This August Eduardo Vilaro took over as artistic director of Ballet Hispanico, succeeding founding director Tina Ramirez, who guided the company for 38 years. While a vibrant dancer with the company from 1988 to 1996, Vilaro assisted Ramirez in creating and implementing arts education and outreach programs in New York City. Teaching has been in the Cuban-born director’s blood for years—he has taught classes around the globe, from Europe to South America.
After training at The Ailey School and Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance, Vilaro furthered his dance training with a BFA in dance from Adelphi University and an MA from Columbia College Chicago. In 1999 he established the Chicago-based Latin-infused contemporary dance company Luna Negra, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this month.
Luna Negra will continue in Vilaro’s vision, led by the current Rehearsal Director Michelle Manzanales for the time being. Vilaro hopes Luna Negra and Ballet Hispanico can collaborate in the future to further expand Latino culture’s influence on dance. Now that he is returning to his roots at Ballet Hispanico, Vilaro discusses his views on teaching and how they will impact his leadership of the company.
Dance Teacher: Do you plan to make changes at the company’s school?
Eduardo Vilaro: I really want to create training that follows the vision of the company. This would be a strong classical line and understanding of the classical technique; the weight of a strong modern dancer with a lot of flow and a lot of knowledge of floor work; and of course having a strong background in the various Latino dance forms. During my first tenure at BH as a dancer, we had a distinct flamenco flair, so I absolutely plan to strengthen the flamenco program. The pedagogy of flamenco for a young dancer is excellent because the torso articulates in a way that is not Afro-Caribbean, but it still enhances the spine in that same style. Dancers develop a supple, eclectic back and a signature look.
DT: Will you expand the outreach programs?
EV: I want to work on the challenges we have concerning the arts in public schools, particularly dance, to find new ways of developing curricula that will help inform young minds. You can’t create a dancer out of outreach work, but you can create better people—people who are open and have different perspectives.
DT: What do you have in store for the company?
EV: This season will begin with three brand-new works. They take a different look into the world of Latino-inspired dance, with European and American accents. I am very interested in choreographers with a Latin background, with an authentic point of view, rather than trying to revisit cultural icons.
DT: Who has been the most influential person in your teaching career?
EV: I trained at Adelphi University, and Norman Walker ran the program there. As a teacher, I learned so much from him. He had a wonderful style of rigor and compassion and was so particular and detail-oriented. He mixed nurturing aspects with a strong discipline.
DT: Was there anything in your training that helped you become the director you are now?
EV: I had a very eclectic training and that gave me a breadth of perspective as opposed to someone who is trained in one genre. My feeling is that to develop as a dancer, you need to try different styles and techniques at some point, when you are ready. Doing so also helped me learn history and appreciate legacy. Dance is an artform that is passed on visually and vocally.
DT: What do you notice about dance training today that teachers could improve on?
EV: Teachers need to make sure they give a total awareness of their dance environment. Even though it is about technique, the teachers I learned from taught me about life and art, and they really opened my eyes to understanding dance as an artform—it’s not just about a tendu.
DT: How would you describe your teaching philosophy?
EV: Transparency is very important to me. If I don’t know something, I have to continue to be a student and do the research to give proper information to the students. Sharing my passion is my philosophy. If you share passion, they will perform with passion. DT
Joseph Carman writes about dance and the arts. He is the co-author of Round About the Ballet.
Photo by Cheryl Mann, courtesy of Ballet Hispanico