Dancer Travels: Lauren and Martina Visit Ecuador!

Martina and Lauren enjoying the outdoors.

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.

Always a dancer, wherever you go!

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!

-Lauren Alzamora

Thanks for sharing, Lauren–can’t wait to have you girls both back in the studios!

What does it mean to perform at the Apollo?

December 1st marks Ballet Hispanico’s return to the legendary Apollo Theater in Harlem. Last year’s premiere was a life-changing moment for our Company dancers, and this year will be no different.

We asked mix of dancers new and returning to the Apollo about their anticipation of the big night.

Company member Melissa Fernandez will perform on the Apollo stage for the first time this year:

“As a first season dancer with Ballet Hispanico, I’ve approached every tour and every performance with great excitement and joy. Performing at the Apollo will mark our first New York performance of this 2012-2013 season. This fact brings me even more excitement and anticipation because I have many family members who live in New Jersey and will have the opportunity to see me do what I love as a professional and support all the diverse and talented artists that make up Ballet Hispanico.

“Dancing at the historic and famous Apollo Theater will be a memorable experience in and of itself. Harlem’s Apollo Theater has been the stage where “stars are born and legends are made.” It will be an enormous honor to dance on the stage where such great artists as Duke Ellington and Bruce Springsteen have performed. As a new member of the Harlem neighborhood and community, I am looking forward to performing for the people of my community in Harlem and New York City as a whole. I firmly believe that Ballet Hispanico’s presence at the Apollo Theater is a positive and enriching artistic endeavor that will enable the continued growth of Hispanic/Latin-infused contemporary dance. I am proud and honored to be a part of it.”

Company dancer Donald Borror, now in his third season at BH, offers a different perspective on the upcoming performance at the Apollo:

“Performing at the Apollo is a big deal. It means something to everybody. You usually don’t have to explain much when you say you’re dancing at the Apollo.

Backstage, and especially in the dressing rooms, there’s an energy that is really special. You literally can feel the history oozing out of the walls. While onstage, the balconies are so enveloping, it feels like the audience is truly a part of the performance. It’s all very inspiring!

I am also thrilled to be working with Paquito D’Rivera! Paquito is just the nicest, coolest guy…which makes how incredibly talented he is even better!”

Donald Borror in A vueltas con los ochenta (c) Paula Lobo

To see Melissa and Donald in the World Premiere of A vueltas con los ochenta, click HERE for tickets to the Apollo!

Hispanic Heritage Month Continues

Ballet Hispanico has been in full swing celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month! We kicked it off with a free performance for public school children at the LaGuardia Performing Arts Center in Queens. The second company BHdos has been busy performing all over New York City, including the ¡Fiesta! celebration at the Metropolitan Museum of New York.

As we continue our celebration, we bring you more stories from the Ballet Hispanico Company dancers!

Lauren Alzamora: “My father was born in Ecuador, but my siblings and I were not raised speaking Spanish in the home.  Through the eclectic repertoire at BH I am able to explore the Latina side of my heritage as it relates to the many facets of Hispanic culture worldwide – I get to give that side of me a voice, so to speak.  Not to mention, I have an opportunity each day to steadily improve my Spanish language skills!”

Melissa Fernandez: “As the daughter of Cuban parents, it’s always been important in our family to embrace and remember the traditions and customs of our culture. As a Cuban-American dancer, I feel great joy and pride in having the opportunity to express myself as a strong and creative Latin woman within such a culturally diverse company as Ballet Hispanico.”

Jamal Rashann Callender: Ballet Hispanico’s diversity is very radiant, and still growing. The Company is thrilling, exciting, and on the verge of anew. I recently learned I have family from Cuba! ¡Eso es!”

Jessica Alejandra Wyatt: “Ballet Hispanico has become a wonderful home for me because it gives me the opportunity to combine the expression of my beloved art form along with the Hispanic culture I am proud to be a part of.”

