© 2023 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

Hamilton dances his way home again

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 6, 2012 - My take on Thomas Wolfe's observation that "you can't go home again" is that going home again has very little to do with physically being back in the house where you grew up in or on the street where you lived. Actually, it has significantly more to do with emotions, with the disappointment and futility of attempts to capture the fugitive past, and with the usually unanswered longing to lose oneself in a mythic home where one hopes the imagined warmth and security of childhood hide out.

In fact, Wolfe's declaration notwithstanding, there are ways to return home, positive and genuinely satisfying ways to go home again. Over the weekend a smart, talented young dancer named Rodney Hamilton proved that so.

Hamilton, 32, grew up in St. Louis, having been born into less-than-ideal circumstances. I knew him first when he was a very young child, and I and others sensed that although he needed hands of encouragement, his talent, his fearlessness and gumption would conspire to help him to transcend his situation and background.

He was nurtured by St. Louis Public School's Carr Lane Middle School for the Visual and Performing arts and at COCA, here, and beyond St. Louis at The Juilliard School in New York City, that extraordinary incubator of genius. He was given strong doses of hope and encouragement and support by a several individuals in St. Louis, among them Richard and Josephine Weil, who regard Hamilton as family. Richard Weil is board chair of the St. Louis Beacon and Josephine Weil is a staunch supporter of the Beacon and many other civic resources and endeavors.

Hamilton has been back to his physical homes in St. Louis many times, but I cannot imagine there being a more triumphant, more enriching return than the one he soared through this weekend.

Hamilton is now a fixture of the New York-based dance company, Ballet Hispanico. In its performances for Edison Theatre's Ovations Series at Washington University in St. Louis, Hamilton and his colleagues brought to their audiences dance's most affecting expressions, occasions of radiance and physical grace, achieved almost antithetically by testing physical limits, by risking reaching the tensile strength. In less abstract fashion, Ballet Hispanico's repertory reveals again the volubility of synthesis, in this case the braiding, into seamlessness, of dance forms occurring in individualist modernist movement, in classical ballet and in the eloquent indigenous forms of the Americas.

Tina Ramirez brought such a formal synthesis with her when she founded Ballet Hispanico about 42 years ago. Ramirez was born in 1929 in Venezuela to a Puerto Rican mother, Gloria Cestero, who became a politically active advocate for immigrants in New York, and Jose Ramirez, a Mexican bullfighter known as Gaonita. The family was in Venezuela for Gaonita's work as a bullfighter.

Tina Ramirez was also a teacher, and she established a program for children in the early 1960s, which eventually grew into Ballet Hispanico. Besides performing all over the world, the company also runs educational outreach programs and a school. Headquarters are two renovated carriage houses on New York City's West Side, next door to the fabled, now defunct, Claremont Stables.

The company is now under the artistic direction of the ebullient Eduardo Vilaro, who was in St. Louis with the company this weekend. Vilaro was born in Havana, emigrated to the U.S., grew up in the Bronx, studied with the Martha Graham and Alvin Ailey companies, and graduated from Adelphi University. He was founder of the Luna Negra Dance Theatre in Chicago. He also studied with Tina Ramirez and danced with Ballet Hispanico.

For Hamilton, it has been 10 years since he has danced for St. Louis audiences, and to see and to feel the support of his St. Louis family and fans here was humbling, he said. During those 10 years, in which he matured as a dancer, he traveled the world and created a career for himself on the competitive performing arts stage of New York City.

He has had a chance to work with other great dancers and choreographers during that decade, and to dance roles created especially for him, and gradually has worked his way toward more and more time in the spotlight. On Saturday, he was sent to the apron of the stage for a concluding solo bow.

On the telephone on Monday, Hamilton said the company has provided another home and produced for him an expanded family for him. Coming home again, he said, was not only a thrill when the applause and whistling and cheering began, but also a great honor. He is aware and appreciative of his good fortune. "I am lucky to be working and lucky to be able to do what I love to do."

As a matter of fact, Hamilton said, "I'm living the dream."

Robert W. Duffy reported on arts and culture for St. Louis Public Radio. He had a 32-year career at the Post-Dispatch, then helped to found the St. Louis Beacon, which merged in January with St. Louis Public Radio. He has written about the visual arts, music, architecture and urban design throughout his career.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.