru

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

 


Marvin gets accepted into Professional Performing Arts School!

Poised and focused.

Poised and focused.

Ballet Hispanico wants to extend a big congratulations to our very own Marvin Hernandez, a dancer with the School of Dance who recently was accepted into New York City’s Professional Performing Arts School (PPAS)! PPAS is a public high school that trains students artistically and academically to develop a strong foundation for a professional career in the arts. Students must audition for their dance, drama, musical theater, or vocal programs.

Marvin began his studies with the School of Dance two years ago in our General Program Ballroom class with Xavier Auza.  After spending much of last year and this past summer honing his ballet technique with Pre-Professional coordinator Caridad, the dedicated 16-year-old is now enrolled in Pre-Professional Level 3B.  “Marvin is a great school citizen,” said Deputy School Director Nicholas Villeneuve, “always early for class and very passionate about performing.”

Marvin is greatly influenced by the rhythmic culture of the Caribbean and his Dominican roots, and truly embodies the Ballet Hispanico spirit. “I am so happy–I want to represent,” he said. “I have my hopes to go to Juilliard.”

Congratulations again!

“Marvin is a great school citizen–always early for class and very passionate about performing.”


Sortijas – A World Premiere

Last Friday at the Dana Center for the Performing Arts, the Ballet Hispanico Company previewed Sortijas, a brand new work by leading Spanish choreographer Cayetano Soto. Cayetano, based in Munich, traveled to our studios last week to set his creation on the dancers, and we sat down with him for a chat about his personal career and his creative vision.

Ballet Hispanico’s collaboration with Cayetano has been an endeavor several years in the making. His new work, Sortijas, was intended to premiere during Ballet Hispanico’s 40th Anniversary Season, but his broken achilles forced a postponement. This setback did not discourage Cayetano, however. He said, “These were beautiful mistakes. There is a fate in everything, and this work was meant to happen.”

Sortijas, a lush duet set to music by Lhasa de Sela, reflects Cayetano’s commitment to the personal and intimate aspects of dance. For Cayetano, choreographing is an exploration of the self: “I aim to kill all my demons in the studio.” And he encourages his dancers to do the same. He empowers the dancers to tap into their own experiences and infuse them into their interpretation of the movement.

In addition to the beautiful movement and music in the work, Cayetano has collaborated with the fashion label Talbot Runhof, a German-American duo based in Munich, to design original costumes for Sortijas. Cayetano previously worked with them on his production of Carmen, and he is certain that the new costumes will make the dancers look “amazing” and “perfect” on stage. For more of the designer’s amazing collections, visit their website HERE.

Cayetano is certainly a busy choreographer: for the rest of the year, he will travel from Munich to Santa Fe, Sao Paulo, back to Santa Fe, and to The Netherlands. Despite his demanding schedule, he never compromises his work or his vision. A piece can never be truly finished for him: “Dance is a living art. Like a child’s education, the creation never ends. The process can never be stopped.”

To witness the evolution of Sortijas, you can catch its world premiere at Ballet Hispanico’s 25th New York Season at the Joyce Theater April 16-28, 2013. Visit our website HERE for complete performance and ticket information.

For a behind-the-scenes sneak peek at the piece, check out the photographs below taken during last week’s rehearsals!

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Images © Joshua Preston