Mario Espinoza: “I was born and raised in Tijuana, Mexico, so I spent my childhood influenced by Latino music and dance.  After moving to the United States at the age of 17, I refined my technical ballet jazz and modern training, while holding tight to my Mexican roots.  Now a dynamic dancer who fuses the pulse of his Latino heritage with the technique of ballet, I flourish in the dance environment that Ballet Hispanico provides.”

Company Dancer Lauren Alzamora: How I’m Spending My Summer Vacation

All summer, we’ve been checking in on our dancers on their “vacations.” Up next, we hear from Company dancer Lauren Alzamora!

Hello friends! I hope you’ve been enjoying the summer as much as I have so far…… Since our final show of the season in Prospect Park, I have been catching up on some much needed rest and relaxation. I find that my body really appreciates some days at home where I can just lay low and hang out with my cat, Conan. In fact, I will include a picture of how he and I like to stay cool (well, mostly him…..).  He is a special needs cat, and sometimes he needs a little extra help bringing his body temperature down on these hot, humid days. I call it “kitty kooler” or “kitty on ice.”

After a day or two at home I feel the need to get moving again.  I teach Pilates and Gyrotonic year-round, as much as our rehearsal/performance/tour schedule will allow. But the summer is a particular time when I can teach a bit more and also take other teachers’ classes.  There is always something new to learn!  It is one of my favorite ways to cross-train during our season, as well as a great way to stay in shape off-season.

Something else that has kept me busy is assisting my friend Maryana Hordeychuk who has been pursuing her Masters in Digital Photography from the School of Visual Art in NYC.  After collaborating on a few projects last year, she asked me to be her thesis advisor for her final project. It has been wonderful to see the culmination of all her hard work, and it is satisfying to know that I was an integral part of the whole process.  This is a photo of some of the images from her thesis, entitled “Tabula Rasa,” which will be featured in a gallery exhibition in October 2012.

Maryana and I also drove out to Fort Tilden beach where we did a photo shoot with fellow company dancer, Mario Espinoza. Two of the images we caught are shown below.

I have also taken a few ballet technique classes with the advanced level at the Ballet Hispanico summer session – it is wonderful to see young dancers working hard and taking in all of the information that the BH faculty has to offer.  Caridad Martinez taught a particularly humbling 2-hour technique class on Monday….. I hope the students take advantage of being in her class  – she will make you strong and has such a wealth of knowledge to offer!

I am currently in Aspen, CO where I am visiting friends and also helping my boyfriend pack up to move to NYC! We are going to take about 4 days to drive across the country together.  This is a very exciting time for us and I am thrilled to share it with all of you!  So I guess that is about it….. drink your Coco water and take a visit to the beach if you have a free day. Some of the BH dancers and I took a trip to Long Beach and it was so lovely – even on Saturday, the crowds weren’t too bad and the ocean was heaven on earth!

Ballet Hispanico and NOBA

Deputy School Director Nicholas Villeneuve and some of the Ballet Hispanico Company members have traveled down to Louisiana to teach at the New Orleans Ballet Association (NOBA) for their summer residency.

Nicholas has been teaching in New Orleans for the past week. He comes back to New York this week, but he will return to NOBA for the final showings of the summer. He has shared his experience so far:

Nestled in a quaint corner on St. Charles Ave. in a spectacular old guest house, I have been here for a week enjoying warm southern hospitality. Ballet Hispanico and the New Orleans Ballet Association have partnered once again to lend some of New York’s strongest tutelage to New Orleans. Later this year, Ballet Hispanico is slated to perform on on NOBA’s bill. The NOBA summer residency consists of two members of Ballet Hispanico’s main company, Vanessa Valecillos and Jamal Callendar, along with myself teaching technique classes and creating works that will be showcased in their final performance at NOCCA on Sunday, August 4th.

