After 23 years as Artistic Director of River North Dance Chicago, I officially retired in December 2015. Having produced more than 20 original works for the company, I now look forward to concentrating solely on my choreography, creating new works and finding new homes for my existing body of work.
I credit my early experience as a musician and my Cuban heritage for my works' musicality and passion. Over the years, I have used a wide variety of music, but my process is always the same. When I first hear a piece of music, I'm flooded with emotion and the desire to produce something that replicates that feeling. Then I listen to it thousands of times, developing a very intimate relationship until the music becomes a part of me. Most often I have no idea what I want to do until I get into the studio to work with the dancers. Slowly but surely it starts to take shape and reveal itself, all through a very collaborative experience. I’m always most interested in pushing boundaries and peeling back layers to understand the very essence of the people with whom I am working. It’s important to know both the dancer and the person. Bringing both to light offers you the greatest potential in the creative process.
I most recently restaged two older works and created two world premieres, one of which was my first foray into the ballet world creating my first piece on pointe. I was thrilled and couldn’t get enough! It felt like a natural progression for me. My past work, mostly jazz and contemporary has always required considerable ballet technique. I’ve always appreciated the ballet aesthetic and the unparalleled ethereal quality of being on pointe. While I will never give up my choreographic roots and will continue to work in all disciplines, I am particularly excited to try my hand at ballet, contemporary in nature.
As a performer, I have danced with Ballet Concerto of Miami, New York's Ballet Hispanico, Giordano Dance Chicago, and six years with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago where I worked with choreographers such as Twyla Tharp, Margo Sappington, Daniel Ezralow, Lynne Taylor-Corbett, David Parsons and Lou Conte. In 2000, I received a Ruth Page Dance Achievement Award for Mission, co-created with Sherry Zunker, Co-Artistic Director Emerita of River North, in honor of the Company's 10th anniversary. I was also recognized with a 2008 Choo-San Goh Award for Choreography from the Choo-San Goh & H. Robert Magee Foundation for Tuscan Rift. I had the great honor and privilege of being named “Chicagoan of Year in Dance” by The Chicago Tribune in 2014.
At the same time, for more than 10 years, I have been dealing with a degenerative spinal cord disease, syringomyelia, which in my case has no known cause and no known cure. After my second surgery, in 2010, things deteriorated quickly, and now I’m in a wheelchair indefinitely.
It's been quite the journey — of all things, a dancer and choreographer losing his physicality, accompanied by a multitude of symptoms that manifest into chronic pain, make it much more than losing the use of my legs. However, the one thing this disease cannot take away is my imagination. So long as I have that and there is music, I can continue to create.
Collaborating with dancers and a significantly reconfigured creative process, I continue to produce the highly musical, emotionally gripping dances that are my passion and hallmark. This is reflected in Havana Blue and Eva created in 2013 as well as my poignant men's piece, In the End, my first piece fully created from a wheelchair in 2014, as well as my most current works.