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Hispánico Ballet’s Jewish Choreographer Explores Her Roots With Art

Courtesy of Andrea Miller.

Andrea Miller, 37, was born in Salt Lake City, Utah, but it never felt like home to her. She defines herself as someone with “floating roots.”

An artistic director and choreographer, Miller will explore a fusion of her Latino and Jewish American background as part of Ballet Hispánico, Feb. 22 at 8 p.m. in the Gordon Center for the Performing Arts. Her upcoming piece “Nací” (Spanish for “I was born”) incorporates the Sephardic culture of Spain, with its Moorish influence and Ladino music.

Miller is a Juilliard graduate with a BFA in dance. She founded her own dance company, Gallim, and has also performed with Israeli Batsheva Dance Company, among other accomplishments. She also makes dances for museums, film, and stage.

Can you describe the creative mind flow behind “Nací”?

My father has a Jewish background, and my mother converted to Judaism when she met my father.

There has always been this mystery about our family that maybe we were conversos; converted Jews. Her last name is Tocino — “bacon” in Spanish. It was kind of used as an insult for Jews or Arabs.

… It struck me to feel the disappearance of the incredible empire of knowledge and poetry and art and society in Spain. I think that “Nací” was also a question about what makes something home, since that place made me feel like a home, like a
Sephardic home.

How does it incorporate Ladino (Latino/Jewish) culture?

In the piece itself, there’s music from a Ladino lullaby, there is music from a Mexican Balkan group, there are elements of sacred music with Christian undertones. I really want to make sure that I’m covering every corner of that diaspora; there’s that feeling of floating that is shared. I’m from Colombia, a mixture of culture and religions.

How has your Jewish identity developed over time?

Living in Israel was a tremendous impact, witnessing Jewish life in Jewish faith. It was an intrinsic experience in some ways, to see how, in the U.S., you have to identify yourself. In other ways, I felt a little degradation of the culture, that I’m not familiar with it in my American culture. It’s more of a cultural, spiritual community than political experience.

It definitely has changed over time and will always change culturally. Right now, I have my two children [Noah and Mateo] so I want to learn more about Judaism and approaching it as a family.

Tell us about Gallim.

I founded the dance company [in 2007] to perform and share and grow. I felt like there wasn’t a creative environment for a group of dancers to get together and create. There were narrow options for me for that. I wanted to build a space collectively to achieve our dreams and artistic questions. [The challenge is] a diminishing market. I think dance makers and dancers need to see what’s happening. I don’t have a solution rather than trying to connect and believe in it and build collaborations with the community.

Another challenge you’ve discussed is that “most choreographers who are appointed to leadership positions are men, in a community where the majority of the participants are women.”

You’ll find most professional dancers are educated by women; the studio managers were all women. Then in professional life, all the leaders are men. That hasn’t changed. Maybe there is more language around it, and more effort, but it’s going to take so much to make this cultural revolution to expel that imbalance. [But] a lot can be done in a decade.

Share some advice for young dancers.

Being a dancer is a lot to do with training and exposure. To be a dancer takes a certain amount of exposure, understanding your body, how to access it and wield it. … Do it even if you don’t enjoy it, if it challenges you but you feel drawn by it. Sometimes your passions are difficult, sometimes they’re wonderful. Having a challenging passion, cultivating that experience is important. If you continue, you grow and find more things that can add to your life.

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