Our presenter Jenny Hamilton has arranged quite the schedule as students are rotating on four individual tracks similar to our own intensive in NYC. I have had the pleasure of working with the more advanced student groups. While Richard Chen See, formerly of the Paul Taylor Company (and an Instituto Coreográfico panelist!), is setting an excerpt of Esplanade on the green track, I have created a new work for the purple track titled “Incantations.” The work explores a calling of souls and chanting to new life while paying homage to the deep rooted rituals and spirituality of the south.

Such rich and vast plethora of cultures exists here, you can feel it in the streets as you drive by the stunning mansions, churches and old buildings along every street. I have enjoyed thoroughly my experience this last week and will be returning to NYC this week to revisit our own summer intensive with Director, AnaMaria Correa. Fortunately for me, I will be coming back to NOLA to see my students’ performance on the 4th. This experience is a great opportunity for both the students of NOBA and the organizations. The students in New Orleans are privy to a wide variety of highly trained and accomplished artists and companies. Ballet Hispanico and NOBA bring much knowledge to these young dancers and aid their professional development throughout the four-week dance residency.

Artistic Director Eduardo Vilaro has had a long standing relationship with NOBA and pledges to deliver only the best to each community that his company visits. I would say this residency is on its way to success, and I can’t wait to see the final performances. I have handed off my work to the amazing dancers of Ballet Hispanico today. I know when I return it will be terrific.The students have attended all my classes thus far with an eagerness and a fire that inspires me. Each day I am able to see them improve a bit at a time. I enjoy teaching and I am honored to pass on the legacy that was once given to me!

Till next week, NOLA!

Reporting from the beautiful sunny south,

Deputy Director, Nicholas Villeneuve

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Company Dancer Mario Espinoza: How I’m Spending My Summer Vacation

After the Ballet Hispanico Company members took their final bow of the season at Celebrate Brooklyn a couple of weeks ago, they certainly didn’t retreat into hibernation for the summer! Although they are technically on break from their rigorous Ballet Hispanico schedule, our dancers stay active, dance, teach, and have fun throughout the summer.

All summer long, we will be bringing you insider looks at how our Company members spend their time off!

This week, dancer Mario Espinoza shares with us all about his fun in the sun!

From Mario:

“I’m currently relishing in the marvelous New York summer as I take advantage of the free time, spending long, relaxing days by the Atlantic ocean shore in Long Beach, NY. A few snacks and plenty of water, in combination with a good sun-screen and fluffy literature, are sufficient to let the hours pass by like the cool, salty breeze.

Time has been invested exploring the hours of the night. I stay up later than normal on weeknights, spending time with friends that come to visit. My friends are also on their time off, and they come to experience the city that never disappoints. I love hosting dinner and rooftop parties at home, exploring neighborhoods and finding treasures in flea markets. The fun seems to be never ending!

Another exciting endeavor has been working on photography. Having beautiful and willing friends a plenty, there have been many collaborations where gorgeous beings have allowed me to capture their essence and beauty. In my TUMBLR you can see some of the images I have captured this summer and in earlier days.

At the moment Justin and I are planning a trip to East Africa. Justin and I will be traveling to Uganda and Kenya, which is very exciting and nerve-wracking at the same time. This will be our second visit to Africa this year, but it will be a first to these countries. In January we were in Egypt and Ethiopia, so the current nerves are most like those of an explorer-one that thrives in the thrill of a first experience.

I look forward to sharing more stories and pictures upon my return!”

Photo Credit: Maryana Hordeychuk 2012

Dancers Joshua and Vanessa Bring a Little BH to Guatemala!

In May, Company dancers Joshua Winzeler and Vanessa Valecillos traveled to Guatemala City, Guatemala to work with the dance students at Dance Studio. Last year, the entire company traveled to Antigua to perform at the Festival Internacional de Cultura Paiz 2011. On this trip, however, Joshua and Vanessa were on a different mission: to bring their professional experience and dance wisdom to young and eager-to-learn students.

Vanessa and Joshua reflected on their incredible experiences, and we are excited to share their with you! It’s amazing what our dancers are up to, so we hope you enjoy learning about what BH dancers do in their “free” time! You can find more information about Dance Studio on Facebook. Enjoy!

