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.
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.
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.
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