Eduardo Vilaro, artistic director and CEO of Ballet Hispánico, is only the second person to head the company since it was founded in 1970. The New York-based company’s website tells us that Vilaro “has infused Ballet Hispánico’s legacy with a bold brand of contemporary dance that reflects America’s changing cultural landscape.”
Wow. What that means, said Vilaro—who has won a whole boatload of awards, including the Ruth Page Award for choreography, HOMBRE Magazine’s 2017 Arts & Culture Trailblazer of the Year, the West Side Spirit’s WESTY Award, and a Compassionate Leaders Award—is simply adding modern ideas into the mix of what they’re doing.
“We’re not a folkloric company,” he said by phone from New York. “We’re creating new ways of looking at our culture.”
Dance has a unique way of doing this with a nonverbal language, he thinks. “Dance helps people connect to culture,” he said. “We’re not using Spanish, or English, or Spanglish. This is about an inquiry into who we are here in America. It’s accessible and innovative.”
That will be on display on November 6 at Cal Performances, when the company presents “Noche De Oro—A Celebration Of 50 Years!” at Zellerbach Hall.
“It’s a homage to 50 years of creating work,” Vilaro said “We start with a beautiful piece by Venezuelan choreographer Vicente Nebrada, Arabesque, who is mixing classical ballet with flamenco. So there are flamenco hands and flamenco eyes.”
The title of the next piece, Spanish for “sharks,” Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Tiburones references the 1961 movie West Side Story, and the Puerto Rican gang, the Sharks—addressing stereotypes of Latinx culture.
“West Side Story left a lot of cultural scars for Latinos,” Vilaro said. “And let me tell you, I can sing every song. At first it was like, ‘Oh, I’m being represented in the movies!’ and then it was like, ‘Oooooh, I’m being represented in the movies.’ The piece is a lot about how the media gaze is used to pigeonhole us. The audiences who have seen it have just gone berserk.”
“It’s like, ‘What is fusion? And who are we? We’re Americans,” Vilaro said. “We’re an American company, and this uses mambo music from the 60s.”
Some good news (well, really, fantastic news) for the company in its 50th year: The fabulous MacKenzie Scott, who has been doling out huge chunks of her $59 billion dollars to organizations that fight racism and arts groups, recently donated 10 million dollars to Ballet Hispánico. Vilaro says the money will go to endowments, scholarships for young people, supporting dancers, and to keeping the company going beyond the next 50 years.
Vilaro took the news the way you might expect.
“When someone calls you and says we love what you do, and we want to support you no strings attached, what do you do?” he asked. “I fell over. I told them, ‘Can you repeat that again?’ I’m a kid from the Bronx. I can’t even fathom what a million dollars look like.”
NOCHE DE ORO – A CELEBRATION OF 50 YEARS! Sat/6 at 8pm at Zellerbach Hall, Berkeley. More info here.