The House of Ballet Hispanico
What has your approach been working with the Ballet Hispanico dancers?
We have been having a great and productive time in the studio with Ballet Hispanico! It has been a very interesting dialogue between us. For the first couple of days, I taught the dancers sequences of my movement and worked on them, 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 certain moments, 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 being a really interesting two-way approach, where I feel 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.
Before you got to meet them, was was your perception of the Company/what expectations did you have of our dancers?
I first saw the company 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 of the things 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 the love and need to dance. It may sound funny as I work only in dance, but in some other contexts, I have sometimes sensed a certain kind of lethargy. But Ballet Hispanico 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. The dancers’ musicality is also incredible. But a key thing is the drama- my work is generally a bit comical, very physical but also heavily character based. BH dancers have a lot of personality and are very generous in offering it to the choreography- they’ve understood me really quickly and without hardly any direction, 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!
How would you describe your style of choreography?
As most of my choreography has a strong narrative element, I normally try to create a choreographic language that is unique to the world we create for that particular piece and its characters, and in doing so, I try to not close any doors- so for example, if the work required some bachata steps, they would be incorporated. I suppose it has a classical ballet and contemporary dance base, as that what I’ve trained in. I like very physical, grounded work and I also have a slight addiction to classical lines; I love articulate arm and torso work as well. I also have a tendency towards the absurd, the wild and the animalistic, so there is also an element of that in my movement.
What is inspiring the movement you're working on right now at Ballet Hispánico?
There are two main sources of inspiration for this work- Federico Garcia Lorca’s The House of Bernarda Alba and the genre of Latin soap operas, telenovelas. I guess that 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 and make them reflect. So I would say that 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.
As a choreographer, what do you hope to gain from a laboratory program like Instituto Coreográfico?
A laboratory program like Instituto Coreografico is incredibly helpful for a choreographer. So many times you make work and it doesn’t get tested until it’s onstage in front of hundreds of people, and there’s not been a chance to reflect on it, try it out in different contexts, gain feedback from the audience… Instituto has been great for this work because it has given me the chance to explore several avenues- we have tried some crazy, and maybe silly stuff!- that help you define what the work is or often what it isn’t- without the pressure of having a premiere next week! I am very much looking forward to the public sharing of the work in development and the open discussion following it. I think it’s extremely important to let mentors, specialists and especially members of the general public inform the development of the work, and to invite them to take part in creating the narrative. How they see any particular section can really help you look at the work from different angles, read it differently and help it grow. Instituto is really great for that, and I feel Ballet Hispanico’s staff have been wonderful and helpful, coming to the studio often to support and offer input and feedback.
What advice would you give to a dancer trying to build their own choreographic voice?
I would say- always look inside yourself first, and show the audience who you are. Embrace your heritage, embrace the world you grew up in, your eccentricities, your fascinations, your own stories, and show us those. When I first started making work I had a strong need to explore what it was to be a Hispanic gay man, and to look at the history of Spain, to share the rancheras I grew up hearing in cabs, the unique head movements of women in the Canary Islands, the ritual and symbolism of slicing jamón serrano, the melodrama of every day Latino life. I didn’t think anybody would care to hear about this- I’m still not sure they do!- but when I see my work, I can see my story, and the story of those around me, others who are like me, in it, and there is a huge satisfaction when you see yourself and your message projected onstage. I really believe the audience appreciates it when they see that too. So be yourself, be brave, find what you want to say and how you want to say it- and shout it out boldly.