Ballet Hispánico looks to wow, surprise Penn State audience

Ballet Hispánico, a contemporary dance company, will perform Oct. 17 at Eisenhower Auditorium.
Ballet Hispánico, a contemporary dance company, will perform Oct. 17 at Eisenhower Auditorium. Photo provided

When Ballet Hispánico takes the stage Oct. 17 at Penn State’s Eisenhower Auditorium, artistic director Eduardo Vilaro said the audience should “expect the unexpected” and leave their assumptions at the door.

The show is presented by the Center for the Performing Arts at Penn State.

“Our name is Ballet Hispánico, which conjures up many different assumptions,” Vilaro said.

Some may assume they’re coming to see a ballet or Latin dance performance, but Ballet Hispánico identifies solely as neither.

“We’re a contemporary dance company that fuses our cultural essences with strong classical line and beautiful contemporary movement,” Vilaro said.

This is a particularly special performance, as it features works by an all-Latina group of choreographers.

“All the choreographers are female choreographers that have been working to get their voices out into the dance field,” Vilaro said. “I’ve been lucky that I have a platform that I can give these young, emerging artists ... the possibilities of creating work. It’s a beautiful program, full of many perspectives.”

The way Vilaro sees it, the current climate of the dance world is begging for female leadership and to tip the scales differently.

“The dance field is a very male leadership-centric field. That has a lot to do with our history in dance — it was always about the ballet master, which was always a male, training women and women could be ... everything, but not leaders,” he said.

This aspect of the show likewise fits well into the CPA’s season theme: “I Am Woman.”

“The theme ‘I Am Woman’ is a celebration of women in the arts,” said Laura Sullivan, director, marketing and communications, CPA. “The idea for a season theme developed very organically for me as I began my usual research on each of the artists that we are presenting. ... From musicians, to vocalists and composers, to choreographers, dancers, artistic directors and writers, what I found in front of me was a list of women who use artistic expression to speak up, stand up and tackle issues of social justice, race, equality, gender and identity.”

Tina Ramirez, who founded Ballet Hispánico almost 50 years ago, was a force in the dance world, Sullivan said, “and so are the women who choreographed the pieces that will be performed in the program we are presenting.”

“The Ballet Hispanico program consisting of three works choreographed by three outstanding female choreographers, Annabelle Lopez Ochoa, Michelle Manzanales and Tania Pérez-Salas, falls nicely into place with our season theme but it also ties to the Center’s diversity and inclusion collaborative which seeks, among other things, to influence thinking so we become a community that embraces diversity and promotes inclusion,” Sullican said.

Vilaro’s thoughts on Ballet Hispánico nearly mirrors Sullivan’s description of the collaborative.

“This organization and company is about inclusion and diversity, in all its beauty, and how we can share in each other’s cultures and not feel segregated or tribal, but feel welcomed and invited into the cultural dialogue.”

Ballet Hispánico has been hard at work on this particular performance for about three years and the results are spectacular. Vilaro said his favorite aspect of the performance is in the way the dancers communicate with the audience.

“My personal favorite part of the show is seeing the dancers. They’re just great communicators. There are moments in each of the works where they touch the audience,” he said.

And the main reaction Vilaro hopes the audience walks away with? “Wow! That really took me by surprise.”

If you go

What: Ballet Hispánico

When: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 17

Where: Eisenhower Auditorium, University Park

Info: www.cpa.psu.edu