BWW Interviews: Hilda Morales: An Extraordinary Career with Pennsylvania Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, Antony Tudor and the Hartt School of Dance
Hilda Morales was born in N.Y. City, and grew up in Puerto Rico. Her early training was with Ana Garcia of the Ballet San Juan. At 14 years of age, Ms. Morales received a Ford Foundation Scholarship to study at George Balanchine's School of American Ballet. She danced as a principal dancer with the Pennsylvania Ballet, soloist with American Ballet Theatre, artist-in-residence with the Colorado Ballet and guest appearances with Les Grands Ballets Canadiens, Albuquerque Ballet and Jacksonville Ballet. During her dancing career, Ms. Morales performed in full-length classic ballets as well as works by George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins, Agnes de Mille, Antony Tudor, John Butler, Alvin Ailey, and Jose Limon. Ms. Morales was featured in the movie The Turning Point, in the role of Sandra, directed by Herbert Ross. She guest teaches and is on the faculty of the Central Pennsylvania summer programs, and joined The Hartt School faculty in 1998.
Broadwayworld Dance recenty sat down to interview Ms. Morales.
Q. Where were you born?
A. New York City! My father came there from Puerto Rico in 1945 to study and work as a dental technician. My mother followed, they got married, and I was born a year later, at which time my parents decided to return to Puerto Rico. Both came from big families and they missed them terribly. And my mother was not a lover of the snow. We returned to Puerto Rico and lived a few blocks from the Atlantic Ocean-and 80 degree weather!
Q. Your parents were a big influence on you growing up.
A. I grew up in a family where music, singing, and dancing were very important. My father came from a family of 12 siblings and from my mother's side there were six siblings. My father played the guitar and his mother used to sing and play the flamenco guitar. When she was 15 years old she received a scholarship to study voice in Milan. Unfortunately, her father did not let her go. I think it had to do with the fact that he felt that she was too young--and the lack of money. I often wonder about her and what would have happened if she had gone.
My mother had an uncle who played the piano and a distant cousin, Mary Esther Robles, who was a well-known singer in Puerto Rico. So you can say that I was born with the arts in my blood.
Q. Who was your first dance teacher?
A. My father. As a child he taught me to dance the bolero and la danza, which is like a waltz. It's the typical traditional dance of Puerto Rico. He also taught me the cha-cha-cha, merengue, etc. From my mother I learned to love classical music, poetry, and Spanish/Puerto Rican literature. I spent most of the time dancing all over the house. Finally, when I turned 8 years old, my parents decided that I should start ballet lessons.
I started to study ballet with Ana Garcia and Juan Anduze and flamenco with Gilda Navarra at the Ballet de San Juan in Puerto Rico. Ana had studied at the School of American Ballet (SAB), which was founded by George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein. She was also one of the original members of Ballet Society, later the New York City Ballet. Juan also studied at the school. Gilda danced flamenco professionally with Jose Greco's Company in Spain. She became famous in Navarra Spain, and she later changed her last name from Garcia to Navarra. I was fortunate in having a very good basic dance training because of them; I came out with a strong background that included both classical ballet and flamenco dancing.
Q. How did you get to New York to study?
A. I always dreamed of coming back to the city where I was born. That wish came true when, in 1960, I was awarded a Ford Foundation Scholarship to study at SAB. Ana Garcia made that possible for me through her relationship with George Balanchine. I was the youngest of about 15 students to be accepted-- I was only 14 years old, and they were not accepting students any younger than 16. So luck was on my side. I loved the five years that I spent there.t was an incredible time. I was studying not only with the best, but with most of the original teachers of the school: Anatole Oboukhoff, Pierre Vladimiroff, Muriel Stuart, Helene Dudin, Felia Doubrovska, Andre Eglevsky, Antonina Tumkovsky, and the Danish dancer/teacher, Stanley Williams. They all brought to the school their own unique training and artistic qualities, not breaking away from the classical ballet pedagogical traditions. They incorporated these into the neo-classical Balanchine style of dancing. Now the school is teaching what is called the Balanchine technique, which is actually a style of dancing.
