Ballet Hispánico returns to New York’s legendary Apollo Theater on December 1st and 2nd, with works by Ronald K. Brown (Espiritu Vivo), Ramon Oller (Bury Me Standing), and Michelle Manzanales (Con Brazos Abiertos). “Three inspiring works reflect on the migrant experience, the tragedy of marginalization and the resilience and triumph of the human spirit to capture contemporary Latino culture through movement,” according to what we’ve heard about the show, and given Ballet Hispánico’s relentless forty-seven year history of vividly engaging choreography, it promises to be that and more.
… given Ballet Hispánico’s relentless forty-seven year history of vividly engaging choreography, it promises to be that and more.
DancerMusic reached out to Ballet Hispánico’s Diana Winfree to find out some more about the Apollo Performances, about Ballet Hispánico, and about some of the works in the program. Before joining Ballet Hispánico, Winfree performed and choreographed with Thodos Dance Chicago, and those who knew her work there know the depth of her artistry, so we weren’t surprised at how engaging the insights she shared with us are. Here’s what she told us —
Johnny Nevin: Many of our readers are dancers and aspiring dancers, so it might be interesting for the if you a little about how you became a Company member with a widely-respected NYC dance company like Ballet Hispánico. What was that process like?
Diana Winfree: I was taking class at Lou Conte at the time, and was just keeping my eyes and ears open about opportunities for company work. I was open to moving from Chicago and saw a flyer for a Ballet Hispanico audition being held at Lou Contes that week. I wasn’t super familiar with the company at the time, but knew of their great reputation and challenging work.
I showed up for the audition that Sunday not sure what to expect. After a long and physical day, Eduardo Vilaro, Artistic Director and CEO of Ballet Hispanico, offered me a company position on the spot. I was definitely surprised! You expect to go through a long waiting process if you happen to make it through the audition, so my phone call on my way home to my husband Will saying “Hey! We’re moving to New York!” was a little unexpected! I moved to NYC a few months later to dive into the season.
Johnny: Ballet Hispánico will be performing three works at The Apollo Theater this weekend, including a new work by Michelle Manzanales called “Con Brazos Abiertos”. Can you tell us a little about the piece?
Audience members always come up to me after performances and say how much this work touched them. It is extremely relatable and heartfelt.
Diana: Con Brazos Abiertos, which premiered at the Joyce early this year, is one of those works that really embodies Ballet Hispanico’s mission. It is Michelle Manzanalez’s reflection on her struggles with identity growing up as a Mexican-American stuck between two cultures. Instead of literally telling her story, she really encouraged us dancers while setting the work to pull experiences from our own lives where we may have felt out of place or other. Audience members always come up to me after performances and say how much this work touched them. It is extremely relatable and heartfelt. I perform a solo in the middle of the work to Michelle’s voice reading a poem, and I’m maneuvering a sombrero the whole time. It is a very vulnerable moment in the work and I’ve found a lot of artistic growth in working to deliver her message clearly and authentically.
Choreographers almost always ask for you to bring some of yourself and your creativity while they are creating a new work. I always love the challenge of that
Johnny:During your three years with Thodos Dance Chicago, you worked as both dancer and choreographer, and Laura Molzahn (writing in the Chicago Tribune”) described your work “Faultless” as having “a wonderfully feline, female grace”. How does your experience as a choreographer change or enrich the experience of working as a dancer with other choreographers?
Diana: It’s funny, because I still can’t find the words to describe myself as a choreographer! I do really enjoy creating. I always have. That desire to explore new ways to move your body and challenge your habits is something that I try to take into my work as a company dancer. Choreographers almost always ask for you to bring some of yourself and your creativity while they are creating a new work. I always love the challenge of that, and definitely tap into that “choreographer” side of myself.
Johnny: Ballet Hispánico tours extensively, so you have the opportunity to engage with a broad spectrum of audiences. Do you and your fellow company members feel that this changes your performance in any way? Are there different kinds of inspiration in different places?
Yes, it absolutely does! In such an interesting way. We went to Israel for two weeks last year and were in the community teaching and engaging with the community throughout. The dancers have a tradition of “circling-up” before a performance, and we all share some of our experiences. We comment on things we heard or saw in whatever city we are visiting and find how it can help enhance our show and connect with our audience more. It is always so fascinating to see how people connect with certain works when we travel. In Serbia we spoke with many audience members who were able to really connect with Ramon Oller’s Bury Me Standing (which is also in this Apollo program!).
Our Apollo show is always one of our favorites amongst the company. Our audience is the absolute best here in NYC. They hold nothing back and give us so much energy.
Johnny: Can you tell us a little about what Ballet Hispánico has planned for the 2018 season, so we can stay up to date with this great company?
Diana: I’m actually not sure! We usually don’t find out until later in the Spring…. Hopefully we will continue reaching audiences around the country and world!
PHOTOS: (from top): • Ballet Hispánico’s Diana Winfree in Michelle Manzanales’ “Con Brazos Abiertos” (Photo by Paula Lobo) • Ballet Hispánico’s Diana Winfree and Mario Ismael Espinoza in Michelle Manzanales’ “Con Brazos Abiertos” (Photo by Paula Lobo) • Ballet Hispánico’s Diana Winfree in rehearsal for Michelle Manzanales’ “Con Brazos Abiertos” (Photo by Alona Cohen)