On the CreativeGround with Orlando Hernández

Orlando performs in "Instructions for the Safe Delivery of the Royal Knee" at On the Boards | Photo by Naomi Ishisaka

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CreativeGround highlights the people and places that contribute to New England’s thriving creative economy. This month, Orlando Hernández shared his experience as a Rhode Island-based interdisciplinary performer specializing in tap dance. A recent Rebecca Blunk Fund grantee, Orlando has working connections across New England. Read on to tap into Orlando's daily rhythms and inspiring passion for his work and for the work of fellow New England creatives.

a screen capture of the CreativeGround profile for Orlando Hernandez featuring images of him tap dancing and a description of his work
Orlando's CreativeGround profile is filled with rich images of his work.

CreativeGround (CG): What is a typical day like for you as a performing artist in New England?

Orlando Hernández (OH): My day-to-day schedule tends to change a lot, but it’s usually a mix of teaching gigs, meetings, and rehearsals. I try to go to the dance studio most days to practice. There’s also all the administrative work I have to do as a freelancer, so I make time for that. Many days involve a stop at a Latin American or Portuguese bakery.

CG: Can you tell us about some of your favorite projects you’ve been involved with in New England?

OH: A project that means a lot to me is Teatro en el Verano, a collaboration between Trinity Rep and Rhode Island Latino Arts that brings free bilingual theater to public spaces around Rhode Island each summer. This year will be the project’s fifth anniversary. I’ve been involved as an actor, translator, tour director, and choreographer. It’s been a special way to get to know Rhode Island, performing outdoors in Latinx and Latin American communities and working on telling stories that speak to our audiences.

CG: What do you do to stay inspired? What fuels your work?

OH: Inspiration is funky. Right now I’m focusing on the consistency of my practicing. I’m inspired by my friends, by my partner, and by people who I see making things happen and devoting themselves to making things, often in circumstances more challenging than the ones I find myself in. In general, I try to keep learning about my social, mental, and physical environments. And there are places that I stumble on beauty and meaning, in shows I go see or books I read, the weather, people’s businesses, and YouTube videos of tap dancers. I’m inspired by the words of Oscar López Rivera: “Puerto Rico has to be the promised land of all Puerto Ricans, whether we are in the United States or wherever we are at. Annexation will never be the answer.”

CG: If you could collaborate with any New England creative business, cultural nonprofit, or artist, which/whom would it be and why?

OH: I’m curious about DS4SI, an organization based in Boston that works at the intersection of social justice and design. I was at an event organized by NEFA and Assets for Artists earlier this year where I got to meet Kenneth Bailey, who founded it. I’d love to see if tap dance can fit into the kinds of social interventions that they design and test. I enjoy performing in non-proscenium spaces, especially architectures that have a palpable history that becomes part of the experience of the performance. Along those lines... (reader,) let me know if you own an old colonial building that has hardwood floors that I can dance on, or a pier. ;-) 

a person balances on their ribcage on a pedestal. A wash of pink light and a video projection of sky
Orlando Hernández performs at AS220 in "Instructions for the Safe Delivery of the Royal Knee" | Photo by Nikki Carrara

CG: What was the last New England creative business or cultural nonprofit you visited and what did you see?

OH: The last creative nonprofit I visited was the Manton Avenue Project (MAP), in the Olneyville neighborhood in Providence, which has playwriting and theater programming for elementary and middle school students. Through a partnership with Rhode Island Latino Arts, the percussionist Jesús Andújar and I are teaching tap and drumming at their “clubhouse” every Friday through December. When I go, I see kids eating snacks, doing homework, trying out ideas, and learning things. There’s a good vibe because it seems like they feel comfortable there.

CG: Name three New England artists, creative businesses, or cultural nonprofits we should all know about.

OH: An organization that everyone should know about is the Tomaquag Museum in Exeter, Rhode Island, which is dedicated to educating the public about native history, culture, and arts from an indigenous perspective. They have an archive focused on tribal communities of southern New England, and they host tours and events. They also run the Indigenous Empowerment Network.
Vatic Kuumba is a Providence-based artist I really admire. Check out his work.

I’d also recommend checking out the SPACE Gallery in Portland, ME. I had a great experience performing there last year as part of an inaugural dance series, Moving in SPACE. They have galleries and a print shop and offer residencies.

a man tap dances on a giant wooden block while a woman films him with a professional video camera
Filmmaker Željka Blakšić records Orlando performing Quinsin Nachoff's Danse Macabre at Cooper Union. | Photo courtesy of the artist

CG: How does CreativeGround serve you as an artist?

OH: Having a page on CreativeGround has helped me access certain channels of institutional support. It’s something I can point people to and put on applications. I’m not originally from New England, so it’s been helpful as a way to situate myself here.

CG: Why should New England artists, creative businesses, and cultural nonprofits be listed on CreativeGround?

OH: It’s free, and it may help you get gigs or link up with artists or presenters. It helps NEFA in their goal of funding artists and organizations. And it suggests a feeling of regional connectedness.

CG: Could you tell us about any projects you’re currently working on?

OH: I’m in the process of learning a show called Blowout with a Boston-based tap company that I dance in, Subject:Matter, directed by Ian Berg. We’re going to be presenting it at different venues throughout the year as part of an initiative called New England Dance on Tour (NEDoT). The company and the work are so great. I’m having the best time.

This fall, I’ve been working on a piece of choreography with students at Providence College, and I’m teaching tap to students at Roger Williams Middle School through Turnaround Arts: Providence. (My mom went to this middle school in the 1950s…)

I’ve also been putting together a chapbook manuscript of poems from the last several years. It’s moving slowly but is heading toward existing.

We are so grateful that Orlando was able to share so much of his process and connections with us! Tune in next month for the next update from "On the CreativeGround with..." Until then, explore CreativeGround, or email creativeground@nefa.org to recommend an artist, cultural organization, or creative business whose story you'd love to dig into.