Q. What about any other teachers?
A. Through the years I've studied with other teachers and mentors who influenced my dancing: David Howard, Stanley Holden, Bobby Rodham, and Edward Caton. I have to say that I loved Stanley Holden's classes. Unfortunately, his school was in Los Angeles, so whenever American Ballet Theater, which I later joined, toured the west coast, I made sure I went right to Stanley.
His classes were technically and musically challenging. The ballet exercises were constructed so that one step flowed into the other. There was an obvious step progression and theme to his classes. Some exercises were slow and others fast to warm up the different muscles and address different movement qualities like adagio and allegro movements. We were constantly moving with beautiful port de bras (arm movements.) We did lots of turns combined with jumps covering a great deal of floor space.
Stanley's classes remind me of David Howard's. Both had been at the Royal Ballet. You could see the Frederick Ashton and Kenneth McMillan choreographic influence. Not that their classes were choreographed, but that the intricate allegro work of the English School was apparent. Stanley's classes were accompanied by pianist Michael Roberts, who played his original music compositions. A win-win situation.
Q. What was the first company you danced with?
A. The Joffrey Ballet, right after Rebekah Harkness withdrew her financial support from the company. Mr. Joffrey received a grant from the Ford Foundation, and Mr. Balanchine sent a group of students from SAB to audition for him. I was one of those students and was accepted into the company. I did not stay for very long because the company was doing a lot of contemporary work, so I left and joined the Pennsylvania Ballet.
Q. What about your experience with Pennsylvania Ballet? Tell me about the roles you danced, working with different choreographers?
A. At the Pennsylvania Ballet I was able to perform a lot of the Balanchine ballets that I had dreamed of doing while I was a student at SAB. Barbara Weisberg, founder of the company, had a close relationship with Balanchine. She had been the first child student at SAB. Years later she founded the Pennsylvania Ballet. Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein were responsible for her receiving a Ford Foundation Grant so that she could start this wonderful company.
I performed in Nutcracker (Dew Drop, Sugar Plum Fairy), Concerto Barocco (second lead), Symphony in C (3rd and 4th movement leads), Allegro Brillante (Ballerina and corps), Four Temperaments (Choleric and Sanguinic), Donizetti Variations (Ballerina and corps), Raymonda Variations (Ballerina), Pas de Dix (Ballerina and soloist), Serenade (Russian girl) and Scotch Symphony (Soloist.)
I appeared in Anna Sokolow's Time Plus. Working with Sokolow was very interesting in regards to the collaboration between the choreographer and dancer. Her dance pieces dealt, for the most part, with contemporary subjects of social criticism. She would start with a thought, and we would begin improvising on the spot. She would pick and choose movements that were interesting and appropriate for the piece. I learned a lot about not being inhibited.
I first worked with Antony Tudor at the Pennsylvania Ballet in his ballet Lilac Garden. I started in the ensemble and later performed the role of Caroline. We also performed a ballet called Cereus that Mr. Tudor had originally choreographed for the students at the Juilliard School.
Tudor was one of the most important people in my career, and I am thankful that I had the opportunity to experience his extraordinary personality; very proper English mixed with a sharp cutting wit. His choreography has very intricate steps and gestural movements that convey real inner feelings dealing with human nature and behavior.
I truly have to thank Barbara Weisberger for giving me such great opportunities. A wonderful person in every way.
Q. Tudor has always been a subject of controversy. How would you describe him?
This is a very deep question, and I hope I do justice to Mr. Tudor. I can only talk from personal experience, having spent so many hours in a dance studio with him. His ballets have their roots in the classical danse d'ecole. He took all those steps and arm movements and changed them. He would take a story and, by studying the emotions that dominated the characters in the story, convey with a subtle or big movement a walk or a run, a turn of the head, or a look that expressed conflict--the human emotion. I loved the way he weaved entrances and exits of the characters by using musical changes in the composition. His movements were intricate and so was the musical timing of the steps. He brought drama and truly human conflict to dance. The movement had to come from deep in your psyche and you had to embrace that emotion. You truly had to forget who you were and become the character. As a dancer in his ballets I would practice an arm movement or a walk over and over again until it was that character doing the movement.