Michelle Manzanales’ Mexican-American heritage is a constant theme weaving through her work as a teacher and choreographer. Especially when it comes to the music she chooses. “Dance class is where my love for music grew, so for me it’s important to expose students to all kinds of music.”
Being a part of Ballet Hispánico for more than seven years, first as a rehearsal director and artistic associate and now as director at the BH school, she naturally aligned with the company’s core values of inclusion, diversity and fusion. “The company has exposed me to so many wonderful international music artists, like Susana Baca, Natalie LaFourcade, Carla Morrison, Chavela Vargas and Paquito D’Rivera, and the list goes on and on,” Manzanales says. At Ballet Hispánico’s New York spring season this year, she premiered her first work for the company, Con Brazos Abiertos. The piece explored the theme of her diverse background and being divided between two cultures. The work featured an array of music selections, from a cover of the popular Mexican song “Maria Bonita,” by Julio Iglesias, to a cover by Ember Island of Radiohead’s “Creep.” “As a choreographer, I know it’s the right song when I can see the dance in my head,” she says.
BH performing Con Brazos Abiertos at The Joyce Theater in New York. Photo by Paula Lobo, courtesy of BH
As a teacher, she trains her dancers to be performing artists in the classroom, a lesson that is enhanced by the music. “Different sounds pull out different emotions and energy, so the exercises don’t always feel the same,” she says. “When your dancers are inspired by the music to express themselves through movement, you know you have the right song.”