Vilaro’s mentor, Tina Ramirez, founded Ballet Hispánico in 1970 amid the post-war civil rights movement. New York at the time was a city in turmoil; the middle class was moving to the suburbs and there was a large amount of gang activity.
Vilaro said Ramirez wanted Ballet Hispánico to offer the community an opportunity to express themselves and as a result, a group of young dancers were able to thrive as opposed to being sucked into the chaos surrounding them.
“Here was a safe space where Latinos could feel like they could do more than just be the maid in the play. They could be the leaders,” Vilaro said. “They could make their own way and also tell their own stories. She started with this handful of young ladies, and to this day, some of them will say, ‘If it weren’t for dance and Tina Ramirez, I would be a statistic from the Bronx,’ and I include myself in that as well.”
Connecting generations through dance
Vilaro joined the company as a dancer in 1985, became Ramirez’s successor as artistic director in 2009. He was promoted to CEO of Ballet Hispánico in 2015.
Vilaro said he was able to take what he learned from Ramirez’s tutelage and expand the program to new heights, all while maintaining focus on Ballet Hispánico’s commitment to education, community engagement and breaking down stereotypes.
“We still live in a world that boxes everything in, that wants to hold on to the past where people exoticized [Latin culture],” Vilario said. “So for me, it’s how to unravel some of those things through dance, through voices of choreographers that are of this generation …Those voices are fuzing cultures together and different forms of dance to create a new vocabulary, a new way of having a dialogue about what it means to be Latino.”
This week, Ballet Hispánico is in Jackson for five days of dance experiences. Presented by Dancers’ Workshop, Ballet Hispánico began their residency with bilingual immersion dance demonstrations for students at Munger Elementary School and Jackson Hole Middle School. They are also holding evening classes at Dancers’ Workshop.
Then, on Feb. 1 and 2 at The Center for the Arts, Jackson will be treated to two nights of energetic and thought-provoking dance performances as Ballet Hispánico offers four pieces exploring the cultural stories of the Latine/Latinx/Hispanic communities. The four pieces include the company’s Flamenco roots, a “rock star” ballet duet, a modern interpretation of classic Mambo and a trip to Cuba in the 1950s.
Jackson audience members can expect performances full of loud music, athleticism and beautiful costumes. For Vilaro, it’s also a chance for audience members to remove themselves from the daily routine, experience art and embrace a sense of community where all are welcome.
“This company is as much Jackson’s as it is New York’s. We are representing the United States. I’d love to be able to say I’m Cuban, but I’m not. I’m Cuban American. We come here as immigrants. We become part of the fabric of this landscape, and we’re something else altogether. I would love the audience to see what that means in the form of dance and how beautiful this expression is. And it’s theirs.”
Listen above for our full conversation with Ballet Hispanico’s Artistic Director & CEO Eduardo Vilaro.