Alyssa Shi ’23: Ballet Hispanico ChoreoLaB
Through the 2023 Benenson Award in the Arts, I had the honor of attending Ballet Hispanico’s ChoreoLaB, a 2-week summer program designed for pre-professional dancers to advance their careers and immerse themselves in a professional dance experience.
About the Experience
Ballet Hispanico is the largest Latinx cultural organization in the United States. Located in New York City, their company and School of Dance aim to support Latinx dance and choreographers through performances and community outreach. Through the 2023 Benenson Award in the Arts, I had the honor of attending Ballet Hispanico’s ChoreoLaB, a 2-week summer program designed for pre-professional dancers to advance their careers and immerse themselves in a professional dance experience. During the program, I took daily company class, learned Ballet Hispanico repertory, and worked with guest choreographers to create new work. At the end of the two weeks, I performed in a culminating showing of these works.
For our BH repertory, we learned 18+1 by Gustavo Ramírez Sansano, a work he created in honor of his 19th year of choreography. The work was fast, tricky, and unlike any choreography I had done in the past. Not only was the piece difficult to perform physically due to its quickness, it was also a mental challenge. The steps were intricate and counter-intuitive, so much so that we had to learn the steps with slower music before gradually increasing the speed to the correct tempo. Performing this piece pulled me firmly out of my comfort zone, allowing me to diversify my movement quality and exercise both my brain and my body.
Additionally, we learned new pieces from Iyun Harrison and Joshua Winzeler, two Ballet Hispanico alumni. Contrasting with 18+1, which had been previously set on and performed by the BH company, these new pieces were created for the dancers in ChoreoLaB. Through the creation of these new works, we were able to work directly with choreographers and be a part of their creative process. This valuable experience gave me further insight into how pieces are created, set, and performed in short amounts of time-mimicking how professional companies must learn, rehearse, and perform new work in nearly impossible time frames.
Furthermore, the program taught me valuable skills on what it takes to be a professional dancer. One of the most important things I learned was what I would need to do to take care of both my mental and physical health when dancing full time. Furthermore, I had to develop techniques for retaining the massive amounts of choreography we were expected to learn in a short amount of time. In fact, one of my most lasting memories of this summer includes putting on my headphones on the C train, playing the music from the pieces we were learning, and reviewing all of the choreography on the way to the studio.
Ultimately, my experience with Ballet Hispanico provided me with a richer and more complete outlook on ballet and dance. This diversification was crucial to my development as a well-rounded dancer. Through the development of both my artistic and professional skills, ChoreoLaB allowed me to bridge the gap between my time at Duke and the professional dance world.