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
Ballet Hispanico kicks off its 2012-13 season on Monday when Company dancers begin rehearsing a new work with Spanish choreographers Inma García and Meritxell Barberá. As the summer ends, we welcome three new dancers to Ballet Hispanico: Major Nesby, Melissa Fernandez and Martina Calcagno.
Melissa, originally from Miami, graduated from The Julliard School in May 2012. She’s had an exciting summer as she waited to join Ballet Hispanico. She shared her summer vacation with us:
This warm and eventful summer has come and gone as quickly as a midday rain storm. This past May I graduated from The Juilliard School and found that outside of the invaluable but protective bubble of an arts conservatory there is a whole wide world to experience and explore.
Shortly after graduating I had the privilege of performing one last time as a member of The Juilliard Dance Ensemble in Beijing, China for the Beijing International Ballet Competition gala. While in Beijing I experienced so many exhilarating events such as walking (more like hiking) a portion of the Great Wall of China. Once my journey to the other side of the world was complete, I happily traveled back home to my family in Miami, FL where we spent quality time reconnecting and sun bathing by the crystalline shore of the Gulf coast.
Then came the most uplifting and exciting news of the summer! I auditioned once more for Ballet Hispanico and was thrilled to hear that Mr. Vilaro wanted to hire me for the 2012-2013 season! I’ll never forget the joy in my heart as Mr. Vilaro took me to meet Greg Stuart, our Company Manager, who the following day so kindly helped me sign my very first professional contract.
Finally, my summer concluded with a week long trip to Kodak, Tennessee where I spent my time hiking the expansive Smoky Mountains, exploring impressive underground caves and of course creating beautiful memories with friends.
In a nutshell my summer can be described in one word, “blessed.”
I’ve been blessed with experiences that have helped me grow not only as an artist but as an individual. As I begin my first season with Ballet Hispanico I pray that as I engulf my self in my craft and in learning from my fellow company members I will be as fulfilled and inspired as I was when I walked the Great Wall, hiked a portion of the Appalachian trail or spent quality time with family and friends. I have a strong feeling that I will.
You can meet all of the Ballet Hispanico dancers on our website!
This weekend, Ballet Hispanico will be presenting the world premiere of A Verme, a duet by world famous choreographer Edwaard Liang, at Fire Island Dance Festival 18. This work is Mr. Liang’s first piece for Ballet Hispanico, and we could not be more thrilled!
He has been in the studios over the last few months creating and rehearsing the piece with our Company dancers. We caught up with him during lunch to learn about his career, his creative process and this new duet.
A Verme or “Into Me See,” a duet set to the lush music of Ezio Bosso, explores the concept of intimacy and the push and pull of energy that connects two individuals. The piece follows the tension and release of a timeless attraction between two lovers outside of time and space.
When Mr. Liang first came in May, he began choreographing on the spot. He explained that while he may have a concept for a piece in mind, he does not plan the movement ahead of time. Instead, he works with the bodies and contours of the dancers themselves to find inspiration and use their strengths.
Mr. Liang had nothing but kind words about our Ballet Hispanico dancers. “They’re so freaking nice!” he exclaimed at one point. Because of his choreographing style, dancers need to be flexible, open-minded and ready to work. Our dancers met that challenge as they gave their all during the long 6+ hour rehearsal days.
Although Mr. Liang has traveled the world and frequently works internationally, he calls New York his home base. He first moved to the city 22 years ago and still finds it so comforting every time he returns home. He particularly enjoyed his work with Ballet Hispanico because he felt comfortable working from home.
Mr. Liang will be at the Fire Island Dance Festival this weekend, but it won’t be long before he jets off to work in China, Australia, Houston, San Francisco and Germany. With such a busy schedule, we asked him if he ever slept. His response? “I don’t really stop working because I don’t want to.”
If you’re in the area, be sure to check out A Verme at the Fire Island Dance Festival this weekend! For event information and to purchase tickets (proceeds support Dancers Responding to AIDS), visit the DRA’s website. Stay up-to-date with Mr. Liang by checking out his website.
(c) Josh Preston
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.
Ballet Hispanico is undoubtedly a fan of choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa. For its New York season at The Joyce Theater, the Company will be performing three of her works: Locked Up Laura (2008) Mad’moiselle (2010) and Nube Blanco (New York premiere).
Everyone was thrilled to have Annabelle back in the studios recently! Artistic Director Eduardo Vilaro had this to say:
“Annabelle is an inspiring artist. I am thrilled that she is back in the studio with the dancers as she has such a positive influence on their artistry. Her process allows the dancers to find themselves within the movement and intention while raising their performance potential. Her work, Nube Blanco, is a perfect blend of humor and contemporary investigation and I feel fortunate to have her be part of the new artistic aesthetic we are building at Ballet Hispanico.”
We recently caught up with Annabelle and asked her a few questions about her vision as a choreographer.
BH: This is Nube Blanco’s NYC premiere and the first time it is being performed by Ballet Hispanico. How, if at all, are you adapting the piece? How do the distinct flavors of the Ballet Hispanico dancers affect your choreography?
Annabelle: More than the Ballet Hispanico dancers, what influences me to change small things in Nube is what I have learned from life and arts in the past three years. This gives me another perspective on the piece.
BH: You originally composed Locked Up Laura in 2008 and Mad’moiselle in 2010. Does your perspective on the pieces change as time passes? Do they mean different things to you now?
Annabelle: I’m very clear on Locked Up Laura and I’ve been working with the dancers on what it originally was about when I created it. Likewise with Nube Blanco; we worked especially on my original intentions. Those are the same to me as they were three years ago. What I mostly tweaked was the rhythm of the piece. Unfortunately, for Mad’moiselle I only get one rehearsal with the dancers!
BH: What are you most looking forward to about working with Ballet Hispanico for the Joyce season?
Annabelle: Well, Nube Blanco is a revival so it’s always exciting to revisit a piece and to present it for the first time to New York City!
BH: Finally, what other exciting projects do you have coming up?
Annabelle: I start next week with my first narrative full-length ballet for Scottish Ballet: A Streetcar Named Desire. Very excited about that, indeed!
Photos: Eduardo Patino, NYC
Annabelle Lopez Ochoa sits down with Artistic Director Eduardo Vilaro about returning to Ballet Hispanico to put the finishing touches on Mad’moiselle, her new work that will premiere at The Joyce Theater November 30th.