BWW Interview: Choreographer Michelle Manzanales Is 'Muy Excited' About Her Ballet Hispánico Debut

BWW Interview: Choreographer Michelle Manzanales Is 'Muy Excited' About Her Ballet Hispánico Debut
Tonight, Mexican-American choreographer and native Houstonian Michelle Manzanales will make her Ballet Hispánico choreographic debut with CON BRAZOS ABIERTOS.

On Friday, May 18, 2018, Society for the Performing Arts (SPA) presents the Ballet Hispánico dance company. Mexican-American choreographer and native Houstonian Michelle Manzanales will make her Ballet Hispánico choreographic debut with CON BRAZOS ABIERTOS. Manzanales's CON BRAZOS ABIERTOS adds archetypical Mexican symbols like sombreros and folkloric skirts along with quinceanera court dance to her contemporary dance piece. Also on the evening evening program, to be held at the University of Houston Cullen, is the vivid flamenco dance work LÍNEA RECTA by Belgo-Colombian Annabelle Lopez Ochoa; and CATORCE DIECISÉIS, a fresh, new contemporary dance piece from renown Mexican choreographer Tania Pérez-Salas. Below, Michelle Manzanales talks about her 15-year relationship with Ballet Hispánico, creating CON BRAZOS ABIERTOS, and performing in her hometown.


BWW: Can you characterize CON BRAZOS ABIERTOS for me?

Michelle Manzanales: CON BRAZOS ABIERTOS is a reflection of memories that I have from growing up feeling suspended in a world somewhere between my Mexican heritage and American upbringing; othered in each and always finding myself in the middle. Like a stream of consciousness writing exercise that was translated into contemporary dance language, this piece for me is a celebration and opportunity to embrace how beautifully these cultures intertwine.

BWW: How much of your personal experience did you put in CON BRAZOS ABIERTOS?

Michelle Manzanales: My personal experiences are embedded in this work in different ways; abstracted memories, images, music, movies, stereotypes. My stories were the jumping off point, but my original cast was also very much a part of the choreographic process. They shared memories of feeling othered and these stories definitely helped shape CON BRAZOS ABIERTOS as well. There are small structured improvisations within the piece where the dancers get to express their own feelings around the subject matter. I think it is because of this embedded honesty that the piece resonates with so many.

BWW: How does your Mexican-American heritage inform the work?

Michelle Manzanales: Our "cultures" are something that are part of us; we can't not be who we are. When I met Eduardo Vilaro, CEO and Artistic Director of Ballet Hispánico fifteen years ago, I think he ignited this realization within me. He allowed me the space to be who I am and provided the platform for me to voice it through this art form. In CON BRAZOS ABIERTOS, I have fun and explore some of the iconic Mexican symbols that when I was younger, I didn't necessarily, fully embrace; they manifest in the piece through the sombreros, folkloric skirts, quinceanera-like court dances and on.

BWW: Choreography and costume so often reflect cultural and environmental circumstances. A traditional dance costume with long sleeves may reflect religious values, but it also may simply reflect a cold climate. What does CON BRAZOS ABIERTOS reflect?

Michelle Manzanales: CON BRAZOS ABIERTOS shows the complexity of a contemporary Latina living in the political and social climate of today. We aren't "one" thing; we are the amalgamation of all that has shaped us along the journey, and we go way beyond the stereotype. The costume designer, Diana Ruettiger, and I worked collaboratively and focused on how each vignette in the piece would be supported by the design. The costumes are definitely a large part of the story and play a big part in how the dance unfolds.

BWW: Are you nervous about presenting your choreographic debut for Ballet Hispanico in your hometown?

Michelle Manzanales: "Me siento muy excited!" as Selena would say. I do get nervous whenever my choreography is performed, but I have done the work, so I think it's more anticipation and joy. It is definitely a surreal moment for me to bring CON BRAZOS ABIERTOS to not only my hometown, but to the University of Houston stage, where I cut my teeth as a choreographer and dancer. I owe so much to my teachers there, especially Victoria Loftin, who took me under her wing and gave me those first opportunities.

Ballet Hispánico. 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 18, 2018. Cullen Performance Hall, University of Houston, 4800 Calhoun Road. For information, please visit spahouston.org.



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From This Author Katricia Lang

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