When I think of the term "Hispanic" I am conscious of the fact that I'm referring to a widely diverse group of cultures. In viewing the repertory of Ballet Hispanico, I see that spectrum reflected effectively in their work. As the company prepares for their New York season at the Joyce Theater (Nov. 30-Dec. 12), I spoke with their new executive director, Marie-Louise Silva Stegall. I learned that speaking in many dialects transcends linguistics and countries of origin; in fact, it is infused into the companies inner structure as well.
Marie-Louise Silva Stegall has been with Ballet Hispanico since 2006, working as the director of development until very recently, when she made the move to executive director. I found this an important distinction because she truly understands the company and its need for a creative and collaborative approach to growth. I asked what drew her to this work.
The mission of Ballet Hispanico is to celebrate, explore, and further the dynamic aesthetic of Latino dance and culture. My personal heritage is Chilean on my father's side. This, and a life-long love of dance, has made this a wonderful place for me to focus my expertise and energies. The most important thing for me in my professional life is to work for an organization that has a mission that is meaningful to me personally. So much time and energy is devoted to the work, and it only makes sense if I can honestly say I love what I do! Ballet Hispanico is that place for me.
When asked what challenges the company currently faces, Ms. Silva Stegall responded:
"The economic climate is our biggest challenge right now -- that is true for all non-profits and most especially the arts. As a Hispanic focused organization, our relevance has never been stronger. But given the limited resources of a mid-sized organization, it can be challenging to get our message out there broadly. Our fantastic new artistic director, Eduardo Vilaro, represents our opportunity to revitalize the artistic quality of Company and School, which are both better than ever. New media is the optimum way for us to let people know about the great work this organization is offering - performances, training, outreach, and new programs to foster emerging artists choreographing culturally specific dance."
Ms. Silva Stegall shared two distinctive shifts in terms of managing growth potential and engaging their company as well as larger communities.
1) Breaking Down Traditional Structure-Silos
In 2010 the company combined their external affairs and marketing department with their development office. I believe, in today's world, this is quite possibly the best move any company can make. There is so much cross-over between two such departments, that keeping these foci separate often leads to a company that is standing in its own way.
2) Promoting Internal Integration and Cohesion
Ballet Hispanico has a professional, touring dance company, a dance school, and an education and outreach program. The three used to function fairly separately. Today however, students learn the company's repertory in dance classes, sit in on company rehearsals, and attend performances. Students in NYC public schools and centers learn pieces of repertory and the history of the company as a part of educational and community outreach programs.
Both Eduardo Vilaro, the company's artistic director, and Mercedes Pablos, the school director, are former company members and teachers. Also Rachel Watts, the Director of Education and Outreach is deeply invested in the work and message of the company. This made integrating the different branches of Ballet Hispanico an easier and more organic transition.
As for their new executive director, Ms. Silva Stegall states:
I have always been flexible about the parameters of my responsibilities -- it is vital in the arts to be comfortable wearing many hats. We have to do more with less. Now in this leadership position, I am learning to prioritize even more. It is critical to stay focused on the things that will really advance the organization -- like relationships with our supporters, and participating in events that have an impact on the field.
These changes have made the addition of and transition to new media much easier for the company and, in turn, have well positioned Ballet Hispanico to become a leader in their community as well as their field.With the prospect of an international tour on the horizon for 2011, the company is getting busier, so engage them in conversation now -- you will be glad you did.
This article is the continuation of an on-going exploration of choices and opportunities we have to better understand and participate in: health, art, education, and our communities. I look forward to continuing the conversation.