Q: What has dance taught you that you've applied to your everyday life and how you engage with the world?
I think dance has taught me many things. I think you're born with a gift. I think you are blessed with a gift (as an artist.) And it's what you do with it that is most important. Dance has taught me discipline. It also has allowed me to really discover things about myself that I don't think I would have discovered had I pursued another career. Because I did have a crossroads, I was going to be a chiropractor or a dancer. So I think (dance) has really brought me closer to who I am.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about your approach to choreographing new shows? Specifically “On Your Feet” when you went to Cuba to study the Afro-Cuban diasporic dance?
When I was approached about choreographing “On Your Feet'', of course I was elated because both Emilio and Gloria Estefan are huge idols to us all. They are mentors; they're iconic and more than anything they have set a beautiful example for all of us by exemplifying the immigrant story. So I felt like it was very important for me to do right by their lives. Born in Colombia, I grew up dancing salsa as a kid. Always dancing socially, all latin dances. We move differently in Columbia, and I thought, you know, if I'm going to choreograph this show, I really need to dig in deeper and discover what it is about, you know, how Cubans move. What is the essence of their music and their movement? I wanted to learn all about Afro Cuban dance. And let it wash over me and empower me. So, when it got tough and when it came time for me to do my pre-production, and then choreographing the show, you know, I would be empowered by having all of that research and all that knowledge.
Q: You said in the University of Michigan Chat Box series, that as a choreographer you are one of the authors of the show. Can you elaborate what you meant by that?
I think all choreographers must understand and I think we all do that. You know, I think there's a very basic saying in musical theater, “When you can’t say it anymore, you sing it. And when you can’t sing it anymore, you dance it.” I think I take that very seriously, and that it is important for me that by the end of a dance number, the audience has learned something about the characters, something about the story, or something that propels the story forward through dance and through words. I compare words to steps, I compare words to movement. So, in essence you know, the choreography, the vocabulary, the movement, the steps are the words that allow the story to be told.
Q: How do you think that dance and theater can be used as a platform for social justice issues?
I'm working on several projects that involve immigration in this country, specifically the undocumented stories. I am taking it upon myself to make sure that I'm in the forefront of telling those stories. Once I begin to choreograph the show, I will begin to really understand more of the responsibility I have in that movement. So in essence, I'm already beginning to create the awareness to begin to explore and investigate what choreography is in a political piece.
I do have one example specifically so up to 10 years ago, I was approached by a composer by the name of Gustavo Santaolalla. He's a two time Academy Award winner. He's also Argentinian. He was a big huge rock star back in the 70s when he created this rock tango group called “Bajo Fondo.” They have the most beautiful and exquisite music. And he approached me about creating a piece using the music. And so I brought on John Weidman, who is an extraordinary, very prolific book writer for musicals (he works as Stephen Sondheim’s partner in a lot of his shows such as “Pacific Overtures” and “Assassins.”) John also worked with Susan Stroman on “Contact.” So I brought John on board and we created this piece that actually tells the story of The Disappeared in Argentina during the 70s. So in essence, again, I took it upon myself to make sure that I told the story that was about the Latinx community. We also took social issues, social injustices, and put them on stage to be able to create awareness amongst audiences.
Q: Can you talk broadly about how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected you as an artist and the communities that you're in?
Luckily, what happened with me was that I was about to begin developing a number of shows that I'm creating right now, and they're all in different stages of development. That means that some of them are being written by the writer or we're in search of the composer or we're looking for a lyricist. So we're having creative discussions for five of those projects. So, I didn't need to go to the rehearsal room. All of my meetings were creative meetings, which I can do over Zoom or Skype. But I am a very physical person. And what it (the pandemic) has done is I feel very caged off. I go through an array of emotions daily. I try to balance it. My two year old son keeps me grounded. He keeps me real. But I can't deny that I share in everybody's fears. Everybody is at times sad, but at other times I’m inspired by my peers that are doing beautiful things to promote people's joy (during this time.)
My husband, for instance, Jack Noseworthy is working for Broadway Cares Equity Fights AIDS, and has been working for over a year and a half now. But he's been in the trenches, raising funds for the Actors Fund. They're close to raising almost $4 million for the Actors Fund. So when I see people do all of those things, I'm very moved by humanity. Or just simple things like a friend of mine is delivering meals to homeless people and he's making them sandwiches. Or the simple gesture of all of us going out of our windows every day and banging on our pots in support of all the health workers, all the people on the front lines. So, you know, it's multi-fold this answer on how it has affected me, what I'm doing. We're all finding ourselves in a situation where most of us have not lived through a war, and most of us aren’t old enough to have lived through the previous pandemic which was in 1918. For all of us this is all brand new, and so it's beautiful to see how united we’ve become, how compassionate we've become.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about what process you were in when New York City started to shut down and what that looked like for you?
Well actually I just came back from Cleveland attending Cleveland Playhouse Square which has the largest subscription in all of America, in fact, I think in all over the world now they have 48,000 subscribers. So they were doing a big launch on the Monday of that week, eight weeks ago exactly, and I was there with other other artists that I know and they were launching their 2020-2021 season with “Moulin Rouge”, “The Prom” and of course, “Ain’t Too Proud”. I remember there being this really joyful atmosphere; people being so incredibly excited about what the future held. Little did we know. Especially me: I arrived in New York on a Wednesday and was supposed to land, come home, drop off my bags, and then go to auditions for the tour of “Ain’t Too Proud”. And I found out that the auditions were canceled. I was then going to go to the theater. Then I found out that they were not going to have a show that night. So all of a sudden, everything, everything just stopped.
