From Charlie Brown to the cha-cha
Eduardo Vilaro, artistic director of the sensational Ballet Hispanico, was in the eighth grade in St. Margaret Mary’s school in New York when he first heard the word "choreographer."
“I had no idea what that was,” he says. “I remember there was a temporary teacher, an actor who was hired to bring the arts into the school. We were putting on a play. It was You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown, and I was chosen to play Linus. When we were rehearsing, the teacher said, ‘Look I’m an actor; I don’t know anything about choreography.’ I remember saying, 'But I’m Linus; I have to dance with a blanket.' And him saying, ‘Well, you’ll have to make up that up yourself.’”
Turns out being a choreographer wasn’t that difficult for him, even as a very young teenager. A Cuban refugee who had come to New York with his family, Eduardo says he was always dancing, socially, at parties and family gatherings. But then, so was everyone else in his family. He just didn’t know people did that for a living. It was that eighth-grade onstage “glorious” experience that he says “catapulted” him into the art form of dance.
Now, even after years of working in collaboration with major dance and design artists, extraordinary musicians like Tito Puente and Paquito D’Rivera, and major orchestras like the Chicago Symphony, Eduardo still cherishes the moments when he can work with children, savoring their delight in the art form he adores.
He is no stranger to this city. He has been visiting and working with the children of New Orleans since 1991, teaching in the New Orleans Ballet Association's intensive summer program, encouraging students to follow their dreams. He was here the week before Hurricane Katrina, and he returned the summer immediately after.
“We were a bit of a ragtag bunch, finding places to hold classes,” he says. “Some of the dancers who came that summer went out to help Habitat for Humanity. It is those experiences of art and community that keep me doing the work I do.”
On Saturday, Eduardo’s company will steam up the inside of Mahalia Jackson Theater as the troupe presents a program of high-octane dance works, accompanied by the live musicians of the incomparable Grammy Award-winning Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra.
But that’s not all they will be doing. After days of bilingual workshops in schools in Jefferson, St. Bernard and Orleans parishes and a master class for students of the NORD/NOBA Center for Dance, Eduardo and his company will again be right in the middle of the community. Because, following the main stage performance on Saturday, Eduardo and his artists, along with an ensemble from the Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra, will keep the party going at a post-performance Latin Dance Party. It takes place in the lobby of the Pan American Life Center at 601 Poydras St., beginning at 9:30.
For information about Saturday’s Ballet Hispanico performance at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in Mahalia Jackson Theater, as well as the Latin Dance Party after, go to www.nobadance.com or www.ticketmaster.com.
Then put on your dancing shoes and get ready to party.
Sharon Litwin is president of NolaVie.