An Interview with Ivonne Batanero
BY EMMALY WIEDERHOLT
Ivonne Batanero is a dancer and choreographer in Miami, Florida. As part of a special dialogue in honor of National Hispanic Heritage Month, Ivonne reflects on her experience going back to her native Peru to perform and teach as an American, and how she aims to challenge perspectives through her choreography.
When you’re choreographing, do you work from a political, social or personal place, or a mix?
It definitely comes from a personal place. I like to turn on music and dance whatever I feel at the moment, filtering out whatever else I have to do that day or week. It feels like putting the primer on a canvas. From there, I settle on a specific feeling I’m trying to capture. I’ll work with a song on repeat for hours just to help me create movement, even though the movement isn’t necessarily to the music.
Is it important to you to be recognized as a Hispanic/Latina or female choreographer, or do you see the modifiers as a form of tokenism?
It’s important for me to be recognized as Peruvian. I was born in Peru and, though I was raised in the United States, I still identify as being Peruvian. I feel strongly about my culture.
Beyond that, it’s more important for me to be recognized for who I am as a person. I don’t want to be a token. It’s more important for me to be seen as a human being than any one label. Obviously, I’m a minority, but I don’t really pay that much attention to those things.
In your experience, do you feel there are enough opportunities for Hispanic/Latina dance artists, or would you like to see more?
I would definitely like to see more. It obviously gives me an advantage in terms of performance and funding opportunities. And not just opportunities for me, but for minority artists in general.
There are a lot of Latino artists in Miami, so many of the people who get community grants are of color. In that respect, I feel the county does a good job representing a variety of artists. Then again, the majority of artists here are of color, so I don’t know if I would necessarily call the county progressive… I have to think about that one.
What’s your background in dance? Did you ever feel like your heritage was incongruous with your dance training?
I started in middle school and high school taking jazz, lyrical and ballet. I had no idea what modern dance was until after I graduated high school. After high school, I had to decide whether or not to continue with dance. My parents didn’t feel like dance was a real career. In South America, Western dance is seen as an upper-class hobby. But I decided to pursue dance anyway. In college, I discovered modern and contemporary, and eventually found my way into a conservatory.
If I had been raised in Peru, I would have taken Afro Peruvian or La Marinera, which is a folk dance. That would have been very commendable. A proper lady knows how to do her culture’s dance, and it would have been considered very impressive for her family. I would have loved to learn those dances, but they weren’t available to me. My mom always spoke about me training in Peru, but we didn’t have the means. To this day, I still want to learn those forms, but it’s just finding the time to learn and understand a new form. My mom knew how to dance Afro Peruvian, but she never taught me. I don’t know why, but I wonder if she didn’t feel confident. Or maybe it just seemed out of place in the United States.
When you presented your work in Peru, what kind of reception did you receive?
That was a very interesting experience. I was excited because I was going to my birthplace to perform on my birthday. It was a big deal for me. I had no idea what the audiences there were used to, so I didn’t know what to expect.
My piece was in a showcase with other pieces. I was curious to see how the work would be received. What I found was confusing. The audience was very quiet, which perplexed me. To be honest, I think most of the audience members were friends or family members of other performers and, when it was my turn, none of my family was able to make it. I didn’t feel as welcomed, and that was hard and humbling. They seemed to have enjoyed it, but there was an awkward silence. I’m not sure if it was because no one knew me or if the work was odd to them.
That showcase stuck with me for a long time and I kept going over it in my mind. Was I not well received? What did it say about my work and my artistry? I was invited by one of the only universities with a dance department in Peru to perform at one of their student showcases as the guest artist. My work was obviously different, but it wasn’t so far off the deep end that I would have thought people wouldn’t know how to react.
At the talkback afterward, people were interested in my piece, but they didn’t ask specific questions like they did the other performers. They just wanted to know where the idea came from. No one really had much to say. They didn’t know me, so they didn’t know how to receive the work. The Latina heritage is very family centric. Because I was raised in the United States and was a visitor there, I didn’t feel the support system that everyone else there had. I feel that they felt that too. I wondered if I was seen as an outsider trying to regain her roots.
There’s a stigma about being an American. There are people who feel that Americans think they’re better. That marginalizes those of us who were born in one place but grew up in another. I felt out of place. But when I taught classes at the university, they all looked at me with glittery eyes, hungry for my knowledge from America, as if I had all the answers.
So the teaching experience was positive but the performance experience was strange. I wonder if it would have gone differently had my family been able to show up. I don’t know.
Contrasting your experience in Peru with being in the United States, do you feel like you’ve had an easier time making your way as a dance artist?
This is where I was raised and what I am used to. However, it is not easier here. In Peru, I had one conversation with the head of the dance department and all the doors opened for me. I had performing and teaching opportunities, and theaters available. It was so easy coming into an institution. In the United States, forget it. I would have to jump through a thousand hoops to get an opportunity like that.
Sometimes I wonder if we put ourselves in this place, or if society does it to us, with regards to feeling less than or under appreciated.
In thinking about your work, what would you like to be most known for?
As a performer, I would like to be known as being captivating. As a choreographer, I would like to be known for making work that can change perspectives. I’m very interested in looking at something from many different angles. I would love to be able to have my audience question themselves. Maybe they came in thinking one thing, but changed their mind or don’t know what to think after seeing the performance. As a choreographer, this is my life’s work.
To learn more, visit www.ivonnebatanero.com.