An Interview with Pedro Ruiz
- Offstage with the Dancers
167 West 89th Street
NY, NY 10024
By Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
December 15, 2002
Originally Published on ExploreDance.com
Pedro Ruiz, a dancer with Ballet Hispanico, has choreographed three pieces for this Company, all relating to the music and culture of his native Cuba. Guajira, Club Havana, and Cecilia have been all performed this Winter Season at the Joyce Theater. Mr. Ruiz has been a member of Ballet Hispanico for 17 years and received the Bessie Award in 1998 as a long-time dancer with the Company, which was founded by and is artistically directed by Tina Ramirez. Pedro Ruiz is the subject of this Inside Perspective.
Roberta Zlokower and Pedro Ruiz sat down over Cappuccino at Cuba Libre, 165 Eighth Avenue, btw. 18th and 19th Streets, NYC, 212.206.0038, after the matinee performance of Ballet Hispanico. Tina Ramirez, Artistic Director, joined us for the beginning of our conversation.
REZ - Thank you for joining us, Ms. Ramirez. Tell me how you are feeling at the end of this Winter Season at the Joyce.
TR - I'm very sad that today is the last day at the Joyce. We've had two weeks of full-house audiences and superb dances. What else could an Artistic Director ask for more than a full house? It's so wonderful to be appreciated. There was full rapport, and it was thrilling to watch and see this happen.
REZ - What are your plans for the Company between now and your next NYC engagement?
TR - As you know from our Calendar in our Website (See Website), we are very highly booked in February and March. We have a new project planned, called "Nightclub". We also have new lecture/demonstrations planned for young audiences. And, we are preparing for our residency at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs in June. At Skidmore, there will be pre-professionals taking our workshops for the month of June, and we will be teaching dance technique and the creative process. There will be many evening events.
REZ - As an alumna of Skidmore College, I look forward to covering part of your June residency in person and showing you some of the special corners and hideaways in Saratoga Springs. Thank you so much for joining us, and Happy Holidays.
REZ - Pedro, please tell me something about Club Havana.
PR - It was inspired by Latin social dancing in the early days of Cuba. It's about the culture and the way people loved to dance. To put this altogether, I used music that was very popular here, like Machito, a wonderful musician, who performed at the Palladium. He played in all the nightclubs and with Tito Puente. I'm proud to be born on an island that had Son (the mother of Salsa), Mambo, Cha Cha, and Bolero. I'm exuberant about the culture and the sexuality of this music. I had the women smoking cigars, which is a very sophisticated double entendre for a Latino dancer.
REZ - Tell me about Guajira, which I saw and loved today.
PR - Guajira was my first choreography for the Company. I always wanted to do something about the countryside. Every Sunday morning, when I was a boy, it was my turn to go at 5AM to the country. The grass there was still a little wet. My grandfather went to wake up the cows and animals. I thought of how to begin this ballet. I used an image that's my vision of seeds, like lima beans, growing out of the soil. Guajira means the woman of the countryside. This type of music has a very strong influence. After the whole day of working, the women come from the mountain to wash the clothes. These are strong images. I used the sexuality of their soft hips, like the wind, blowing the fields with soft, sensual movement.
REZ - Tell me why you created a Totem effect, with the women riding on the men's shoulders.
PR - I wanted to create an image of a woman riding a mule, coming down the hills on the men (metaphorically the mules). They support the weight of the woman. Part of the dance is to make magic. (The dancers like my work). The explosion at the end of the day of hard work is a Guateque, which is a party, with palmas (clapping) and cahones (wooden boxes) and many other instruments and bells.
REZ - Now let's talk about Cecilia.
PR - This ballet was very difficult, like a three act ballet, which I had to make into 30 minutes. I had to create a story about the life and love of Cecilia. It was also about the relations of Candido and his relations with the mother of Leonardo and the mother of Cecilia (shown in the Prologue). The father and the African character of Destiny are the only ones, who know the truth, and the father steered his son away from his half sister, Cecilia, and he tried to get him to marry aristocracy.
REZ - How did you choose Jennifer DePalo (cast as your wife) as your partner for the duet?
PR - I love to dance with her. I feel very comfortable with her, and with these characters we live the moment. I don't think in steps. I live the moment.
REZ - I loved the smoky atmosphere.
PR - I only used three lamps and no sets to create where we were in place and time. I needed all the support from the dancers and all the support from the light. This was dramatic effect.
REZ - It was fascinating the way you had the two women, who loved Leonardo, turn their backs, so they did not see each other with him during their dances.
PR - It was a double effect, like a movie in two dimensions. It took me three weeks to create this ballet, with all the choreography. It was two years in my mind, while I created it and had to find the music. I wanted to use both classical music and music of the culture of Cuba. I always listen to music and can put it into my work. I am always looking for interesting music that goes with movement that I like. Musicality is very important. The whole production took three weeks, including costumes and lighting. I imagined that Cecilia could get more rich, like fine wine. It got better with each performance.
REZ - What are your goals for yourself now that this Winter Season at the Joyce is over?
PR - I'm very happy how my life is going. When I left Cuba, it was very difficult for me. I also left Venezuela. Inside my heart, I always knew I wanted to dance. This (choreography) is my new beginning again in life. I am very happy with the result of my work. Things are coming in the right moment. I can still dance and choreograph. I'm very grateful that I'm building a second career and still dancing. To dance in my own choreography and then in someone else's choreography on the same night, I need to be very centered.
REZ - What did you feel was the high point tonight, while you danced in your own choreography of Cecilia?
PR - The duet was very special. I loved Jennifer's fan-like skirt, and it was a very big satisfaction to see the dancers doing my work. They took my work to a new dimension, and it was very satisfying.
REZ - Thank you, and have a wonderful trip to Miami.
Tina Ramirez, Founder and Artistic Director of Ballet Hispanico, Roberta Zlokower, and Pedro Ruiz, Choreographer and Dancer