Ballet Hispanico’s performance in Eau Claire will showcase not only the New York-based company’s focus on diversity but the myriad ways that plays out.
The program will consist entirely of pieces by Latina choreographers and will present the varied styles of dance Ballet Hispanico has embraced since its founding by Tina Ramirez in 1970.
A regional audience can see Ballet Hispanico at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in Pablo Center at the Confluence’s RCU Theatre.
Eduardo Vilaro, artistic director and CEO of Ballet Hispanico, said the Latina emphasis arose from necessary questions raised in the current political and social environment.
“And one of those in the dance field is, where is the female leadership?” he said in a phone interview. “It is an art form that has been saturated by male dominance.”
That male orientation has been present from the beginning of the worlds of ballet and classical dance, he said, personified by the dance master and choreographer, who were always male.
“So it is a question that’s been put out to the community, and for us as a Latin-based organization, we are about giving voice to the voiceless from the beginning,” Vilaro said.
Three years ago, Vilaro put together a program featuring all female choreographers, and it so happened all were Latina. Because Ballet Hispanico had “some wonderful female artists,” he said, he went ahead with a second program, which will be presented on the current tour.
In describing what the audience will see, Vilaro explained: “I think without sounding stereotypical or cliche, women have the ability to go deep into emotion in a very nuanced way. I think men can do it also, but women have lots of nuances and lots of layers, and so you’ll see a really wonderful program that makes certain statements but at the same time is enjoyable and compassionate and speaks to coming together and sharing. And I think that’s what this program really shows, which is a wonderful way of taking on these heavy subjects that we’re all dealing with.”
The company’s diversity goes deeper than that.
“How are we a diverse organization?” Vilaro asked rhetorically. “First of all, it’s the culture, so we bring a multidimensional way of looking at all the Pan-Hispanic cultures, the Pan-Latino cultures, because we don’t focus on one country.
“We focus on the choreographers, the artists from those countries, to come in and create something that speaks to their cultures,” Vilaro continued. “So you get a broader view. You also get a very diverse movement vocabulary throughout each of the works because each of them come from different genres or different mixtures, so not only are we giving a diverse look at the culture, we’re also giving a diverse look at what contemporary dance is today.”
Brenna St. George Jones, Pablo Center director of artistic programming, said she found the touring production as well as the company itself appealing.
“I was attracted to the idea of a program that was entirely Latina choreographers,” she said. “Women choreographers are sorely underrepresented in mainstream dance. I also love the diversity of the company itself, and the people who make up the company and the work they do.”
As an added bonus, St. George Jones said, this will be Ballet Hispanico’s first performance in Eau Claire.
Stephanie LaBair, Pablo Center’s marketing and communications manager, also noted that diversity is one of Ballet Hispanico’s hallmarks.
“One of the cool things about Ballet Hispanico is the breadth of what they do,” she said. “They take and they mesh in the flamenco and contemporary dance and ballet, and that shows the diversity of what ballet can be.”
Making voices heard
The company also can speak to the Hispanic experience as it relates to political and cultural issues, such as immigration and racism, that have been the focus of bitter commentary and debate.
“It saddens that me that we’re in this place,” Vilaro said. “But ... with every challenge there’s an opportunity, and it places Ballet Hispanico in a leadership role, and I take that very seriously. As far as what’s going on, I think we are a voice that shows what an important part of the fabric of not only the arts world but of our nation these Latina communities are and how they’ve been here, and it’s through immigration that this has been able to happen — how our whole nation has been the nation that it is. ... We’re forgetting that right now because we have certain people in leadership positions that are pitting us against each other.”
Jason Jon Anderson, Pablo Center executive director, pointed out that, while the arts center is completely nonpartisan, bringing in a diverse company whose performance reflects the world at large shows important roles it can play.
“We strive to create open conversation in a nonpartisan way,” he said. “Each person will bring their own feelings to the table as a staff member, but ... the building is neutral.”
Moreover, he added, “The building needs to be a place where conversation can be had about any topic openly, but we also have a mission to highlight all of our demographics that create the makeup of this incredible region. So choices in the season may be a way for us to elevate certain populations into view where they normally wouldn’t be. But the intention to that isn’t political. The intention to this is to help ensure everyone feels welcome here in the building.”
Ballet Hispanico was created with educational as well as a performance purpose in mind. Moreover, the concerts themselves offer opportunities to learn, notably, that each of the dance students in audiences can see themselves on stage.
“That reflection is I think is one of the most important things that we can provide a student,” Vilaro said. “But then they also leave with just a little bit more ability to start developing their aesthetic in what kind of dance they like. And that’s also good. Because they’re not going to love everything. … What I always see is students leaving inspired. And inspired to create, inspired to do their own thing.”
That observation, it would seem, reflects another element of Ballet Hispanico’s diversity: the ability to inspire diverse audiences.