Later that night, I found out that my other show that was Off-Broadway, “Jersey Boys”, was not going to perform that day. And the other companies of “Jersey Boys” (there were two other companies on the road), “On Your Feet” in London, and “A Bronx Tale” (which was still on tour) stopped performances as well. “Summer” was also on tour and stopped performances a couple days later. So in the period of less than 24 hours, seven of my shows had stopped. I stopped going on the train. And I can see how, you know, the energy changed and the mood changed. We also have somebody in my building (one of my neighbors) who is a really wonderful and generous woman (her name is Jung Song), she's South Korean and she has friends in the government and family in South Korea. So she was keeping us abreast of what was happening. So we had already done all of our grocery shopping so we were prepared but it's been very, it's been eerie. To not see anybody walk in the streets...for all of us to be slightly skittish when we walk down the sidewalk. That's when it was just the beginning of it all.
Q: What does the daily routine look like for you?
During the pandemic, anywhere between 5am and 6am, my two year old boy wakes up. So my husband and I take turns every other day waking up with him. So all focus goes to Lucas. Our nanny lives in Staten Island, so she hasn't been able to be here with us. So I became the nanny. So it is Lucas-centric. He actually decided to go through his terrible twos the day we locked ourselves in, so this has been very challenging. But I've also had to do all the cooking in the house. I've never cooked in my life. So I've had to learn a new trade. I've never thought I would ever even cook so I have become very resourceful. I think cooking takes a lot of patience. I don't have that kind of patience. I have patience when I'm working but not for when I'm cooking. I've become very patient. I go for a run during my lunch hour. I make sure that I do something physical every day. And then of course I do yoga, my own stretching because I have to stay in shape. Because when the doors open and when everything returns to some “new normal”, I will have to get going. Lucas goes to bed at 8:00p/8:30p. By the time I get to 8:00p/8:30p I'm zonked but I have to do research or read or what have you on my other projects and then go to bed at 10:30p and start all over again. I also have a lot of creative meetings during the day for all the other projects.
Q: What would you like to see change and shift after this pandemic ends in the performing arts world in terms of diversity, equity and inclusion?
You know, the only thing that I'm political about is immigration. There are things I would like changed within my profession. Things like getting the associate choreographers recognized, having them protected through our union (SDC). That is something that I feel is very important. As a matter of fact, there was a huge meeting yesterday at the SDC with all of the key players, directors and choreographers in our community, unfortunately I couldn't be there because I was in a Zoom meeting. However I talked to my friend Jeremy Toll afterwards. So that is something that is very important to me.
My cause is outside of musical theater. It is and it is not. My cause is about immigration, it's about undocumented immigrants. And what I'm doing is trying to figure out how I can educate as many people as I can about the status of immigration here in America: the unfairness and legislation, the censorship, the red tape that needs to be dealt with at some point. Unfortunately, we've come to this moment where it'll fall to the wayside. I mean, I'm not a political guy when it comes to my art. I've been very fortunate. I've been very lucky. I think everything is up for renewal and re-evaluation. I think right now, in the next few years for theater to flourish again, we are all going to have to, again, revisit fees, salaries, union dues, what the musicians union demands, what the unions demand, what the actors demand, what the theater owners demand, and what us creatives demand. I think that it is all up for reinvention for renewal in order for people to come to the theater. It's a whole new world (due to the pandemic), you know, how September 11th changed the way we travel? I think this is what that will become.
Q: What are you working on now during this time?
So working on a number of projects as well as “On Your Feet”. I really wanted to be on the front lines of making sure that Latinx stories are being heard and are being produced. So I'm working on a number of projects. One of them is based on a book by Carlos Air called “Waiting for Snow in Havana”. The author is Cuban. It's a beautiful story. It's about the Pedro Pan kids. When Fidel Castro took over in the late 50s, a lot of parents sent their kids by themselves, basically orphaned, to Miami. They thought that Fidel would only be in power for two or three months, but it turned out to be much longer. Some of them sent their kids when they are 4,5, and 6 years old. It's a beautiful story. It's beautifully told from Carlos’ point of view because he was a Pedro Pan kid.
I'm also working on a project with a producer named Peggy Koenig. We're working on a project right now called “Lives in Limbo”, based on a book written by a Harvard law professor, named Roberto Gonzales. He followed 150 undocumented immigrants and he wrote a book of their lives. It’s a beautiful, beautifully written book. So that's been adapted (to a play). And it's being written by a young writer by the name of Christina Quintana. I’m very excited about that. I'm also working on another project based on a movie called “Real Women Have Curves”. It is based on a play by Josefina Lopez. My husband and I are producing it with Barry Weissler as well. We're in the process of working with our creative team. We are working with a young Mexican duo singer group, which I can't say anything about yet and a young writer. But that is really exciting because what “Real Women Have Curves” does is it reminds me of all the Latin women in my life. My mom, my sister, my aunt's: women who fought and worked so hard in their lives for me to be able to get, you know, to do these things. Who made the sacrifices so I can have the life that I've had. So those are three shows that I'm very excited about. And then the last one I'm working on is a piece based on a movie from the 70s called “The Harder They Come”. Based on a Jimmy Cliff film using his soundtrack is written by Suzan-Lori Parks, and I'm co-directing with Tony Taccone. Those are the things that are in the pipeline right now.