Ballet Hispanico Interview w/ CEO & Artistic Director Eduardo Vilaro

Flamenco and Dalliance w/ Eduardo Vilaro
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In the Latin community, dance is as part of the DNA as food is a necessity for every person. Here at Ballet Hispanico, artistic director & CEO Eduardo Vilaro enlightens us on how getting ready to put your best foot forward takes swift movement and precision.

Hello Eduardo, how are you doing today?

I’m good, sir. How are you?

I was reading up on Ballet Hispanico and realized “I just need to come to this”. (laughs)

Yes, are you still coming?

Of course!

For your vision of the organization, is there more you wish to provide for the young people who want to learn the art of ballet dance?

For context and clarification, we don’t only teach ballet. We are a contemporary dance company that utilizes all different genres of dance including ballet to create a movement language to help us express the multiplicity of essences that are part of who we are as Latin Americans, Hispanic Americans, or Latinx people. I tend to use all of those different coding words because it’s important to understand it is generational. I always wish to be inclusive. The conversation should always be inclusive.

Your collaborator, Miss Renee, actually mentioned that in one of the videos.

Yeah, Miss Rene is amazing! For me, we are an arts organization first. Truly, a resource for our entire nation to explore Latino/Latina culture through the lens of this art form and what I want to give to young people is access. That’s what our founder Tina Ramirez always wanted. She wanted quality arts education in our form of dance and quality artwork that leads us to a discussion beyond stereotypes.

When you first joined in 2009 as Artistic Director, what were some interesting challenges you overcame?

(laughs) There’s still lots I’m trying to overcome. The language was the first one. Back when I was a dancer here in the '80’s, my mentor was the founder. When I came to take the reins, the organization needed a clearer message as far as who we were now and it needed to prepare for this dialogue of race and culture. It was about language and shifting the gaze from “Oh, look at these Latino dancers” to “Listen and look at this message”. We’re talking about diversity and inclusion with this art. It became more important to me when this administration switched in this country. It is something we are now immersed and understanding our role as an agent of discourse and change by reminding the nation we are a fabric of this country. We’re not add-ons and you can’t keep colonizing us!

The choreography seems to take many careful steps in making sure you nail it on the head and that’s great, is this a method to capture perfection or to tell a story with the dances?

I think you hit it on the head when you said story. I want stories to be told that need to be included! I want to tell stories that are not heard, lauded or not thought of as important. Since we have an all-female program, I’m helping to change the landscape that women aren’t leading. These are leaders! They have important things to say and we have a platform to give them. The black and brown leaders that come in create work on this company. It doesn’t mean all of us are, but a lot of us are hybrids! Our Latino world can fit in many pockets and gives us a lot of issues, but opportunities to be voices for those who are ostracized and feel marginalized.

I enjoy the fact you reach out to communities and partnering with Community Arts Partnerships must have helped loads. Can you tell me how it’s benefited Ballet Hispanico?

Well, our Community Arts Partnerships is our third leg. The first is the School of Dance where we help over a thousand kids a year from ages 2-18. The second is the professional company. The third manifests itself through the public school system in New York City. We collaborate with public schools by developing workshops and residencies that bring dance and culture into the curriculum.

Out on the road, the company takes the form as CAP (Community Arts Partnerships). I do many of those classes myself and we interact with the community we are performing in. I find it enriching for a community we are going to perform for and have multiple workshops. I’m very interested in how this organization gives a voice to the voiceless. We do everything from working with migrant workers, special needs communities, and incarcerated youths because those are my peeps! (chuckles) They need to be shown and given a change of perspective. We work through the art form because if I didn’t have dance as an opportunity, especially since I grew up in the Bronx during the '70’s, I don’t know where I’d be!

It states on your website there are workshops in various forms of dances you teach ranging from social, fusion and folk. How often do you offer each class or are they all part of a package deal?

We tailor-make the residency for the community (chuckles). I come from a colonized community! I don’t want to be the colonizer and tell them “Here’s what you have to do”.

What we do is if we’re working with a theater, we connect with the community and say Here’s what we offer, what works for you? If we can’t, can we create something together?”

Collaboration is key! Especially in the arts.

We know this! Why does it keep happening this way? Sometimes, I see it with white organizations that come in and decide to try and run something for us and my response is “Bye! No! You’re good! Have a seat!” (chuckles)

Anyway, I think it’s important that I have the honor to work with a team to explore and help each other. We get invited to do different programs and this community we can’t just pitch things to them! I want things to come from a wholesome holistic discussion or else we’re lost and then we’re just a prettydance. As black and brown people, we can’t be just pretty. We don’t want to be exotic or eroticized!

How do you prepare for the performances?

I’m not a dancer any longer, but as a director, getting ready for performances is from months and years before. Funny enough, I was talking to someone in my staff and I said the wrong theatre name and they said ‘It’s okay. He’s already done here with the Apollo. He’s on to the next thing’.(Chuckles) It’s true! I know it’s going to be good! I was taught I must be overly prepared to stand in front of the gaze. I must be better than my best. My preparation now, as the director, comes from years ahead. I kind of know exactly what’s going to happen. Nothing is a surprise anymore unless it’s an emergency. Does that make any sense?

Of course, as a theater kid, my teachers used to say ‘I think they got it!’ and I believe they had so much faith.

“Ballet Hispánico wows with transcendent dance.” - Times Colonist

What did that review mean to you when you first read it?

Everything. I think all art is transcendent. It needs to be seen and takes us out of the ordinary. By giving us other tools us to express ourselves, we find each other in it. Everyone is looking at yoga and Pilates and they have it in them. It’s creativity. Be creative. Take yourself out of comfort, that’s real creativity. It isn’t some yoga class you do every Monday. 

(chuckles) What I’m saying is inside of us there’s a creative child and, if our nation could understand that we need the arts to support them the way they are, it would change everything

'The arts are a space that removes us from our ego'. - Eduardo Vilaro

Finally, Fun Question: When you were younger, who would you love to dance with and would you choose to dance with them at the Broadway show now?

Oh my gosh, I wish I could turn back time to age 10 and dance with my Mom. I fell in love with dance because it was a connection to Cuba, the country I left behind, and my mother was that person who said ‘Don’t forget’. She’d say Don’t forget the movements of your hips, the way you hold someone how you interact, this is where it’s from’. I know my Mom would have been an amazing performer, but she couldn’t be due to the norms of her generation. It sounds kind of corny, but it’s true.

Honestly, it’s been a true blessing speaking with you, sir!

Thank you and come on out to see the performance!

You can find out the dates for Ballet Hispanico performances here: https://bit.ly/335ZOUj

 

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