From Vanessa:

Joshua and I traveled to Guatemala City on May 21. We stayed at the house of Laura Galvez and her family. They truly made us feel at home! Laura is the director of the jazz program that Dance Studio has.

I taught all the ballet classes, and Joshua taught the contemporary classes. I had students who ranged in age from 7 years old to teenagers. I enjoyed all of the students! Some of the classes were high levels and very challenging.

I love to see the young ones that have a lot of potential paying so much attention and really listening to me. I find so much satisfaction in them really understanding dance at such a young age. For the older students, it was great to see them working so hard because they were given an opportunity to see what else is out there in the dance world and not just what they see on an everyday basis.

My biggest challenge was to teach ballet class to the jazz students. Most of them have never had ballet before. So I had to start with the basic positions and postures rather than the more difficult technique. And I only had one day to do it!

One evening we went to a dance challenge that was being held at El Teatro Nacional, a beautiful theater, where a lot of the dance schools compete. It was very interesting to see because it showed us the various levels of the different schools. (By the way, Dance Studio won first place in ballet and third place in jazz and hip hop!)

A great moment for me while being there was going to Antigua on Saturday afternoon. It brought great memories of when I went there with Ballet Hispanico last season!

I am looking forward to going back in the near future to teach at Dance Studio again and to see the great friends that we made while being there.

From Joshua:

The facility where we taught was amazing! It was sort of a country club, with a pool, karate, a gym, a spa, spin classes…the works. After we got there, we observed some of the classes we would be teaching. Vanessa taught Ballet, while I taught Contemporary dance.

Both Vanessa and I had a lot on our plates. Most of my classes consisted of ballet-trained dancers who had never taken a Contemporary class in their lives, some not knowing what it was. Their technique reflected that of Ballet: poised, light and not very fluid in their movement quality. I had about 3 classes with them that each lasted an hour. I utilized the some Horton and Limón technique along with some Bartenieff fundamentals. I felt like it was important that the dancers knew the endless possibilities that the body could move in. How to release into the floor. To transition from one movement into another effortlessly. How to suspend or sustain a movement. How to dance from your core and not just the arms and legs. All terms vital in the dance world.

At first these dancers were timid and laughed at what I was showing them. They were uncomfortable and embarrassed that they might make a mistake. It was important for them to know that class was not only a place to discipline yourself in technique and style, but also a place to explore new ways of moving and discovering what works best for your body. It was obvious that these dancers were intimidated by Vanessa and me—“the professional dancers from New York and Ballet Hispanico”—but we were still human and had once been in the same place they were. They started opening up, and the shift of energy was like night and day. The girls were hungry and willing to learn. It was amazing to see such a vast change in their quality of dancing in such a short amount of time.

I went there with a goal. If I was able to teach them ONE thing, whether it be a new term in dance or a new way of dancing, I would have done my job. And that I did. One dancer asked me, “Why do you dance”? I replied, “Two reasons: one, dance is a gateway that allows me to forget about everything that happens in this sometimes mundane world and I am able to express myself in whatever way I chose. And two, I believe dance to be another form of communicating though the movements of our body.” It was something so powerful and profound to them. I could see it in their eyes. It was like they saw dance as a hobby at first and then realized that there was so much more dance had to offer. The icing on the cake was receiving status updates via Facebook or Twitter about how Vanessa and I have helped not only the dancers, but also the teachers to see dance in a new way. We have lit a brand new fire in them and that they are ready and willing to go the distance to achieve any goal they set for themselves. We are very optimistic that we will have another opportunity to reunite next year and create another successful workshop like this one.

I would also like to thank Nicholas Villeneuve for this amazing opportunity. Originally, Nicholas planned on going on the trip, but was unable to travel because of the School of Dance recital. He referred Dance Studio to me, and I am so thankful I was able to take advantage of this amazing experience.

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