Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month - Boston Ballet

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Celebrating Hispanic Contributions to Dance History

Erica Cornejo and Nelson Madrigal in Giselle after Jean Coralli, Jules Perrot, Marius Petipa

Photo by Rosalie O’Connor

Hispanic Heritage Month celebrates the achievements of Hispanic American and Latinx champions who have paved the way for future generations. In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month 2023, we’re highlighting a few of the many contributions our vibrant community and artists have made and continue to make on the legacy of Boston Ballet and American dance.

1953: Chilean-born and Mexican trained Lupe Serrano became the first Hispanic principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre. Her career with the Company spanned two decades and saw numerous achievements, including touring with Cuban ballet legend Alicia Alonso and dancing with superstar Rudolf Nureyev. Since her retirement in 1971, she has devoted herself to passing on her craft to the next generation of students and professional dancers.

1970: Ballet Hispánico, an American dance company based in Manhattan, New York, was founded by the Puerto Rican/Mexican American dancer and choreographer Tina Ramirez. The Company presents dances reflecting the experience of Hispanic and Latino Americans and describes itself as “the foremost dance representative of Hispanic culture in the United States.”

1986: Cuban-born choreographer José Mateo founded José Mateo Ballet Theatre in Boston. Mateo was recognized as one of the 100 most influential people in the Hispanic community in Massachusetts in the Poderometro 2007. He was also the recipient of the Massachusetts Cultural Council’s 2017/18 Commonwealth Award for Achievement, the state’s highest honor in the arts, sciences, and humanities. In 2016, Mateo was named one of Boston’s 50 Legends and Pioneers by the Get Konnected! organization.

1998: Argentinian Erica Cornejo and her brother, Herman Cornejo, were invited as guest artists to dance at a special tribute held at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York honoring both President Bill Clinton and Argentinean President Carlos Menem. Erica had been honored as a Messenger of Peace by Unesco and received a medal of honor from the U.S. chapter of Institute Belgraniano as one of Argentina’s leading dancers. She joined Boston Ballet as a principal dancer in 2006. Erica and her husband Carlos Molina from Colombia, also a former principal dancer with Boston Ballet, now serve as co-founders and artistic directors of Integrarte, a dance art movement center in Boston.

2003: Nelson Madrigal joined Boston Ballet as a principal dancer. Madrigal trained with the Cuban National Ballet School, under the direction of the famed Alicia Alonso. He joined the National Ballet of Cuba in 1994 where he was a distinguished Primer Bailarín. Madrigal is married to Lorna Feijóo, also a former principal dancer with Boston Ballet.

2004: Cuban-born Boston Ballet principal dancer Lorna Feijóo and her sister Lorena Feijóo, principal dancer with San Francisco Ballet, performed together for the first time in a one-night-only Boston Ballet performance of Swan Lake. They shared the dual role of Odette/Odile, with Lorna as Odette and Lorena as Odile, and both were partnered by Nelson Madrigal, Lorna’s husband and fellow principal dancer at Boston Ballet.

2006: Tai Jimenz joined Boston Ballet as the first Black female principal dancer, where she originated a role in Mark Morris’ Up and Down and was also seen in Val Caniparoli’s Lambarena, Jorma Elo’s Carmen, George Balanchine’s Serenade and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Bronislava Nijinska’s Les Noces, and Asaf Messerer’s Spring Waters.

2008: Actor and choreographer Jon Rua made his Broadway debut as a swing in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s first Tony-Award winning musical In the Heights. Later, Rua would become a member of the original Broadway cast of Hamilton, contributing his own voice and choreography to the show. Growing up in New Jersey as the son of two Colombian-born parents, he cites that he didn’t have the “traditional” Western dance foundation but was inspired by his Colombian heritage to stand out and succeed in the entertainment world.

Lorna Feijoo and Carlos Molina in Marius Petipa’s The Sleeping Beauty

Photo by Rosalie O’Connor

Tai Jimenez and Lorna Feijóo and in George Balanchine's Serenade ©The George Balanchine Trust

Photo by Marty Sohl

Dalay Parrondo in Hannah Bettes' In Search of Lost Time in the BB@home: ChoreograpHER program

Photo by Brooke Trisolini

2009: Evelyn Cisneros-Legate, considered one of the first Hispanic prima ballerinas, joined as principal of the North Shore Studio at Boston Ballet School. Cisneros-Legate, whose mother put her in ballet classes in an attempt to help her overcome her shyness, trained at the San Francisco Ballet School and School of American Ballet before joining San Francisco Ballet as a full company member in 1977. She danced with the company for 23 years, breaking barriers as the first Mexican American to become a principal dancer in the U.S. She is currently the director of Ballet West Academy.

2011: Diana Albrecht joined Boston Ballet following six seasons with The Washington Ballet. She was the first Paraguayan female dancer to compete at the Youth America Grand Prix as well as the first Paraguayan dancer to join two elite ballet companies in the U.S. In 2016, she was named one of El Mundo’s “30 Under 30” most influential Latino leaders in Boston. Having earned her degree with honors in Business Management through Boston Ballet’s partnership with Northeastern University, she founded Apartment No.3, a home and fashion company, in 2018.

2017: Yesenia Ayala made her Broadway debut in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. She will play Anita in West Side Story, a revival set to open on Broadway in February 2022 aimed at making the beloved production relevant in the 21st century. Ayala, a first-generation American born to Colombian parents, said in an interview with Dance Spirit Magazine, “There are not a lot of Latina roles, especially ones that dance and have such depth to them. It’s an honor and a privilege to step into these shoes.”

2019: Dalay Parrondo joined Boston Ballet School as Children’s Rehearsal Director after retiring from the Company. She began her training at age nine at Cuban National Ballet School. The recipient of numerous medals in competitions, she joined the corps de ballet of the National Ballet of Cuba in 1998. A highlight of her career in Cuba was working with Merrill Ashley for the Cuban premiere of Balanchine’s Ballo della Regina. She joined Boston Ballet as a soloist in 2004.

2021: Director Jon Chu broke barriers in Hollywood using a predominately Hispanic-based cast in his film of the Broadway musical “In the Heights.” He focused on amplifying Hispanic voices to make sure cultural nuances were embraced and highlighted in the filmmaking process, including preserving the integrity and beauty of Leslie Grace’s authentic hair and skin tone. Chu’s commitment to authenticity is depicted not only in the diversity of Hispanic casting, but also in its storyline which celebrates elements Hispanic heritage.

2022: Boston Ballet celebrates the 30th anniversary of its Citydance program with a brand-new documentary produced by NBC and Telemundo Boston. Citydance partners with the Boston Public Schools, including those rooted in the Hispanic communities, to further its institutional commitment to community education.

To Come | 2024: Full of passion, anger, and struggle, the alluring music and human storytelling of Carmen is timeless. Reimagined over centuries through theater, film, opera and dance, the story revolves around a powerful but tragic female heroine. Boston Ballet is set to perform Carmen in the 2023-2024 season.

There are many Hispanic and Latinx artists to celebrate who have impacted American dance and this article is in no way representative of the breadth of their contributions to this art form.

Learn more about Boston Ballet’s commitment to Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion.