When Eduardo Vilaro came to this country with his parents from Cuba at the age of 6, dancing was a way for him to make discoveries, to connect with people and also to find himself.
“I think it was dancing that really helped me become who I am as an American and rediscover my Latin self,” Vilaro said.
Ballet Hispánico continued the discovery. The New York dance company’s founder and artistic director, Tina Ramirez, invited Vilaro to join her as a dancer. “I was recruited by Tina,” Vilaro said.
Today, Vilaro is only the second artistic director in the history of Ballet Hispánico.
“We help young Latinos find their voice. It’s ongoing. It’s passing it on. It’s reciprocal,” he said.
It continues as the Ballet Hispánico, founded in 1970, is back on tour after having to stop for a while because of the pandemic with “Noche de Oro (or “Golden Night”), 50th anniversary program”, dedicated at the end of the company’s 50-year legacy of uplifting Latinx choreographers and dancers.
“Noche de Oro” will be performed on May 22 at the Hanover Theater and Conservatory for the Performing Arts in Worcester as part of an event presented by Music Worcester Inc.
In honor of the over-50s, 14 dancers from Ballet Hispánico company “will perform something old, something new, something that looks to the future,” Vilaro said.
Three works will be staged. “Arabesque”, choreographed by Vicente Nebrada, is a relatively old piece in the history of Ballet Hispánico. It is a suite of dances set to music by Spanish composer Enrique Granados, with traces of flamenco interwoven with lush ballet movement. “It’s a beautiful work, very neo-classical in nature,” Vilaro said.
“Tiborones” (“Sharks”) by international choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa is a new work that looks at the portrayal of Latinix in films such as “West Side Story” (the Sharks are a Puerto Rican gang in the film).
“It’s about how much the media looks at culture and how people develop stereotypes through the lens of the media. It’s fun, bittersweet, fun to watch,” Vilaro said.
Another novelty, “18+1” by Gustavo Ramírez Sansano, who is celebrating his 19th birthday as a choreographer. The movement merges with the playful rhythms of Pérez Prado’s 1950s mambo music.
“It’s just a very playful contemporary work,” Vilaro said.
Ballet Hispánico is a dance company that has embraced traditional classical, Latin and folk dance in “new works that merge all the elements,” Vilaro said.
“The job is to include everyone in the dialogue from all Latinx cultures. There are over 21 nations under the umbrella and we look like any other people, from dark skinned to light skinned. C that’s what I’m trying to bring – the beauty of the multidimensionality of this culture,” he said.
Vilaro joined the company in 1985 and became a principal dancer, working closely with Ramirez and creating roles in a range of choreographers’ works. He was also an instructor at the company’s dance school.
He left for a while and in 1999 he founded the Luna Negra Dance Theater in Chicago.
But in 2009 he joined the Ballet Hispánico after Ramirez’s retirement. He also assumed the role of CEO in 2015.
Tina Ramirez was born in Venezuela to a Mexican father and a Puerto Rican mother and moved to New York when she was 6 years old. She studied and trained Spanish dance, classical ballet and modern dance, and danced professionally, including on Broadway.
Ballet Hispánico focused on creating a haven for Latinx youth and families seeking an artistic venue and cultural sanctuary. From its grassroots origins as a dance school and community performing arts troupe in 1970, Ballet Hispánico has been recognized as a catalyst for social change for over 50 years.
Under Ramirez’s leadership, Ballet Hispánico has developed three core programs – its dance company, dance school, and community arts partnerships – to bring communities together to celebrate and explore Latin American cultures.
“I think we’ve grown like any other organization. We were the company – the little engine that could. Right now we’re in such a leadership position. I think we’ve grown a lot now,” Vilaro said.
“We’re ready to expand further and reach audiences everywhere with this work.”
Ramirez, now 90, is no longer involved with the organization and is enjoying her retirement, Vilaro said.
Dance company Ballet Hispánico has toured internationally and recently presented a new piece choreographed by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa titled “Doña Perón” (“Mrs. Perón”). After a performance earlier this month at New York City Center, one reviewer called it “an explosive and emotional tale of the life of Eva “Evita” Perón…Ballet Hispánico, created a masterpiece for surpass all previous attempts to bring the iconic Latina figure to the stage.”
“It was remarkable,” Vilaro said of the production. He said his goal as the society’s new works curator was to “tell new stories and reclaim stories from the point of giving new perspectives”.
Meanwhile, Vilaro said the dance school has 1,000 students during the school year and another 500 during summer programs. Community programs involve more than 3,000 students a year, he said.
Ballet Hispánico was named an American Cultural Treasure by the Ford Foundation and recently received a $10 million gift from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott and her husband, Dan Jewett.
Vilaro will come with Ballet Hispánico to Worcester on May 22 where he said he has some good friends. But he didn’t remember which company had performed here before.
“Not to my knowledge,” he said.
Music Worcester brings Ballet Hispánico to Worcester.
Adrien C. Finlay, Executive Director of Music Worcester, said, “I saw Ballet Hispánico for the first time last summer at Jacob’s Pillow and immediately started working to entice them to come to Music Worcester. The sheer enthusiasm they bring to performance is captivating, and I was also captivated by their history as a company – how they started, what they became, and their history of commissioning and developing new work. with choreographers. we know everyone who attends will leave the Hanover Theater on April 22 longing to see them again.”
Ballet Hispánico has also had many challenges over the years.
In 2016, the ballet company’s costumes and floors were ravaged when a major water main burst on Amsterdam Avenue and flooded the studio. The cost of the renovations was estimated at $500.00 and Ballet Hispánico appealed for donations.
More recently, the pandemic shut down the tour company and classes for quite a while.
“We launched a visual platform,” Vilaro said. Social media and video platforms have included online courses and streaming of previous company performances.
“It was exhaustive and exhausting. We became a real leader,” Vilaro said. This continues as Ballet Hispánico seeks to instill a sense of community and explore Latino dance and cultures online.
But the greatest challenge of all has always been to attract the young people who will constitute the company’s dancers and current and future audiences.
“Dance is a very specific art form that needs to form a young audience,” Vilaro said.
For more than 50 years, “we have managed to attract them in the hundreds of thousands,” Vilaro said of young people across the country and around the world.
Encouragingly, Vilaro said that at the end of the performances of “Doña Perón”, “when I looked into our audience, I saw a young and diverse audience”.
Ballet Hispánico: ‘Noche de Oro, 50th Anniversary Programme’ – presented by Music Worcester
When: 8 p.m. on April 22
Or: The Hanover Theater and Conservatory for the Performing Arts, 2 Southbridge St., Worcester. Proof of vaccination and wearing a mandatory mask.
How much: $39, $49 and $59 depending on seat location. Student tickets $25. (877) 571-7469; www.thehanovertheatre.org