On Monday, Jen was again presented with the opportunity to chat with Orlando Ballet’s Artistic Director Robert Hill. We discussed a little of the past and a lot of the future for the company after the success of Bailamos!, a celebration of Latin Dance, which was a big hit with Central Florida’s diverse population.
JB: The recent production Bailamos! was a big success for Orlando Ballet. It was comprised of many different choreographical and musical styles. What was the most challenging aspect of its product?
RH: The most challenging… I don’t know, it’s a lot of variety in the program so I think when you have a show like that — where there are so many costume changes and its so fast-paced, and then if anybody gets injured and you have to replace somebody then it’s kind of a domino effect for such a small company– I think that that’s probably the most challenging thing: being sure that anybody that has to go out because of any injury. Although that said, I think the company really shined bright. I’m really proud of it.
JB: Yes it was such a wonderful show.
RH: Thank you.
Ballet Really Is For Everybody
JB: You and Ybeth Bruzual were delightful as hosts of the show. As an outsider looking in, I appreciated how your introductions gave context to pieces I might have otherwise not understood or enjoyed. Where did the idea for hosts come from and do you plan on doing more hosting in the future?
RH: When we originally did Bailamos in –when was it, 2009, 2010 I think it was?—we did it the same kind of way. Mostly just to use the celebrity power of Ybeth to show the Latin community and the Hispanic community that the ballet really is for everybody. And again, it was to allow time for costume changes and so forth and just to encourage people — You don’t have to know anything about anything to be able to enjoy a dance program.
I think that people feel like ‘Oh, I don’t know this, it’s for the upper echelon’ and all that. I think that we’re also going to continue to play with the idea, for example, one of our next pieces coming up is Peter and the Wolf and that is presented as a narrated progression. And I think that we’re going to continue to look at doing family-friendly one-hour shows of classics, and then have them also be narrated. We did that with Swan Lake once and had a hugely positive reaction to that.
JB: That’s fantastic. I really do enjoy narrative-driven performances.
RH: Well it’s interesting because if you think about the whole point of dance is that you’re telling a story through movement, so it’s kind of a double-edged consideration there. But I get it.
JB: Can you tell us more about Mowgli, and some of the challenges of dancing in those costumes? I understand it’s going to be very Lion King-like.
RH: Well given that we haven’t actually even had our first rehearsal yet…
JB: Oh! Whoops!
RH: I can’t comment from experience. But I do know that when I’ve worked on productions like that as a dancer, in my experience, you do have to spend quite a bit of time rehearsing, practicing, when you have a big costume to figure out how to navigate. We will definitely be setting aside a lot of rehearsal time so that we can get it right.
On Coming Back to the Stage
JB: I’m glad you mentioned your own performing. How are you preparing and getting ready for your performance in Made in the USA?
RH: You mean my performance as a person on stage? [Laughs]
RH: Well we’re going to be conducting rehearsals throughout the year. I do have a year, and I’m going to go be going up to New York periodically and while I’m there I’ll have rehearsals with Jessica herself [renowned choreographer Jessica Lange, not the actress]. And I’m just kind of looking forward to the pleasure of being able to express something that I feel I can still do with great dignity.
JB: That’s awesome. Circling back to what you mentioned about performances including the narrations, how do you decide what to keep and what not to keep from those complicated performances?
RH: I basically look at the actual story that you’re trying to tell, like for example in Swan Lake you figure out what the story is, and in Nutcracker you figure out what the story is, and in a lot of those ballets, especially the original 4-act version of Swan Lake there’s so much pomp and circumstance that goes into it, and when you really wheedle it down to what the actual story is, you can quite easily get rid of that pomp and circumstance. And some of them have really iconic moments that have lasted the test of time. So we just try to focus on that.
JB: So especially for children who might not be into the very emotional longing, they might like the high jumps and the spins that are more active. Speaking as a former child myself.
RH: No, that’s exactly right. You look at what you’re trying to gear it toward, as something that children of all ages will be able to enjoy, but also that something that adults will be able to enjoy. A lot of forethought goes into it, for sure.
On Finding Inspiration
JB: During the Bailamos! performance you mentioned Anton Chekov’s play Three Sisters inspired the work Ojala. Could you expand on your intent, and interpretation?
RH: So I left London, came back to Mexico where I was directing at the time. The essence of the energy that was created on that stage with those three characters for such long stretches of time, with nobody else interacting, with just this waiting and waiting and waiting, stayed with me. And I had been listening to a lot of this music by Chavela Vargas and her voice had such a desperation, a longing and expressiveness, that – I don’t know—I just kind of thought that putting that subject matter and the sound of her voice together and creating three archetypes rather than specific characters would give me the opportunity to come up with what I ended up coming up with. And I’m quite pleased with how it turned out.
JB: It was very beautiful.
RH: Thank you. And it’s definitely three individual performances that each of them are very committed to and I really enjoyed playing with the artistry of it, as technically it’s not that demanding in terms of the steps. So it allowed for a lot of freedom of artistic expression.
JB: What was so interesting to me was that it was three people in a room but they didn’t seem to be very interactive with each other, they were each very involved in their own personal journeys.
RH: That’s exactly right. And that was definitely part of what the actual characters in the play are experiencing as well.
JB: I just have a couple more things.
JB: Just to switch gears, I’d like to talk about Harriet’s Orlando Ballet Centre. The building will reunite the company, school, and offices. What sort of impact, if any, do you think the three being broken up has had? Do you think the three being reunited will have any impact at all?
RH: Oh God there’s no question, yes. This will be what we’ve needed ever since we were splintered. Communication – even with emails and text messages and all kinds of ways of communicating – it’s not the same when you’re not in the same building where you can just run down the hall. So communication is going to improve. And I think that it’s going to change the entire culture of the organization. I think it’s going to launch the reputation in the community to even newer heights. And also on the national and international scale. I think that it will help to keep of how things function from the top to the bottom, because we’re all in the same place and there will be this sort of, you know, protocol in place. So I’m preparing for it to become the best era in Orlando ballet’s history.
JB: Yes, when I speak to Mr. Jewell* tomorrow one of my questions for him was do you think that being centralized in the Orlando Arts scene itself – in the culture center with the museum and the Shakespeare Festival and the Mennello, do you guys have anything planned with those neighbors?
[*Shane Jewell, Executive Director of Orlando Ballet]
RH: We constantly have open doors and ears for conversations to collaborate together. You know, Orlando Ballet has been struggling with challenges because of being splintered and homeless and temporary this and temporary that so I think that once we get everything solidified and functioning properly its gonna allow us opportunities that we never thought that we could do. I want to collaborate with other companies, I want to collaborate with Washington Ballet, I want to take the company to New York… There’s so many things I want to do and yes—more local collaborations with those arts groups is definitely on the list. Always.
JB. That’s fantastic. Well Mr. Hill, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us today, I’m sorry about the confusion of the time. I was sitting at my desk waiting for the clock itself until I got the email.
RH: Any time! And thank you again for your support and your enthusiasm, and you’re welcome anytime.
JB: Thank you! Have a wonderful Monday!
Thanks so much for reading! Please tune in Friday when we speak with Shane Jewell, Executive Director of the Ballet, about his high hopes for the Orlando dance and arts community.