Choreographer Rosie Herrera Reinvents the Showgirl for Ballet Hispanico
Rosie Herrera learned young that a show girl is never the star of the show. As a teenager working the cabaret at the Teatro Bellas Artes in Little Havana in the early aughts, she posed prettily on the side of the stage, jutting out her hip to display her costume, and extending her arms to frame the featured comedian. She never forgot what if felt like to be a piece of sexy scenery.
Photo by Paula Lobo Rosie Herrera instructs her "showgirls."
"You have a humungous emotional experience, and you have to suppress it for the greater good -- or, in this case, for the prettier picture," she says in an interview a few days before the premiere at the Arsht Center of the Performing Arts this weekend of her new work, "Show.Girl."
See also: Rosie Herrera: Dancing Queen
Even after achieving success as a choreographer for the concert stage, with her work commissioned by prestigious presenters such as the Arsht Center and the American Dance Festival, Herrera kept thinking about the flourishes and poses of her showgirl days. The memories were all the more poignant not only because she outgrew her old job, but because the whole profession appeared to be dying out as the old-style spectacles have given way to never-ending Celine Dion concerts, Cirque de Soleil shows, and superstar club DJs.
Photo by Paula Lobo
At first, Herrera planned for "Show.Girl" to be a series of autobiographical solos performed by former showgirls and showboys from Havana, Miami, and Las Vegas, all forced by the changing entertainment industry to move on to new professions. "Show.Girl" would finally give them a chance to take center stage.
But Herrera's plans took another direction in 2012, when she participated in the Choreography Institute hosted by the Ballet Hispanico, the foremost Latino dance company in the United States.
In a phone interview from the company's offices on Manhattan's Upper West Side, artistic director Eduardo Vilaro explains that he established the Institute to "enable emerging Latinos and Latinas to create work." He invited Herrera to the institute after seeing a video excerpt of her work, "Dining Alone."
"Her images were so intoxicating," he recalls. "I loved how she used an ordinary, everyday activity to create a profound piece of art."
The Institute turned out to be a big challenge for Herrera, who had created all of her earlier work in Miami, over a period of years, with a tightknit group of frequent collaborators. Now she had just a few weeks to establish a relationship with a group of dancers who not only did not know her, but who were also unfamiliar with the world of the showgirl.
Herrera showed the Ballet Hispanico dancers video of cabaret shows, and other popular Latin entertainment that presented women as decoration, such as the "Gatitas de Porcel" -- the "kitty cats" who appeared on the television show of Argentine comic Jorge Porcel. While putting together a section of "Show.Girl" inspired by the Gatitas, Herrera says she asked the dancers to "dissect" the kitty cat's movements.
Present to me your glorified hip, she commanded. Put your shoulder on display.
The dancers' rigorous training allowed them to respond with movements few showgirls could ever attempt.
"The high level of dancers allowed me to take a lot of physical risks," Herrera observes, allowing her to express the emotional intensity of the showgirl experience through the dancers' technical virtuosity.